Me (Fraser) the day I received my PhD.
Over the past few years, it’s been almost impossible to miss coverage of the increasingly bleak academic job market. With so few tenure track positions open for the hordes of PhDs and post-docs looking for work each year, it’s time to start thinking outside the academic box. About four years into my degree, I decided that I did not want to become a professor, but I had no idea what I could do instead. How many other jobs were there for someone to run PCRs? Who else needs mice scruffed, clipped and genotyped? I felt trapped on the academic career path, and that made climbing my wall even harder.
With the help of my network and friends, I began to realize that I did have skills valuable outside of academia. We Doctors of Philosophy are good critical thinkers. We figure out how to break down and tackle large problems. We can learn quickly, assimilate and evaluate new data, pivoting away from disproved ideas and generating new ones. We can communicate complex ideas to others. We are persistent and tenacious. These are all qualities highly valued in areas besides academia. Realizing this was a good first step, but I still didn’t know what I wanted to do – I only knew what I didn’t want to do. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo Credit: Gaelen Hadlett on Flickr
It wasn’t until years into my research that I had to deal with severe stress-related mental issues that threatened my work and my health. High school and college taught me to excel in a particular learning environment, so the first year or two of grad school weren’t that stressful for me. I was taking lots of classes, and I knew how to handle the papers and the tests and the homework.
The rest of grad school is really an apprenticeship; writing essays didn’t help me for reach out to professional connections and establish collaborations, and taking tests didn’t prepare me for repeating an experiment ad nauseum. Satisfaction was more elusive. I loved science, but I had no idea if I was doing well, and if I wasn’t doing well, I had no idea how to do better. I never really talked about it that much – at least not to my labmates. I thought I was handling it pretty well. I never bought into the myth that productivity was measured by hours in lab. I made sure to get eight hours of sleep a night, to eat well, to take time to relax (and sing!). Read the rest of this entry »
Each lab has its unique environment. In some labs, everyone works on specific aspects of a larger project in close coordination. In others, everyone works on their own project independently. Some professors are very hands on, checking the details of each day’s work, while others are hands off, checking in every few months to guide the scope of the project. But no matter what, you are never alone. You are part of multiple communities; your lab and department, your circle of collaborators and colleagues, and the scientific community in general. Read the rest of this entry »
We scientists are awfully good at generating data. Organizing and retrieving it, though – that’s harder. In college, we were taught to use a sewn paper notebook and a pen to record all our data – take that idea and throw it out! The modern lab notebook needs to be flexible, scalable, searchable, browsable, share-able and secure. Read the rest of this entry »
The best way to maintain a good pace is to maintain your health, both mental and physical. The best way to do this is through the ever-elusive work-life balance. (This is a slight misnomer, in my opinion, because work is definitely a part of life, and for those of us who choose research, more a part of life than for most.) Each person has a different balance, but when that balance is out of whack, everything, including your work, will suffer. Read the rest of this entry »
Organizing with Word Notebook layout. Tip: each line is drag-and-drop-able!
I don’t believe there is a person out there who can’t be organized. They may not color code their shoes (who does that anyway? *ahem*), but everyone can manage their time efficiently. Now, this doesn’t mean everyone has to work from 9 to 5; different strokes for different folks. But knowing how you work, why you work, and what you’ve got coming up can help you stay on top of the myriad things grad school – and life! – throws at you.
Keeping track of everything you need to do will quickly outstrip your ability to remember it all. Writing everything down is the best way to never forget anything – and never worry you’ve forgotten something! Read the rest of this entry »
Photo Credit: Jan Willem van Wessel, Stijlfoto on Flickr
I went to graduate school immediately after finishing college at a small liberal arts college. I had a great research experience there, with a caring involved mentor who oversaw my every move, who engaged me at every moment, and pushed me at every step of the way.
I arrived at Stanford full of the boundless possibility of science, eager to be overseen, engaged and pushed just as much as I had been in college. In retrospect, I was a young naïf entering the world of research at a top tier institution.
Graduate school proved a very different research experience than I’d had before. My purported mentors were often busy, even absent. My real mentors turned out to be the people working the benches with me. My professors, even those with the best of intentions, rarely had the same time to spend with me as my undergraduate professors had. I had to learn to push myself, to engage myself, and, in many ways, to mentor myself. I didn’t do any of those things very well.
Every marathon runner knows you don’t start out sprinting. You want to set a steady rhythm, a pace you can maintain for the grueling 26 miles you need to cover. Graduate school is like that marathon – don’t sprint out the door!
In this series, I will try to address what I’ve learned about running the grad school marathon. I hope this helps at least some of you avoid the same things that slowed me down. Posts will be featured weekly on Wednesdays, so stay tuned!
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