Graduate school is no walk in the park, and the first year can be especially hard because of the challenges that come with being in a new environment, learning what is expected of you, and the rigors of balancing lab work and classes. Many students end up feeling helpless, overwhelmed, and lost. We asked current graduate students about their first-year experiences and what advice they have for surviving the first year of graduate school.
Your first year of graduate school will probably consist of taking classes and doing lab rotations, a trial period to assess a lab and its people, while they assess you, to determine if it’s a good match. Rotations are like dating for a long-term relationship but with research and mentors. How many rotations do you do? How do you pick rotation labs? And, how long do you stay?
Hear a personal story about mentorship from Dr. Alan Goggins, a new Microbiology and Immunology graduate. After a tough start with mentoring, he switched labs during graduate school and discovered a few factors to consider when finding the right mentor.
Who do you go to with questions on your career? Or when your PCR isn’t working? How about when you have a conflict with a coworker? Although it may be easier to approach your dissertation mentor or an appointed advisor to get clarity on these questions, why not consider going to an expert or another mentor? Learn about the benefits of having multiple mentors.
One of the challenges for any PhD candidate is to decide if they want to pursue a post-doctoral position after graduation. This challenge can become more daunting when decisions need to be made about where (and under who) this post-doc should be conducted as well as the post-doctoral research topic. However, it’s important to know that you are not alone in making these types of decisions. Microbe Mentor reached out to three relatively new post-docs, regarding their post-doc decisions. Despite different backgrounds, they collectively agreed that it was critical to first determine what was important to them. The factors and their importance played out differently for each of the three interviewed post-docs.
The decision to attend graduate school has huge implications on any young microbiologist. It can determine lifelong colleagues and friends, impact future research directions, and build business opportunities. It is no wonder, then, that the ultimate goal of any applicant is to find a university, program, and ultimately an advisor, that will satisfy the student’s current and future needs. Once the applicant has identified where he or she would like to spend the next few years of their lives, either as a Master’s student or a Ph.D. candidate, the next challenge is to convince this university/program/advisor to accept the responsibility of taking on this new student. Similar to that of a job, this application process can be very competitive. Knowing this, you might think, "What can I do to make my graduate school applications stand out?” In other words, what can I do to better prepare myself for applying to graduate school? ASM reached out to three distinguished faculty members for their advice on this topic. Here’s what they had to say:
In this article of Microbe Mentor, we address the topic of elevator pitches; what are they? When do you use them? How do you prepare and execute an elevator pitch? Read what recommendations Dr. Shilpa Gadwal, Career Advancement Fellow at the American Society for Microbiology, has for elevator pitches when attending conferences and meetings.
How do I stay motivated to write my paper, when I enjoy other lab related activities more?
For scientists it is imperative to relay your research to your colleagues through published papers. But what if you find the idea of writing overwhelming – daunting even? You struggle to stay motivated despite the many lab (and non-lab) distractions. The Microbe Mentor reached out to senior doctoral students and postdocs who have experienced, and overcome, these obstacles. Check out the rest of the article to hear their recommendations on keeping up the motivation.