If you went to graduate school before the turn of the millennium, you probable expected to (eventually) land in a tenure-track position at a University. You may have known a few peers who got teaching gigs, or *gasp* went into ‘industry positions’, but the expectation was to follow in your mentor’s footsteps.
Today, lots of students earn a PhD knowing full well they won’t set foot on the tenure-track. They want to be science writers, policy advisors, staff scientists, or entrepreneurs.
And thankfully, graduate training programs are starting to adapt to this new reality. The first order of business when trying to help students achieve their myriad career goals is to start tracking key metrics.
It’s time to open the mailbag once again to answer YOUR questions.
First, we read a couple of emails from listeners who have put Hello PhD advice to work in their training, and they’re already starting to see the benefits.
Thank you so much for your podcast. I discovered Hello PhD at the beginning of the pandemic and have listened to every single episode since. I have learned a lot and it has changed my perspective about my program and supervisor tremendously. Since listening to Hello PhD I feel less lonely and feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I have joined multiple student groups and other organizations to work on my soft skills.
Kudos to Nadia! We want everyone to realize: YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Whatever you’re going through, there are others just like you, struggling on parallel paths. Reaching out and telling your story is the only way those fellow travelers can be encouraged by your experience.
Well, that work has produced an opportunity for other scientists to improve their communication skills:
I wanted to share that iBiology has a new and improved courses platform and that you can now sign-up for “Share Your Research”, our free, self-paced course focused on effective communication to help you give a good research talk. I was one of the course directors for SYR. The course focuses on providing scientists with practical research communication advice and as you go through it, the course helps you build a plan to help you craft a good research talk. Feel free to share with trainees and colleagues.
Thanks Mónica! Consider it shared!
What is a Research Statement?
A listener shared this question about their application:
Could you do an episode on writing a research statement? I just stumbled upon this as a requirement for one of my applications and I don’t know where to start. I am not THAT deep into the subject, but I already included in my cover letter a brief summary of my latest research, why I want to do research and where I want to go with my research in the future and how this project would fit into that (very briefly). I don’t want to repeat what I wrote in my cover letter but I feel it is the same information.
Josh describes the expected elements of a research statement, and we attempt to untangle the types of information you’d want to include there, versus the more personal or motivational profile you might include in a cover letter.
No need to repeat yourself, just carve up the information and put it in its proper place.
How Do I Explain a Bad Semester?
Finally, we answer this email from Frances:
I am a first generation college student currently doing a Post Bac on a Diversity Supplement. I worry that my undergraduate grades will negatively impact my entire application. I know you both have mentioned how one bad grade in isolation won’t hold much weight, however what about a whole semester due to personal issues that could be explained? Would taking graduate level courses and doing well in them help show admission committees that I am capable of handling graduate level courses and my undergraduate performance was not indicative of my potential or is my past low performance detrimental to my application?
It’s a really common question – so Frances, you’re not the only person with a less than perfect transcript! We recommend addressing the ‘bad’ semester directly, in whatever detail you feel comfortable with.
Life happens to everyone, and the faculty reviewers understand that grades can suffer when you experience a trauma. Sometimes, that’s an extended illness, the death of a loved one, or a bad breakup. Mental health episodes are common and occur for many reasons, so do what you can to express that the circumstances were difficult, and you’re ready to move forward.
It can also be helpful to have your research mentors address the issue in their letters of recommendation. Having a faculty member acknowledge you may not have perfect grades, but you work hard and get results in the lab, will go a long way toward impressing the admissions committee.
Well, that’s it from the mailbag. Until next time, keep sending your thoughts, ideas, and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s keep the conversation going!
The Peer Review villain, alternatively known as ‘Reviewer 2’ or ‘Reviewer 3’, has gained meme status. This is the person who takes your submitted journal article, drenches it in red ink, shreds it, burns it, and feeds the ashes to feral pigs.
And unfortunately, it has happened to all of us. There always seems to be one reviewer that doesn’t just ask for additional experiments, but finds a way to cut a little deeper.
Maybe it comes in the form of an emotive shaming (“Disappointingly, the authors failed to cite Smith, 2015”) or a veiled accusation (“It seems possible that the outlier data has been scrubbed from this report.”), but however it happens, it can affect something more than your experiments.
Some hostile comments might make you wonder whether you belong in science at all.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, it shouldn’t be this way.
This week, we talk with a linguist and a psychologist about carefully crafting your peer reviews.
Nadia wanted to help patients. She had considered going to medical school, but found biomedical research to be an exciting opportunity to develop new knowledge and therapies.
After graduate school, she continued her training as a postdoc. She was on the faculty-track, making plans for her project and her next career advancement.
Then, COVID hit.
She was living and working in New York City as the largest pandemic in a century unfolded around her. She realized she had developed some skills over her years of training – PCR, data management, lab operations – that might make a difference in patient outcomes.
So she pressed pause on her postdoctoral work to start a clinical testing lab that now runs 60,000 COVID tests each week.