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026: Career Advice from A Successful Scientist

When you’re worried about today’s experiments and tomorrow’s time points, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important for your career and your life.  Why not start the New Year with a new perspective?

Father Time
“How about setting down the pointy scythe, son. You’re making grandpa nervous.”

Looking Back and Moving Forward

In this episode, we consider the advice of Robert J. Sternberg, PhD,  a self-described geezer and well-respected academic.  He’s Professor of Human Development at Cornell University, and has co-authored over 1,500 publications.  He wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education laying out his career advice for other academics.

His tips range from simple (“Save as much money as you can”) to subtle (“Be true to yourself”), but all of them are worth a few moments of consideration as we enter 2016.  Here’s the list, with more detail included in the article:

Career Advice From an Oldish Not-Quite Geezer

  1. Put your family first.
  2. Make your health a close second.
  3. Save as much money as you can.
  4. If you’re in the wrong place, get out.
  5. Stay away from jerks.
  6. If you’re not having fun, something’s wrong.
  7. Be true to yourself.
  8. Don’t tie up too much of your self-esteem in someone else’s evaluation of your work.
  9. Take stock periodically.
  10. Have a hobby. See the world. Or both.
  11. Help others.
  12. Take some risks.

Pop a Cork

Also in this episode, Josh and Dan pop some bubbly to celebrate the New Year and some exciting milestones for the Hello PhD podcast.  Thanks to all of you joining us on this journey, and we can’t wait to make science a friendlier, happier place in 2016!

025: Experiments and Exercise: 10 Creative Ways Scientists Stay Fit

You’re busy.  Experiments, lab meeting, journal club, classes – you barely have time to sleep, let alone make it to the gym to exercise.  We’ll tell you about 10 creative ways other grad students and postdocs stay physically fit, and how it’s boosting their productivity and self-confidence.


You don’t have time NOT to exercise

The research is clear: exercising is good for your mood, your productivity, and your health.  So why do so many of us believe we “don’t have time for it?”  To reap the benefits of exercise for people on a busy lab schedule, we asked the LabRats group on Reddit and other grad students and postdocs for advice on staying in shape.

Here are some of their tips:

  1. Bike to lab!
  2. Take a class at the university gym
  3. Take the stairs
  4. Learn a martial art
  5. Schedule workout time with your lab-mates to make it social
  6. Sign up for intramural sports on campus
  7. Check out cross-fit at a local gym or online
  8. Try the New York Times 7-minute workout or other apps
  9. Read papers while riding a stationary bike or elliptical machine
  10. Do squats while waiting for the centrifuge

Bottom line – find something you enjoy, and make it a priority.  You’ll feel more confident, and tie your sense of accomplishment to something more than today’s experiment.


Salted Caramel Everything

After all that exercise, it’s time to indulge as we sample a New Belgium Brewing/Ben & Jerry’s colla-BEER-ation (see what I did there?)  It’s the Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale, and it’s not as bad as you’d think.  The brewer’s sense of restraint is appreciated, as this still tastes like a beer and not a chocolate milk-shake.

We also celebrate the season this week with a reading of The Night Before CRISPRmas, and an etymological tale about the origin of Santa’s name.  Happy Holidays!



Exercise and workplace performance

Exercise and cognition

024: Leave with a Master’s, and your sanity

Stephanie dreamed of becoming a scientist when she was a girl. She managed to maintain excellent grades while working in research labs throughout her college career. With her flawless CV, it came as no surprise when she was accepted into a top-tier pharmacology PhD program.

Four years later, Stephanie walked into her PI’s office to tell him she wanted to leave.



Dreams in the Daylight

This week on the show, Stephanie tells her story. Four years into her graduate training, she realized she was miserable and couldn’t see how her situation would get better if she stayed. So she had some hard conversations: with herself, with her family, and ultimately, with her graduate mentor and labmates.

Reactions were mixed, but she was able to finish her Master’s thesis and leave on good terms. Then it was time to find a job and a way to pursue all of her other passions and goals.  She says it was the best decision she ever made.

Biomedical PhD programs have a completion rate near 50%, which means for every newly minted PhD, there’s a scientist with similar training but a different degree. Some leave with a master’s, and some much earlier, but it’s high time we talked about the many paths of graduate students, and how to support each individual’s choice.


Mmm, Coppery!

bad penny

This week we sampled Bad Penny Brown Ale from Big Boss Brewing Company. We’re still trying to decide whether the little people on the label are Penny’s murder victims.

And just in time for holiday giving, Stephanie makes some soap that WON’T give your loved ones cancer!  And isn’t that what the holidays are all about?  Check out and give the gift of goat!


023: Seriously, can we ditch the GRE already?

A driving test shows that you’re ready for your license.  A pregnancy test shows that you’ve got a baby on the way.  So what does the GRE show?

More often than not, it shows whether you’re a man or a woman, and the color of your skin.


You can’t spell “regret” without GRE

Identifying which students are ready for graduate school is a difficult task.  Admissions committees receive thousands of applications, and they need to consider each student’s academic performance, extracurricular activities, work history, and personality.  Naturally, they look for short-cuts to make the process simpler.

And with that, the GRE was born.  The questions have changed over the years, but the basis remains the same: measure incoming graduate students on their abilities to understand and communicate in the English language, and see how much math they remember from high school.  Out pops a simple numerical score that schools can use to filter the good students from the bad.

But recently, some administrators have questioned the efficacy of the tests.  How well does the GRE predict success in graduate school?  Do people with high scores make better scientists?  Do those with low scores perform poorly in lab settings?  The answers: no, no, and not even close.

While digging through the demographic records of GRE test takers, Casey Miller and Keivan Stassun discovered that

women score 80 points lower on average in the physical sciences than do men, and African Americans score 200 points below white people. In simple terms, the GRE is a better indicator of sex and skin colour than of ability and ultimate success.

Their paper titled “A Test that Fails” was published in Nature.

This week on the show, we discuss the unintended consequence of requiring grad-school prospects to take the GRE, and explore some better ways to predict which students will succeed.

Bourbon on a Budget

Josh searched high and low (mostly low) to find this week’s ethanol.  It’s Evan Williams Single Barrel, a highly-ranked bourbon for under $30.  We felt so bad about drinking the pricey Basil Hayden’s a few weeks ago, that we wanted to find something affordable on a graduate student budget.  Cheers!



Impact of emotional intelligence on dental student performance

022: Science Overseas: Life as an International Student

Think about your first few months of graduate school. You moved into a new apartment in a new town, you met hundreds of other students and scientists, and you had to pick a rotation lab and classes for your first semester.  It’s an unbelievably stressful time for most students.

Now imagine doing all of that in German.



First-Class Research

Most of us learn enough vocabulary in a foreign language to take the train or buy a coffee, but students who travel internationally for graduate school are expected to do much more. “Where is the library?” is an easy phrase to learn. “The Drosophila histone demethylase dKDM5/LID regulates hematopoietic development” is not. (Morán T, et al.)

This week on the show, Josh interviews Haifa, an international student who grew up in Saudi Arabia and is now studying Drosophila at the University of Kansas. She shares her experience with coming to the US and talks about learning the nuanced English required to communicate with other scientists.  She also reveals the subtle differences between lab culture at home and abroad.


Stinking Stuffer

Now that it’s officially the season for shopping, we tell you about a very unusual toy that should be on every microbiologist’s list. It’s Poo Dough, and it is perhaps the worst toy devised in a decade. Seriously, who thought this was a good idea? (Warning: it contains wheat for some reason.)

Josh is startled this week by the recent spate of Cats vs. Cucumber videos appearing online.  Be sure to watch what happens when the cucumber menace sneaks up on unsuspecting scientists:

And in honor of the University of Kansas, we’re drinking another beer sent in by a Lawrence listener. It’s the Copperhead Pale Ale from Freestate Brewing. Thanks to all our friends in the Sunflower State!



Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell – He describes the influence of High- and Low-Power Distance cultures on the rates of airline crashes.