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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.

quit2

 

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 RedMoutainGoodness.com and give the gift of goat!

goatsoap

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.

wonka

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!

 

Resources

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.

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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!

 

References

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.

021: The 4 simple tips that will make your writing stand out

Even if you’re not working on a paper or grant proposal today, you’ll probably communicate about science.  You’ll send an email to a colleague, chat with your PI, or present a paper at lab meeting.  In every case, you’re trying to convey an idea or change someone’s mind, and that’s why it’s so important to communicate clearly.

Write Right

science writing
Carol went on to win the Nobel Prize for her work on keeping chalk boards relevant in the 21st century.

This week, we invited David Shifrin of Filament Life Science Communication and the Science Writing Radio podcast to share his top four tips for what he calls “non-technical writing.”  That includes those emails, conversations, and presentations you’re doing every day of the week.

Here are the tips he shared on the show:

  • Define your audience: Create each piece of content for an “audience of one” and don’t try to be all things to all people.
  • Define the problem: Focus, try to convey one main idea, and support it with every sentence.
  • Less is more: Use white space, don’t feel compelled to tell everything you know, and edit yourself ruthlessly.
  • Tell a story: Data is critical, but data only makes sense in the context of a story. Use emotion, story arc, the hero’s journey, etc. to engage your audience.

David has a 15-point checklist to improve your scientific communications on his website.  Check it out at http://www.sciencewritingradio.com/hellophd/

Freaks of Nature

The ethanol took on mythic proportions this week.  David sampled the Rompo Red Rye Ale from Jackelope Brewing Company in Nashville, TN.  They describe a “rompo” as “a mythical beast with the head  of a rabbit, the ears of a human, the front arms of a badger, and the rear legs of a bear.”  Magically frightening!

Josh and Dan couldn’t find that locally, so they drank a beer with a head of hops, the ears of hops, the front arms made of even more hops, and the rear legs of a bear who died from an overdose of hops.  It was the Freak of Nature Double IPA from Wicked Weed Brewing in… wait for it… Asheville, NC!  It’s like Nashville, but headless.  See what I did there?

 

 

 

020: Do I really need to do a postdoc?

As you near the end of your graduate school training, you will feel defeated, worn out, and ready to take a nice, peaceful job at that bookstore down the street.  But if your career goals include leaving the bookstore and returning to lab, you’re probably considering postdoctoral training.  Question is: do you really need to do a postdoc?

shoptalk
Later that day: “I haven’t smelled β-mercaptoethanol in ages. This is great!”

To Do, or Not To Do

Fifty years ago, you could finish your PhD and be offered a faculty position, no questions asked.  Twenty years ago, you’d get that same faculty position after doing a lengthy postdoc.  But the times have changed, and not everyone wants to jump on the tenure track.  That means there are some of us who don’t need a postdoc and shouldn’t do one.

There are a few clear cases where a postdoc is an unstated requirement, but there are also times where grad students take a postdoc because they haven’t figured out what they want to do with their degrees.  That means  you can actually avoid the entire process.

We’ll talk about the different types of jobs you can achieve as a scientist in academics and industry, and whether the postdoc will help you get there.  The key is deciding early what you want to do and getting a job BEFORE you graduate.

Pumpkin Spice Latte Lager

We finally break down and sample a Pumpkin Ale from Schlafly Beer in St. Louis, MO.  It’s tastily-spiced, but not over the top like some of these brews that made the bottom of the Paste Magazine pumpkin beer taste-test.  You’ll see flavor phrases like “road tar,” “licorice,” and “Ipecac.”  Yuk!