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119: Ten Tips to Crush Your First Semester

It’s that time of year again – summer days are growing shorter, your friends are trying to fit in one last trip to the beach, and the backpack aisle at Target is about to be cleared out to make way for the Halloween costumes.

Yes, it’s back-to-school time. From toddlers to teenagers, this time of year instills foreboding about the school-year ahead. But as a first-year graduate student, you may have other feelings.

For most, it’s the start of a new adventure. For the first time, you’re pursuing the one subject in the world you love best, surrounded by other equally brilliant and passionate people.

It’s the end of being told what to learn and how to study, and the beginning of blazing your own academic trail.

It IS a new experience – different from your matriculation in high school or college – and it may be difficult to know what to expect.

This week, we lay out a ten-ish step plan for putting your best-foot-forward in that first semester of your graduate journey.

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118: Find a Better Mentor with GradPI

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a crystal ball that could reveal your grad-school future?

You might look forward to see if that next experiment will work out, or if your research will eventually make the cover of Nature.

What you should do with the power of foresight is to take a deep look at the quality of mentorship you’ll receive over the next few years.

It’s no secret that good research advisors can be tough to find. Most are passable – you’ll learn what you need to learn and graduate on time – and a few are stellar, elevating your research beyond what you thought was possible.

But of course, lurking somewhere at every institution, are a handful of awful, terrible, no good, very bad PIs. These are the people you must avoid at all costs, lest they destroy both your confidence and your career plan.

Of course, no one has a crystal ball, and sometimes our choice of a research mentor doesn’t pan out. But there’s a website hoping to change that.

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096: Listener Mailbag – Program Prestige, Changing Careers, and More!

The best thing about the Hello PhD podcast is our amazing audience of grad students, postdocs, and career scientists. We get emails, tweets, and website comments full of thoughtful questions and insightful observations.

And though we try to read and respond to each message, not every question makes it into the show. Sometimes, we can reply with just a few words of encouragement, or a link to a prior episode.

But this week, we wanted to dig into the mailbag and offer a rapid-fire response to some of the burning questions you’ve sent over the last few months.

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Mónica Feliú-Mójer

092: Making Time for Science Communication with Mónica Feliú-Mójer

“Things are not progressing as they should. You’re having a hard time focusing on the research, and we know that you don’t want to be in academia anyway.  Do you want to quit?”

The question landed like a punch, and Mónica’s committee meeting took a turn she hadn’t expected. She was in the fourth year of her PhD training at Harvard, and her committee had just asked her if she wanted to leave the program.

“That was incredibly devastating to have these four people that you respect, and that their main role is supposed to be supporting you and helping you, and to have them ask you, “Do you want to leave?” It was devastating. But I somehow found the strength to say, ‘I don’t want to quit!'”

Mónica Feliú-Mójer finished her PhD and went on to a dream job doing science outreach and communication, but that committee meeting was a turning point.

Her story holds a valuable lesson for any graduate student considering a career outside of the academic tenure track.

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