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063: PhD Biography – Compton to the Ivy League

Statistically speaking, Teresa Ramirez didn’t stand a chance.

She was raised in Compton, California, a city south of Los Angeles and the eponymous setting of the N.W.A. album “Straight Outta Compton.”

Teresa loved books. She asked questions during class. She put in extra time to help out after school.  In a high school where gang violence was an expectation and higher education was not, Teresa stood out like a sore thumb.

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061: Why We LOVE Grad School

There’s no denying it: science is hard work. After a long week of 3AM time-points, contaminated cell cultures, and the ‘simple PCR’ that failed for the fifth time, you might lose sight of why you got into this business in the first place.

But, with Thanksgiving on the horizon, we decided to pause and consider all of the GOOD things going on in life and lab.

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058: How to Be Truly Unhappy in Grad School

On those days when you manage to take a break from bench-work and call home, you will almost certainly get ‘The Question:’

“So, how is your research going?”

If you’re new to grad school, you might make the mistake of telling your parent or loved one exactly how your research is going.

“Well, I was up until 3 AM doing time points but then one of the buffers was contaminated so I had to throw out my last two weeks of work and start over.”

To which your parent will reply, “That sounds awful!  You must be so upset.  Are you sure a career in science will make you happy?”

And you’ll stop and ponder that last question.  Will a career in science make you happy?

Will you prance from bench to bench giggling to yourself, high on the sheer exhilaration of learning?

Or is it much more likely that you’ll face roadblocks, confounding data, experiments that only sometimes work, and that every once in awhile, you’ll push the boundary of your knowledge into new territory.  In those moments, you might feel proud or relieved or curious, but not exactly ‘happy.’

Does that mean you should leave science to find a career that can make you happier?

Or is Mom asking you the wrong question entirely?

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blind man hand holding cane

057: “I’m a scientist. And I’m blind.”

When we imagine what life is like for people who are blind, our first reaction might be paralysis. We consider just how difficult our lives would be without sight; preparing breakfast, dressing for work, and navigating from home to the lab sound like insurmountable obstacles.

And if those trivial tasks seem daunting, consider your work day.  Could you keep up with the pace of scientific research, running experiments and publishing papers with your eyes closed?

In our imaginary blindness, many of us would despair and find an alternative career path, but we’re missing a very important distinction between the thought experiment and reality.

The fact is, people who have been blind since birth have developed the skills to leap each and every hurdle we’ve listed. It’s a normal part of every day to commute to work or read a scientific paper.

Their biggest struggle may be overcoming the decidedly limited imaginations of their sighted peers.

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055: Four Ideas to Modernize Mentorship – #modernPhD Part 2

Today, a graduate student will make a terrible mistake.

He’ll blindly commit to a long-term relationship that will make him miserable.  He’ll be too shy to ask his partner the painfully awkward questions that could predict their ultimate failure as a team.

Does this person have time for me?  Is she enthusiastic about helping me succeed?  Do our goals align?

Of course, this is not a romantic relationship: it’s the commitment formed between a grad student and his advisor.  And though it’s not a marriage, it can cover some of the same emotional ground.  When it’s healthy, you’ll both grow as people and you’ll achieve more than you would alone.

When it’s unhealthy, you might bear the emotional scars for the rest of your life.

With just a few simple changes to the graduate-advisor relationship, we can make sure more students, and their mentors, reach their full potential.  Why leave it to chance?

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