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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

010: Are you too old to go back to school?

Congratulations!  You just decided that you want to be a scientist, and spend your career doing research in a biomedical lab.  That would be great news, except that you’re past thirty and you have no training.  As the excitement fades and reality hits, you ask: “Am I too old to go back to school?”

You’re never too old to science

You're never too old to go back to school! Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/donhomer/5840513827
Dr. Thigpen’s research on anti-aging therapies were effective, but difficult to control. This photo shows the last time he was seen in public before reverting to a zygote.

This week, we face some tough questions about what to do when your career path didn’t take you straight to your dreams.  You may come from another career or had a family first, but now you’re convinced you want to join the ranks of scientific society.  It’s going to be a long road: biomedical scientists reach their first real jobs at a median age of 37.  Should you even bother if you’re just getting started at 35?

We put these tough questions to Robin Chamberland, Assistant Professor and Director of Clinical Microbiology at St. Louis University Hospital.  Dr. Chamberland went back to school in her 30s, and successfully navigated her way to a faculty position at a top-tier university.  We ask whether she faced discrimination or other challenges because of her age or family commitments, and she shares some insights for others on the same path.

Whiskey is the water of life

whiskey sours
There’s so much fruit, the Drosophila declared our birthdays a National Holiday!

While we’re pondering these existential questions of life and meaning, we’re also celebrating our birthdays!  We sample some tasty homemade Whiskey Sours with a generous helping of fruit.  Listen closely for the secret ingredient…

And this year, we ask for one present each: we’d love for you to share the Hello PhD podcast with one friend, and to leave a rating or review on iTunes.  Both of those simple gifts help to broaden the conversation and make Hello PhD a podcast for scientists and the people who love them.  Thank you!

References:

The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett

NIH Report on Biomedical Training

009: Research and Prelims and Quals, Oh My!

It’s year two, and you’re just hitting your stride in the lab.  You’ve finally got classes behind you, so now it’s time to drop the books and make some magic at the bench, right!  Nope, now it’s time for prelims!

Will Work for Fish

dolphin by Niklas Morberg
It’s a metaphor, people. Dolphins rarely earn PhDs in captivity.

That perennial favorite of graduate training rears its ugly head in this week’s show.  Whether your department calls them prelims, quals, or something else, you know it as the dreaded “test” between you and your PhD candidacy.  Our question came from Katiria, who wrote:

Hello Joshua and Daniel,

Great Podcast! It is really fun to listen to it during the tedious bench work.  

I will be taking my prelim at some point this semester, and I was wondering how can I increase productivity. I want to have data, but I need to read a lot. At the same time, I need to focus in the parts of the projects that are producing. It seems overwhelming at times. How did you do it?

Katiria

We take a few minutes to consider the somewhat dubious value of the modern preliminary exam, and think about some better options for testing a student’s readiness.  But in the end, we give Katiria the advice she probably didn’t expect but definitely needs.

Tell us about your prelims!  Are they designed to “weed out” students, or is it a garden party?  Do you write a grant on your own project, or simply fill out a multiple choice questionnaire covering the first two years of classes?  We love a good horror story, so pass those along, too!

Galileo Finger-o (Magnifico-o-o-o-o)

Also this week, Josh finds deep scientific meaning in Galileo’s time under house arrest, and uncovers the final resting place of a couple of his fingers and teeth.  It’s that kind of hard-hitting scientific journalism you can only get from Hello PhD and/or Wikipedia (which is where we got it.)

galileo's final salute
This really redefines the phrase “Give ’em the finger!”

On the ethanol front, we sample Wetherburn’s Tavern Bristol Ale from Williamsburg, VA.  It’s a malty, hoppy voyage through history and back, with very little sense of direction.  

 

008: Fight for Your Right to #GradInsurance

Imagine waking up on a Friday morning, grabbing a cup of coffee and sitting down to check your email.  What’s this?  A note from your employer stating that your healthcare coverage will expire in 13 hours and it’s up to you to find insurance.  Have a great day!  Hope you weren’t feeling pregnant!

#Mizzou #GradInsurance

gradinsurance

That scenario played out in real life for graduate students at the University of Missouri last week, when an email from the Associate Vice Chancellor stated that their health insurance subsidy would be cancelled immediately to comply with new rules in the Affordable Care Act (lovingly known as “Obamacare”).

The students took to Twitter, using #GradInsurance to raise awareness of their situation and pushing hard on the administration to explain, and reverse, their decision.  In this week’s show, we unfold the timeline, and talk to Rachel Zamzow (@RachelZamzow) a neuroscience graduate student affected by the change.  It’s a powerful story of students standing up for themselves and making a difference on campus.

Beer ghosts want #gradinsurance too!
Is this the ghost of Tank 7, or just a tissue that I drew a face on? Find out this fall on the new TV series “Ghosts I Think I Saw But I Was Drinking So Maybe I Imagined It.” Brought to you by The History Channel.

Don’t Cross the Streams!

Also in this episode, we talk about the explosive history of laparoscopic surgery, and we inadvertently attract poltergeists to the studio by drinking Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale from Boulevard Brewing.  We managed to capture photographic evidence of the specter before exorcising the sound board. Spooky!

ghost

Resources

The initial announcement of cancelled insurance
The Twitter fire that ensued
The students’ formal statement of demands
The reversal
Audio of Chancellor Loftin credit Geoff West of The Missourian
University of Missouri’s Graduate Professional Council