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040: Three Keys to Success in Grad School

Kenny Gibbs is a scientist who studies other scientists.

After earning his PhD in Immunology from Stanford, he turned his attention to the broader topic of scientific careers and how PhDs choose and evolve in their work.  Through surveys and interviews with postdocs and research scientists, Dr. Gibbs explores issues like career-interest formation and postdoc development.

Wouldn’t you like to ask someone like that for advice on your graduate training?


039: Two simple steps to better research mentors

Sometimes, we use the words ‘research advisor’ and ‘research mentor’ interchangeably, but be careful – they’re not the same thing.

When you join the lab of a research faculty member in your second year of grad school, you’ve chosen a research advisor.  Whether that person turns out to be a ‘mentor’ remains to be seen.


scoring bad advisors

038: Why aren’t bad research advisors held accountable?

You’ve either heard the stories, or worse, you’ve lived them.

They’re stories of the research advisors who scream at their students in front of the whole department.

The PIs who put two or three postdocs on the same project, expecting only one to succeed.

The ‘mentor’ who makes you feel like you’re not even qualified to wash the glassware.

So why do academic institutions allow such bad behavior to continue year in, and year out?  Why aren’t bad PIs accountable?


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

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:
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!


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

NIH Report on Biomedical Training