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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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054: The 5 year PhD – #modernPhD Part 1

Scientific training has its roots in the ancient world.  From Aristotle’s natural philosophy to the modern biomedical research lab, science training has relied heavily on an apprenticeship model.

Senior scientists take promising young students into their labs and train them, hands-on, in the practical activities of research.

The assumption has always been that the aspiring scientist will ‘grow up’ to be like her mentor – running a lab of her own someday.  And for a long time, that made sense.

But in the modern world, PhDs go on to a much wider variety of careers.  Sure, some seek faculty positions, but others teach, consult, work in industry, and influence policy.

Is it time to rethink the PhD process?  Can we modernize scientific training to support the diverse interest of today’s scientists?

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051: Should I change labs or quit grad school?

Jessica was finishing her third year of grad school when she finally decided she had had enough.

Funding had gotten tighter, and her PI had basically checked out.  Many of her lab-mates saw the writing on the wall, and left their projects behind to find other work. With no support from her advisor or peers, she had little hope of turning things around.

And then her thesis project – the one she just proposed and defended – was scooped by a competing lab and published in a major journal.  It was the last straw.

Jessica had three options:

  1. She could quit immediately, and have no degree to show for her three years of work.
  2. She could find some portion of the project to salvage as a Master’s thesis.
  3. She could start all over and try to find a new lab.

Amazingly, she chose Option 3.

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046: Do I need a PhD to advance in my industry job?

You’ve worked hard in your biopharma job, and you really love the position.  The team is passionate and dynamic, the product is starting to make an impact in the market, and you begin to imagine your long-term relationship with the company.

But there’s one problem: it seems like no one with a Bachelor’s Degree can move up in the organization.  PhDs from outside the company are hired into management positions, while you and your colleagues get passed over for promotions.

What’s going on? And do you really need a PhD to get ahead in your industry job?

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