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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.

Listener Letters

Preparing the Next Generation

Our first email comes from Megan at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.  She’s running a summer workshop to help undergraduate students prepare for grad school. 

This year, she’ll emphasize the subtle importance of choosing a good mentor, and how it can make, or break, your PhD training.

Smaller Schools

Our next email is from a listener who is worried that finishing a PhD at a smaller school with a lower ‘ranking’ will hold her back when seeking a job.

We discuss the very real bias some people have in favor of Ivy League schools and prestigious, top-tier research universities, and how she can optimize her chances of getting a job.  It comes down to working hard and publishing in her field of study, as well as forming a strong network early in her training.

This listener may not have a PhD from a school with a shiny reputation, but she will have a PhD, and she can develop her reputation as a leader in the field.

Learning New Tricks

Our next question comes from Christina, who is considering going back to graduate school after already spending years in another career.

Do you have any advice to offer older PhD candidates or those thinking about pursuing a PhD as a career changer?

We harken way back to Episode 010: Are you too old to go back to school? where we spoke with Dr. Robin Chamberland about her experience going back to grad school in her thirties.  Spoiler alert: she’s a faculty member now, and has wonderful insights to share about her journey.


Catherine inquired about joining clubs and taking up extra-curricular interests during grad school.  She notes that many students either feel too guilty to take time out of the lab, or they try to hide it from their advisor.

We firmly believe in the value of mental health and taking care of your needs as a student.  That means making time for exercise, socializing, and career development.

This does not make you a slacker, it makes you a better human being and may improve your science!

Finding Community

Bektur wrote to find out the best way to connect with other researchers when one is studying in a remote part of the world.

Could you please recommend any possible ways to keep in touch with other researchers for PhD students living/studying in remote locations? For instance I am currently studying in a very remote town in Japan and there are only a handful of PhD students at my university.

I know for a fact that you have to constantly interact with other professionals in your field (and other closely related fields too) in order to keep your memory and skills fresh, but I was wondering if there’s a public platform or a discussion board for that.

We believe in the power of Twitter for the scientific community, and we did a full episode on just this topic! Check out Episode 069: Five Ways Scientists SHOULD Be Using Twitter for more on that subject.

We also recently learned about a Slack channel devoted to graduate students.  It’s still in its infancy, but it’s worth checking out at

And last, but not least,  you can find great communities on Reddit, including the /r/gradschool and /r/labrats subreddits.


Our last missive came from Katie, who asked:

Would you consider doing a podcast over books that helped you through grad school? Books that improved your writing skills, gave inspiring views of your fields, or helped you become a better scholar in other ways?

We love that idea, but we want to hear from YOU.  Tell us about the books that were formative in your grad school experience below, or by tweeting with the hashtag #PhDBooks.  We’ll compile a list and share it on the show!


And for a tasty beverage, we sample a beer sent by our new best friend Matthew.  It’s the Brainless on Peaches Belgian Style Ale from Epic Brewing in Salt Lake City, Utah.

As you might guess, it contains peaches for a nice fruity zing, but it also spends some time aging in French Chardonnay casks.  Oh la la!

One thought to “096: Listener Mailbag – Program Prestige, Changing Careers, and More!”

  1. Hi all!

    So, I have a question for the next podcast: How is to be a dad-to-be and doing your PhD? Anyinsigths? or collective info?
    So right now me and my half we are going through the process and we are more than excited! We live in a nice parenthood support system (Sweden) and I am in the middle of my PhD and MOH is about to finish in a couple of months. So we are not worried more than to be good parents but we would love to hear about others parenthood experience while doing the PhD.


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