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105: Listener Mailbag – Grad School Readiness, Paper Critiques, and More!

Well, you’ve done it again… Our inboxes are full-to-bursting and it’s time to answer your questions in this week’s episode.

We start with some feedback on episode 098: I’m in Grad School and I’m Pregnant! How to Have Kids AND a Career in Science. Listener Sara shares her experience of being pregnant while working with some dangerous chemicals in her experiments.

She shares how the Environmental Health and Safety  (EHS) team on campus made sure she was safe through observation and a chemical exposure badge.

Next up, “K” wonders whether she’s ready to apply to grad school.  She’s currently a technician with years of experience, but her boss has encouraged her to wait another year.  

Should she follow his advice? Or is it time to follow her instincts by changing subjects and enrolling in a graduate program?

Matt asks a real head-scratcher:

Over this past summer, I did a research project at a pharmaceutical company. My supervisor only received a B.S., but had enough experience that he made his way up to being a “PI.” He said he would be able to write me a recommendation in the future if I needed it, but he’d have to use his personal email since anything directly affiliated with the company has too many privacy terms associated with it.

Given this, and the fact that he never went to grad school, would a letter from him be something admissions committees would want to see?

We unravel Matt’s question and help him navigate both the private email address and the work for an advisor that doesn’t have a PhD.

Lis is interested in earning a PhD, but she’s concerned that her background may be a barrier.  It would be far beyond anything her family has achieved academically, but she still wants to try.

Can she succeed in the face of inexperience and impostor syndrome?  And is she interested in the degree for the right reasons?

Last, but not least, Lena is dealing with a new collaboration where she’s expected to give a critical read to a paper authored by the PI.  

I am a PhD student and have recently been invited to co-author an article related to our project. I find it challenging to criticize others’ work in a good way, especially when the main author is the PI. Can you discuss giving good feedback as a co-author? How much feedback is appropriate?

Great questions, and please keep them coming.  You can reach us at or find us on Twitter or Facebook!

To wash down all of these thorny questions, we’re sampling the Westmalle Trappist Tripel brewed by Westmalle Abbey in Belgium.

This beer is courtesy of a listener who brought it back to the States from Europe.  It was worth the trip, and randomly established a new Hello PhD tradition: Belgian beers whenever we open the mailbag!

One thought to “105: Listener Mailbag – Grad School Readiness, Paper Critiques, and More!”

  1. Hello Dan, Hello Josh,

    My name is Carla Agasi-Idenburg, and I am a PhD-student from the University of Amsterdam the Netherlands. My research is on cancer-related fatigue.
    And I am 52 years of age. I really want to thank you for your podcast. Being 52, I do not fit in the regular story of a PhD-student. And I am not joining a regular Ph.D. program and I do not attend regular graduate education. Your podcast helps me tremendously to fight impostor syndrome and get inspiration to continue. Being in a normal job as an educator I do most research in my spare time. Thankfully I was able to get a grant that allows me to pay for courses and made it possible for me to speak at an international conference in Vienna last June. I am currently in my fifth year and nearly finishing up to prepare myself for a defense. The most difficult thing I found in my journey, in these years, were being so dependent on outside circumstances; the ethical committee didn’t discuss my proposal because they had too much on their agenda, from other researchers, and then it is Xmas break, waiting on the reviewers of a journal, the statistician has no time to speak to me until the end of the month. If I look back at my original time plan it is hilarious. Next to wanting to thank you, I write to you to correct your assumption that it was German that was on the Belgium beer bottle. Yes in some parts of Belgium they do speak German but the two main languages they speak are French and Dutch.
    One of the suggestions I have for your podcast is to discuss the juggle between research, and following courses and seminars and teaching others (I assume that is part of the PhD obligations with you as well?).

    Thank you again, and please continue your great work.
    love Carla

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