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126. Listener Mailbag – Ghost PIs, Dress Codes, and Mental Health with Susanna Harris

It’s that time again – the virtual mail bag is overflowing, so we invited Susanna Harris of to help us answer YOUR emails, Tweets, and messages.

Bringing the Heat

We start with a few burning questions about applications and interviews.

The first question comes from a listener who was promised a strong letter of recommendation by research PI, but when the application period rolled around, the PI was ‘too busy’ to write the letter.

What should I do when I can’t get ahold of the PI? Maybe he is purposely ghosting me… How do I explain this situation without sounding like I am bad mouthing the PI if I get asked about this? Please help. 

Susanna, Josh, and Daniel spend some time describing why those letters of recommendation are so important, and lay out plans A, B, and C for what to do when the PI just won’t deliver.

Next, we hear from a listener who is embarking on her first interviews, and wants to know what to wear!

 I have received my first interview invitations for biomedical umbrella programs and I realize I don’t know what I should wear to these events. I realize some of the activities during an interview weekend are more informal, but how formally should I be dressed for the faculty interviews?

The answer is not quite as cut-and-dried as you may think – different universities, even within a single city, can have different expectations.

We talk about what you should definitely NOT wear, and offer some guidelines on how to look professional while still feeling comfortable.

Finally, we hear from a student who suffered a major setback. Due to a traumatic event, she had to leave school for a period of time, and failed several classes in the process.

Fortunately, she’s recovering and back to finish her senior year. But she’s concerned that the low grades and gap in her transcript will prevent her from going to graduate school.

Moreover, she doesn’t know how to talk about this event that so challenged her life.

My main question is how do you frame personal and difficult life experiences when asked about them in interviews, applications, etc? I know that I am driven, tenacious, and ready to pursue a graduate degree but unsure how to frame my past experience to my advantage.

I am also unsure of how to anticipate others’ reactions if I do speak candidly. I know that I have an empowering story but am finding it hard to balance oversharing and not being detailed enough. I don’t want to seem like I am flaky or give up when facing a challenge, which is how it currently appears on my transcript. I would be interested in hearing from graduate students with similar experiences of taking a mental health break from university life and later returning. 

We answer those questions, and more, this week on the show. In fact, we had SO many listener questions this week, we’ll be back next time with more of your inquiries and more Susanna Harris!

To hear more from Susanna, check out these epsiodes:

110: The Secret Life of Pets (in Grad School)

100: The One Where We Celebrate

093: The Grad School Mental Health Crisis, and What You Can Do About It

All Fired Up

This week, we leave the malts and hops behind to sample a local North Carolina hard cider. It’s the Off Main from Bull City Ciderworks in Durham, NC.

Co-founded by a Microbiology student, Bull City Ciderworks offers all the perks of a local brew pub, but without all the gluten.

We kick the flavor up a notch by mixing in an ounce or so of Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey to give it just a hint of apple-pie. Because, why not?

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