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167. Mailbag – Am I Ready For Grad School?

This week, we dive head-first into the mailbag to answer listener questions about grad school readiness, teaching experience, and more!

Just Finished!

Our first missive comes from Kaylee, who recently graduated!

I just wanted to send an email to thank you for all of the hard work you have put into creating Hello PhD over the years. I can’t express in words how much this podcast has meant to me. It has helped me through supervisor problems, lab isolation, career path questions, and so many other graduate school struggles. I think the biggest impact has been on helping me feel less alone and showing me that the difficulties I have experienced are common for many graduate students.

One of the biggest ways that Hello PhD has helped me has been in making me reevaluate the default of staying in academia. In fact, I just received job offers to move to a position as an R&D scientist in the biotechnology industry, which I will be starting in the new year! Since I may not listen to Hello PhD as religiously in the future, I just wanted to let you both know now how much this podcast has helped me survive graduate school.

As you can imagine, we are over-the-moon excited for Kaylee, and so proud of what she’s accomplished. She went the extra mile to share her experience with other listeners, and we wish her the best in her new career!

Just Beginning!

Our next email comes from Judith, who is in her senior year of a bachelor’s degree, and wonders whether she’s ready to apply to grad school this year.

Her fall research experience was cut short by a busy PI, and one of her previous lab rotations was virtual due to COVID. She has some high-school research experience, but she’s wondering whether those activities, and a challenge with letters of recommendation, will be enough to get into a graduate program.

At this point I am not even sure if I should apply to grad school this year. I had three options after graduation: grad school, postbacs that the NIH funds (PREP), and lastly finding a job as a lab technician for one or two years until I apply to grad school again.

I desperately decided to reach out because anything that could go wrong with my applications, has gone wrong… I would appreciate your advice on what my next steps should be.

We emphasize the importance of those in-depth research experiences – not just because the admissions committee expects to see them – but also because it gives the student a better sense that research will be a fulfilling career. It’s a mistake to dive into the icy waters of graduate school before you’ve dipped your toe in. We’ve been there and done that!

Those Who Can, Teach

Last up, Will poses a unique question about teaching at the college level, and what kind of experience is necessary to pass the torch to an upcoming generation of students.

In the past year, I recently graduated with a Bachelor’s in Nursing, and decided to jump straight back into the fire and am currently a year 1 graduate student pursuing a PhD in Nursing Science. I have a job as a GA [graduate assistant], however I also decided to work part time as a nurse in the hospital. I would be much happier only working as a GA and being able to dedicate more time to my science, but my problem is this:

Would it make me a fraud to never have practiced directly in an area that I am going to train others to be in someday? My goal is to be faculty at a research university, with a large focus on research, but I imagine part of that will still include teaching undergrads planning to work in the field. Does it matter that I am able to say “I put in my time” before moving on to the non-clinical area of the profession?

We put Will’s fear to rest by sharing the observation that many professors teach classes that are outside of their research field. In fact, it’s even common in medical schools where PhDs teach the MDs their introductory courses!

For clinical training, nurses and doctors will spend time in the clinic, shadowing other nurses and doctors. A professor can focus on research and clear communication, without having to know the minute details of a totally separate profession!

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