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178. I Didn’t Even Know “Research” Was a Thing!

For some students, graduate schools is a foregone conclusion.

Perhaps they’ve wanted to ‘be a scientist’ since they were nine, and along the way, they learned that a PhD is a stepping stone on that path. Or perhaps they knew their career prospects with a Bachelor’s degree were thin, so they new an advanced degree was in the future.

But Josh wasn’t that student. He was a junior in college before he even learned that ‘research scientist’ was a career that he could pursue.

This week, we revisit his-story. (See what I did there?)

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176. Stop Calling Yourself a ‘Grad Student’ w/ Dr. Alaina Talboy

Titles are a part of our identity. If you meet a school teacher, computer programmer, or rocket scientist, you will instantly form an impression of what kind of person they are without any additional information.

The bias we impose upon hearing a title can be good or bad, of course. But we all invariably take these mental shortcuts, and it influences how we treat the people we meet.

What’s interesting is that these titles reflect on us, as well. What I call myself impacts what I expect from my work, and how I expect others to treat me in my role.

This week on the show, we talk with a PhD who helps current graduate students as they explore careers outside of academia. And she has some advice on how you can reimagine your graduate title.

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172. Research Software Engineer

If you work in a lab, you’re collecting data. And as the volume of data increases, many researchers find they can’t process or analyze that data in a spreadsheet or stats program anymore. Instead, they’re writing code in Python, R, or C++ to do that processing for them.

But this creates a new challenge: what happens to that code over time? Can your Python script be shared with other labs who might find it useful? When the graduate student who wrote the analysis package graduates, is there anyone around to maintain and update it so the lab can continue to reap the benefits?

Unfortunately, many researchers who know how to code don’t know how to shepherd that resource so it can be useful to others. But luckily, there are experts who know how to help.

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169. Change Your Plans, Not Your Goals

Even as a child, Alexandra wanted to study space. She had a Bachelor’s degree in physics from Cambridge University, so she seemed like the perfect candidate to for a PhD program.

But after graduation, she didn’t feel ready. She’d need a Master’s degree first, but money was tight and her student visa had run out.

She found a job prospect at a particle accelerator lab, but was turned down because they wanted more programming experience. So she packed her bags and headed home.

Her goal remained the same – to study astrophysics and earn a PhD. But due to circumstances, her plans had to change.

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142. Advancing Racial Equity in Science w/ Dr. Kenneth Gibbs

When Dr. Kenneth Gibbs talks about diversity and inclusion in the sciences, it’s not just a cause célèbre. It’s personal.

“For those of you who don’t know me, I am a Black man. A descendent from enslaved Africans here in America, so my family has been here for hundreds of years. That’s part of my story.”

And while his grandfathers had 4th and 8th grade educations, his parents were able to go college in the 1970s because of public investment in programs like Upward Bound. He and his sisters were able to go to graduate school.

“I had a PhD from Stanford by the time I was 27,” Dr. Gibbs recalls. “You can see that arc, but you can also see that when I got that PhD, I was the only black man in my building for that five years that wasn’t a mailman, janitor, or technician.”

He finishes, “There’s nothing wrong with any of those jobs, but I said, ‘There’s something kind of “off” here.'”

Now, he’s working to fix the system, and to make science look more like society.

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