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June 30, 2020
As protesters march in the streets, you’ll hear calls to “Defund” or “Disband the Police.” These advocates argue that tweaks and training programs will never be enough to meaningfully alter the course of modern police departments, some of which can trace their origins to slave patrols in the South. You simply can’t get there, from here, they say. We need to reimagine what we mean by ‘public safety’, and look for other ways to foster healthy communities. That same revolutionary approach may sharpen our thinking on academic training at a University. As we grapple with the way our society treats people of color, we can’t turn away from the advantages and obstacles enshrined by our educational system. Indeed, access to education may be one of the many steps in our path to equality. We caught up with Dr. Ashalla Freeman, Director of Diversity Affairs for UNC Chapel-Hill’s Biological & Biomedical Sciences Program and Co-Director of the NIH funded IMSD program. Dr. Ashalla Freeman, PhD Dr. Freeman works to promote the development and success of biomedical PhD students from groups historically underrepresented in the sciences and implements diversity awareness programming for the UNC School of Medicine Faculty Diversity efforts. This week on the show, she shares her ideas for making science more diverse and inclusive. Some solutions, like regular training for students, faculty and staff, could be implemented tomorrow with tangible results. But the real, and lasting, changes take more work, and more introspection. She talks about the need to explore the origins of academic training, and how its very designs have always privileged some groups over others. When we ultimately understand how our academic institutions were born and evolved, we’ll be able to reimagine them from the ground up with diversity in mind. And diversity – of experience, ideas, and people – can only strengthen and accelerate scientific progress.
June 12, 2020
Have you ever lamented the fact that there isn’t some kind of instruction book to help you navigate your scientific training? Wouldn’t it be nice if someone explained how to choose a mentor, or what it means to give a ‘job talk?’ And is there any advice for how to deal with that negative peer-reviewer, or how to escape a sub-par PI? Well, you’re in luck, because The Early Career Researcher’s Toolbox: Insights into Mentors, Peer Review, and Landing a Faculty Job by Andres De Los Reyes, PhD, is exactly the guide you’ve been looking for. And this week, we get this clinical psychologist’s insight into why academic training is so stressful, and how you can overcome the major hurdles along the way. Emerging Academics Andres De Los Reyes, PhD Dr. De Los Reyes shares his definition of an Emerging Academic, a word he uses to describe that intense training period between undergrad and a faculty position. It’s a little bit like ’emerging adulthood’, he says, when we leave home to become real ‘grownups’, with all the uncertainty and responsibility that entails. One reason academia makes that transition difficult is because our training programs are more focused on ‘book smarts’ than ‘street smarts,’ he says. We spend years learning the depth and nuance of our scientific field, but hardly anyone teaches us the actual skills that faculty use to succeed. For example, you may get lucky enough to co-author a paper or two with your PI, but has anyone taught you how to successfully apply for grants? Do you know how much budget to ask for when setting up a lab? And what do you do if one of your competitors reviews your paper, and actively works against you with the editor? The Early Career Researcher’s Toolbox answers those questions and more. It’s packed with step-by-step instructions, sample emails and cover letters, and personal stories from other Emerging Academics to help you realize you’re not alone on this journey. It’s essential reading whether you’re an undergrad, a new faculty member, or anywhere in between. Black Lives Matter We also take some time in this episode to continue a conversation on many hearts and minds recently. As the United States opens its eyes to the institutional racism that resulted in the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and many before them, we must also reflect on and mobilize against the racism endemic in academia and research institutions. That starts by listening to the voices of black and minority students who have faced implicit and explicit bias at every stage of life, including the Ivory Tower. Then, we must do some work to understand your own implicit biases,
May 30, 2020
COVID-19 is a wildfire burning its way around the planet. Its impacts are devastating to nearly every aspect of our modern lives: loved ones lost, economies destroyed, and plans put on hold indefinitely. But like a fire, it’s also shedding light, illuminating the hidden corners of our society and our routines that we may not have taken the time to examine before. When this fire eventually burns itself out, should we go back to living in the dark, or are there lessons we should learn? Are there torches we can carry beyond this trial to more permanently transform our work, our values, and our lives? This week on the show, we reflect on the lessons learned from the global experiment that COVID-19 has forced on our lives. Though none of us chose to participate, we have all been enrolled in a massive clinical trial. We have upended our work habits, leaving our labs and offices to quarantine at home. We’ve been forced to rethink the pace of our work, the value of ‘face time’, and the strategies we employ for doing everything from lab work to ordering takeout. And while the devastation is real, not every change has been harmful. On the contrary, we’ve identified at least five transformations that we’d like to maintain even after the pandemic is over… Slowing our pace may speed up science Most researchers have been out of the lab for two months or more. What have they been doing with this extra time? For many, it’s a chance to spend more time thinking about their research, rather than doing the next experiment just to keep busy. This planning time can pay outsized dividends, as we learned when we spoke with Dr. Jimena Giudice back in Episode 122. Scientists often fill their days with busyness and experiments, without thinking strategically about how those results will advance their next paper or the question they hope to resolve. Slowing down has allowed many scientists to plan a leaner, more targeted approach to those answers. Technology can make science more accessible Raise your hand if you’ve participated in a Zoom meeting that, three months ago, would’ve been done in person with half as many participants… By pushing conversation online, we’ve opened up a whole new world of collaboration where your physical distance from the research is no barrier to your participation. As dissertation defenses, journal clubs, and research seminars move online, science becomes more accessible and more collaborative. We need to ensure that this online access continues even after we can safely meet together in person. Remote work has some advantages Sure, you need to be physically present in the lab when splitting cells or running a PCR because your house or local coffee shop don’t have a laminar flow hood, Vortex mixer, and thermocycler. But what about the times you need to read journals or write a manuscript? Many scientists can find the lab distracting when engaging in these solitary pursuits. But ask the typical graduate student whether it’s okay to ‘work from home for a few days’ while writing, and they’ll reflexively default to lab attendance regardless of the activity, the holiday, or the weekend. As we prove to ourselves and our colleagues that we CA...
May 14, 2020
Four hundred years ago, Galileo Galilei knelt before a group of Cardinals of the Catholic Church and was forced to recant his heretical belief that the Earth revolves around the sun. “This must have been horrific for him,” says Dr. Mario Livio, author of a new biography titled Galileo and the Science Deniers. “To basically disavow everything he strongly believed in as a scientist.” This week on the show, we talk with Dr. Livio about Galileo’s life and struggles, and what his experience can teach us about the science deniers living in our own time. Finding the Center Galileo was an Italian astronomer, physicist, and polymath who lived and studied in Italy around the turn of the seventeenth century. He may be best known for an experiment that he probably didn’t actually do – the apocryphal tale of Galileo dropping different objects off the side of the Leaning Tower of Pisa to see how they would accelerate. But Galileo’s astronomical observations, and the conflict they produced, take center stage in Dr. Livio’s new book. It’s a story that surprisingly few people have heard. “Galileo is one of the most fascinating personalities in history. While everybody has heard about Galileo, I discovered that very few people actually know exactly what happened to him,” Livio recalls. The book begins as a straightforward biography, describing Galileo’s early years, studying and teaching at Universities around Italy. But as the chapters progress, the reader begins to pick up on the faint but steady drumbeat of Galileo’s impending battle. Dr. Livio sets the stage: “Aristotle and Ptolemy had a geocentric model of the solar system, in which the Earth was at the center and everything else revolved around the Earth. And the Catholic Church, over the years, adopted this particular model as its orthodoxy.” “Copernicus changed that by suggesting that the sun is actually at the center, and the Earth and all the other planets revolve around the sun. And that’s where Galileo enters the scene.” The book describes Galileo’s astronomical observations that built a case for the heliocentric model of Copernicus. The reader gets to follow along on this path of discovery, observing Galileo as he observes the Phases of Venus, or spots circling the sun, and draws new conclusions about the position of our planet in the solar system. The Road to Rome But inevitably, Galileo’s research and writings come to the attention of the Church, and his trajectory is locked on a path toward conflict with Pope Urban VIII. Through a series of Papal threats, legal injunctions, and a three-phase trial that reads like the script of an episode of Law & Order, Galileo is found “vehemently suspect of heresy” for asserting that the Earth revolves around the sun. He must choose between recanting these views or being labeled a heretic – a title that would lead to his torture and death. Nearing seventy years of age, Galileo kneels before the Cardinals and recants. He is placed under house arrest for the rest of his life,
April 29, 2020
First, the good news: you’re not alone! About 1/3 of adults under age 30 carry some level of student loan debt. Unfortunately, if you’re earning a post-graduate degree, you may owe nearly twice as much as your friends who stopped with a Bachelor’s degree. This week on the show, we take a 360º look at student debt, and help you make a plan for paying it off without breaking the bank. This week, we’re joined by Dr. Emily Roberts of Personal Finance for PhDs! You’ll remember Emily from our previous finance-focused episodes covering topics like graduate school offer letters, investing for retirement, and saving for a rainy day. We start the conversation by understanding some common terms you’re likely to see if you have a student loan. We learn the difference between federal vs. private loans, what it means to have a loan that is ‘subsidized’, and why your loan may be ‘deferred’ while you’re in graduate school. With that overview of the student loan landscape under our belts, we get to dive into some of the questions you may be asking as a grad student: * Should I make payments on my loan while in graduate school?* Can I benefit from an income-driven repayment plan?* What is Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and am I eligible?* What about refinancing? Is that a good idea now that interest rates are so low?* How should I balance paying my student loans with other goals I have like saving for a large purchase or investing for retirement? Emily guides us through those questions, and more, and then tells you how to avoid a common trap that gradates fall into with the income-driven repayment plan. If you have questions, you can reach out to Emily on her website PFforPhDs.com, or check out some of the calculators and websites she mentioned in the show: Certified Student Loan Counselors StudentLoanHero.com Heather Jarvis
April 15, 2020
It’s finally here! The day you’ve been preparing for for the last five years! Your experiments are finished, papers published, and your dissertation has been typed, referenced, printed, and distributed. Now, it’s time to stand proudly before your committee and a room full of peers to defend your work and be dubbed a Doctor of Philosophy! At least, that’s how things used to be done before COVID-19 and social-distancing. Now, you have to do all the experiments, writing, and publishing, and then convince your audience to MUTE THEIR !@#%@% MICROPHONES so you can hear the committee’s questions on your Zoom defense! The Best Defense So much has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but one thing has not changed: nearly-minted PhD students still want to finish and get the heck out of grad school! And nothing will stand in their way. But defending a dissertation takes on a new level of anxiety and drama when you can’t be in the same room as your audience. Students defending during the socially-distant Spring of 2020 have had to adapt to videoconferences and screen-sharing. It’s tough enough to be prepare for a dissertation defense under normal circumstances. You need to know the literature. You need to prepare slides. You need to anticipate the questions of committee member #3 who always likes to bring up research papers from the 1960’s. But now, you also need to manage your audio quality, deal with limited WiFi bandwidth, and avoid back-lighting that makes you look like you’re in the witness protection program. Luckily, a handful of students have gone down this path before you, and at least one has drawn a map to help you out. This week on the show, we talk with Ashton Merck, whose Google Doc-Manifesto Defending a Dissertation by Videoconference has already been referenced thousands of times. Recently-minted Dr. Merck (has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?) defended her dissertation in March 2020 remotely via Zoom. Better yet, she took notes on how to handle the remote defense with grace and style. She has advice for PhD students ranging from how to solve audio/video errors, to how to avoid the recent spate of Zoom-bombing and trolling. She also gives advice to committee members and observers that helps ensure a productive environment for everyone. These are strange times, but we’re all in this together, and Dr. Merck’s guide is here to make the transition from student to graduate just a little bit easier. But you should still read that paper suggested by committee member #3…
March 31, 2020
It has quickly become a new way of life – working from home, avoiding restaurants and gyms, and ‘social distancing’ from coworkers, friends, and even family. The upending of normal routines happened so quickly, and the days have become so blurred together, that it’s hard to keep track of just how long we’ve been confined to our apartments and homes. We know that scientists and doctors at the NIH, CDC, virology labs, and hospitals around the world continue their front-lines fight to understand and treat the pandemic, and we are deeply grateful. But what about all the other scientists? The research faculty, postdocs, grad students, and technicians whose research doesn’t cover RNA viruses or epidemiology? Even though they are not working directly on understanding COVID-19, they still have important experiments to do. They have cell cultures, fruit fly lines, and mouse colonies to maintain. The have classes to teach or take, dissertations to write, and theses to defend. What happens to them when the University closes, and experiments are forbidden? This week, we catch up with those scientists, to understand how they are adapting to life and science in a pandemic.
March 13, 2020
I feel a little disheartened because I’ve been rejected from many of the places I applied to and haven’t heard back from a number of others. Is it worth it to hold out hope for the ones that haven’t sent out updates?  I have been rejected from 5 schools and am expecting 3 more rejections soon enough without any invitations for interview. I’ve had my time in regret and disappointment and I’m now thinking about what to do next.  Should I just give up at the thought of me obtaining a PhD? I feel like a mess right now. These excerpts are from just three of the many messages we received this year from grad school applicants who were moving through the stages of rejection grief. Some understood it would be an uphill climb, and half-expected the bad news. For others, it was a surprise because they had followed all the advice on how to craft the perfect application. For everyone, it was disappointing, demoralizing, and confusing – what can I do if I’ve been pushed off the only path I know to a career in science? This week, we explore the arcane inner workings of an admissions committee, and detail not only WHY you received that rejection letter, but what you can do about it next year. Why Not Me? The first question many applicants have is, “Why did I get rejected?” In many cases, they have experience, grades, and strong letters of recommendation. So what gives? The answer will be different for every person, of course, but there are some common threads that could lead to rejection. We take a look behind the scenes in an admission committee meeting to learn what makes some applications rise to the top, while others are cast aside. Fierce Competition If you only apply to schools your mom has heard of, like the Ivy League Yale, Stanford, or Harvard, then you’re much more likely to receive a rejection letter. The same may be true for schools on the coasts, or in heavily populated areas. These programs receive thousands of applications from the most qualified students in the world, some of them with first-author papers. If you ONLY applied to extremely competitive programs, odds are, you got a lot of rejections. Next year, treat grad school the way you did undergrad: with a mix of reach-schools, target-schools, and ‘safety-schools’. Having options is a good thing, and the research training at these other schools will be as good as, or better, than the Ivy League. Early Birds They say timing is everything, and that’s true in grad school applications as well. Applications may arrive in the admissions office between the open date and the deadline, but the admissions committee will review those applications in batches. Their goal is to find the most qualified students to offer interviews, but the staggered nature of the review process presents a few challenges. Early in the cycle, the committee may offer interviews to a few top-tier candidates and reject a few that don&#8217...
February 26, 2020
It’s 6 AM and you wake up as the crickets grow quiet and dawn illuminates your tent. After cooking breakfast over a campfire, you load a backpack and hike seven miles into a canyon. That’s when the science begins… Camp, Sample… When people think of science, they often conjure images of lab coats, chalk boards, and beaker-lined shelves. But for field scientists, the lab looks less like a soapstone bench and more like a frosty taiga, steamy rainforest, or bubbling hot-spring. This week, we talk with Vince Debes, a field-work researcher who studies extremophiles in Yellowstone National Park. Vince Debes, pictured here ‘in the lab.’ He explains his research, including why sampling hot springs helps his lab understand which organisms will ‘come to the table’ given the chemicals and compounds available in the soup. We also learn about what it takes to plan and execute a research program in the field, where weather, broken equipment, and wild animals can interrupt and alter your research protocol. Finally, Vince describes the traits and skills unique to making a scientist who can succeed at field work. It’s an odd combination of planning and improvisation: knowing the precise steps you’ll need to take, and adjusting your experiment when the environment forces a change. Here are some resources mentioned in the show: Group Exploring Organic Processes in Geochemistry(GEOPIG) at Arizona State University Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park Science in the News on Amphibian Parenting Practices …And Two Smoking Barrels A fire in 1910 caused the Old Forester distillery halt plans for bottling, and instead move the whiskey to a second barrel. The distinctive flavor led to this week’s ethanol selection: the Old Forester 1910 Old Fine Whiskey. Like in 1910, the whiskey (or is it bourbon?) is barreled a second time for a smoother, sweeter flavor. We’re still waiting on the release of a quadruple-barreled option!
February 11, 2020
It’s a well worn analogy, but an apt one: grad school is a mental and emotional marathon, not a sprint. This week, we answer listener mail from ‘runners’ at different stages of the race! This episode is Part 2 of our conversation with Susanna Harris of PhDBalance.com. You can listen to the first episode here: 126: Listener Mailbag – Ghost PIs, Dress Codes, and Mental Health with Susanna Harris Finishing Strong We begin near the end with Katie, who is really feeling the pain with the finish line in sight. It’s that time when you start to wonder why you got into this race in the first place! Katie asks: How do you let go of your proposed PhD plan, and breath life/love into wherever it’s going now, which feels like you’re scraping up the dirt on the floor and mushing it into the vague resemblance of a thesis? We cheer her on, and let her know that EVERYONE feels that way near the end of grad school. The key is to keep pushing over the finish line and be done with it. You’ll have time to analyze your impact once you have those three little letters at the end of your email signature… Gear Guides Next up, we take a brief detour to talk about the tools of the trade. Runners love gear, right? Xin Fei asks: What is your opinion on electronic lab notebooks? I find paper lab notes tedious and hard to keep track with. Any recommendations on E-lab books? Pros and Cons? I was thinking of using note taking apps (Notion, Evernote, etc) but wasn’t sure if that’s the best way to do it. Electronic lab notebooks are a complex topic (one to which we could devote an entire episode!) but the bottom line here is to talk to your ‘trainer.’ Your PI and lab mates need to approve of whatever technology you choose for keeping notes. In most cases, they’re the ones who will want to access your records after you move on from the lab. Second Wind Rounding the last leg of the race is Josh, who wants to know about keeping up his motivation as the miles tick by. Have any of you gone through a “motivational slump” during your PhD training, and if so, do you have any tricks to help pull yourself out of it? It’d also be great to hear any related advice from a mental health perspective (eg. If the slump is wrapped in some longer-term mental health issues). After having a good laugh/cry about the vast quantity of motivational slumps we’ve ALL been through, we get down to the layers in Josh’s question. First, Susanna illustrates the difference between a temporary ‘motivational slump’ and the more serious implications of declining mental health. For a science-slump, we recommend getting out to talk or write about your work to an audience that will be truly fascinated by the problems you’re trying to solve. That might mean presenting at a high school or chatting with your friend at the coffee shop. Sometimes simply ‘zooming out’ from the project will help you realize what inspired you about it in the fi...
January 24, 2020
It’s that time again – the virtual mail bag is overflowing, so we invited Susanna Harris of PhDBalance.com 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...
January 5, 2020
See our previous episodes in this series: * 101: HelloPhD Guide to Grad School Applications – Knowing When, and Where, to Apply with Dr. Beth Bowman* 102: HelloPhD Guide to Grad School Applications – Crafting the Perfect Personal Statement with Dr. Brian Rybarczyk With most jobs, you’ll need to submit a polished resume along with a handful of ebullient references. Maybe you’ll pass through a phone-screen with HR and then spend 20 minutes with the hiring manager.   To get into grad school, the interview process will take days. Grad school interviews often start with a flight to a new city.  You’ll have a casual chat with the grad student assigned to retrieve you from the airport, then meet the fellow candidate with whom you’ll share a hotel room. The moment you get settled, you’re off to dinner with some faculty, followed by an early bedtime.  That’s because tomorrow morning, you’ll pass through a series of orientation sessions, faculty interviews, a tour of the city, and finally, a late-night out with the current students in the program. You’ll fly back home the next day, grateful to be sleeping in your own bed.  And just when you get settled, you’ll need to hop on a plane to reach the next school where you’ll start the process again. Best Foot Forward Interview season can be rough on prospective students, and there’s plenty of work to be done.  But that doesn’t mean you need to be stressed. This week, we talk with Dr. Beth Bowman, Assistant Director of Graduate Programs in Biomedical Sciences and Co-Director of the Summer Science Academy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. Dr. Bowman has spent her career recruiting top-tier students to her program, and advising applicants on their own grad-school journeys.  She’s the author of the Materials and Methods blog, where she explores the grad school application process and the intricacies of scientific training. In this episode, we explain what you can expect from a typical interview weekend, from booking your flight to making a plan for the NEXT weekend in your schedule. On the way, we answer some burning questions: * Should I pretend that I want a career in academic science, or can I be honest about my career goals?* What kinds of questions will my faculty interviewers ask me?* What if I’m shy? How can I make it through dinner?* What is the dress code?* Should I go out to a bar or party with the current grad students?* How can I reschedule my interview if I have a conflict with another school?* And many more! Though interviews make most applicants very nervous, just know that by getting the interview, you’ve received a great vote of confidence from the admissions committee.   It’s expensive to purchase plane tickets, hotel rooms, and food, and to commit the time of faculty, students, and staff to your visit.  If they invited you to visit, they REALLY want you to choose their program! You should feel proud!
December 16, 2019
Most PhD students attend traditional academic institutions of higher educations. It’s the world of classes, campuses, and mortarboards you probably think of when you think about a University. But there’s a less-traveled path to a PhD that may actually hold some benefits for certain students, including those coming back to school after working for awhile, or those with families. We’re talking about research institutes, and it’s possible you’ve never even heard about this alternative path to a PhD. Research on the Brink Research institutes may not be on every student’s radar. Though there are several varieties, most research institutes exist as hybrids – not quite academic, but not quite industry. Not quite public, but not quite private either. Of the 10,000-15,000 research institutes in the United States, many were formed either to explore specific topics (agriculture, defense, or energy) or to bridge the gap between the lab and the wider world. These bridge-focused institutes can be industry partnerships or organizations that interface directly with patients through hospitals or clinical trials. This hybrid approach appeals to many scientists who want to see the tangible effects of their science out in the world. Instead of waiting for basic research to wind its way through publications, they can work directly on technologies that benefit patients. And happily, many institutes will actually train students and grant PhDs. This may be in collaboration with a traditional university (like the Max Planck Research Institutes), or a PhD may be granted by the institute itself (like Scripps). Voices from Beyond We talked with Kaylee Helfrich, a fourth-year PhD student at the UNC-Chapel Hill Nutrition Research Institute. The Institute is located about 2 hours away from the Chapel Hill campus in Kannapolis, NC, and that gave Kaylee a different experience from her campus-centric peers. This week on the show, she shares the challenges and benefits of doing research at an institute. We learn about classwork, how she finds collaborators and mentors, and tips for staying in touch with other students. We also learn about how the lifestyle differences could be either a blessing or a curse, depending on the student. Because most of the employees of the institute are career scientists and administrators, there are fewer students with whom to socialize after hours. On the plus side, those hours tend to follow a standard office work day from 9 AM to 5 PM with weekends off. For some PhD students, that may sound too good to be true! Leave a comment below and tell us about YOUR experience at a research institute. Was it the right choice for you? How does it differ from Kaylee’s experience? The King of (Pumpkin) Beers We nearly missed it this year, but we managed to sneak it in under the wire – it’s our annual tasting of the seasonal pumpkin beer! This time, we taste-test the Pumking Imperial Ale from Southern Tier Brewing. Curious what we thought? Let’s just say, the best thing about this beer is the mascot.
November 27, 2019
We’re bringing you this bonus episode to encourage our listeners to submit their artwork to the Promega Art Contest for Creative Scientists. This isn’t for everyone – it’s just for listeners of Hello PhD! The deadline is nearly here (December 1st, 2019), but you can still visit the contest page to submit a digital image of your fine artwork, photography, microscopy, or whatever! Five winners will receive prizes by mail and have their art on display at the Promega Employee Art Showcase. One Grand Prize Winner will win a free trip to the Art Show opening in Madison Wisconsin! We called Dr. Aparna Shah, who was last year’s grand-prize winner. Her submission, “an image of an immuno-histochemically stained mouse brain slice acquired on a confocal microscope” came from a project she had since abandoned. Thankfully, that image was still a winner. You can read all about her experience here: Oh, the Places You’ll Go, Thanks to Science! So don’t wait! Submit your images today!
November 15, 2019
In a world where it’s “Publish or Perish,” you’d expect “publish” to be the more favorable option. But, if you’ve ever spent a year or more performing experiments, crafting figures, writing a manuscript, finding a friendly editor and arguing with reviewers, that “perish” option might just sound pretty sweet right about now…. It’s no secret that the publishing industry has an inexplicable choke-hold on the scientific community. A handful of companies exercise editorial control, deciding which findings are permitted to enter the information stream. They charge the researcher who submits the paper, then charge exorbitant fees to the reader to see what was ‘printed.’ While the information age has flooded nearly every aspect of our daily lives, its transformative power sometimes seems to be walled off at the laboratory door. Luckily, there are a few scientists who are willing to chip away at that wall. Minimum Viable Publication Nate Jacobs wasn’t far into his postdoctoral training when he realized that the joy of publishing a paper had faded. Nate Jacobs, PhDCEO of Flashpub “I started getting really frustrated with the publishing process. Every time I published, it kind of felt like a failure. I wasn’t sure if other people would be able to reproduce it. It didn’t feel collaborative.” Nate said it started to feel almost as if he was talking to himself, rather than engaging in the back-and-forth communication of a scientific debate. “The best example of this,” he says, “is the discussion section. It’s called ‘discussion,’ but you proceed to have a conversation with yourself and create these straw-man arguments. It started feeling really fake to me.” Access was another problem. If your university can’t afford to subscribe to a journal, you’ll be forced to write to the paper’s authors, or to scour SciHub or other less-than-legal sources. “Of course I’m going to have to be a criminal to get my PhD done,” Nate adds wryly. So what’s a postdoc to do? Nate decided to give new life to an old idea whose time had come. Making a Micropublication “If you think of the current literature as big, slow, and exclusive, micropublication is the opposite of that,” Nate says. He summarizes a micropublication this way: “It is a single figure, a single finding. What differentiates it is that you’re not waiting until you have a full, complete, clear narrative. You’re really publishing individual findings.” Imagine an average cell biology paper. You might have multiple figures showing Western blots, immunofluorescence, DNA purifications, or statistics. Presumably, those are all referenced in the narrative arc of your paper, supporting some new conclusion. But along the way, you probably did a few experiments that “didn’t work.” Or maybe they contradicted your central finding, and you left them out in the interest of finally finishing up your manuscript. Some of those experiments would probably benefit from additional controls, or better antibodies held in another lab. You won’t learn about those improvements until the reviewers send the paper back,
October 30, 2019
Please recount your life story, all of your future plans, and why this graduate program is uniquely suited to fulfill those dreams. Limit your answer to 140 characters. Okay, okay, the typical “Personal Statement” prompt on your grad school application is probably not that outrageous, but they CAN feel both cryptic and overwhelming. Here’s a real prompt from a real grad school application at a major university: In 1-2 pages, describe your career goals, research interests, past and present research experience, and why you’ve chosen the [Name Redacted] Program for your graduate studies. This prompt can induce instant writer’s block in even the most prepared applicants.  So where do you begin? This week on the show, we share tips for crafting the perfect personal statement that will highlight your grad-school-readiness and potential for greatness in a career beyond the degree. Anatomy of an Application The typical graduate school application has four main parts: * Transcripts* Test Scores (GRE, TOEFL, etc.)* Letters of Recommendation* Personal Statement Let’s unpack these one by one. Transcripts Transcripts are the easy part. If you’ve already done the hard work of researching schools that will be a good fit for your aspirations, you simply need to visit the registrar to send transcripts.  Sure, it’ll cost you a few bucks, but the main concern here is timing.  It can take moments or months for official transcripts to make their way to the intended school, so start early.  Many programs will accept ‘unofficial’ transcripts with an application as long as you send the real-sealed-deal eventually. Test Scores It seems like only yesterday when every graduate program required applicants to submit GRE scores, as well as some GRE subject tests.  That’s because it pretty much WAS yesterday. In the last year, nearly 100 programs have dropped their GRE requirement.  You can find a running list, maintained by our very own Josh, in a Google Doc he updates regularly. And while the GRE may not be required, many applicants will still take it.  Our advice is that if you choose to take the exam, you should definitely study.  Check you university’s website for test-prep classes and guides. If English is not your first language, you’ll also need to take a language proficiency exam like the TOEFL.  Typically, grad programs will expect scores to be recent – within the last year or two – to ensure you’ve kept up with the language. To learn more about the GRE requirement and why it’s falling from favor in biomedical graduate programs, check out our previous episodes: 023: Seriously, can we ditch the GRE already? 065: Does the GRE Predict Which Students Will Succeed? Letters of Recommendation While you probably won’t need to spend a lot of time on this section of your application,
October 11, 2019
Dr. Jimena Giudice has all the traits of a promising new faculty member. Through her training and early career, she has earned more than a dozen grants and awards. She’s co-authored two dozen papers. And she has trained students and postdocs, gaining a reputation as a highly effective mentor. You’d expect that Dr. Giudice’s undeniable success was the natural result of an early immersion in science and a dogged adherence to the well-worn path through college, grad school, and postdoc. But of course, you’d be wrong. Before discovering a love for scientific research, Dr. Giudice spent ten years answering a different calling. Changing Focus Dr. Jimena Giudice Growing up in Argentina, Jimena didn’t know that her eventual career in science was even an option. “My parents are architects, my sister is an architect, my cousins are architects, uncles are architects or graphic designers. So I really didn’t have anyone close that I could imagine you could do science as a career,” she recalls. So after high school, she enrolled in college to study industrial engineering. Four years into a six year degree, she put her studies on hold and made a personal decision. “I changed my path, and that’s when I started considering being a nun. I entered a congregation when I was 21.” Jimena knew that after three years in the congregation, she’d have the opportunity get back to school to continue her studies. Her congregation was focused on education, which gave her valuable experience. “I was teaching at different levels. Primary school, kindergarten, secondary school, people in the street, rural schools. I was full time working and teaching,” she says. As her fourth year of service approached, she started to think about what she could study during the next three years that would help in her congregation. She visited the university to explore the available courses, and found that her options expanded well beyond the architecture and engineering paths she had known as a child. “I remember the first image I have in my head is seeing students with white lab coats and the labs with glass windows and walls. And I have that image in my mind. I said ‘That’s what I want. I want to do that. I want to be with a white lab coat doing what they were doing.'” That moment was transformative. Afterwards, she says, “I always had the dream of doing experiments, even though I liked education and teaching. Thats when I saw for the first time that science is something where you can study and work and have a career.” One Good Turn With her passion for science ignited, Jimena had a new problem. A chemistry degree in Argentina takes six years, but her congregation allowed just three years to pursue a degree while also working during the day. She did the majority her classes at night, and traveled an hour and a half between the community where she lived and the university. “I had to multi-task a lot of things. My philosophy was: when I am in classes, I am in classes, and I have to get as much as I can from here because I don’t have a lot of time to study at home,” she remembers.
September 24, 2019
You’ve gotten this far, which means you have probably read the episode title by now. And that means you have questions. So… many… questions…. Let’s answer a few of them right up front. First, if you want to enter graduate school at age seventeen, you should probably start college around age eleven. That’s what this week’s guest Dr. Julia Nepper did. Second, you should know that even though Julia’s educational biography is unusual, the lessons she learned along the way will feel familiar to every graduate student. The Same New Story As a child, Julia Nepper loved to read. “I would read for eight or ten hours a day, every single day,” she recalls. Her parents decided to homeschool, which afforded her the flexibility to learn at her own pace. Her voracious appetite for books, and an intrinsic love of learning, propelled her through entire grade levels every few months. By age eleven, she had scored highly on the SAT, and enrolled in a community college near home. “You had to be at least sixteen to live in the dorms on campus,” she notes. “For the first two years, the college required me to have a guardian with me at all times, so my dad had to sit in the hallway outside of all of my classes.” Julia completed her undergraduate degree in Biology. She was fifteen when she first applied to graduate school. “I think I encountered my first big failure when I started applying to grad school, because I got rejected.” Her age and limited research experience probably impacted the admissions decision, but that was not the end of her story. Julia learned about a post-baccalaureate research program that would give her time and training in a lab environment. “I was going to get a year of ‘pre-grad-school’ where I would get to do research in the lab and act like a grad student, live like a grad student, bulk up my resume, learn more about whether or not I even wanted to do this… It was very exciting,” Julia explains. Post-bac programs available to other students who want to gain a year of experience before engaging in the 4+ year commitment of graduate training. To learn more about them, check out the Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) and Postbaccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award (Postbac IRTA/CRTA) After a year of post-bac training, Julia was accepted to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She was elated, and eagerly moved to a new city to start her next adventure. But it wasn’t long until she faced an uncomfortable reality familiar to many graduate students. Though Julia had a long history of success – of good grades and academic accolades – graduate school demanded something different from the studying and testing that measured her progress in high school or college. “What made graduate school different was just the sheer amount of failure you encounter. And a lot of times, the complete lack of direction. Failing every single day starts to wear on you after awhile,” she remembers. Dr. Julia Nepper (Photo By: Michelle Stocker) In this episode, we ask Julia more about her unique experience as a teenager in graduate school. She tells us how she coped with failed experim...
September 7, 2019
As a researcher, you may brag about the open, collegial way that scientists share their findings in lab meetings, poster sessions, and journal articles. But if you dig beneath the surface, you’ll find a darker tendency built into our habits and institutions that actually cover up a lot of what we learn. For example, you might spend months testing the efficacy of a new cancer drug in vitro. But if that drug doesn’t have a significant impact on cancer growth, you’ll conclude your work is ‘not publishable,’ and the discovery will languish in your lab notebook. Meanwhile, in some other lab, at some other University, another scientist might get the same idea you had, and spend their own weeks or months doing the same tests, only to learn the same result. And so, year after year, the research community wastes immeasurable time re-learning the same lessons. And because of that, the march toward real insights and real cures slows to a crawl. This week on the show, we talk with Jon Tennant, PhD, who wants to re-open the channels of scientific communication and transform the way we build on what others have learned. Open Source Science The “Open Science” movement goes far beyond sharing negative results. It builds on the “Open Source” software movement that has been vital to the software engineering community for a generation. It encompasses all aspects of the scientific process, from planning experiments to sharing raw data to educating the public. Jon described just a handful of ways that scientists are opening their methods to the wider world. The first idea is the microPublication. Rather than gathering reams of data in the hopes of crafting a ‘story’ that a journal is willing to pick up, micropublishing focuses on sharing the results of individual experiments – pushing the data out to other scientists as they happen. In this way, you can collaborate in near-real-time, and inspire new paths of inquiry – even if the original idea doesn’t pan out. Another way to open your research is through pre-registration. In this mode, you present your hypothesis and research plan to a third party for review before you begin to collect data. That way, no matter the result, the world gets to learn about your experimental approach and whether the hypothesis was supported or rejected. While these novel modes of publication might sound exciting, they can have a hard time gaining traction in an academic setting where the Impact Factor of a journal can mean a promotion or a dismissal. How are postdocs and junior faculty members supposed to adopt these new publishing methods when the hiring or tenure committee puts so much stock in the ‘top-tier journals?’ Weaning academics from their addiction to Cell, Science, and Nature requires a cultural solution. The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment encourages signatories in academia and funding agencies to look beyond the Journal Impact Factor when making hiring and funding decisions. They highlight “the need to assess research on its own merits rather than on the basis of the journal in which the research is published.” Another campaign called “Free Our Knowledge” takes the pledge for open science on...
August 27, 2019
It’s that time of year again – summer days are growing shorter, your friends are trying to fit in one last trip to the beach, and the backpack aisle at Target is about to be cleared out to make way for the Halloween costumes. Yes, it’s back-to-school time. From toddlers to teenagers, this time of year instills foreboding about the school-year ahead. But as a first-year graduate student, you may have other feelings. For most, it’s the start of a new adventure. For the first time, you’re pursuing the one subject in the world you love best, surrounded by other equally brilliant and passionate people. It’s the end of being told what to learn and how to study, and the beginning of blazing your own academic trail. It IS a new experience – different from your matriculation in high school or college – and it may be difficult to know what to expect. This week, we lay out a ten-ish step plan for putting your best-foot-forward in that first semester of your graduate journey. Back to School We heard from Gary, who is about to start his own journey: Hello,I really enjoy listening to your podcast. I will be starting grad school in the fall studying geology. Do you have any advice for a person starting grad school and to make the first semester a good one?Thank you,Gary Gary’s question brought to mind many ideas we wish we had known in OUR first semester of grad school. We also reached out to current and former students on Twitter to hear their ideas. Here are the Top 10 themes we heard: 1. Try new things You’ll have plenty of novelty if you move to a new town and meet a completely new set of people, but don’t stop there. Take this transition period to try out new types of science in fields that you may not have studied before. 2. Get organized Many listeners recommended getting a calendar, and filling it with discrete tasks you can check off when you’re done. It will both keep your project on track, and let you visualize the progress you make each day. 3. Read more You’ll be tempted to spend your first days and weeks running experiments and generating data. After all – these rotations are short! But make an effort to spend time in the literature. Deeply understand the project you’re working on, and the foundational research that led to it. There’s no other time in your graduate training where building this foundation will be more likely, or more valuable. 4. Ask for help You’re in graduate school for training. You don’t need to pretend you know everything, and you wouldn’t need to be here if you did! Just like spending time reading the literature, asking for help early pays dividends over semesters and years. 5. Combat imposter syndrome At some point in your graduate career, you will feel that everyone else is smarter, more skilled, and better equipped than you are to succeed in the lab. You’ll feel a knot in your chest when you wonder how you managed to fool everyone into thinking you were ready for this, and you’ll wish you could sneak out the back and avoid the embarrassment of being identified as a fraud. That feeling is called imposter syndrome,
August 10, 2019
Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a crystal ball that could reveal your grad-school future? You might look forward to see if that next experiment will work out, or if your research will eventually make the cover of Nature. What you should do with the power of foresight is to take a deep look at the quality of mentorship you’ll receive over the next few years. It’s no secret that good research advisors can be tough to find. Most are passable – you’ll learn what you need to learn and graduate on time – and a few are stellar, elevating your research beyond what you thought was possible. But of course, lurking somewhere at every institution, are a handful of awful, terrible, no good, very bad PIs. These are the people you must avoid at all costs, lest they destroy both your confidence and your career plan. Of course, no one has a crystal ball, and sometimes our choice of a research mentor doesn’t pan out. But there’s a website hoping to change that. Hindsight: 20/20 Gadareth Higgs was ready for graduate school. His grades were good, he had some research experience, and he had been accepted to one of the most competitive programs in the US. “I just assumed we would have good mentors. That was not the case,” he recalls. In his third year, Gadareth would be forced to change labs, and his new PI was “not big on mentorship.” Gadarath’s qualifying exam didn’t go well, and there were signs that the PI was working against him behind the scenes. Ultimately, he had to leave the program. Then he got an idea: why not make a website where students and postdocs can score their PI on the factors that matter, so that other students can make an informed decision before committing to a lab? Enter GradPI.com, which is something like RateMyProfessor.com for graduate students. This week, we talk with Gadareth Higgs and Paola Figueroa-Delgado to find out more about the purpose and people behind the website. At its core, GradPI allows students to score their advisors on five factors called the “SMART” scale. From the Frequently Asked Questions page: S stands for Standing. Reputation is important because your advisor will serve as the springboard for whatever you do next.M stands for Mentorship. It is important to have an advisor who can serve as a scientific role model, even if not as a career or life guide.A stands for Autonomy. The degree of independence desired by students is highly variable; only you know what’s best for you.R stands for Resources. Money talks. End of story.T stands for Tact. This is essentially a personality score. But it takes into consideration how well the advisor conveys feedback, and fosters a welcoming environment for students of different cultures, genders, races, religions, and sexual orientations. It’s important to note that low-scores in a certain category may not be a bad thing for every student. Paola described how a prospective mentee might use the ratings to find a good fit. “Everyone has different kinds of mentorship preferences. You can provide comments and feedback on these different categories and see why for you it’s important to have autonomy. So [an advisor] with a low autonomy score is not good for you,” she explained.
July 22, 2019
In some jobs, one day at the office looks a lot like the next. You could look through your calendar and optimize your meeting schedule and to-do list without much thought. But working in a lab is different: your projects are in constant flux, experiments lead to other experiments, and you need to balance bench work with meetings, mentoring, and writing. That busyness can lead to inefficiency as you tackle the items on your list one after another. Worse, you’re forced to plan overlapping activities to fill the ‘downtime’ during incubations and time points. This week, we encourage you to take a step back, look over your list of competing priorities, and ask some hard questions about what’s really important. You might find you have more free time on your hands than you ever imagined… Throw it in the Focus Funnel Managing your time in lab goes beyond just making each experiment efficient and effective; you need to choose what tasks to take on, and which to let go.  That’s where the Focus Funnel from Rory Vaden’s Procrastinate on Purpose comes in handy. Just take your to-do list, and ask the following questions: * Does this task actually need to done? If not, eliminate it.* Does it involve a repetitive task that a computer could do?  If so, automate it!* Can someone else do it just as well as I can? If so, delegate it.* Does it need to get done right away? If not, procrastinate. If you answered no to all of the above, you’ve got a task that is important and requires your attention ASAP.  Now’s the time to set your pomodoro timer, and get the job done. As you work through this mental checklist, you’re sure to find activities that are best eliminated, automated, delegated, and procrastinated. Skip the fifth repetition on that Western blot that just won’t produce a pretty hot-dog shaped band. It’s okay, they’ll still publish your paper. Make an Excel template that runs all of your favorite statistics after a qPCR.  It’s better at math than you are anyway. Train your local undergrad to split your HeLa cells.  I promise you can get more if the first few batches get contaminated. Wait until after you talk with your PI to finalize those PowerPoint slides.  You know he’ll find something to criticize – why not make it something you were planning to fix anyway? The Focus Funnel can’t get you out of all of your work, but it will help you put each task in perspective and help you maximize the time you spend on the things that matter most. The Pirates of Alcosynth This week, we’re sampling the Hornigold English Style India Pale Ale from Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough, NC.  It derives its name from a piratical source which we reveal on the show.  The brewmaster at Mystery is none other than Erik Lars Myers, author of North Carolina Craft Beer & Breweries, so you know he knows his stuff! We also learn about Professor David Nutt’s research...
July 5, 2019
For most graduate students, the list of potential careers runs something like this: * Research Faculty* Teaching Faculty* Industry Researcher* Science Writer* …. ummmm… But the truth is that there are other, less talked-about careers that can be a perfect fit for scientists who may love learning but not working at the bench. Raison d’Liaison Listener Cara asked: I am a second year graduate student and I am interested in working with clinical trials in the future, maybe as a clinical trial manager or medical science liaison. I was wondering if you guys know anyone who went into this type of career who could talk on the show about how they got there and what their job is like? Thanks! We tracked down Dr. Aoife O’Dwyer, an experienced Medical Science Liaison (MSL) and founder of MSLConsultant.com. When she’s not working in pharma, she’s coaching other scientists on ways to succeed in the MSL career! Dr. Aoife O’Dwyer Aoife hadn’t always planned on going to graduate school, but during an economic downturn, she was struggling to find work in the pharmaceutical industry. When her research advisor suggested pursuing a PhD, she saw it as a great way to build her skills and perhaps open up other career options. It didn’t take long for her to realize she did not want to stay in the lab long-term. In fact, she tried to quit in her first year! But her advisor convinced her to stay, and they developed a plan to help her graduate quickly. With her PhD in hand, Dr. O’Dwyer turned back pharma. She found a career that would leverage her love of science, her deeply honed research skills, and her desire to make an impact on medical care. This week, we talk with her about her role as a Medical Science Liaison – what it is, and what it takes to get there. MSL, KOL, PHD, OMG! First question – what even IS a medical science liaison?! Aiofe describes it this way: A medical science liaison is a field-based, non-promotional expert on a product or therapeutic area. The job of the MSL is to develop collaborative relationships with people we call key opinion leaders who are experts in a certain therapeutic area, and use those relationships to improve or inform the strategy of a pharmaceutical company. In other words, the MSL acts as an ambassador, bridging the gap between research labs, clinicians, and the pharmaceutical company. Importantly, there’s a bright line between what an MSL does and what the sales team is doing. The MSL role is non-promotional – the goal is not to sell more products to the physician. Instead, it’s about listening to doctors and patients to understand where there are challenges in care or gaps in data that the company can then work to improve. One common misconception about the MSL role is that you’ll need to find a company working in the same field where you did your PhD research. That’s just not true, Aiofa explains. Instead, you’ll be expected to ‘up-skill,’ quickly learning new areas of research as the industry develops. If this career has piqued your interest, you’ll want to hear the tips Aiofe shares for transitioning from lab to pharma. She advises students to hone their communication skills through experience, and gives unexpected advice on the application process.
June 18, 2019
Ten weeks is not a long time. It feels even shorter when you’re tossed into the deep-end of a top-tier research lab. If you’re spending your summer as a Research Assistant between semesters, or you’ve graduated and want to get some summer experience before grad school, we have ideas to help you hit the ground running. This week, we respond to a listener question. Talia wrote: This summer I had an AMAZING opportunity to do research at my dream school. I am a public health undergraduate and I have experience mostly in qualitative methods and community-based research. This summer I’ll be in a really cool epigenetics lab. I have very little background in biology and even less bench lab experience.For all of you bench lab folks and people in a mentoring capacity, what makes an undergraduate research assistant “coachable”? What habits do you love/don’t love in your RAs? Great question, and we’re sure Talia is not alone in feeling unprepared for her first foray in the lab. Classes and textbooks are worlds away from the hands-on experience of research. That’s why we crowd-sourced the traits other scientists want to see in summer research students. If you follow these guidelines, you can expect to make lifelong friends and have a solid letter of recommendation by the end of the summer 7 Habits for Summer Research Show Humility If you’re interested in a research career, you’ve probably done well in your classes and often been the smartest person in the room. That’s great for your self-confidence, but it’s going to drive your lab-mates and mentors crazy. When you start as an undergraduate student research assistant, recognize that no one expects you to be an expert. They expect you to be teachable. That means asking questions when you are unsure about the material or getting help on the experiment where things are unclear. And even if you have some prior experience, no one wants to hear you say “That’s not how we did it in my old lab…” Take a breath and be ready to learn a new way of doing things. Maybe the ‘old way’ was better, but you’ll never know until you try the new way! Pay Attention to Detail Research is all about the details, and your ability to focus and follow directions precisely will help you succeed. Have your mentor observe and offer tips on improving your technique – things like pipetting accuracy or clearly labeling samples will make or break an experiment. And in the first few weeks, we recommend keeping your headphones in your pocket and out of your ears. Get a few successful trials under your belt before you add other distractions while you work. Engage with the Science Having a summer student means an ‘extra set of hands’ in the lab, and that’s valuable, but you should strive to be more than a gel-running robot. To get the most out of your summer research experience, do what you can to actually understand the work you’re doing. That means asking about how your experiments fit in with the broader goals of the lab. Maybe you’re working toward a figure in a paper – take the time to see the forest for the trees. It also means trying to understand the techniques and reagents you’re using. How does this enzyme work? Why are we adding this buffer?
June 3, 2019
It’s no secret that post-secondary education is a rough road to walk. Graduate students rack up debt for the privilege of working long hours for an unpredictable number of years with very little faculty support. Well, that might be true in much of the Northern hemisphere, but in a land where mammals lay eggs and snakes eat crocodiles, all bets are off. Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi! Of course, we’re talking about Australia, where PhD programs evolved in ways both unique and inspiring. We talked with Tahlia Perry, graduate student and echidna connoisseur, about her experience earning a degree from the University of Adelaide. Tahlia describes many differences between a PhD program in Australia and the US, but we want to highlight four: 1. Higher Education is affordable Imagine not being saddled with tens-of-thousands of dollars in student loans when you decided to start graduate school. Would that change your career choices, or at least decrease the existential dread you feel when you consider graduating and trying to start a family? In Australia, higher education is supported by HECS-HELP loans – publicly backed funding that you only pay back AFTER you have a well-paying job. For example, your tuition and fees are covered throughout the course of your training. If your annual salary is below about $52,000, you pay nothing on your loan. If you happen to earn more than $52,000, a graduated repayment scale kicks in and the fees are paid like income tax until your debt is repaid. 2. Almost all PhD students ‘take a year off to do research full time’ It’s called “Honors Year” and after finishing an undergraduate degree (in 3 years, no less), students who want to continue to post-secondary education will take 9 months to focus on research before applying for a PhD program. Though the projects are time-limited and narrowly focused, it’s a great way to experience research full-time before committing to a multi-year ordeal. 3. A PhD takes just 3 years! This one really surprised us. We thought we were being bold by advocating for a fixed-term 5 year PhD, but Australia went and raised the bar! Instead of taking 1-2 years for rotations, classes, and trying to identify a project like we do in the US, Australian applicants include their research plan as part of the application! By the end of the first year, they’ve done a literature review and designed the study for approval by their committee. Then, over the next two years, they have frequent (required) committee meetings to make sure the research stays on track. 4. Students have a safety net In addition to regular committee meetings, the students have a safety valve to get help when the PI becomes a problem. During each meeting, the student’s advisor will step out so there’s a space to talk with the remaining committee members about any concerns the student may have about their boss. It’s not perfect, as the power dynamic between student and faculty will still favor silence, but it’s a start, and one worth considering by other programs. All in all, we were inspired by Tahlia’s experience, and by all the feedback we got from other listeners to our question about creating a fixed-term PhD.
May 17, 2019
Here’s a controversial idea: what if graduate school finished on a predictable schedule the way (checks notes) every other academic training program does! Since kindergarten, your education has had fixed milestones. You knew it would take 12 years to graduate from high school, 4 for college, and 2 for a masters or an associates degree. Even medical school takes a predictable 4 years, with an additional 3-6 for residency and fellowship, depending on the field. So why does graduate school take between 4 and 10 years, with a lot of discretion, uncertainty, and mental anguish in between? Start the Clock This week on the show, we explore the strange, but sticky, notion that graduate training should be open-ended with no fixed program of development. If we could sacrifice that sacred cow, we might be able to design some requirements and milestones that feel less arbitrary and can consistently churn out bright, capable scientists. Imagine a world in which your PhD program was limited to 5 years. What type of training would build your research skills and make you ready for the workplace? The fact is, our current system is extremely variable – each student has a unique project with individual successes and failures.  One student might sail through in 3 years, while another is forced to change labs and stays through year 9. Is the first student smarter? Better equipped to succeed?   Or is the second student better trained by the additional time? The reality is that ‘time to PhD’ is not synonymous with skill or training.  And if time isn’t correlated with success, then there’s an opportunity to tighten up the training schedule without sacrificing pedagogical quality. We share a handful of ideas and concerns about a fixed-term PhD, but we’d love to hear what you think!  Is it worth standardizing scientific training, and where should we start? You may also like: 054: The 5 year PhD – #modernPhD Part 1 Breakfast of Champions Fry up some bacon, pull down a coffee mug, and pour yourself a glass of breakfast. It’s the Morning Smack Imperial Milk Stout from Three Taverns Craft Brewery in Decatur, GA. With maple-notes and a solid sweetness, this stout drinks like a dessert. And at 8% ABV, it’s probably wiser to save it for after dinner. You can still sip it from a mug, though!
May 1, 2019
Sometimes, a graduate school education follows the strait and narrow path through dissertation, postdoc, and faculty position. And sometimes, it sprouts wings and takes you somewhere else entirely. That was the experience for Isaac Childress. Isaac began his career as a physics PhD studying high-energy particles. But “Plan A” didn’t turn out exactly as he expected. Instead he found his muse in board games, and worked to design one of the top-rated games in history. Isaac Childres, PhD – founder of Cephalofair Games and designer of Gloomhaven This week we talk to Isaac about the downs, and ups, of his non-traditional career path. For Isaac, graduate school was a struggle with plenty of disappointments and feelings of failure. But outside the lab, he found inspiration while playing board and video games with his friends. As he played, he started to notice game dynamics that could be better. He imagined story lines and player interactions that would be both fun and challenging. Near the end of his graduate training, Isaac had designed a game called Forge War and had tested it with friends and reviewers. He set up a Kickstarter to see if maybe, just maybe, he’d earn enough support to actually get it published. The kickstarter brought in over $100,000. Isaac followed up Forge War with his award-winning Gloomhaven game, and the rest, as they say, is history. This physics PhD was building worlds, testing game dynamics, and ultimately, delighting players around the globe. We hear about everything from the time he was kicked out of his research group to the moment he knew his board game Kickstarter was going to be something special. If you’ve ever wondered if there’s a place for you outside the lab or in the world beyond graduate school, Isaac’s story is sure to inspire. Just make sure you look before you leap. Isaac concludes, “It’s alway good to have a backup plan before you start pursuing your dreams…” Find Isaac Childres at Cephalofair.com or on Twitter @cephalofair. You may also like: 018: How NOT to choose a career you’ll love This week’s refreshment comes once again from listener Adrian who shares the TROPICÁLIA American IPA from Creature Comforts Brewing in Athens, GA. It’s the perfect not-too-bitter finish to a sunny spring day.
April 16, 2019
It’s that time again… Let’s open the mailbag and see what you, our listeners and friends, have sent in! You asked for it… We start out with a couple of questions from David, who is considering going back to grad school for computational biology after a successful career as a software developer. He wants to know where to find ‘a list’ of programs that don’t require the GRE for admissions. Here’s that link for anyone interested in attending grad school without shelling out money for a standardized test. Bio/Biomedical Graduate Programs Dropping GRE Requirement He also asks whether he’s likely to face age-discrimination for going back to school in his 30’s or 40’s. While it’s clearly illegal to discriminate based on age in the graduate school application process, we don’t have enough experience to say what he’ll face when he reaches the work force. If you have a PhD and know how companies or schools consider age in the hiring process, why not let us know in the comments below? Next up, Allison looks for some advice on the very real emotional and relational impacts of moving to a new place to attend graduate school: I love listening to the podcast and have been listening for about a year. I am a graduating senior at my University, looking to go to graduate school in the fall. I am looking for advice on moving away from home ( for the first time) during grad school. I am married, so that helps, but I still feel nervous and don’t want to get depressed about moving away. Advice? We reminisce about the various times we’ve had to move away from ‘home’ to attend college or grad school. It really is a difficult transition, and it’s deeply personal. Though there’s no way to make that move easy, we recommend putting some effort into establishing new roots by meeting people outside the lab. That might look like a book club, church, sports, or roommates, but keeping busy is key to feeling comfortable in the new place. We also offer some suggestions for maintaining those vital connections to friends, family, and home. Schedule time to visit, or to have your friends visit you. And even though it might sound weird, schedule time to talk or video chat. Having that time carved out on a calendar will mean that you won’t go months between connection. Our last two questions came from this very website that you’re reading right now! Rui asks whether it’s worth describing a negative advisor relationship when applying to a new program and joining a lab. And Shilpa, an ambitious undergrad, wants to know how to find research opportunities if they’re not offered at the local university. We answer all these questions, and a few that weren’t asked in this week’s episode. Be sure to email, Tweet, or post your questions below to keep that mailbag full! Yellow Haze It’s pine-pollen season in North Carolina, and it’s tough to appreciate just how gross that is unless you live here. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, so here’s a drawing someone did on a restaurant table near my office: Yup, that’s pollen… And if 1,000 words aren’t enough, here are 1,000,000,000:
April 1, 2019
It looks like a cross between an anteater and a hedgehog, but don’t let that description fool you into believing it’s easy to spot an echidna in the wild. These denizens of the Down Under know how to hide. “They’re really understudied in Australia because they’re hard to find in the wild,” says Tahlia Perry, a graduate student at the University of Adelaide who has staked her graduate career on studying these rather shy creatures. Crowd Sourced Science “If you do find one you might not see the same animal for a couple of years in the same area. Even if you do put a tracker on them, you sort of know they’re in a couple of meter radius around you but you still can’t find them because they’re really good at hiding and they just disappear into the soil.” Tahlia’s project aims to understand more than just the distribution and habits of the echidna; she’s studying the foods they eat, their hormone balance, and their microbiome. And for that, she needs to collect echidna scats (i.e. poo!) for analysis in the lab. It’s difficult to generate enough data to finish a PhD with just one or two echidna sightings a year, so Tahlia and her team had to think bigger. They developed an app called EchidnaCSI that users across Australia can download to their phones to participate in the project. EchidnaCSI allows citizen scientists to snap photos of echidnas they see around the neighborhood or in the wild. Those photos are uploaded to the University’s servers with date and time information, as well as the phone’s geolocation, giving Tahlia vital data about where, and when, echidnas can be found across the continent. To understand the food choices and microbiome of these creatures, the app-participants can contribute in a slightly less orthodox way… “I’m getting the general public to basically collect echidna poo for me from across Australia,” Tahlia summarizes with a laugh. But the value of average citizens dropping poo in the mail is anything but laughable. Tahlia’s team can use those samples “to tell us who that echidna is, if it’s healthy, stressed or reproductively active. And so we can learn more about these wild populations without having to track or capture any of these animals.” And that’s the point – pun intended – of EchidnaCSI. It stands for “Echidna Conservation Science Initiative.” When we met Tahlia, she was attending the Citizen Science Conference, where nearly a thousand scientists, teachers, students, and enthusiasts met to talk about the ways that valuable research is assisted by curious and engaged citizens. Citizen Science is growing in popularity as researchers leverage the crowd to understand bird migration, water quality, insect habits, and weather patterns. Tahlia sums up the problem, and the solution, perfectly: “There is no way I’d be physically able to do it myself. Even with a team of scientists there’s no way we’d be able to collect this many sightings, this many scats, or go to these sorts of locations. The budget alone and the time alone – I would be doing this for the next 40 years of my life if I wanted to get thi...
March 13, 2019
You might believe that because you’re in grad school and receiving a research stipend, you don’t really need to worry about paying an income tax. You don’t have a ‘real job’ and no one asked you to fill out any paperwork so you’re off the hook, right? Wrong.  Utterly, expensively, illegally wrong. The Tax Man Cometh The truth is, graduate students and postdocs who receive paychecks, stipends, fellowships, grants, and any other type of pay are expected to pay income taxes.  Unfortunately, that’s not always made clear by your department. This week on the show, we talk with Emily Roberts, PhD, about the special tax questions grad students and postdocs should be asking.  Emily earned her degree in Biomedical Engineering, but now spends her time helping trainees navigate the world of personal finance. Emily explains that there are two broad categories of trainee income: * Compensatory pay – this is money you receive for doing work, like research assistant, teaching assistant, or any other ‘real job’ you’ll have in your life.  You’ll get a W-2 form, and your employer will withhold taxes throughout the year.  This is how normal people do taxes.* Non-compensatory pay – this is ‘awarded’ to you.  It might be a fellowship, scholarship, or training grant, but it’s not considered pay for performance.  And that can lead to a whole heap of side effects when it’s time to pay Uncle Sam. Students and postdocs who receive non-compensatory pay may not have taxes withheld, and their department may not even let them know they’re required to pay taxes! They’re also not eligible for certain tax breaks. What can you do?  Check out some of the following resources to learn more, and be sure to ask a tax professional for details on your own situation. That way, you won’t get a nasty surprise in year three of your training when an IRS auditor shows up at your door! * IRS Publication 970 Chapters 1, 3, and 6 (particularly p. 5-6)* Compensatory and non-compensatory pay and their tax implications.* Tax lies told to graduate students* How do I calculate and report my taxable income?* Can a grad student contribute to an IRA using his stipend?* Do I have to pay income tax throughout the year and how do I do it? Heads I Win, Tails You Lose Also in this episode, Josh takes his love of gaming to a whole new level by exploring the non-random outcome of a coin flip.  It turns out people are actually doing peer-reviewed research on coin flipping, including magician-turned-mathematician Professor Persi Diaconis! And since we’re bemoaning the 16th Amendment to the US Constitution (income tax), we might as well celebrate the 21st (the repeal of prohibition!) with
February 25, 2019
After a tough day of negative results and an ornery PI, it can be nice to come home to someone who thinks you’re amazing, loves you unconditionally, and wants nothing more than to cuddle with you on the couch. Of course, we’re talking about pets; dogs, cats, gerbils, rabbits, birds, horses and, I’m told, snakes and reptiles, can brighten even the darkest day. But despite their well-known restorative powers, pets can be a lot of work. Does a grad student or postdoc really have time to take care of another creature? This week, we assess the pros, and cons, of caring for pets in grad school. Woof, Meow, Tweet Susannah Harris was a fourth-year graduate student when she noticed a post on facebook about two stray puppies. “These were the cutest, and saddest puppies you’ve ever seen,” she remembers. As a long-time pet owner, she had thought about adopting a dog, but wasn’t sure how they’d fit into her busy research schedule. She set up a time to meet the puppies and to assess the option of adopting them. But, she also set up a veterinarian appointment for the very next day. In other words, there was NO WAY she was coming home without puppies. As strays, Hermes and Athena needed some serious care in the early days, but Susannah took it one day at a time. It wasn’t long before her care for the pups started to teach her about caring for herself. “There’s something really amazing about taking care of something else that is fully dependent on you, that reminds you YOU are fully dependent on you. You need to take care of yourself.” That can be difficult in graduate school, where long hours in the lab are both an expectation and a badge of honor. “People were more worried that my dogs weren’t getting enough attention or time outside, than they were for me.” Susannah’s dogs helped her to see that just as they needed time, attention and care, so did she. She says that as a grad student, “we put these things on hold because we can, but you would never say that about your dog. You would never treat a pet like that.” Though having a pet in graduate school can be a real comfort, it is not without its challenges. “It is WAY more expensive than you realize,” Susannah observes. And if you work long hours or need to travel for conferences, you’ll need to recruit helpers that can care for your pet in your absence. Susannah has taken to asking friends or colleagues for help. “Everyone in grad school secretly wants a pet. There’s always someone willing to help if you ask them.” We also asked our friends on Twitter whether they thought it was a good idea to foster a pet in graduate school. The response was overwhelming! Pets are really important during grad school. Free cuddles. Nonjudgmental. Needs you. Loves you. That baseline level of responsibility that also ensures you take care of you, cause you have to in order to take care of them.— Anna Scharnagl (@AnnaScharnagl) November 25, 2018 Sure if you want a resilliance building experience, a permanent narcissistic co-author that insists on editing your work with nonsense feedback and constan...
February 5, 2019
It’s been an exhausting journey, but you’re nearing the end. You slogged through reams of application forms, personal statements, and letters of reference. You gave up every weekend for two months, traveling to interview at different schools. But the blessed day has finally arrived when your inbox ‘dings’ with the sound of a grad school offer letter! It’s time to take everything you’ve learned about research programs, college towns, and faculty advisors and add another layer to your decision making: Can I actually afford to go to grad school? Fellowship of the Bling Getting an offer letter from a top-tier graduate school is absolutely enthralling, but before you pop the bubbly, it’s worth taking a few minutes to understand the details behind the ‘Yes!’ That’s why we asked our friend and frequent guest Dr. Emily Roberts from the website and podcast Personal Finance for PhDs to help us break down the numbers. Read on for a look at the different parts of a typical offer letter, or check out Emily’s website for a full description and companion worksheet! Stipend We open the conversation by talking about the big number everyone looks for first: the stipend. This is akin to a salary you’d receive at your job, and it sets the basis for most of your financial decisions over the next few years. While stipends that allow you to pursue your own research project are common, there are some flavors of funding that come with strings attached. For instance, there are research assistant fellowships that may require you to work on an unrelated project to earn your monthly allowance. Other students may be required to act as a teaching assistant (TA) and commit 10-20 hours per week outside the lab and inside the classroom. This can be great experience if your career goals include teaching, but may slow down your progress on your main research topic. It’s vitally important to find out where your money is coming from, and what you’ll be expected to do to earn it. You’ll also want to compare your offer to other programs and regions. Dr. Roberts hosts an amazing website for doing just that. It’s called www.phdstipends.com, and it allows you to search by field, department, or region to see what other students are earning. Your search results will also include a living-wage ratio, effectively letting you know how far your stipend will stretch in your new home. Though the living-wage ratio can get you started, Dr. Roberts says there’s another resource that you shouldn’t overlook. What you really need to do is to talk to students on the ground. That’s something you can do when you meet current grad students on your visit weekend or maybe you can do it later on via email. But it’s very important. Tuition and Fees In many cases, a PhD program will include funding for your tuition. Take a minute to confirm that’s true for the school you’re considering and move along. If your tuition is not completely covered, find out how much you’ll be expected to pay per semester. Tuition costs can change from year to year based on your progress through the program, so it’s vital that you take the long view and not get fixated on years one and two.
January 22, 2019
It’s Monday morning and you arrive in lab a little late. No worries, you drop your tissue culture media into the warming bath, turn on the hood, and head down the hall while things ‘warm up.’ Next stop is the -80 freezer. You dig through the drifting piles of frost and snow, around the boxes of samples with labels that wore off ages ago, and find your quarry. You throw your weight into the door, and manage to get it latched – just barely – and head to the lab. Once there, you dump yesterday’s gel buffer down the drain and start measuring out agarose and ethidium bromide for today’s experiments. With the gel poured, it’s finally time for coffee. Then maybe you’ll get around to splitting your cells. It may be an easy morning for a cell biologist, but it was pretty rough on the planet. This week we explore some simple tweaks this busy scientist could make to be greener and more sustainable! It’s Easy Being Green Allison Paradise started working in a biomedical research lab when she was in high school. On her very first day, she completed a cloning protocol and went to ask the PI where she could recycle the uncontaminated pipette tips and boxes. Allison Paradise, CEO and Founder of My Green Lab Her question was met with a glare of mixed astonishment and disgust. “We don’t recycle here.” Allison was incredulous. Recycling was second nature for her family at home – why should these clean plastics be incinerated rather than repurposed? Over the next few years, Allison noticed other counterintuitive lab behaviors. Why were the heat blocks and water baths left on 24/7? Why had the -70 degree freezers come to be called, and set to, -80 degrees? And what about all of those laboratory chemicals that were being dumped down the drain and into the water supply. In 2013, Allison left her industry gig to become CEO and founder of My Green Lab, a non-profit organization committed to making research science more sustainable. My Green Lab supports programs to conserve water, energy, consumables, and to reduce the lab’s dependence on toxic chemicals. They also offer a Green Lab Certification, measuring your lab’s performance on everything from fume hoods to field work. This week on the show, we asked Allison to share some ideas that lab scientists could do TODAY to start making a difference for the environment. Her solutions, like putting the water bath on an outlet timer, use simple strategies for an outsized impact. To learn more, visit MyGreenLab.org or follow them on Twitter or Facebook. And to cool us off (as if that’s a problem in January) we sip the Copperline Amber Ale from Carolina Brewery in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This beer takes its place as one of the first craft brews we tried way back in the day. And don’t worry, we definitely recycled the cans!
January 7, 2019
When you’re a graduate student, your conception of ‘industry’ has a lot in common with your understanding of a black-hole. First, you’ve been told it’s a scary and unpredictable place. (“Did you know they can just change your project or fire you at will?”) Second, it’s a one-way trip. (“Once you step off the tenure track, there’s no going back!”) And finally, information doesn’t escape its gravitational pull. You get plenty of visits and seminars from academic postdocs and PIs, but how many times has your department invited an industry scientist? This week on the show, we escape the industry event-horizon by interviewing three very real, and very successful PhDs currently working at 23andMe. 23andPhD Let’s meet the PhDs! Jennifer McCreight is a Scientist, Research Communications and joined 23andMe in 2017. She communicates their research studies to broader scientific audiences via social media and blog posts and oversees their conference attendance strategy. Previously she ran a science blog and gave 50+ lectures on genetics and evolution for the general public. Jennifer earned her PhD in Genome Sciences from the University of Washington, where she studied the evolution of microRNA in primates and was a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow. Fah Sathirapongsasuti is a Senior Scientist, Computational Biology and joined 23andMe in 2013. He analyzes research participant data to identify new therapeutic targets through the integration of genomic and biomedical data with the goal of realizing precision medicine. Research Fah conducted for his PhD studies at Harvard – developing the first method to detect copy number variations from exome sequencing data – has been cited more than 100 times. As an undergraduate at Stanford University, he earned the President’s Award for Academic Excellence. Janie Shelton is a Senior Scientist, Data Collection and joined 23andMe in 2015. She is responsible for developing novel areas of online data collection and analyzing data on a wide-range of phenotypes. Prior to 23andMe, she worked at the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime where she focused on survey methods and analytical techniques to estimate the number of people among various hidden populations. Janie has also worked at the University of California, Davis, investigating environmental causes for the increase in autism spectrum disorders observed in California. Janie earned her PhD in Epidemiology at University of California, Davis and her Masters in Public Health, Biostatistics & Epidemiology from the University of Southern California. We asked Jennifer, Fah, and Janie to reflect on their graduate school journeys, and how their training prepared them for industry. In our interview, they talk about the importance of extra-curricular activities to career success, ways to learn more about industry jobs through internships and informational interviews, and why academia needs to improve its policies for student work-life balance and mental health. Whether you’re committed to the tenure track or are thinking about exploring an industry career, these three successful scientists will give you valuable insights to help you navigate your own path. You may also like: 079: The Insider’s Guide to Industry – with Randall Ribaudo, PhD
December 17, 2018
See our previous episodes in this series: * 101: HelloPhD Guide to Grad School Applications – Knowing When, and Where, to Apply with Dr. Beth Bowman* 102: HelloPhD Guide to Grad School Applications – Crafting the Perfect Personal Statement with Dr. Brian Rybarczyk With most jobs, you’ll need to submit a polished resume along with a handful of ebullient references. Maybe you’ll pass through a phone-screen with HR and then spend 20 minutes with the hiring manager.   To get into grad school, the interview process will take days. Grad school interviews often start with a flight to a new city.  You’ll have a casual chat with the grad student assigned to retrieve you from the airport, then meet the fellow candidate with whom you’ll share a hotel room. The moment you get settled, you’re off to dinner with some faculty, followed by an early bedtime.  That’s because tomorrow morning, you’ll pass through a series of orientation sessions, faculty interviews, a tour of the city, and finally, a late-night out with the current students in the program. You’ll fly back home the next day, grateful to be sleeping in your own bed.  And just when you get settled, you’ll need to hop on a plane to reach the next school where you’ll start the process again. Best Foot Forward Interview season can be rough on prospective students, and there’s plenty of work to be done.  But that doesn’t mean you need to be stressed. This week, we talk with Dr. Beth Bowman, Assistant Director of Graduate Programs in Biomedical Sciences and Co-Director of the Summer Science Academy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. Dr. Bowman has spent her career recruiting top-tier students to her program, and advising applicants on their own grad-school journeys.  She’s the author of the Materials and Methods blog, where she explores the grad school application process and the intricacies of scientific training. In this episode, we explain what you can expect from a typical interview weekend, from booking your flight to making a plan for the NEXT weekend in your schedule. On the way, we answer some burning questions: * Should I pretend that I want a career in academic science, or can I be honest about my career goals?* What kinds of questions will my faculty interviewers ask me?* What if I’m shy? How can I make it through dinner?* What is the dress code?* Should I go out to a bar or party with the current grad students?* How can I reschedule my interview if I have a conflict with another school?* And many more! Though interviews make most applicants very nervous, just know that by getting the interview, you’ve received a great vote of confidence from the admissions committee.   It’s expensive to purchase plane tickets, hotel rooms, and food, and to commit the time of faculty, students, and staff to your visit.  If they invited you to visit, they REALLY want you to choose their program! You should feel proud! Kick Back and Celebrate
December 2, 2018
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 podcast@hellophd.com 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!
November 15, 2018
It’s a tragic fact: many jaw-dropping, eye-opening, and heart-pounding research results never makes an impact on the scientific community. And it’s partly your fault. By “your,” of course, I mean all of us.  Because when we waste the opportunity to share our results in their best light at a scientific conference or poster session, our viewers may overlook this valuable insight. But we can do better!  With a little planning, collaboration, and hard work, we can make even a humble poster presentation a vehicle for inspiring the next discovery and building our scientific network. Let’s get started! Poster Perfect A poster session is a unique opportunity for a young scientist. As a viewer, you get the chance to engage in a casual conversation with other scientists, often one-on-one, about a topic that interests you.  It’s an opportunity to ask for clarity, pose a question, or offer ideas without an audience of 200 staring at the back of your head. As a presenter, you get all of those benefits, as well as an opportunity to build your network and identify collaborators.  You also get many chances to practice your ‘pitch’ as new visitors step up every few minutes.  It will sharpen both your skill as a communicator and your research plan. And while there are probably some guidelines for being a good poster-viewer, in this episode, we focused our discussion on the best ways to prepare and present a poster. Before You Begin As with any presentation, answering a few questions before you get started will save you hours in front of the computer. Know Your Audience If you are presenting to the Microbiology Conference, you may want to include more detailed background information than if you’re presenting to other experts in your sub-field at a Malaria Symposium.  Space is limited, and thinking ahead about what your audience may, or may not, know will help you prepare for the proper range of visitor experience. Start Early You may be a wizard of poster creation and can put off your design until the night before you fly to the conference, but that’s a bad idea.  Instead, leave extra time before printing share your file with collaborators for review.  They need time to look over your work and offer feedback before it’s committed to (gigantic) paper. Practice, Practice, Practice You’ll also need time to practice presenting the poster.  More on this later, but sometimes the act of presentation lets us see where we have gaps or mistakes in the logic or design.  It’s a good idea to practice with people from outside your lab because if they are already familiar with your work, they won’t notice when you skip steps or fail to explain a concept clearly. Find Your Story It may sound odd, but poster presentation is a form of story-telling.  The best posters make that story clear and concise. Even if you have multiple projects in the lab, choose ONE to present in your poster.  Start by jotting down a central question you’re trying to answer, or a hypothesis your lab is testing.  Keeping this key idea in mind as you prepare the presentation will give you a firm structure on which to hang the other elements. Making a Poster Guidelines
October 29, 2018
“Hey, I won’t be able to make it over for movies tonight. I’ve got to finish these timepoints…  Yeah, I know it’s the third time this week, but I promise I’ll leave a early tomorrow…  Okay, sorry.  Goodnight.” Gary ends the phone call and sighs.  This is not the first time he’s had to cancel a date to finish up an experiment.   He’s starting to detect some resentment in his girlfriend’s voice. As the minutes tick by on his timer, Gary sees lights flip off in the adjacent laboratory bays.  Even the postdocs have gone home.  Looks like it’ll be another long, lonely night – just him and an incubator full of cells. He’s scrolling through his phone to find a playlist that can keep him awake for the next few hours when there’s a faint clink of glass somewhere in the darkened part of the lab. He finds the playlist just as he hears a faint tap, tap, tap coming from the same direction. “Maybe one of the postdocs left a cage of mice here by accident,” he thinks.  He pops out his ear buds and listens again… tap… tap… tap… But the sound is too rhythmic to be mice.  “They really need to fix that faucet.  That thing has been leaking for weeks.” Tap… tap… tappity tappity tap.  Whatever is dripping seems to be coming faster now. “Is someone there?” Gary asks, feeling stupid for the uncanny tightness now rising in his chest.  Tap… tappity tap tap…  The sound that was just dripping is now streaming, a thin drizzle falling onto the soapstone bench. Gary stands, and keeping his eyes toward the source of the sound, creeps carefully toward the light switch.  That’s when a nauseating wave of stench hits his nostrils. His pupils constrict as he reaches the switch and the lights flash across a viscous puddle slowly growing larger on the bench to his right.  The pool has spilled over the edge, dripping foul, sticky liquid onto the floor.  The odor is unmistakable and overpowering. He tears up, each breath a painful struggle to get enough air. His eyes slowly follow the vile stream to its source… “Dammit!  Who spilled that bottle of β-mercaptoethanol and didn’t clean it up!?” Little Lab of Horrors Life in grad school may not have many horror-movie freak-outs, but there are plenty of harrowing and traumatic experiences to thrill even the most stoic scientist. In celebration of Halloween, we asked our listeners about their lab and grad school horror stories! We heard chilling tales of fires, floods, and freezers on the fritz.  There are stories of dissertations delayed, pilfering PIs, and even explosions! Eeeek! When you tune in, be sure to sample our new favorite pumpkin ale from Rogue Brewing.  It’s the Limited Edition Pumpkin Patch Ale, made from pumpkins they grow themselves!   And here are a few of the resources we mentioned in the show: * Caminos en Ciencia podcast*
October 11, 2018
Please recount your life story, all of your future plans, and why this graduate program is uniquely suited to fulfill those dreams.  Limit your answer to 140 characters. Okay, okay, the typical “Personal Statement” prompt on your grad school application is probably not that outrageous, but they CAN feel both cryptic and overwhelming. Here’s a real prompt from a real grad school application at a major university: In 1-2 pages, describe your career goals, research interests, past and present research experience, and why you’ve chosen the [Name Redacted] Program for your graduate studies. This prompt can induce instant writer’s block in even the most prepared applicants.  So where do you begin? This week on the show, we share tips for crafting the perfect personal statement that will highlight your grad-school-readiness and potential for greatness in a career beyond the degree. Anatomy of an Application The typical graduate school application has four main parts: * Transcripts* Test Scores (GRE, TOEFL, etc.)* Letters of Recommendation* Personal Statement Let’s unpack these one by one. Transcripts Transcripts are the easy part. If you’ve already done the hard work of researching schools that will be a good fit for your aspirations, you simply need to visit the registrar to send transcripts.  Sure, it’ll cost you a few bucks, but the main concern here is timing.  It can take moments or months for official transcripts to make their way to the intended school, so start early.  Many programs will accept ‘unofficial’ transcripts with an application as long as you send the real-sealed-deal eventually. Test Scores It seems like only yesterday when every graduate program required applicants to submit GRE scores, as well as some GRE subject tests.  That’s because it pretty much WAS yesterday. In the last year, nearly 100 programs have dropped their GRE requirement.  You can find a running list, maintained by our very own Josh, in a Google Doc he updates regularly. And while the GRE may not be required, many applicants will still take it.  Our advice is that if you choose to take the exam, you should definitely study.  Check you university’s website for test-prep classes and guides. If English is not your first language, you’ll also need to take a language proficiency exam like the TOEFL.  Typically, grad programs will expect scores to be recent – within the last year or two – to ensure you’ve kept up with the language. To learn more about the GRE requirement and why it’s falling from favor in biomedical graduate programs, check out our previous episodes: 023: Seriously, can we ditch the GRE already? 065: Does the GRE Predict Which Students Will Succeed? Letters of Recommendation While you probably won’t need to spend a lot of time on this section of your application, there are a few keys you need to know.
September 26, 2018
You’ve studied hard, gotten good grades, and spent the last two years working in research labs on campus.  You’re feeling ready for that next, inevitable step: applying to graduate school. In a perfect world, the next step would be easy.  You’d simply fill out an application, and submit it to every Genetics or Microbiology department in the country.  They’d review your application, and you could sort through your options based on which schools offered you an interview. But of course, it’s not that simple.  Each school requires a different application form, and steep application fees can severely tax your meager bank account. You need to do the hard work of screening up front, and only apply to a select group of programs where you can expect to be both successful and happy. This can be overwhelming.  There are hundreds of graduate schools and thousands of individual programs and departments.  Where should you begin? Luckily, Beth Bowman, PhD is here to help!  Dr. Bowman is the Assistant Director of Graduate Programs in Biomedical Sciences and Co-Director, Vanderbilt Summer Science Academy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. She has advised hundreds of students in their graduate school search, both as a recruiter and mentor.  Plus, she went through the process on her own PhD journey.  In this episode, we talk with Dr. Bowman about some of the harrowing decisions applicants must make before actually sitting down to fill out forms. For instance, it’s important for applicants to think deeply and honestly about their reasons for pursuing a PhD in the first place. Going for the right reasons “I think there are a lot of really great reasons to apply to grad school, and I think there are some not-so-great reasons,” Dr. Bowman begins. “The first thing that is important is knowing that you love research.” She recommends having a natural curiosity about how things work, or a desire to solve the puzzles and problems that tend to arise in the lab. There are a couple of common reasons applicants list that she says could set you up for problems down the road.   “I hear commonly, ‘I want to give back to my community.’  But the type of biomedical research in our program is not going to give you the type of immediate feedback you want,” Dr. Bowman observes. Josh adds, “I’ve seen students who really burn out or really feel they have mismatched expectations when they enter for that reason of wanting to help the community, and you really are far removed when you’re pipetting small volumes of liquid into other small volumes of liquid every day.  It’s easy to lose sight of how this is helping someone right now.” Other reasons students give that deserve some introspection are applying because you want ‘the degree,’ or to ‘take the next step.’  Some students even apply because they want to earn a stipend. “That should not be your main reason for getting a PhD,” Dr. Bowman says.  “Not only is that going to be a struggle for you, but I have to admit, when I interview students, I can tell and that comes through.  And we don’t admit those students because it’s not going to be a fun journey for you to get your PhD.” Narrowing the field Once you’re convinced that your motivations are aligned with the reality of graduate training,
September 7, 2018
Graduate training has many milestones, but a few stand stronger in memory due to their importance. You may remember the day you passed your comprehensive exams, officially becoming a ‘PhD Candidate.’ Or maybe you’ll remember the day you saw a paper you co-authored published in your favorite journal.  And of course, every PhD remembers their defense – presenting years worth of work to an audience and receiving the committees’ blessing to graduate. After each event, it’s important to take a moment to celebrate the achievement before pushing toward the next goal.  Maybe that means gathering with friends, popping a bottle of bubbly, and remembering the road that brought you to this point. Well, at least that’s what we do with a milestone.  This week, we celebrate 100 Episodes of Hello PhD with a few of the friends we’ve met along the way. Make a Toast We start the Episode with a half-bottle of Guy Larmandier Cramant Grand Cru  Brut Blanc de Blancs.  This champagne is bubbly and light, with a touch of sweetness. Just like our banter. ::ba dum shish:: And then, the guests begin to arrive! Emily Roberts, PhD First, we’re joined by Emily Roberts from Personal Finance for PhDs.  She’s been a frequent guest on the show, and she shares her secret for the perfect deviled eggs: get someone else to peel them. She also gives us some quick pointers on tracking your spending and creating a budget in graduate school, and why that’s so important. “Tracking your spending will actually help you change your behavior passively.” she says.  “Graduate students should keep an eye on their irregular expenses.” Emily also told us about her new podcast covering personal finance – you can check it out here: http://pfforphds.com/podcast/ Next, we’re visited by Randy Ribaudo and Larry Petcovic, the minds and personalities behind SciPhD.  Randy and Larry travel the country teaching scientists how to develop and translate their skills into an industry setting. Randy Ribaudo, PhD “Scientists don’t necessarily take advantage of the incredible experiences they have in solving problems, managing risk and delivering reliable results, which is really what companies are looking for,” Randy reminded us. Larry adds, “In todays world, you are really also data analysts.  The data game is becoming bigger and bigger.  In many ways you have an advantage because you have experience already with working with data when you go into that first job.  A lot of folks don’t.” To hear more tips for making it in industry, you can listen to Episode 079 or catch Randy and Larry in one of their on-site programs. Mónica Feliú-Mójer, PhD Next to the door is Mónica Feliú-Mójer from 
August 24, 2018
“I was observing that there was this growing mistrust in science, and I couldn’t really understand why. I think that people just don’t trust scientists anymore, or at least not as much as they used to.” As a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, Sarah McAnulty was struck by the anti-science and pseudoscience she saw in the news and in friends who trusted their internet-inspired juice cleanse more than they trusted medical research. “It’s discouraging to see them not trusting us as a group, so  I looked to see where people could access scientists in their daily lives.  It looks like most of the pop culture references they have for us are either evil or socially awkward.  And even when scientists have noble intentions, you end up with Jurassic Park!” Changing Perceptions, Making Connections Sarah looked for a way to change that perception by connecting real-life researchers with the general public.  But most science outreach formats attract participants who are already open to learning. “If you’re blogging or on Twitter,” Sarah observed,  “you’re attracting a group of people who are interested in science in the first place.  Where in society do you have a basic cross section of the whole culture? Then it hit her. “I thought school would be a good place to start.” In that moment, Skype a Scientist was born.  The program connects active researchers with classrooms and other groups around the globe, allowing scientists to introduce the public to their work.  By ‘meeting’ a real-life scientist,  the session can repaint a student’s mental image of a scientist from stodgy old man in a dusty laboratory to a more exiting reality: a person who may look a lot like them. “Now we got to libraries and book clubs and knitting groups – anyone who wants to sign up can do that.” In its very first year, Skype a Scientist connected 400 scientists with 800 classrooms.  This year, they’re aiming to reach 10,000 classrooms, and they’re well on their way. “In the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of energy and [scientists] don’t really know what to do with it,” Sarah observed. “They want to help, but they’re not really sure what to do.” “Skype a Scientist is the easiest thing you could do to give back and communicate with nonscientists,” she says.  “You don’t need to totally establish a new outreach event from the ground up. You just sign up and it’s pretty much done for you.  It takes an hour of your time and a couple of emails.” Asked about the most surprising or rewarding part of the program, Sarah noted, “Helping scientists show their personality while talking about science is something that I’ve found super rewarding.  The amount of effort that I put in and seeing the result that comes back, there’s a higher reward per unit energy that comes out of this kind of work.” And perhaps that’s the real magic behind Skype a Scientist: revealing the personalities behind the papers, and demonstrating that a career in science can be exciting, inclusive, and impactful. Get Involved If you are a scientist who would like to share your work, simply go to SkypeAScientist.com and click the “Sign Up as a Scientists” button. If you’re not sure you’re ready and would like to see other scientists in action, check out a Skype a Scientist Live session. Sarah will talk about her work with squid on September 4th, 2018, or check out other live sessions covering topics ...
August 9, 2018
It’s no secret that graduate school and postdoctoral training are some of the most intellectually and emotionally challenging periods you will face in your career. Experiments fail, grant deadlines loom, and PIs push you to work long hours to publish or perish. That’s why many trainees wait to start a family.  Time is precious, and the idea of staying up all night to record your experimental time-points is daunting enough.  Who has time to stay up all night calming a crying baby before rushing back to the lab? Many students know they want to have kids ‘some day,’ and the six to ten-year grad-school-postdoc training period looms large.  They just don’t want to wait that long to start a family. But is it possible to have kids WHILE you’re in grad school? We asked an expert! This week, we talk with Vivianne, who had her first child when she was a first-year graduate student! Vivianne shares some helpful tips for making family life work with lab life.  It’s not easy, but she argues that there’s really no better time to start a family; if you want kids, you can make it work. First, she says it’s important to identify and coordinate your support system for the lab.  Talk with colleagues, peers, and undergrads about who can maintain your cell cultures or mouse colony during your maternity or paternity leave. It’s possible to keep your research project moving forward, even if you’re not there holding the pipette. You’ll also want to arrange a support system for yourself at home.  Babies are a LOT of work (in case that wasn’t clear…) and many grad students and postdocs are living in a new city, away from friends and family who could help. Lean on your partner, neighbors, friends, and any family members you can convince to stay with you for a month or two after the baby arrives. When you DO make it back into the lab after some time away, you’ll need to adapt your work habits to a new schedule.  Vivianne notes that many scientists have the sense that “I need to do it all myself if I want it done correctly.”  That’s fine if you’re able to spend 14 hours a day in the lab, but new parents should learn to delegate aspects of their research project to colleagues. That means training an undergrad on how to run your gels or trading off with a peer to split cell cultures on alternate days.  And if your lab can afford it, utilize core facilities on campus for routine assays. And while you may have been able to ‘wing it’ when deciding on your next experiment before you had kids, you’ll need to plan each day in advance when you have to rush to daycare at 5PM.  Vivianne recommends planning a week ahead. If you know what’s coming up next Thursday, you can get to work right away.  That’s especially helpful if you didn’t get much sleep Wednesday night and your mind is still hazy. All of this advice applies equally to new moms OR dads (or really, any science trainee!), but pregnant women have other concerns if they’re working in biomedical or chemistry lab settings. First, identify which experiments, rooms, and chemicals you’ll need to avoid while pregnant.  Laboratories may expose you to toxins or infection that are relatively harmless to an adult, but damaging to a developing fetus.  When in doubt, ask for more information. It’s not going to be easy raising kids and having a full-time job in science, but it can be extremely rewarding.  Just make sure you ask for help, and define success in your own terms. For ethanol this week, we rip open the Bota Box 2016 Malbec.  Tasty Malbec flavor at grad-school prices (and volumes!)
July 26, 2018
Sure, scientific conferences are not a competitive sport, but the sheer volume of information, introductions, and events can leave you feeling like you just lost a round of rugby. This week, we share some sage advice for making your next conference the best one yet. Listener Matthew writes: I have a topic that I think would be interesting for graduate students of all years to hear more about: how to be effective at conferences. I usually make it to one or two conferences a year, and the first time I went I had no idea what to do, where to go, how to plan to see what I should be seeing let alone finding time to properly network. For students who have an absent PI this can be daunting particularly if you are presenting papers and posters as well. Matthew is exactly right – a scientific conference is often an overwhelming place.  There are myriad talks, hundreds of posters, and vendors packed wall to wall in a room the size of an airplane hanger. We took to Twitter to ask other scientists how they approach the opportunities and obstacles of a scientific conference. Hey #sciencetwitter – what tips do you have for making the most of a scientific conference? (Specifically, advice for students.) #PhDchat — Joshua Hall (@jdhallphd) July 21, 2018 Here’s what they said… Before You Go Set Some Goals Step one is to think about why you want to attend this conference, and that may change with your career stage and current projects. Some attendees will be looking to begin a collaboration.  Some will hope to find a postdoc position. And some may just want to learn more about the latest technologies in the vendor showroom.  Whatever your reason, jot down a few ideas about what you’d like to achieve. Set a conference goal! When I go in with a defined goal (i.e. Ask a question in a session, Give a good talk, Hand out 5 business cards, Meet with collaborator) I find that I feel more accomplished and do more work than if I have a vague idea like “Network.” — Alex Dainis (@AlexDainis) July 21, 2018 Make a Plan Since it’s literally impossible to see everything, your first order of business should be to make a plan. Take a few minutes to reach out to colleagues you’d like to meet while attending the conference.  Set up a time and place to meet for coffee or lunch before you arrive so you’re guaranteed to make the connection. At a large conference, you can’t expect to ‘run into’ your collaborators by accident. If you’re applying for grad school and are interested in a PI, see if they’ll be there to chat. Making those connections is key and they’re usually very enthusiastic! — Griffin (@octopaqueen) July 21, 2018 Ultimately, conference organizers will release a schedule with poster and presentation titles.  Fire up your trusty highlighter and mark the must-see events.  Prioritizing these events will help you ensure you get the most important content.  You can fill in the remaining time with meetings, posters, or quiet reflection. Many Twitter responses encouraged attendees to step outside of their comfort zones when choosing talks and posters. Do at least one session in a topic that you find sort of interesting but isn’t your current specialty. Fields evolve so fast today that if you stay in the game you will eventually need to change topic.
July 11, 2018
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. Extra-curricular 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 devote...
June 27, 2018
A PhD takes years to complete, so it’s no surprise that your situation may change during that time.  Your PI may move to a different University, your spouse may take a job in another town, or you may need to move back home to care for ailing parents. In these situations, you’re forced to make a difficult choice: “Should I stay with my lab and finish my work, or find a way to finish this PhD remotely?” That’s exactly the question we got from “Walker” this week.  He and his wife desperately want to move to a new city, but he also wants to finish his degree. Walker wrote: I am currently in my third year of a PhD program in Computer Science and Engineering at a fairly prestigious university in the Midwest for graduate school. My wife and I are both quite unhappy here. The weather is awful 11 months of the year, neither of us really feels safe here, and my wife can’t find any jobs here where she can actually apply her degree. I’m done with courses, my research is going alright, and I’m hoping to propose my thesis before the end of this year. At this point, I have fulfilled my residence requirement, so I could possibly (with the ‘blessing’ of my adviser) complete my thesis as a non-resident meaning my wife and I could live wherever we want. I was hoping that you guys might be able to shed some light on the pros and cons to going non-res. Walker’s case seems pretty clear-cut: he needs to get out of there! But for others thinking about finishing a PhD remotely, we have some important considerations to process in making your decision. Is Remote Work Right for My Situation? While there are some lifestyle and mental health benefits from living in a new place you love, it will almost certainly make your PhD research harder in other ways.  Communicating with your advisor will be more cumbersome and less frequent.  You’ll lose the support network of fellow grad students and access to libraries, seminars, and hallway conversations with other researchers. That’s why it’s so important to plan ahead.  Here’s a checklist to work through as you decide “Is this right for me?” * Are your goals well defined? * Do your advisor and committee approve of your research plan? * Is your advisor or committee likely to change their minds? * How long will it take to finish? * Will you need local resources? (Lab equipment, core facilities, libraries, expertise, etc.) * Is your personality a good match for remote work? Question 6 is vitally important and perhaps difficult to answer if you haven’t ‘worked from home’ very often.  If you’re the type of person who relies on external motivation and deadlines to finish a project, working remotely will be a challenge.  Likewise, if you’re prone to feeling lonely or isolated, it may be tough. But even these barriers may be overcome if you have a plan… Remote Work, the Right Way Finishing any project the size and scale of a PhD is all about motivation, project management, and persistence.  Here are some things to consider when organizing the days, months, and years it will take to complete your PhD. Environment Figure out the best work environment to suit your needs. Some people are happy and productive with a laptop on the couch, while others need a space where they won’t be distracted by chores, kids, or the TV. Consider dedicating a space in your home where you eliminate distractions.  Or try working from a coffee shop, library, or c0-working space in your community. And of course, be sure to employ time-management techniques like the Pomodoro Timer and the
June 12, 2018
We got an email from a first-year student who seems to love everything about grad school… except the tests.  He’s wondering: Do grades matter? Dear Josh and Daniel, I am a first year chemical engineering PhD student and am currently working through a class-filled semester. For two of my classes, my midterm grades were much less than desirable for me. Now, I’m not the quickest when it comes to math, so a lower score in classes like transport compared to other students has been the norm, but these scores are even lower than what I usually expect. Nerves have been a typical part of my exam state of mind, but past experience has shown I can usually overcome them. I feel like I understand the concepts, and my homework and quiz grades for the class would seem to indicate that. However, the tests have gotten the best of me both times. I have to maintain a certain GPA and while I don’t know what the final grades will be yet, I feel like I should be doing better. I guess my real question is, are class grades indicative of whether or not a PhD is right for me? I have a master’s and have done research for more than 3 years, so I feel that the actual research portion of the program will not be the issue. And every time I get to talk research with my lab group and new advisor, I love it. For now, it just seems like my grades aren’t indicating that I’m a good enough student for the program, and I really don’t want that to be the case. I plan on talking to my advisor about it all soon as well as older grad students. Thanks for listening and thanks for your show, Sincerely, Zachary We unpack Zachary’s email and recognize that he seems to love everything that matters about a career in science – understanding the concepts, a passion for the research question, and an ability to collaborate with peers. Ultimately, we think Zachary is in the right place, and that test grades probably don’t predict whether he’ll be successful in science. That said, his issue seems to surround the tests themselves, and the nervous feelings he has to manage during exam time.  To improve his scores, he can speak with the professor about setting up an alternative testing strategy.  That sometimes means receiving more time, or being allowed to finish the exam in a less distracting location. His professors are probably more concerned about ensuring Zachary learns the content than they are about the room in which he takes the exam. A Drink A Day Science in the News is just a bit late this week.  We’re discussing a very expensive, 10-year study into the health benefits of light-to-moderate drinking funded by the NIH. As interesting as that sounds, the plot thickened when the New York Times reported that the money to fund this alcohol study was provided by some of the largest players in the alcohol industry! That raised questions of scientific bias, and resulted in the director of the NIH halting the study in March 2018 pending review.  It’s a story about the sometimes tangled interests of scientists, corporations, and society at large. And just because it’s relevant, we also sample a novel and somewhat unorthodox brew.  It’s the Wisconsin Brewing Company RE: FRESH Radler – a surprising mix of grapefruit soda and beer that tastes WAY better than it sounds. It’s doubly exciting because it was created in partnership with the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Department of Food Science. And don’t worry,
May 23, 2018
Susanna was experiencing insomnia that began to interfere with her work and life.  She visited the campus health clinic, and they referred her to mental health resources on campus. There, the doctor recommended medication for depression and anxiety, and therapy to work through the issues that were interfering with her sleep. “We’re actually really worried that you’re severely depressed,” the doctor explained.   Susanna’s reply: “No, I’m just in grad school!” There’s no question that graduate training is stressful.  Rotations, qualifying exams, committee meetings, and the constant struggle to make experiments work can push every student toward the boiling point. But lurking under Susanna’s protest is a dangerous assumption many of us share.  We believe that anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and other symptoms of mental illness are a required and normal side effect of graduate training. And we’re not wrong.  A recent study published in Nature Biotechnology (summary here) found roughly 40% of graduate trainees measured in the ‘moderate to severe’ range for depression and anxiety.  The authors  surveyed over 2,200 trainees in 26 countries, in fields ranging from the humanities to the biological and physical sciences. In contrast, moderate-to-severe depression affects just 6% of the general population when measured with the same inventory. “Our results show that graduate students are more than six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety as compared to the general population,” the study says. These alarming numbers reveal a latent mental health crisis brewing in our classrooms, labs and libraries. But what can we do about it? Searching for Solutions The study’s authors highlight the fact that poor work-life balance was a contributor to student mental illness.  They also noted breakdowns in the mentor-trainee relationship that exacerbated the issue.  Finally, they highlight the uniquely challenging circumstances of transgender students, gender non-conforming students and women, who are “significantly more likely to experience anxiety and depression than their male graduate student counterparts.” They suggest a menu of changes to graduate training, including increasing access to mental health resources, training mentors, and modifying the culture of research to improve work-life balance. But those solutions will likely take years to understand and implement. What’s to be done for students who are suffering today? Susanna Harris had read the statistics, and she knew there must be other scientists around her that wrestled with the same feelings she had, but where were they?  “You can’t see mental illness on somebody – it’s not a stock photo of a girl wiping away tears,” she notes. So she decided she’d go first – to tell her story in a public way so that others who were also struggling could find comfort, acceptance, and inspiration for their own journeys. She launched a social media community on Instagram under the handle @Ph_D_epression.  Students and scientists post an image of themselves, along with a personal story describing their experience with mental health. “Our goal is that PhDs and students feel comfortable discussing and seeking help for mental and emotional health in the same way as they do for maintaining physical health. We want to disrupt the cycle of secrecy and shame through sharing and discussing personal struggles with mental health issues.” As contributors share their stories, they receive back a flood of comments offering suppor...
May 9, 2018
“Things are not progressing as they should. You’re having a hard time focusing on the research, and we know that you don’t want to be in academia anyway.  Do you want to quit?” The question landed like a punch, and Mónica’s committee meeting took a turn she hadn’t expected. She was in the fourth year of her PhD training at Harvard, and her committee had just asked her if she wanted to leave the program. “That was incredibly devastating to have these four people that you respect, and that their main role is supposed to be supporting you and helping you, and to have them ask you, “Do you want to leave?” It was devastating. But I somehow found the strength to say, ‘I don’t want to quit!'” Mónica Feliú-Mójer finished her PhD and went on to a dream job doing science outreach and communication, but that committee meeting was a turning point. Her story holds a valuable lesson for any graduate student considering a career outside of the academic tenure track. Many students begin graduate school expecting to land in a tenure-track faculty position.  But often, they see their own advisor slaving over grant applications and departmental politics, and decide that an ‘alternative career’ is a better option. Dr. Feliú-Mójer realized a passion for science communication BEFORE she even applied to graduate school, and once enrolled, she poured herself into the extra-curricular experiences that fed that passion.  She worked with organizations like Ciencia Puerto Rico, and worked long into the night honing her writing skills. “While I was enjoying that experimental part, what really brought me immense joy was all of this communication and outreach that I was doing,” she remembers. But graduation requires a dissertation, and she realized her research was taking second place. “There was a point in graduate school where things were not looking great.  I wasn’t happy, I didn’t feel like I was making progress, I didn’t feel like I had the support I needed to succeed in the lab. And so, I wasn’t motivated, and I decided to pour all of my energy into my outreach and my science communication.  And that really affected my productivity, to the level that I was a fourth-year grad student and my dissertation advisory committee asked me if I wanted to quit the PhD program.” Feliú-Mójer examined her motivations and had tough conversations with her mentors. She went back to her committee with the confidence to finish what she started. “I knew that I needed to make an adjustment and that I needed to focus, so I said ‘No, I’m not quitting. And yes, I do need a PhD to do what I want to do.  So I am committing right here and now to finish, and I hope you will work with me to accomplish that.'” The rest, as they say, is history. Today, Dr. Feliú-Mójer spends her time mentoring students and sharing science with a wide audience through her work with Ciencia Puerto Rico and iBiology. This week on the show, she shares her inspiring story about following your passion, pushing through the trials of graduate school, and leveraging your network to land your dream job. You may also like: 085: Scientists in the Newsroom – The AAAS Mass Media Fellowship with Rebekah Corlew 079: The Insider’s Guide to Industry with Randall Ribaudo, PhD 035: Making Time for Outreach
April 18, 2018
Think about your training as a grad student and postdoc – you spend countless hours at the bench, running experiments and reading papers to finish your personal research project. Now think about your PI or faculty advisor. Does she spend time at the bench?  Or are you more likely to find her in her office, writing grants, attending departmental meetings, and managing people, projects, and money? If you’re noticing a mismatch between academic training and the actual work of a faculty member, you’re not alone.  The skills and traits that make us successful students may not translate into making us successful professors and PIs. That’s where a unique postdoctoral fellowship steps in to bridge the gap: it’s the Academic Pathways program at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Their goal is to prepare postdocs for entry-level faculty jobs, with a special focus on increasing diversity at the highest levels of academia. On The Path This week, we take Hello PhD ‘on the road’ to record in front of a live audience at Vanderbilt University.  We were joined by three postdocs in the very first cohort of Academic Pathways Fellows: Lillian Brady, Rashanique Quarels and Diego Mesa. These scholars tell us about the Academic Pathways program, and what makes it so different from traditional postdoctoral training. That difference starts with the interview process. Rather than submitting a research statement describing their plan for the next 2-3 years, fellows visit Vanderbilt and collaborate on a research plan with a faculty advisor.  The committee then selects fellows based on the result – proving that they not only have a plan, but also a productive relationship with a mentor. The program carves out protected time for advancing that research plan, but it’s not all bench work. Fellows receive tailored training and opportunities to advance their own skills in mentorship, teaching, and management.  They’re also introduced to the political aspects of faculty life, meeting with Deans and program directors to understand how an academic department handles appointments, funding, and personnel. An important aspect of Academic Pathways is its commitment to improving diversity in science. Statistically, it’s easy to identify the problem at many Universities where women, people of color, and other groups are underrepresented in professorships and research labs.  Our panelists share the personal side of those statistics and how they plan to encourage the next generation of students. They also share valuable advice on assembling a ‘panel of mentors’ to assist you in each stage of your career, the value of ‘just applying’ to programs and awards, and the importance of being kind to yourself after a hard day in lab. These Beverages May Be Habit Forming For our Science in the News segment, we’re discussing California’s decision to label cups of coffee with a cancer warning. The coffee roasting process produces acrylamide, which has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. A small amount of that acrylamide ends up in your morning mocha, so a judge has determined that retailers must warn bleary-eyed coffee consumers. We dissect the acrylamide research, and warn you about a few other foods that might be cause for concern. But no matter how dire the warning,
April 3, 2018
Josh and Daniel are on the road this week, so we decided to bring you some goodies from the archive.  An 8-ish step plan to save science!   Biomedical science is broken.  Funding is unpredictable, training programs drag on indefinitely, and some of our best scientists are drawn to careers outside of the university or drowned in paperwork if they stay.  Can anything be done to support research staff and boost lab productivity? Saving Science These topics are regularly debated in the literature, but a recent meta-analysis by Pickett et al. in PNAS works to find the consensus among a dizzying number of suggestions.  Their paper, Toward a sustainable biomedical research enterprise: Finding consensus and implementing recommendations, could be re-titled “8 Ways to Save Science.”  And while these 8 ideas may appear across the literature, they’re not without controversy. This week on the show, we unpack the 8 recommendations and debate their merits.  Should all graduate school programs be limited to 5 years?  Should the federal government increase overall funding?  Should postdocs receive higher pay? To summarize, the 8 recommendations are: * Make funding predictable from year-to-year * Increase the total amount of money the federal government hands out * Reduce regulations * Pay postdocs more * Shorten graduate school to 5 years * Train students and postdocs for “alternative” careers other than faculty PI * Change how trainees are funded * Increase opportunities for staff scientists Josh throws in a bonus recommendation that didn’t quite make the top 8: increase diversity in the biomedical enterprise. Did you applaud every item on this list, or did the authors miss the mark?  Leave your comments below and let us know what you’d add or remove to make biomedical science a more sustainable enterprise. Also in this episode, we pay tribute to all the Oregonians who don’t listen to our podcast by drinking Dead Guy Ale from Rogue.  It’s an Oregon beer and we’re pandering for listeners in that great state, so tell a friend! References: States in order by quality of their beer offerings. Newt Gingrich (NYT April 2015): “Double the NIH budget” PIs spend 42% of their time on administrivia Stanford recently bumped starting postdoc pay to $50K NIH recently started a funding mechanism called “Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST)”.
March 19, 2018
Have you ever submitted a grant, only to have it rejected?  You respond to the reviewers’ comments, addressing weaknesses and tweaking the protocol to honor their suggestions. Then, when you resubmit, the proposal is rejected again.  This new group of reviewers suggest changes to the protocol. And guess what, their suggestions sound a lot like your original idea that you removed to satisfy the last group of reviewers. Are you the butt of some cruel academic joke, or is the grant funding process really this subjective and unpredictable? Mad Money Grants are serious business to an academic lab.  The NIH alone awards over $30 billion to support 300,000 researchers at 2,500 universities. Applying for one of these grants requires the investigator to prepare a lengthy proposal, detailing the work they intend to do, preliminary results, and how they will address challenges. As anyone who has applied for a grant knows, it’s a grueling process. After submission, the grant is read and scored by 2-5 reviewers, and those grants receiving a sufficiently high score are sent to ‘study section,’ where they’re reviewed and ranked by a larger peer group of scientists. Review boards at the NIH then take these rankings and award money to the top-scoring proposals.  The others are returned with comments on how to improve the research program, and those labs can then re-submit a proposal in the next round of funding. All of this talk of scores and rankings might lead you to believe that the grant review process is objective, consistent, and repeatable. But notice that behind the numerical values are a group of humans applying their individual judgement to assign a score. A recent paper in PNAS by Pier et al. at Princeton University questions the fundamental validity of the grant peer review process. The study’s authors wanted to know: if you give a group of reviewers the same high-quality grant proposals, will they score them consistently?  In other words, do reviewers agree about what makes a quality research proposal? The paper’s title,: “Low agreement among reviewers evaluating the same NIH grant applications” , makes it clear that reviewers absolutely did NOT agree. In fact, the authors conclude: It appeared that the outcome of the grant review depended more on the reviewer to whom the grant was assigned than the research proposed in the grant. This week on the show, we dive deep into the grant review process, and explain the study showing the wide variation in scores given to the same grants. We also suggest some changes that might make the process more fair, even if human bias and judgement cannot be removed from the equation. Triple Threat The science making news this week brings you three papers exploring the role of doctors increasing patient mortality rates!  We describe two studies on the “July Phenomenon” – a period in July where new medical residents start their hospital rotations.  Do these new MDs actually kill more patients while they learn the ropes? We also mention a recent paper indicating that patients admitted to the hospital for heart attacks survive longer if their doctor is away at a conference! The old phrase about “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” takes on new meaning.  Maybe the nutrition in the apple is secondary – the primary health benefit is in keeping the doctor away! And to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, we down some 
February 28, 2018
On a graduate student’s stipend, it’s hard to imagine having enough money left over to afford a dinner out, let alone enough to invest for retirement. But if you can scrape together a few dollars each month, you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow that investment. As a grad student, time is on your side. Compound Interest This week on the show, we welcome back our grad-school-finance-guru Emily Roberts, PhD. Not only is Emily a scientist, she’s also a coach, speaker, and the creator of Personal Finance for PhDs. If you are a grad student or postdoc, and you’ve managed to pay down your other debts, it’s time to start thinking about retirement.  That’s because the money you set aside today will have longer to grow, compounding year after year, until your retirement. But choosing an investment strategy may seem daunting.  In fact, many students never invest at all because they don’t know where to begin! Emily recommends finding out if you are eligible for one of several tax-sheltered savings accounts.  If you receive a W-2 form each year, or are married to someone who does, you’ve got a couple of options. * Traditional accounts (IRAs, 403Bs, etc.) give you a tax break in the year you invest.  So if you earn a $30,000 stipend and invest $1,000 in a traditional IRA, you’ll only pay taxes on $29,000 of your income.  That money will grow over time tax free, but when you take money out of the account at retirement, you’ll pay income tax at that time. * Roth accounts give you a tax break in the future.  In our example, you’ll pay the full tax amount on your $30,000 stipend, but when you withdraw the money in your retirement, you’ll pay no additional taxes.  This option tends to work well for grad students who are currently earning in the lowest tax brackets, but may be in a higher tax bracket at retirement. Whichever tax-structure you choose, you’ll probably want to choose an investment that works without a lot of baby-sitting.  Emily recommends index funds (investments that track the growth of the overall market) and those with low fees. For the simplest set-it-and-forget-it option, choose a target-date fund that automatically shifts the money from high-growth, high-risk options like the stock market while you’re young, to low-growth, low-risk options like cash and bonds when you’re nearing retirement age. Bottom line: investing for retirement can be easy, and it can be automated.  The best thing to do is start early, and make adjustments as you learn more. Emily has many great resources on her website, and a special page for Hello PhD listeners.  Just visit pfforphds.com/hellophd for information, an investing newsletter, and an upcoming webinar on tax preparation for grad students. You may also like: 033: It’s Tax Season – Here’s What You Need to Know 068: Use Targeted Savings Accounts for Irregular Expenses Science Silencer The recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida is just one more tragic line in the story of gun violence in America.  Guns rank as one of the top-five killers for people under the age of 65 in the U.S. It wasn’t so long ago that gun-related injuries were recognized as a public health threat.  In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) studied the epidemiology of gun deaths until 1996 when the Dickey Amendment started a cascade of changes that
February 14, 2018
But I have no skills! At least no skills employers would be interested in! As a career counselor, Melanie Sinche heard grad students and postdocs voice this concern nearly every day.  She looked at these talented scholars and saw the ability to think critically, analyze data, and solve problems. To her eye, these were transferable skills very much in demand outside the research lab.  Why couldn’t the students see it? “I felt frustrated by that comment, and motivated to conduct a research study around skill development. I would argue that scientific training, by its very nature, lends itself to the development of LOTS of skills.” Data Wins Arguments Sinche developed a survey for early PhDs who had entered the workforce, to find out which skills they needed to do their current jobs, and how well their graduate training had prepared them.  Over 8,000 responded. “It’s important for PhDs to recognize and have the confidence to express the skills that they’ve developed through their training,” Sinche says. Here are the 15 skills, ranked by how well prepared the PhDs felt after their graduate training (Most Prepared to Least): * Discipline specific knowledge * Ability to gather and interpret information * Ability to analyze data * Written communication skills * Oral communication skills * Ability to make decisions and solve problems * Ability to learn quickly * Creativity/innovative thinking * Ability to manage a project * Ability to set a vision and goals * Time management * Ability to work on a team * Ability to work with people outside the organization * Ability to manage others * Career planning and awareness The last four items in that list exhibited a skill gap for the respondents – they didn’t feel the PhD program had adequately prepared them for their work.  It’s an opportunity for improvements in graduate training, and students should seek additional help. For the other eleven skills, graduate training was helpful, making PhDs especially competitive in roles where data analysis, learning quickly,  and communication are key. And one more piece of good news from the study – PhDs appear to be pretty happy with their work! When asked about job satisfaction, an impressive 80% of respondents said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs.  This was true both for those in research intensive careers (e.g. faculty, industry) and those in non-research intensive careers (e.g. teaching, science writing) “I was so encouraged by what I found.  There is life after the PhD – life after the posdoc!” Sinche concluded. You can read the entire paper at this link: An evidence-based evaluation of transferrable skills and job satisfaction for science PhDs Or read her book: Next Gen PhD: A Guide to Career Paths in Science Hazy Shade This week, we also share a story about an assault on the hallowed tradition of anonymous peer review.  After a legal fracas between Cross Fit Inc. and The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, a judge has ordered that the reviewers of a Cross Fit exercise study be unmasked. We discuss the history of anonymous peer review, and why the current legal action is so unusual. And we mellow out with the Purple Haze Lager from Abita Brewing Company in New Orleans.  Hey, it’s Mardi Gras, someone throw us some beads!
February 2, 2018
Some decisions in life are simple (“Yes, I want cheese on that burger!”) and some are difficult (“Do I want to spend the rest of my life with this person?”). On that spectrum, choosing a University graduate program sits closer to marriage than it does to your lunch options. First, grad school takes a long time – usually 4-6 years – and it sets you rather firmly in a career path that can be challenging to change afterward. It’s a life-decision. Second, once you choose, you’re committing to a series of events and impacts that will be out of your control. You don’t get a “do-over” when the lab you wanted to join moves away or a postdoc picks up the project you learned about during your interview. Take a cohort of students at any research university in the country, and you’ll find some that graduate with three first-author papers in just four years.  You’ll find others who never make it to the degree, either due to conflicts with their advisors, projects that don’t work out, or personal issues stemming from the stress of graduate studies. So we know the stakes are high, but how, exactly, are you supposed to choose a PhD program?  Make the Choice This week on the show, we answer listener emails.  Mikaela wants to know what factors to consider when choosing a University and degree program, and Katie shares her specific conundrum: going with an offer she has vs. waiting for something better. We lay out some general guidelines that will help any student-to-be. 1. Fascinating Research It goes without saying that you should find a program with interesting research topics, but many students make a critical mistake in their focus.  They find one faculty member – one research lab – that sounds absolutely amazing and choose the degree program in the hopes of working in that lab. Then, after moving, enrolling, and starting classes, they learn the PI has moved away or the lab is full and can’t accept new students.  Now they’re stuck in a program and forced to settle for something else. Imagine spending the next five years of your life doing research you don’t care about! Instead, look for programs with a variety of interesting topics.  This is obviously a deeply personal measure, but the goal is to find a variety of labs that satisfy your interests.  Make sure there are three to five research topics you could invest in, and you’ll be ready with Plan B, C, and D when Plan A falls through. 2. Love the Place We’ve already mentioned you’ll be living in a university town for a few years, and you’ll spend plenty of time outside the lab.  Make sure you like your new home town. This includes concerns like climate, but also the subtle character of that particular city. Is it bike-able? Is it near the beach? Does it have excellent restaurants? Can you stay close to family? You want to enjoy the location, but make sure you experience it before you pass judgement.  All too often, students miss a great opportunity to step out of their comfort zones because they’re convinced they “never want to live in the city” or “can’t imagine moving to the East coast.” Apply everywhere, and use the interview to explore new places.  You may just fall in love. 3. Professional Development Most universities offer quality classes and cutting edge research, but not all programs are created equal when it comes to professional development.  There are still departments that consider a faculty position the only viable outcome of PhD training.  Others are strapped for resources and don’t offer additional help on career exploration or skill training. Instead, look for a program that recognizes the diversity of PhD careers, and fosters your development in your chosen path...
January 16, 2018
Turning over the last page of the calendar seems to naturally invite some reflection on the previous 365 days. When you look back at 2017, what went well? And what do you wish you could change in the coming year? This week, we take the opportunity to reflect back much farther – to our days in graduate and postdoctoral training!  With years of hindsight, we offer advice and perspective to the scientists we were, and devise some resolutions you can adopt in your scientific training. Grad School Resolutions  1.  Remember that training is temporary When you’re ‘on the inside,’ graduate training can seem like an endless tunnel – the light at the end just a distant pin-prick.  For many, the daily stress of lab life closes in and we begin to feel trapped and hopeless.  This year, pause to consider that your training is just a brief step in your scientific career, and that people do finish! We promise! 2. Be mindful of your unique skills and motivations Many students wait to think about a suitable career until they have a degree in their hands and a PI’s foot on their backside.  We recommend taking stock of your natural motivation and skill patterns early AND often. It can be as simple as reflecting at the end of the day or on a Friday afternoon.  What did you accomplish this week? Which activities left you feeling energized?  Which left you drained? When did you lose track of time because you were engrossed in the task? Jot each item in a notebook or on a post-it and save them. After a few months, you’ll have a detailed list of skills and activities you like to use and those you’d like to avoid.  These patterns can persist over a lifetime, so spend some time examining the notes and identifying the common themes.  That way, when you’re reading job postings, you’ll know exactly which positions fit your personality. 3. Push beyond your comfort zone Starting a graduate program often means moving to a new town, meeting hundreds of new people, and dropping the support networks you enjoyed in college. That makes many introverted science-types turn further inward as we try to avoid the stress of new situations. But remember that many of the people you meet feel exactly the same way.  Push yourself to engage, and you’ll be rewarded with new friends and colleagues that will last a lifetime.  Graduate training is full of never-to-be-repeated opportunities if you’re willing to step up and take them. 4. Make science fun again #MSFA Don’t forget that you chose a career in science because science is amazing.  Maybe it fascinated you as a child, but we quickly lose that child-like curiosity the moment Figure 4 of our paper is due. Every once in awhile, it’s okay to let loose and try an experiment because you think it’s fun, or you just can’t predict how it will turn out. This will not only stoke your love of science, it may lead to your next line of inquiry. 5. Find emotional support before you think you need it Graduate training may be one of the most stressful periods of your life.  That’s not unusual. But too many of us try to ‘power through’ on our own.  Anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and worse are the rewards. But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Your mental health is as vitally important as your physical health.  If eating right and going to the gym are admirable, then so are finding a counselor or mental health professional to help you on this journey.  As we look back over our own graduate training, we wish we had found this support sooner. So that’s it – five resolutions for a happier, healthier, sciencier you.  Leave a comment below to let us know YOUR New Year’s Resolutions, or the advice you wish you’d gotten as a grad student or postdoc. Shock Lobster
December 22, 2017
Pick up any newspaper and you’ll find an article summarizing the ‘latest research’ on the health benefits of chocolate, a new treatment for Alzheimers, or the long-term risks of screen time for your toddler. As a scientist, you probably groan before you reach the end of the title: the claims are extreme, the statistics are dubious, and often, the information a reader should know is buried below the fold. If you’d like to see science communication reach new levels of accuracy and relevance, it may be time to step away from your lab bench and pick up a pen. AAAS Mass Media Fellowship Scientists are trained to describe their work to other scientists in papers, posters, and presentations, but they may struggle to describe the importance of that work to a non-technical audience. Journalists are trained to uncover facts, and tell a compelling story quickly and accurately, but they may not be familiar with the subtle nuances of a scientific field or technique. For forty years, a fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has bridged that divide, placing scientists into the busiest newsrooms in the world. The AAAS Media Science & Engineering Fellowship is competitive summer program that allows students, postdocs, and recent grads to spend 10 weeks practicing journalism with media outlets like The Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, The Washington Post, WIRED, and Scientific American. This week, we talk with Project Director Rebekah Corlew, PhD, about this amazing opportunity for scientists to improve their communication skills and their networks.  She shares a few stories about past fellows (including one whose article made the cover of Time Magazine!) and tips for a successful application. The application deadline is January 15th, so click here to apply now! Need more information? Watch this pre-recorded webinar or read the Q&A. CDC Word Ban Last week, the Washington Post reported that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had issued a ‘word ban’ for their annual budget request.  The undesirable terms were: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.” Many readers, lawmakers, and scientists responded with outrage about the supposed ban, while the department of Health and Human Services attempted to claim it was all a misunderstanding. We share our thoughts on the story, which is likely more nuanced and less villainous than the headlines would have you believe. We also sample another German favorite, the Allgäuer Büble Bier Edelbräu from Allgauer Brauhaus from Kempten, Germany.  It travelled a long way to reach our studio, but it was well worth the trip!
December 11, 2017
In every episode of Hello PhD, we explore science training and life in the lab.  But for every scientist, that saga begins with a grad school application. Whether you’re ready to apply today, or would like to apply to a graduate program ‘some day,’ we share a few tips and tricks that will make the application process simpler and more effective. Grad School Application: Step by Step A grad school application has a few basic (but vital!) parts. The CV The core of your application is your Curriculum vitae (CV).  You’ll use it to list your educational experience, and more importantly, your research experience.  The admissions committee will want to see evidence that you’ve actually had some success in the lab before you enter grad school. Why is this so critical?  Look at it from the committee’s perspective:  You have a stack of qualified applicants and a limited number of spots. Would you take a chance on a student who claims to ‘love science’ but has never picked up a Pipetman? Or would you choose the student who has worked in a real lab for 3 semesters? ‘Loving science’ is not the same as ‘loving lab work,’ and the committee knows the difference.  You’ll need to get some lab experience before you apply.  That will also help you on the next section of your application… The Personal Statement This section strikes fear into the hearts of applicants.  Is this supposed to be a story about getting your first chemistry kit when you were nine? A detailed description of the experiment you did last summer?  A love-letter to science? An effective personal statement contains three essential elements: * An overview of your research experience and your personal contribution to the project (sound familiar?) * A description of why you believe graduate school is the vital next-step in your training * A description of why this particular school and graduate program are a good fit for you academically and personally We unpack each of these ideas in this week’s show, but keep in mind that your statement must be specific to the program – a form letter will not catch the committee’s attention. Letters of Recommendation Hey, remember when we talked about how important research experience is in your CV and personal statement?  Well, it’s important in your letters of recommendation too! Make sure at least one of your letters comes from your research advisor.  It’s great that your chemistry professor, dentist, and Aunt Mary think you’re a wonderful student (and devoted flosser), but the committee wants to hear what your lab supervisor saw in your work and your potential. Transcripts and Tests Unfortunately, you can’t take a ‘do-over’ on that terrible semester Freshman year.  Your transcripts are fixed, but more important than the GPA is the trajectory of your grades.  While you may have a bad semester, the committee will look for those grades to improve over time, and to see that you took, and succeeded, in classes related to your field. And while we don’t like it, the GRE is a requirement for admission to many programs. (Here are a few that don’t require it!).  In most of the science grad programs, your quantitative scores will count for more than verbal, so be sure to study before the test. Regardless, a middling GRE score shouldn’t preclude you from applying to, or entering, a graduate program.  They’re
November 21, 2017
Publishing your research in a peer-reviewed academic journal is an exercise in patience. You write and edit, wait for feedback from your PI, wrangle the figures into some esoteric format, and then submit.  That’s when the real patience begins. From submission to publication, the peer review process can take more than a year.  Meanwhile, you’re moving on to other work, and hoping a competing lab doesn’t scoop the science you showed at the last conference. Enter the preprint.  Though it sounds unassuming, it’s a source of real controversy in the biomedical sciences. Like Reprints, But Way Earlier Essentially, a preprint is just a manuscript submitted to an online repository before it has gone through peer review. The benefits are perhaps unexpected: preprints enable anyone to access your research, regardless of their budget for journal subscriptions.  Peers can comment on the work, and offer suggestions for follow-up experiments that may speed your research through the traditional review process. And preprinting can establish your lab’s primacy when another researcher tries to scoop your work. But preprints offer hazards as well.  Will the quality of research decline if experiments are not reviewed first? What if no one shows up to comment or collaborate? Launched in 2013, bioRxiv.org intends to answer these questions empirically.  Based on the longstanding ArXiv.org, a preprint server for physics and mathematics, bioRxiv “is a free online archive and distribution service for unpublished preprints in the life sciences.” In this week’s episode we talk with Jessica Polka, PhD. She’s the Director of ASAPbio where she works to promote the productive use of preprints in the life sciences. She explores the common concerns she hears from biomedical scientists, and how she believes preprints could revolutionize discovery and collaboration. The Tax Man Cometh As if you haven’t heard, the United States House of Representatives just passed a tax bill that could destroy graduate education as we know it. Think that sounds a bit hyperbolic? The plan would make graduate tuition waivers taxable, adding $1,800 to $9,000 to your tax bill on April 15th. Raise your hand if your stipend has an extra $9,000 you were just itching to spend! Luckily, there’s a lot you can do. * Educate yourself on the details of the plan and how it would impact your training. * Find the contact information for your representatives. (Senators are your best point of contact, as they have not yet voted and their version of the bill does not revoke tuition exemptions at the time of this writing.) * Make the call to let them know how important graduate research and science education are to our society.  For help, try this script, or take this advice from a former education lobbyist on how to make your voice heard. In other news, here’s a running list of graduate programs that no longer require the GRE! And if all of this is too much for you, why not kick back with the Pumpkin Pie Porter from Deep River Brewing Company in Clayton, NC.
November 5, 2017
Two scientists walk into a bar. One steps on stage and delivers ten minutes of raucously funny stand-up comedy.  The other enjoys an evening of laughter as enterprising STEM professionals share their science. Scientists doing stand-up may sound like a joke, but it’s actually the latest innovation in science communication. Weird Al Einstein Begun in 2016, The Peer Revue is a program designed to make scientific research accessible by making it funny. This week, we talk with Niki Spahich, one of the co-creators of The Peer Revue, about how the idea began and what it’s like to turn scientists into comedians. The process starts with a workshop to train STEM professionals in the basics of joke writing and story telling.  They pair with practicing comedians to review their material and work on timing and delivery.  Once they’ve developed a routine, they get to step on stage in front of a live audience to deliver their set. Most get laughs, but they all get the chance to share their work with a broad audience.  Making cutting-edge research accessible to people outside the lab is certainly no laughing matter. Worst Dissertation Project Ever Every day since February 24, 1988, someone in Richard Lenski’s lab has seeded the same 12 Escherichia coli cultures into new media to shake overnight.  A new Nature paper describes the genetic evolution of these bacteria over the last 68,000 generations. Aren’t you glad you weren’t the grad student tasked with a 30-year dissertation project? Also in this episode, Daniel and Josh travel to Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough, NC to sample the hard-to-find Dromgoole Pumpkin Ale.  It’s made with whole pumpkin pies, but will its fall flavors register on tastebuds already saturated with Pumpkin Spiced Everything?  Tune in to find out!    
October 17, 2017
As a graduate student, Joel Schwartz developed an immunofluorescence assay for neurotransmitter transport. To quantify his results, he needed to circle the cells in each image so the computer could measure the intensity. By the time he graduated, Joel had circled over 10 million individual cells. Over the years, Joel discovered a better way: he taught computers to do the repetitive, complex, and confounding parts of data analysis. And now he trains other scientists to do the same. Datum If You’ve Got ‘Em A typical research lab churns out hundreds of different kinds of data in any given year.  There are Western blot bands, gene sequences, patient surveys, micrographs, mass spectra, and myriad other images, spreadsheets and documents. All of this data must be analyzed, but it’s often a painful process for the researcher. Opening multiple spreadsheets, ‘cleaning up’ missing or erroneous values, and manipulating thousands of rows to form meaningful groups can take hours or days. We recognize these as repetitive tasks that a computer could do, but not every scientist has the skills to leverage those resources.  What is a biologist to do? The answer may be: ‘learn to code.’  Tech-savvy scientists can use online resources to learn the basics of programming in languages like Python and R. This approach is great because it’s self-paced and can fit within your existing lab schedule.  But it can be frustrating when you hit the limits of your understanding, or you try to debug your code without help. For those who could use a bit more guidance, data analytics bootcamps are great way to race up the learning curve in a few short weeks. Joel Schwartz, PhD is an instructor at the LEVEL program at Northeastern University, where he provides hands-on experience in data analysis and computer programming. This week, we ask Joel how learning to code can help bench scientists turn their data into papers even faster. He tells us how he’s using these skills in his own work on autism assessment and how the next big scientific questions may be elucidated by computers. Cry It Out As any parent will tell you, kids don’t come with an instruction manual.  And if they did, they’d probably have chewed, torn, or burned it to ashes before you got the chance to read it. Instead, raising a child in the modern age means hearing competing bad advice from other parents and the internet.  The sheer volume of terrible ideas can overwhelm even the most earnest of caregivers. Enter Parentifact.org, the Politifact of… um… parenting facts. We review the great new resource so you can sleep easier at night. That is, as soon as Jr. stops waking you up every forty-seven minutes. And if he doesn’t stop screaming, you may want to help yourself to an Octoberfest Beer from Bell’s Brewing in Comstock, MI.  It’s only available for a limited time, and just in time for our IPA-free fall.  Cheers!
September 28, 2017
Uncertainty is a defining feature of postdoctoral training: * Q: Is a postdoc a student or an employee? (A: Neither. Both?) * Q: Should you continue in your PhD research field, or try something new?  (A: Yes) * Q: How are you supposed to find a job while you’re ALSO doing research and writing papers? (A: Pray that the Career-Fairy leaves one under your lab notebook while you’re at seminar.) * Q: How long should a postdoctoral fellowship take? (A: Now you’re just being mean!) Getting There To help us understand the zeitgeist of postdoctoral training, in 2015 we interviewed eight postdocs at different universities and life stages.  Some were finishing up, others were just getting started.  We learned what they loved (“The freedom to pursue an intellectual passion.”) and what they hated (“The salary!”) about this career stage, and what they planned to do with their degrees. Well, it’s been a full two years since that original interview, and many things have changed.  We caught up with seven of the original interviewees to ask some new questions. This week on the show, we find out ‘where are they now?’ and more importantly, what steps they took to progress in their careers.  Their experience may help you take the next step on your own career path. South Paws Plus, we explore the murky and often unsettling depths of feline behavior. Specifically, some researchers argue that members of Felis silvestris catus not only exhibit right- and left-handedness, but that it’s gender specific! Is this a #catfact, or #fakenews?  Test your own kitty companions and let us know on Twitter @hellophd. We also try out the elusive Baked Goods Hoppy Pale Ale from Clown Shoes Brewing in Ipswich, MA. Like its clown namesake, this beer makes you feel a little uncomfortable when you first see it, but you’ll be glad you gave it a chance. Unlike its clown namesake, it won’t try to murder you when your back is turned. At least I don’t think so. Hmm, now where did that can get to….  I’m sure I set it down right over….
September 14, 2017
If you’re an academic scientist, applying for an industry job is a bit like traveling to a foreign country. First, there is paperwork. Will they accept your Curriculum Vitae as is, or do you need to crunch it down into a résumé? And how on earth do you get through the screening software that filters through the 1000+ applications? Next, there’s the language barrier. You’ll need to communicate your qualifications in an interview that may last just a few minutes.  You might describe a key experiment you designed with six controls and twelve replicates, but what the interviewer needs to hear is that you have experience in ‘quality control and quality assurance.’ Don’t expect them to make the translation. Last, there can be culture shock when you actually get the job and start to work. There are aspects of your academic training that you will need to un-learn if you want to be successful. You can either begin the job with a sensitivity to these new cultural norms, or you can learn them the hard way… This week, we talk with a scientist who acts as travel guide for academics who want to make the leap into industry. “Scientists are leaders…” Randall Ribaudo has experience on both sides of the bench.  A PhD immunologist, Dr. Ribaudo began his career as an academic scientist and PI at the National Cancer Institute.  Through connections he made as a researcher, he went on to a series of industry jobs, including five years at Celera Genomics where he wore many hats from academic liaison to product manager. His unique experiences in both academia and industry led him to his current role at SciPhD, and his insights could make your own transition easier. In our interview, Dr. Ribaudo answered some of the burning questions that may be on YOUR mind: * How are industry labs different from my university lab? Will I like that work style? * How do I write a resume that will get noticed? * Every job listing seems to require three years of prior experience. How am I supposed to get that if they won’t hire me? * I already know I want to work in industry – what can I do as a grad student or postdoc to get myself ready? Even if you’re on the tenure track, you’ll want to listen closely to Dr. Ribaudo’s advice for improving academic labs. His industry experience with team building, project management, and strategic planning have direct parallels in the university laboratory. For more insights, you can check out a handful of free videos from SciPhD or see if one of the Onsite Training Programs is available in your area.  You can also reach Dr. Ribaudo directly via the website or on Twitter @SciPhD. For more episodes on building better teams in the lab, check out: 056: Team Up for Speedier Science 077: Google discovers five keys to a productive lab The Early Squirrel Gets The Bean Hey – remember the GRE?  Sadly, so do we. But this week, Josh shares some good news about two major universities that have dropped their GRE requirement.  Both the Michigan Program in Biomedical Science and Berkeley Molecular Cell Biology hav...
August 24, 2017
Maybe you’re in love with science, but you just can’t imagine your life as a PI.  And maybe you’ve had a string of experiments fail and you’re just ready to put the entire ‘lab thing’ behind you. You have a choice – you could leave academia and try to find your way in industry, publishing or some other career. Or you could try to revive your research in the hope that lab life will eventually improve. But how do you know which choice is right for you? What happens if you make a mistake? Uncharted Territory Knowing when to leave academia is a perilous choice. After all, your colleagues and mentors will tell you that there’s no turning back and that you’re throwing away an amazing career in an academic lab.  You’ll regret it! And yet, people survive and thrive in the transition every day – they just don’t always talk about it. The Recovering Academic Podcast is here to break that silence.  The hosts, Amanda Welch (@LadyScientist),  Cleyde Helena (@Doctor_PMS), and Ian Street (@IHStreet) share their real-time experiences with transitioning out of the lab and into careers from publishing to sales. This week, we talk with the Recovering Academics about the tell-tale signs that it’s time for you to abandon the faculty track in favor of an ‘alternative career.’ It’s never an easy decision to leave academia, but it also doesn’t have to be fraught with fear and regret. Taking stock of your skills, goals, and options early is the best way to ensure you have somewhere safe to land when you finally decide to make the leap. For more help on this topic, check out HelloPhD Episode 027 The Road More Travelled: Stepping Off of the Tenure Track. Wayfinding In the true spirit of science, we share a beer with our new friends Amanda, Cleyde, and Ian.  It’s the Unfiltered Sculpin Extra-Hopped India Pale Ale from Ballast Point Brewing Company.  Though it’s one of their limited edition beers, we were able to locate it in no fewer than four different cities so that we could raise a glass on this week’s show. Find some for yourself before it’s gone!
August 11, 2017
Google is data-obsessed, so it should come as no surprise that the company sought to apply its analytical expertise inside the organization. In an endeavor dubbed “Project Aristotle,” Google sought to answer a vexing question: What factors are important for a successful, productive team? Their findings may have profound impacts not just at Google, but in a lab near you… Hi, My Name is Norm Google’s HR department approached the problem with an eye toward data: Over two years we conducted 200+ interviews with Googlers (our employees) and looked at more than 250 attributes of 180+ active Google teams. We were pretty confident that we’d find the perfect mix of individual traits and skills necessary for a stellar team — take one Rhodes Scholar, two extroverts, one engineer who rocks at AngularJS, and a PhD. Voila. Dream team assembled, right? What they found surprised them.  It wasn’t the backgrounds or individual talents of team members that made the difference.  They found that teams with a similar mix of individuals could perform in vastly different ways. Instead, it was the team’s culture and accepted norms that helped to predict their success. The five key features are revealed in five questions you can ask about your team: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time? Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear? Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us? Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters? Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed? This week on the show, we unpack these critical features of a high-performing team, and relate them to the research lab environment. We tell you how to assess a new lab before you join, and how to make improvements if you’re already committed to a lab that is underperforming. Sunshine and Sarcasm This week, Science in the News brings us three stories in rapid succession. First, it’s almost time for the solar eclipse to pass over North America. You still have time to get (the right) goggles and find a spot to watch the show.  As usual, NASA has you covered. Next, we hear about how some researchers are trying to teach computers about sarcasm.  Hey.  Great idea guys.  That’s going to be SOOOOO useful. Said no one ever. And a Coal Museum in Kentucky finds that solar panels might actually be a useful and affordable energy source.  Who would’ve guessed? We sample a special ethanol that is bargain priced for the inner grad-student in all of us.  It’s the Boatswain Double IPA (Twin Screw Steamer) from Rhinelander Brewing Company and sold by Trader Joe’s for just $4.99 for a six-pack! Is this the best beer ever?  No.  But is this the best tasting beer you can get at this price?  Almost certainly, yes. Last, but not least: concrete.  They just don’t make it like they used to.
July 23, 2017
Applying to grad school means making a series of difficult decisions: university location, reputation, lifestyle, and program. But do you need to pick out a specific research topic before filing an application? Is it better to nail down a project and lab before you apply, or is it okay to keep your options open? Listener April writes: Hi Josh and Dan – I recently found your podcast and am really enjoying it! I am planning to apply to social psychology PhD programs later this year (to hopefully start fall of 2018), and I’m already taking notes as I listen to you guys. Anyways, my question is — How specific do your research interests need to be when applying? Also, how closely do your research interests need to align with potential faculty advisers? I realize that social psychology programs are probably quite different from the “harder” science programs you’re familiar with, but I assume that this issue spans across all fields. I’m worried that if I’m too specific, I’ll box myself out from potential advisers; but I also don’t want to be too general and appear unfocused. Do you have any tips? Of course we have opinions!  We share them this week, including advice on how to avoid the very common mistake of being TOO focused when applying to school. Toddle with a Bottle Hello PhD turned 2 years old this week, and to celebrate we break into the Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey from Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort KY.   As a single barrel bourbon, no two batches are alike, so if our sample sounds nice to you, be sure to check out Barrel 59 from Warehouse H.  We’ve got bottle number 107! Science in the News covers the incredible shrinking kilogram.  It’s a serious problem for science, but one with a seriously scientific solution! We also learn the etymology of Agkistrodon contortrix, or the copperhead snake.  If you can see its fishhook teeth, you’re definitely too close!
June 30, 2017
It’s inevitable.  At some point in your research career, you’re going to get that sinking feeling. Your experiments will all fail, your PI will get on your case about finishing that paper, and your graduation date will drift maddeningly out of reach. So what can you do when your research starts to drag you down? Coming Up for Air This week on the show, we share some practical advice from the Academic Mental Health Collective on ways graduate students can get going when the going gets tough. Stress, anxiety, and depression are inevitable in your graduate training. At least they were for us! At the same time, these painful emotions can be a valuable signal that it’s time to step back, take stock of your situation, and ask for help.  There are resources on, and off, campus to help you through the hard times. By thinking ahead, you’ll meet your training challenges with a tactical plan and a team of supporters to help you through. It does get better, we promise! The Check is in the Mail Science in the News brings us the story of a New York court’s $15 million judgement against Sci Hub, the online research paper pirate ship.  We explore the legal and moral implications of the action, and make bold predictions about the future of scientific publishing. If you’re interested in the history of academic publishing and how we got into this quagmire in the first place, we highly recommend Stephen Buranyi’s Guardian piece titled: Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science? We also celebrate the beginning of summer by breaking our IPA fast. We’re drinking the Nectar IPA from Humboldt Brewing Company. This golden beauty has a sweet start and a bitter finish, sort of like my first marriage!* (*Yes, this is a total lie, but the setup was perfect and impossible to resist.  Sort of like my first marriage!**) (**Okay, I’m done.)
June 14, 2017
On May 2nd, NIH Director Francis Collins announced a plan to limit the total amount of grant funding awarded to an individual investigator or lab. According to Collins, “the distribution of NIH grant funding is highly skewed, with 10 percent of NIH-funded investigators receiving over 40 percent of NIH funding.” The funding proposal would limit an individual lab to the equivalent of 3 RO1-sized grants, and free up an additional 1600 funding opportunities that could go to early and mid-career scientists. On June 8th, the plan was scrapped… Addressing the 90% This week on the show, we cover the contentious and somewhat confusing reversal of Collins’ plan to spur innovation by spreading around the money. Did the plan change due to criticism from the labs with the deepest pockets? Or was there evidence to support the replacement plan that earmarks money for early-career scientists? At the heart of this issue, we discuss whether basic research would benefit from a shift in investment strategy. Do science and innovation advance faster when the ‘best’ labs get all the money, or is there value in making many smaller bets? Tell us what YOU think in the comments below. Everybeer Some beers sing with complex aromas, malty bitterness, and just-right effervescence.  And then there’s brown ales. This week, we sampled the Legend Brown Ale from Legend Brewing in Richmond, VA.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great beer.  Very tasty.  It just tastes like every other brown ale ever.  If you sneakily replaced the contents of this bottle with some other brown ale, I promise no one would notice. I don’t know whether that makes us beer snobs or beer newbies.  Either way, we’re just counting down the days before we get back on our IPA kick…  
May 26, 2017
Is your lab is filled with compassionate, positive individuals who offer nurturing support and gentle guidance to help you achieve your full potential as a scientist? We didn’t think so. While you may encounter a handful of Positive Pollyannas throughout your career, you’re also likely to run into a few Negative Nancys. Rather than encouraging you to keep trying when an experiment fails, they’ll take every opportunity to throw shade on your emerging research project. Everyone’s A Critic This week, we heard from Amygdala (not her real name…), who was getting nothing but discouragement from one of the postdocs in her lab.  She writes: There is a postdoc in my lab who is tangentially involved in the project that I’m working on. This postdoc has extremely negative views regarding the project. This negative view spans from the amount of time it takes to train animals on this task to the variable results that we get with each animal, etc. While I agree about some points that this postdoc is making and that there is always room from improvement, it’s hard for me to not get down about this project. I’m the one directly training the animals and obtaining the results. Given that training animals takes 6 days a week and at least four hours each day, I’m trying to remain positive and not think that I’ve wasted all of this time. My PI and the postdoc whose project this is remain positive and encouraging. However, the tangentially-involved postdoc is someone who I interact more frequently with. This is a very long-winded way of asking: How does one remain positive regarding their own project while still showing respect to other people’s views regarding the project? And is it appropriate for people to comment negatively on other people’s projects? We address her concerns and offer some (hopefully) helpful advice for dealing with negativity from your lab mates. Cloudy Waters For Science in the News, Josh celebrates Healthy and Safe Swimming Week with a story about Cryptosporidium in pool water.  It’s a serious water-borne illness that you can prevent by not drinking where you swim. Or you can get YOUR test strips today! We also try an unfiltered sour beer from Sierra Nevada.  It’s the Otra Vez Gose-Style Ale brewed with cactus and grapefruit.   Since the trendy flavors have shifted from intensely bitter IPAs to intensely sour Goses, we predict the next big hit will be beers that taste like cigarette butts and cat urine! And soon after that, the hipsters will complain about those flavors being ‘mainstream.’ Sigh…
May 10, 2017
We weren’t sure what to expect when scientists planned a protest march on Washington, D.C. and other world capitals. Would this politicize the scientific process? Would enough scientists show up to make an impact? And what should happen after the march to continue the momentum? Ms. Frizzle Supports Science To answer these questions and others, Josh took to the streets at our local march in Raleigh, NC. He wanted to hear from other scientists first-hand about what motivated them to leave the lab and march on the capital. The atmosphere was festive, and the crowd was passionate.  In this episode, you’ll hear directly from the the marchers in their own words. Some came out of concern over environmental policy.  Some were advocating fact-based governance.  And some came to show their kids that science matters and it’s worth fighting for. As this episode posts, the organizers of the science march are mid-way through a “Week of Action” to continue the work begun at the march.  Even if you couldn’t join a march on April 22nd, there’s time to get involved. Join the conversation – email us your photos or stories from the march YOU attended, or tweet them to @hellophd. We’ll share as many as we can on this page or in a future episode. Science with a Stink Also in this episode, Josh shares some recent research on the physics of defecation.  Yup, you read that right, so think twice before tuning in… If you made it this far, you might be interested to read more about the Bristol Stool Scale or to see the equation that explains it all: In better news, we also sampled the Left Hand Brewing Milk Stout Nitro.  It’s dark brown and smooth and you can finish it in 12.6 seconds, so it’s almost exactly like… oh… never mind.
April 20, 2017
Imposter syndrome might make you feel all alone in the world, but ironically, many graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members experience the same feelings of inadequacy. This week on the show, we interview Dr. Maureen Gannon, PhD, about the sources of imposter feelings and the practical steps you can take to work through them. By every objective measure, Dr. Gannon’s career has been an unqualified success.  She went from private high school through a Masters degree with full scholarships, finishing her undergraduate training in just three years.  She completed a PhD at Cornell and is now a tenured faculty member at Vanderbilt University with appointments in several departments. She leads and chairs multiple organizations and committees, and is invited to speak internationally about her work. And yet, for much of her training, Dr. Gannon didn’t feel successful.  She sometimes attributed her personal wins to outside forces or good luck. She wondered when others would discover her shortcomings as a scientist. Then, she attended a workshop that put a name to the feelings: imposter phenomenon.  With the name came a realization that many of her peers were experiencing the same thing. Now, she speaks to students, faculty, and professional groups about her experience of overcoming imposter syndrome and getting on with her career. In this episode, Dr. Gannon shares some of the common triggers for imposter feelings and the steps you can take to work through them. Here are the books and resources she recommends: Take the test yourself: The Clance Imposter Scale The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming the Fear That Haunts Your Success The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It Creative Visualization: Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life Man vs. Machine Science in the News brings us another reminder that computers are going to take our jobs.  This week, machine learning algorithms outperform human doctors on predicting which patients will suffer from heart disease. Now, when the robots rise up to kill us, they’ll be able to make it look like ‘an accident.’ We also sample a tropical ethanol with the Big Wave Golden Ale from Kona Brewing. It’s not clear why this allegedly Hawaiian beer was featured on a cruise in the Caribbean, but it’s best not to argue.  Any port in a storm, as they say… Like the show?  Support us on Patreon!
April 7, 2017
Meeting a new cohort of graduate students on your first day of class can be intimidating.  These are the brightest students from their undergraduate programs. Some of them have years of research experience, first-author publications, and a depth of knowledge that seems encyclopedic. Feeling intimidated by your new colleagues is normal, but some of the people you meet will suffer a more insidious type of anxiety. Some students actually see themselves as charlatans who are just play-acting at a scientific career. So far, they feel, they’ve successfully bluffed their way through college, entrance exams, and interviews. But they fear that at any moment, they will be discovered as frauds and rejected from the program. This daily battle is the emotional reality for people suffering from “Imposter Syndrome.” Imposter Syndrome, Up Close and Personal First described by Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes in 1978, “Imposter Phenomenon” is the belief that despite one’s achievements and academic success, the sufferer doesn’t feel successful.  She believes she has ‘gotten lucky’ or ‘fooled everyone’ into believing she has talent, but at any moment the facade could come crashing down. To cope, “imposters” often turn into workaholics, attempting to maintain their position through diligence and hard work. They set their sights on perfection, and then turn a self-critical eye on every outcome. The constant cycle of unachievable goals, long work hours, and self deprecation leads to burnout, anxiety, and depression. This week on the show, we explore the signs and symptoms of imposter syndrome and how it manifests in graduate school and beyond.  By talking candidly about this decidedly lonely struggle, we can remove the stigma and begin dealing with the effects on scientists at all stages of their careers. Resources Here are some imposter syndrome papers and assessments we mentioned in the show: Impostor syndrome and burnout among American medical students: a pilot study Validation of the Impostor Phenomenon among Managers The dangers of feeling like a fake – Harvard Business Review Clance Imposter Phenomenon Scale Young Imposter Syndrome Quiz Hands Off These Eggs On a slightly lighter note, we hear the fascinating story of how one graduate student stayed up late to challenge everything we know about amphibian parenting: Under a Flashlight, a Eureka Moment About Frogs Patterns of parental care in Neotropical glassfrogs: fieldwork alters hypotheses of sex-role evolution We also sample the Old Chub Scotch Ale from Oskar Blues.  Careful – that sweet maltiness is hiding an unhealthy amount of ethanol.  You’ve been warned!
March 24, 2017
Traditionally, spending time on social media was a great way to make your PI angry. Your job is to finish experiments, read papers, and present your work at conferences, not to upvote and share the latest blue-dress illusion. But there are some unexpected benefits to the Twitter network that could help your science and your career. #JustAScienceThing This week on the show, we explore the weird world of Twitter, and how real-life scientists are using it to their advantage.  Here are some benefits you may not have considered: 1. Keep up with the research in your field Raise your hand if you’ve ever missed out on an important paper in your field because your PubMed filter wasn’t precise. Or if you ever missed an advance because you decided you’d rather watch a Netflix series than flip through that stack of journals. Scientific research moves quickly, and having a social network of like-minded scientists means you’ll have many more eyes on the literature. Follow the researchers in your field and rest assured you’ll never miss that big breakthrough. 2. Promote your own work It’s a dirty fact that citations make your journal articles more valuable (Impact Factor, baby!).  Would you be surprised to learn that Twitter references correlate with early citations in other articles? If you’re not sharing your research on Twitter, you’re missing a wider audience that may benefit from your findings. 3. Build your network and find a job Most scientists I’ve met don’t like the word ‘networking.’ It feels awkward to ‘cold call’ a PI or collaborator, asking for reagents and inquiring about jobs. But what if you had a rapport BEFORE you even met? Follow the researchers you respect, reply to their tweets with your own perspective, and after awhile, you’ll recognize each other at that next conference and have a basis for conversation. No cold calls necessary. 4. Attend the conference behind the conference If you’re still not ready to dive into the Twittersphere, dip in your toe by participating in a conference.  Most meetings will define a hashtag that allows attendees to filter on tweets stemming from the conference. You’ll discover a rich conversation happening in and around the talks and events. As one scientist presents her findings, others can ask questions or summarize the results on Twitter for follow up later. There’s no reason to be passive just because it isn’t your turn on the dais. 5. Support the causes you believe in We interview Dr. Stephani Page, who launched an unexpected hashtag revolution one snowy day. Stephani wanted to find other black scientists and engineers on Twitter, so she tweeted: “Role” call. #BLACKandSTEM what do you do? — Stephani Page, PhD (@ThePurplePage) February 13, 2014 Little did she know, that seemingly innocuous tweet would lead to articles in magazines like Fast Company, interviews on Al Jazeera and NPR, invitations to speak at conferences, and a supportive network of other STEM professionals. She shares her amazing story and how it’s affected her career this week on the show! You can find her @ThePurplePage. And of course, you can always find US on Twitter @hellophd.  Come join the conversation! Good Beer and Bad Drugs This week, we discuss
March 9, 2017
If the idea of saving money while in graduate school sounds laughable to you, you’re not alone. Many grad students live month to month on a stipend that places them near the poverty line. After rent, food, and clothing, there’s nothing left to save. But food, clothing and shelter don’t cover all the expenses you’ll face as a grad student. There’s also car maintenance and repair, gifts for loved ones, and the occasional concert or trip to the beach. How do you squeeze these add-ons from an already meager budget? Hitting the Target This week, we talk with our friend Dr. Emily Roberts about some creative ways grad students and postdocs can make a regular investment for irregular expenses. Emily shares her experience when as a student, she and her husband spent well over their budget on unpredictable expenses like car repairs and basketball tickets. Vowing never to make that mistake again, Emily looked for ways to force these every-few-months expenses into her monthly budget. Her solution: targeted savings accounts. Simply put, these are bank accounts with a name and a purpose. Instead of saving a wad of cash under the mattress for ‘a rainy day,’ targeted savings accounts serve a single purpose. Emily created one that saved money just for car repairs.  She stared a separate account to purchase show tickets the following year. Each month, a small amount of money would auto-draft from her checking account, and deposit in each targeted account. Over time, these grew, and when it came time to fix the car or buy theater tickets, the money was already there.  She didn’t have to sacrifice her grocery budget this week to make ends meet. You can hear more tips and ideas for setting up accounts of your own in this week’s episode.  Or head over to GradStudentFinances.org for additional articles and a worksheet to help you identify your irregular expenses. Hello PhD listeners can also sign up to view her webinar on income tax tips for graduate students.  Yes, it IS that time of year! Tastes Like Chicken This week, we’re scratching our heads over the recent report from the CBC that the chicken on Subway sandwiches contain only 50% Gallus gallus.  Because DNA! Of course, Subway disagrees, and ordered their own antibody-based testing to show that there’s plenty of Gallus to go around. Something that doesn’t taste like chicken: the Julius and Haze IPAs we sampled from Treehouse Brewing. These truly exceptional beers are apparently hard to come by. It’s complex enough that their website has a section devoted to finding them, and a section for ordering. I believe the brewmaster is allowed to ask you three riddles before filling your growler, and may demand a sacrifice should you answer incorrectly.  Be warned!
February 22, 2017
If you read the following headline this week, you might have experienced a small thrill: AAAS Forms Partnership to Expand Access to High-Quality Scientific Publishing AAAS, or the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is the organization that publishes the flagship journal Science Magazine and related titles.  You might believe from that headline that you could now access Science articles for free from anywhere in the world! You’d be wrong. Unlocking Access While AAAS DID ‘expand’ access, they did it in the least thrilling way possible.  They reached an agreement with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and committed to allowing open access for Gates Foundation funded research articles.  That’s expected to be 10-15 papers per year. But wait, there’s less! The agreement only lasts for one year, beginning January 1, 2017, after which time the decision will be reviewed. To secure this privilege, the Gates Foundation had to pay AAAS a lump sum of $100,000 for the year. So much for ‘open’ access. Scientific publishing is an unusual animal. Government agencies like the NIH and private NGOs like the Gates Foundation contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to advance research.  Scientists labor at the bench to make discoveries.  Peer reviewers offer in-depth analysis and expert consulting for free. Meanwhile, scientists must pay the journal to publish a paper, and then pay some journals a subscription fee to read that paper! Open access journals offer a different approach. Though they may still charge a fee for publication, the finished article can be freely accessed without a subscription or paywall by anyone in the world. This week on the podcast, we explore the newsworthy-ness of the AAAS announcement, why the Gates Foundation may be paying to play, and what YOU can do as a scientist to advance the cause of open access. We also sample the Wicked Weed Pernicious India Pale Ale brewed in Asheville, NC.  They claim their IPA is so good, it will make all others taste terrible by comparison.  It is tasty, but I bet we’ll find others to enjoy in the future… Friends of the Show We’re 67 episodes into this wild ride we call Hello PhD and we need your help more than ever!  We’re asking friends of the show to continue sharing it with your lab mates and social networks to help spread the word and make science training just a wee bit easier for everyone. We also want your feedback.  Whether you’re a regular listener or just wandered by, take our survey to help us improve the show. And if you’re feeling generous, why not donate a few bucks and become a Patron of Hello PhD?  We’ve got a Patreon account now to help cover the costs of hosting and distribution. We’ve got some fun rewards set up for anyone who contributes, and thanks for your support!
February 9, 2017
Though techniques and terminology vary from one scientific discipline to another, all scientists are bound together by a set of core principles. We call this the “scientific method,” and the approach is sacrosanct. Observe the world around you, state a hypothesis to explain what you’ve seen, devise an experiment to prove yourself wrong, and report your findings so that the next inquisitive mind can build upon your work. So what happens when an elected official seeks to erode the foundations of scientific inquiry? Scientists take to the streets. March Against Madness After just over two weeks in office, US President Donald Trump has stirred up more controversy than most presidents achieve in two terms. And whether you love or loathe his policies on abortion, immigration, and the economy, it’s his approach to science that warrants a watchful eye. So far, the news media has described a president and cabinet who are antagonistic to the scientific community. In their first week, a gag order silenced ‘unapproved’ communication from institutions like the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture. At the same time, the EPA was instructed to remove references to ‘climate change’ from its website, though that edict was later walked back. The agency remains under a strict media blackout and some contracts have been frozen. But perhaps more troubling than seizing control of the money and message of scientific agencies is the administration’s cavalier attitude toward the goal of science: to understand the truth.   Spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway famously invoked the concept of ‘alternative facts’ to defend the President’s insistence that the crowd at his inauguration was many times larger than the cameras showed. Trump himself continually flouts scientific consensus and verifiable data. He believes vaccines cause autism, has said climate change is a hoax, and recently declared that any poll showing disagreement with his policy is automatically ‘fake news.’ Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 6, 2017 Scientists working directly in government agencies are already feeling the chilling effects of this administration, but those in academia and the private sector are also nervous. An administration willing to deny scientific consensus, hamstring research agencies, and publicly humiliate detractors is unlikely to increase research funding or clear the way for major breakthroughs. So what’s a scientist to do? Protest, of course.  Dr. Smith Goes to Washington A Facebook group called “March for Science” emerged in recent weeks and called on scientists to stand up for the immense value of scientific inquiry in our society.  The group ballooned quickly,
January 26, 2017
Though most of us have never served on a graduate program admissions committee, we can still appreciate the difficulty of their task: Given a stack qualified applicants, choose the few that you believe will succeed. Where do you start?  Perhaps you check on each applicant’s GPA, or focus just on the GPA in their science classes. Or maybe you trust the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).  After all, it’s designed to measure a student’s readiness for graduate school, right? Because reviewers differ on which metrics they trust most, it’s worth considering a scientific approach to admissions. Are there any predictor variables that actually correlate with student outcomes? Let Me Gaze into My Crystal Ball That’s exactly the question taken up by Joshua Hall et al. in their recent paper titled “Predictors of Student Productivity in Biomedical Graduate School Applications.” If you’re paying close attention, you’ll notice that Joshua Hall is also the co-host of the Hello PhD podcast! Josh works with a large biomedical training program at UNC Chapel Hill, and he and his colleagues have a vested interest in choosing the very best students from a large pool of applicants. They wanted to collect data on student outcomes, and then correlate them to the screening data included in a typical application. Would GRE scores or extensive research experience help predict laboratory success? Of course, “success” is subjective and difficult to define or measure. Instead, they used student publications as a proxy for productivity and a tangible outcome. Using data from 270 graduate students admitted to the biomedical program at UNC Chapel Hill between 2008 and 2010, Josh and his colleagues correlated the following five factors to students publishing rates: * Undergraduate GPA * GRE Scores * Length of prior research experience (in months) * Letters of recommendation (standardized answers) * On-site faculty interviews (standardized answers) The results? Only recommender reviews had any significant correlation with student productivity. Even faculty reviews and longer research experience did not predict which students would publish. Listen in to this week’s episode to hear more on each factor included in the study, and why it’s such a serious indictment of the GRE and other traditional screening metrics. With time and additional research, we may be able to screen and interview graduate students in a fairer, more consistent way. For now, you’ll still need to shell out $200+ for that GRE score. Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot For this week’s Science in the News, Josh brings us down with a report that the global temperature is up. A few years ago, climate scientists observed a ‘stall’ in the predicted warming caused by increasing CO2 levels.  It turns out that may have just been due to a measurement error from data collected by ships crossing the oceans. More recent analysis using data from a fleet of “Argo Floats” show that warming has been consistent, with the Earth breaking heat records for three years in a row. Here’s how the floats work: This seemingly benign story of improved instrumentation now enters the realm of political theater, as politicians and pundits raise the specter fabricated data, media bias, and political pandering. Isn’t science fun? With all that heat, we try to stay cool with the Jai Alai IPA from Cigar City Brewing.  It’s crisp and refreshing,
January 10, 2017
You might think internships are the domain of business students and undergrads.  You’re training every day in a lab – why would you need more experiential learning? The short answer is that your laboratory training is a great internship if you want to go on to a faculty position at a major research university. But what if you want to use your scientific training to craft policy and legislation in your state government? Or what if you want to work with a Contract Research Organization and help shepherd new drugs through clinical trials? The Best of the BEST The NIH recognized this gap between the current training regimen an the job prospects of biomedical grads.  They cite a 2012 study by the Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group that found only 20-25% of graduating biomedical trainees went on to faculty positions. That means 75-80% did something else with their careers. To bridge this gap, they introduced the Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) program. BEST provides funding and support to 17 research institutions to experimentally improve career development. This week, we talk with Patrick Brandt, PhD, about the program he administers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  The UNC program includes funding that allows students to leave their dissertation labs for a short time to work directly with industry or government agencies. Dr. Brandt tells us about a few of the internships recently completed by trainees, and shares some tips for getting a spot in the program.  He also discusses some of the ways students convince their PIs that time away from lab is worthwhile. Dr. Brandt has noticed that students participating in the intern program are highly successful at getting a job after graduation.  And it’s not just jobs with the intern host company. Sure, an internship provides experience, CV fodder, and network of contacts, but Dr. Brandt thinks the real value lies elsewhere.  He believes interns find greater success due to a surge in confidence the feel after working ‘in the field.’  They gain focus and can speak the language of their target industry, and that goes a long way when you’re trying to land a job. It’s beginning to look a lot like New Year Sure, the holiday season is far behind us, but no one told Winter Storm Helena that swept through the southern US this past week.  We were snowed in for a few days, and celebrated with New Belgium’s Accumulation.  It’s a white IPA that would be a great introduction for your friends who aren’t sure about hoppy beers. Plus, after a few sips, you’ll feel warmer! And here’s a link to the crazy robotic moth to fuel your next nightmare: Insect-controlled Robot: A Mobile Robot Platform to Evaluate the Odor-tracking Capability of an Insect
December 20, 2016
Statistically speaking, Teresa Ramirez didn’t stand a chance. She was raised in Compton, California, a city south of Los Angeles and the eponymous setting of the N.W.A. album “Straight Outta Compton.” Teresa loved books. She asked questions during class. She put in extra time to help out after school.  In a high school where gang violence was an expectation and higher education was not, Teresa stood out like a sore thumb. Straight Inta College This week on the show, we find out what transformed a teenager living in a dangerous part of town into an accomplished scientist who makes the path easier for the next generation of trainees. Teresa reflects on the blend of luck, kindness, and personal motivation that propelled her through college, graduate school, and beyond her PhD.  She shares the struggles that sapped her confidence and the leaps of faith that ended up paying off in unexpected ways. Whether you’re a high school student, undergrad, PhD candidate, or postdoc, she has advice that will help YOU make the next step in your career.  Work hard, stay open to every opportunity, and take a few chances.  You won’t regret it. Deck the ‘Nog And since it’s the Holiday Season, Josh and Dan mix up a special ethanol to celebrate.  It’s Eggnog! If you mistakenly believe you hate eggnog based on the yellow, syrupy gloop poured from a cardboard carton this time of year, then you’re in for a surprise.  REAL eggnog is a creamy, rich indulgence that is almost too decadent for words.  Luckily, we have words for everything, so we walk you through the recipe step-by-step. Next year, we’ll try it aged…  Stay with us!
December 6, 2016
The 2016 presidential election was divisive, dramatic, and distracting.  That’s why you probably missed a series of rulings and regulations that could have a profound impact on your research. But fear not, Daniel and Josh are back with news on the recent legislation and how it affects your funding and focus. Fair Labor for Postdocs First up, the Fair Labor Standards Act, or “FLSA”, was scheduled for an update that would raise salaries for full time employees.  Way back in Episode 2, we outlined how President Obama’s proposed changes would apply to postdoctoral researchers.  Universities and institutions like the NIH would be required to either boost postdoc pay to $47,476, or treat them as hourly employees and start tracking their overtime pay. Staring down the barrel of additional paperwork, many universities made plans to simply increase postdoc pay above the threshold before the December 1, 2016 deadline.  But on November 23rd, a US District Judge imposed an injunction, blocking the implementation until further review. Many universities and research organizations decided to go ahead with the pay bump, but a few balked.  You can find out what your employer decided by visiting the Future of Research website.  They’ve compiled school-by-school reports on FLSA compliance and they’ll maintain that list moving forward. For recent grads seeking out a new lab for your postdoctoral work, be sure to consider the ever-widening pay gap that exists among otherwise comparable universities.  Vote with your research, and make sure you are compensated appropriately for your valuable work. 21st Century Cures As of this writing, the 21st Century Cures Act has passed the US House of Representatives with bipartisan support.  This omnibus health care and research bill cuts a wide swath, touching everything from basic research to medical device marketing. Before we unpack the parts of special interest to the HelloPhD audience, let’s let President Obama give us the tl;dr. In addition to lots of money flowing into treating opioid addictions and cancer, there’s a $4.8 billion authorization for the National Institutes of Health over the next ten years.  In fact, the first section of the bill is devoted to “Discovery,” which translates to basic scientific research carried out in universities like yours. We cover some of the relevant earmarks in detail in this week’s episode, but here’s a quick link-list for anyone wanting to learn more: * (Sec. 1002) The NIH must establish an Innovation Prizes Program to fund areas of biomedical science that could realize significant advancements or improve health outcomes. * (Sec. 1023) The NIH must reduce the administrative burdens of researchers funded by the NIH. * (Sec. 1028) Each national research institute must conduct or support high-risk, high-reward research. * (Sec. 1041) A loan repayment program is established for health professionals engaging in research.
November 21, 2016
There’s no denying it: science is hard work. After a long week of 3AM time-points, contaminated cell cultures, and the ‘simple PCR’ that failed for the fifth time, you might lose sight of why you got into this business in the first place. But, with Thanksgiving on the horizon, we decided to pause and consider all of the GOOD things going on in life and lab. On the Bright Side We asked our listeners and our favorite subreddits why they love grad school and working in science. As the responses poured in, we remembered just how great a life of research can be as long as you take the time to notice. Lab workers love the flexibility of their work schedule. Instead of the 9-5 rat race with 30 minutes for lunch, we get the benefit of planning our time around experiments and results. Need to make a doctor’s appointment or spend some time with family? There’s no form to fill out – just go! Listeners also found joy in the amazing people around them. As a group, scientists tend to be a quirky, curious, and intelligent bunch, which makes for great conversation. Add the stress of graduate training and you see students and postdocs forming lifelong bonds with their labmates. We’re in this together, right? Other common themes in your feedback centered around the perks of the graduate lifestyle. The chance to travel for conferences and the myriad opportunities for free food came up regularly in the conversation. Daniel shared a very personal message of thanks with everyone who pursues basic research in the sciences. When cancer recently touched the life of his loved-one, he found hope in a clinical trial built on more than 100 years of scientific research in fields from virology, cell biology, neurophysiology and medicine. With our day-to-day experimental successes and failures, it’s so easy to lose sight of the importance of our work. But know that this holiday season, the work you do provides hope to thousands of people whose lives depend on innovation and discovery. So what are YOU thankful for this week? More Causes for Thanksgiving This week, we stick with the holiday theme to taste the Dogfish Head Punkin Ale. It’s not the cloyingly sweet pumpkin-spice monstrosity you expect from most pumpkin beers, so it’s safe to enjoy with dinner. Just save room for the pie! And Josh shares some not-so-new-news about how scientists are growing unusual bacteria species outside of the incubator. It’s an inspiring tale of bargain basement materials that fuel priceless discoveries.
November 7, 2016
Dear Dr. Scientist, I’m writing to tell you how much I admire your work in the field of science that you study.  Your lab has done some tremendous work researching very important topics of significance.  I just loved your latest research article and I’m sure it made your university or institution proud! In any case, I’m looking for a postdoc position in a lab like yours.  Please let me know what day I can start. Sincerely, A Grad Student If you want to end up in University spam filters, then just copy and paste this email to everyone in the department. If you’d like that postdoc advisor to take notice and invite you for an interview, we have some tips for making contact and getting a response! Take me to your mentor This week on the show, we hear from Tessa, a nearly-minted PhD student who is on the hunt for a postdoc advisor.  She wonders about the rules and etiquette for reaching out: I’m very close to finishing my PhD in physics. I would love to know your thoughts on cold calling academics in the job hunt. I know this is done a lot, but personally I always feel a little awkward reaching out to researchers at the top of their field, who I’ve never met before.  Some of the questions I’ve been pondering are: – How might this first email sound? – Whether you should ask directly about opportunities to work together or just express interest in what they do. – How to explain how my research interests aligns with theirs in few words. – How to stand out amongst the crowd. – Whether there are other things I should be doing like creating an online presence, webpage, etc. We start at the beginning, by reminding you to think about whether you actually need a postdoc to achieve your career goals. Assuming a postdoc makes sense for you, we share advice for identifying eligible advisors by mining your existing network of research contacts.  Ask faculty members and postdocs in your department who they’d recommend based on your research interests.  You might discover labs you’d have overlooked in a web search, and you’ll have a ‘warm’ introduction rather than calling cold. If your colleagues can’t help, there are a handful of do’s and don’ts to consider when crafting an email. Do: * Open with a personal connection – “I saw your talk at the recent convention” or “Jim suggested I contact you.”  Making it personal and targeted will get them to read past the first paragraph. * Let them know you’re looking for a postdoc opportunity – There are times to be coy and times to be direct. In this situation, hinting your way into the job is going to be difficult and confusing. Let them know you are looking for a postdoc position and how your research interests will align. * Include an updated CV and references – Make it easy for the advisor to see how your background and skills are a great fit. Don’t: * Contact them by mail – No need for a snail-mail package with your CV and recent publications.  It’s not 1802. Everyone has email now. * Spam a big list of labs – You shouldn’t email that advisor if you aren’t interested in the lab.  Yeah, I know it’s scary to put all your eggs into just a few baskets, but you’ll get a better result with focus and specificity. * Expect a response after one email – Look, people are busy.  Even if they’d love to have you in their lab, they may have forgotten to reply.  Send a gracious follow-up email or hop on the phone to let them know you’re truly interested. Do you have suggestions for how to contact PhD or postdoc m...
October 19, 2016
In some jobs, one day at the office looks a lot like the next. You could look through your calendar and optimize your meeting schedule and to-do list without much thought. But working in a lab is different: your projects are in constant flux, experiments lead to other experiments, and you need to balance bench work with meetings, mentoring, and writing. That busyness can lead to inefficiency as you tackle the items on your list one after another.  Worse, you’re forced to plan overlapping activities to fill the ‘downtime’ during incubations and time points. This week, we encourage you to take a step back, look over your list of competing priorities, and ask some hard questions about what’s really important. You might find you have more free time on your hands than you ever imagined… Throw it in the Focus Funnel Managing your time in lab goes beyond just making each experiment efficient and effective; you need to choose what tasks to take on, and which to let go.  That’s where the Focus Funnel from Rory Vaden’s Procrastinate on Purpose comes in handy. Just take your to-do list, and ask the following questions: * Does this task actually need to done? If not, eliminate it. * Does it involve a repetitive task that a computer could do?  If so, automate it! * Can someone else do it just as well as I can? If so, delegate it. * Does it need to get done right away? If not, procrastinate. If you answered no to all of the above, you’ve got a task that is important and requires your attention ASAP.  Now’s the time to set your pomodoro timer, and get the job done. As you work through this mental checklist, you’re sure to find activities that are best eliminated, automated, delegated, and procrastinated. Skip the fifth repetition on that Western blot that just won’t produce a pretty hot-dog shaped band. It’s okay, they’ll still publish your paper. Make an Excel template that runs all of your favorite statistics after a qPCR.  It’s better at math than you are anyway. Train your local undergrad to split your HeLa cells.  I promise you can get more if the first few batches get contaminated. Wait until after you talk with your PI to finalize those PowerPoint slides.  You know he’ll find something to criticize – why not make it something you were planning to fix anyway? The Focus Funnel can’t get you out of all of your work, but it will help you put each task in perspective and help you maximize the time you spend on the things that matter most. The Pirates of Alcosynth This week, we’re sampling the Hornigold English Style India Pale Ale from Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough, NC.  It derives its name from a piratical source which we reveal on the show.  The brewmaster at Mystery is none other than Erik Lars Myers, author of North Carolina Craft Beer & Breweries, so you know he knows his stuff! We also learn about Professor David Nutt’s research on synthetic drugs without the side effects.  He’s created a compound named “alcosynth” that has all the fun of alcohol without the hangovers and liver damage.  He believes psychoactive substances have been part of human culture for millennia and will continue to be important for the foreseeable...
October 3, 2016
On those days when you manage to take a break from bench-work and call home, you will almost certainly get ‘The Question:’ “So, how is your research going?” If you’re new to grad school, you might make the mistake of telling your parent or loved one exactly how your research is going. “Well, I was up until 3 AM doing time points but then one of the buffers was contaminated so I had to throw out my last two weeks of work and start over.” To which your parent will reply, “That sounds awful!  You must be so upset.  Are you sure a career in science will make you happy?” And you’ll stop and ponder that last question.  Will a career in science make you happy? Will you prance from bench to bench giggling to yourself, high on the sheer exhilaration of learning? Or is it much more likely that you’ll face roadblocks, confounding data, experiments that only sometimes work, and that every once in awhile, you’ll push the boundary of your knowledge into new territory.  In those moments, you might feel proud or relieved or curious, but not exactly ‘happy.’ Does that mean you should leave science to find a career that can make you happier? Or is Mom asking you the wrong question entirely? And the Pursuit of Unhappiness When a friend or loved one reflects on your life in the lab, it can highlight some of the challenges you face every day. Asking whether science makes you happy requires that you answer with a yes or no, but in fact, you may not be pursuing a research career because it makes you feel warm and fuzzy. You may have chosen science because you have a burning curiosity that won’t let you sleep when there’s a puzzle to solve.  You may have seen the effects of a disease that you feel compelled to cure.  Or perhaps you’re the type of person who believes in the purity of the scientific method, and you want to apply that enlightened thinking to more of the world. Whatever the case, you probably didn’t sign up for graduate school because you believed it would give you a permanent feeling of bliss.  So how do you explain your motivation and drive to friends and family? This week on the show, we talk with Deirdre Sackett, a fourth-year student who recently reflected on her meaningful unhappiness in grad school.  She drew inspiration from The Oatmeal’s recent comic outlining his own lifestyle of busy, fascinated unhappiness. Science isn’t about being happy or unhappy, she says.  “You will face failure in your studies, no matter what you’re doing.  Don’t let anyone define what your worldview of happiness is.  That’s for you to find and it’s not happiness, it’s meaning. That’s deeply personal to you and it’s not something that anyone can tell you to feel.” The Science of Fitbit This week, we also learn about the effects of activity trackers on weight loss.  These days, everyone wears a Fitbit, Jawbone, or Apple device to count their steps.  Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the actual outcomes of fitness tracking are complicated. And to tip the scales in the other direction, we enjoy a bottle of the Smuttynose Peach Short Weisse.  They use a two-step fermentation process with Lactobacillus, so the beer is tart and crisp with just a hint of peach.  It’s not sour enough to cause your lips to pucker, but it is an acerbic surprise on your first sip.
September 20, 2016
When we imagine what life is like for people who are blind, our first reaction might be paralysis. We consider just how difficult our lives would be without sight; preparing breakfast, dressing for work, and navigating from home to the lab sound like insurmountable obstacles. And if those trivial tasks seem daunting, consider your work day.  Could you keep up with the pace of scientific research, running experiments and publishing papers with your eyes closed? In our imaginary blindness, many of us would despair and find an alternative career path, but we’re missing a very important distinction between the thought experiment and reality. The fact is, people who have been blind since birth have developed the skills to leap each and every hurdle we’ve listed. It’s a normal part of every day to commute to work or read a scientific paper. Their biggest struggle may be overcoming the decidedly limited imaginations of their sighted peers. Expect Success This week on the show, we interview Kevin Currin, a second year grad student in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology who also happens to be legally blind. Kevin’s passion for science started at a young age, and he spent time building his research skills prior to applying to graduate school. Importantly, he also used that time to build a network in the science community. As he got to know other students and faculty, they learned about his drive and perseverance, as well as some of the tools he uses to get his work done. Taking a few minutes to understand how Kevin interacts with the artifacts of scientific research goes a long way toward helping his sighted colleagues understand why he’s so good at what he does. * Reading papers: Screen reader software recites the content on the computer line by line at whatever speed he chooses.  He’s trained his ear to listen at higher speeds, so he’ll read an entire paper in the time it takes most people to get through the introduction. * Programming: Similar answer, but the code he writes is echoed back to him as he types. * Data Analysis: Data visualization is out, but he argues that many scientists use graphs and summary statistics in a way that actually obscures data. Depending on the data set, he’ll either consume the raw table, or define the metrics that answer his questions. * Presentation: Giving scientific talks is no problem, but he will enlist outside opinions when making his slides.  He initially spent time considering whether a bar chart or scatter plot would appeal to his audience, but since this is not how he perceives the data, he leaves that choice up to others who have a vested interest. Of course, Kevin’s road to success hasn’t been without bumps.  He’s encountered his share of misunderstanding and bias (one faculty interviewer completely dismissed the notion that Kevin could conduct research at all.)  Still, he’s found a community that supports his scientific aspirations, and he’s doing his part to make the path easier for other blind individuals. Kevin is passionate about changing the expectations for the blind.  He says that our culture, and even parents of blind children, see career success as a happy anomaly, reserved for the few savants and geniuses of the blind community.  Mediocrity is the expected default. But to change that, he calls for all of us to expect blind students and colleagues to perform as well as their sighted counterparts.  It reveals our own implicit bias when we say things like “I can’t believe how well you did on that test” or “It’s so impressive that you were able to get into graduate school.”  We certainly would not repeat those phrases to other minority groups! In addition to resetting our expectations, Kevin calls for broader and better outreach efforts.
September 5, 2016
When we think of scientists, we often think of the lone researcher plodding away at the bench late into the night.  We imagine Alexander Fleming scrutinizing his penicillium molds or Einstein pondering the latest equation he’s written on the chalk board. We go a step further when training new scientists: we ask them to complete an ‘independent research project.’  We tacitly perpetuate this notion of the solitary scientist, making her own success or failure. The side effects of this lone-wolf approach to research are painfully manifest: projects that stall on a single experiment, money wasted teaching everyone the same techniques, and students who burn out due to frustration, lack of direction, or just plain loneliness. In Part 3 of our goal to modernize the PhD process, we propose a radical 180º turn from the independent project. Let’s turn science into a team sport. Though ‘group work’ was a dreaded sentence in your undergrad classroom, teams themselves are essential in most modern industries.  Can you imagine a manufacturer who expected one person to think up a product, design the machines, assemble the widget, box it up, and launch an ad campaign? Yet that’s our vision of an ‘independent scientist.’  A scientist needs to identify the important questions in his field of study, design experiments, execute them, publish the results, and score grants from various funding agencies. Imagination Laboratory If we draw parallels to the lab, a new way of doing academic research arises.  We see a cohort of students, postdocs, technicians and PIs who team up to solve the same problem.  They map out the figures for a paper, and then divide up the work. Instead of laboring away alone at the bench, experiments become an intricate dance.  An undergrad prepares the media while the PI (who has good ‘luck’) makes the clone.  A tech transforms the bacteria, inoculates the flasks, and teaches the undergrad to do a miniprep. A grad student, who has flawless aseptic technique, is responsible for transfecting the mammalian cells without contamination.  She hands off analysis to the postdoc who has had ten years of experience at the microscope and prefers that quiet, methodical work. They gather at lab meeting to assess the results of their team effort, and to chart a path through the next week. Experiment by experiment, figure by figure, they divide and conquer the paper and publish faster than their competitors.  Everyone works to her strengths.  No one is left to flounder when an experiment fails. In fact, it’s in every person’s interest to help the others.  Never again does a student sit stymied by the transfection that just won’t work; the whole lab needs that step to succeed, and everyone pitches in to diagnose the problem and break the bottleneck. Of course, this system has its pros and cons.  While it’s possible to move more quickly from idea to paper, it requires a level of coordination that won’t happen by accident. And PhD programs would require a tweak to graduation criteria.  First-author papers would no longer be common, or meaningful, in such a team-based approach. Tell us what you think – would you be willing to team up with others in your lab?  Have you ever worked in a setting where teamwork was the standard?  Leave a comment below, or tell us about your experience via email. Some good news, and some bad news In this episode, we round up some recent ‘science’ news you might have missed. First, the FDA banned antibacterial additives commonly found in soap.  News flash: all soap is already antibacterial, thank-you-very-much.
August 23, 2016
Today, a graduate student will make a terrible mistake. He’ll blindly commit to a long-term relationship that will make him miserable.  He’ll be too shy to ask his partner the painfully awkward questions that could predict their ultimate failure as a team. Does this person have time for me?  Is she enthusiastic about helping me succeed?  Do our goals align? Of course, this is not a romantic relationship: it’s the commitment formed between a grad student and his advisor.  And though it’s not a marriage, it can cover some of the same emotional ground.  When it’s healthy, you’ll both grow as people and you’ll achieve more than you would alone. When it’s unhealthy, you might bear the emotional scars for the rest of your life. With just a few simple changes to the graduate-advisor relationship, we can make sure more students, and their mentors, reach their full potential.  Why leave it to chance? If we want to improve PhD mentorship, we have to consider how the relationship forms and finds support at all levels. 1. It’s not “you,” it’s “us” Though it may be a stretch to describe the graduate student/advisor relationship as a marriage, it does have some useful parallels.  The first is that both sides are responsible for the relationship. Often, we decry a ‘terrible PI’ or a ‘mean advisor’ and forget that the student forms half of the relationship.  The two must work together as a team, and there are a few ways to ensure a good fit. The Wisconsin Mentor Training Core offers a checklist that mentors and students can talk through when assessing fit.  It seems trite, but many graduate training experiences have risen, and fallen, on such simple questions as: * Can I commit adequate time to mentoring this person? * Does this person have access to the kind of opportunities that can support my learning? * Am I committed to developing my own mentoring skills? Though it might feel awkward, having an honest conversation with your intended advisor could save you from years of disappointment, depression, and anxiety.  You don’t have to use the clinical-sounding questions in your conversation, but you should rephrase them and understand the answers before you commit. 2. It takes a village We need to stop thinking of the PI or advisor as an army-of-one.  That creates an unhealthy codependence, and leaves the student with very few resources if the relationship turns sour. Instead, every student should identify a mentorship team – the three to five advisors, coaches, and cheerleaders they’ll lean on during their training. Your PI might be your academic advisor and help you navigate the world of peer-reviewed research.  But you may also want to find a friendly post-doc that can recall the tricks of completing a dissertation or to diagnose why your mini-prep always fails. Do you want to pursue a career off the faculty track?  Then you’ll certainly need to identify a science writer, industry researcher, or policy wonk to show you the path.  Your PI doesn’t have the same resources as a seasoned professional in that alternate field. 3. Follow the lighted exit signs Universities and departments can significantly improve training outcomes by giving students the option to move if their research-relationship isn’t working out. Too often, there is a stigma associated with ‘changing labs,’ and it’s so pervasive that many students prefer to quit graduate school rather than ‘starting over.’  But sometimes, a fresh ...
August 8, 2016
Scientific training has its roots in the ancient world.  From Aristotle’s natural philosophy to the modern biomedical research lab, science training has relied heavily on an apprenticeship model. Senior scientists take promising young students into their labs and train them, hands-on, in the practical activities of research. The assumption has always been that the aspiring scientist will ‘grow up’ to be like her mentor – running a lab of her own someday.  And for a long time, that made sense. But in the modern world, PhDs go on to a much wider variety of careers.  Sure, some seek faculty positions, but others teach, consult, work in industry, and influence policy. Is it time to rethink the PhD process?  Can we modernize scientific training to support the diverse interest of today’s scientists? #modernPhD That was the question posed by The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) in their push to modernize scientific training. We rise to the challenge with a Trilogy of Solutions.  This week, we unpack the first idea: revising the graduate school curriculum so that training is more standardized, and time to completion is fixed. Imagine a world in which your PhD program was limited to 5 years.  What type of training would build your research skills and make you ready for the workplace? The fact is, our current system is extremely variable – each student has a unique project with individual successes and failures.  One student might sail through in 3 years, while another is forced to change labs and stays through year 9. Is the first student smarter? Better equipped to succeed?  Or is the second student better trained by the additional time? The reality is that ‘time to PhD’ is not synonymous with skill or training.  And if time isn’t correlated with success, then there’s an opportunity to tighten up the training schedule without sacrificing pedagogical quality. We share a handful of ideas an concerns about a fixed-five year PhD, but we’d love to hear what you think!  Is it worth standardizing scientific training, and where should we start? Big fruit, small bottle Josh took a trip out west (but not too far!) to pick up this week’s brew: Wicked Weed Watermelon Saison from Asheville, NC.  It’s big on watermelon flavor, and makes us long for one last weekend trip to the beach.  Grab some before summer melts away!
July 25, 2016
It’s a compelling promise: take a few drops of blood, and tell the patient what hidden diseases are lurking in his body.  If only we could have an early warning system for cancer, Alzheimer’s, or myriad other diseases, then we could treat them before they took hold. This is the narrative of Theranos, a company that wants to make medical testing affordable and fast for everyone.  They’ve taken the notion so far that they actually publish a price list for hundreds of tests right on their website. Recently, the company made less favorable headlines when the Wall Street Journal revealed that many of the tests were performed on industry standard equipment, rather than the space-age technology Theranos markets. The company’s troubles deepened when federal regulators announced plans to revoke the license of one of its lab facilities and to ban CEO and founder Elizabeth Holmes from the industry for two years. But technology and regulations aside, there’s a more fundamental question we should all be asking: is wider access to routine screening a good thing? The math says no. Damn Lies and Statistics This week on the show, we discuss a recent article from fivethirtyeight.com that makes a bold claim: “We don’t need more blood tests.”  The reason comes down to some counterintuitive probabilities. Fundamentally, the value of routine screening for rare diseases comes down to just a few numbers: the sensitivity of our test, the specificity of our test, and the prevalence, or rareness, of the disease we’re trying to detect. Even if sensitivity and specificity are high, they can lead to unintended consequences when we screen truly large numbers of people.  We walk through an example on this week’s episode with a made-up test and a made-up disease. But the impact of broad scale screening is very real.  In fact, the recommendations for routine mammography and breast cancer screening have been changed recently due to the outsized side-effects of false positives in the screen. There’s value to testing, but we have to make every effort to test the right people at the right time, and to help them interpret their results.  Our intuition is not always a helpful guide. This Beer is Hot Hot Hot This week, we turn up the heat with a Habanero IPA from Dingo Dog Brewing in Carrboro, NC.  Dingo Dog grows some of its own ingredients onsite in a “zero waste” production facility, and they use the profits to fund grants to local, “no-kill,” animal rescue organizations. Their mission is cool, but this beer is hot!  It’s got all the bitterness you love in an IPA with a little kick of spice on the back of the throat.  Keep another brew on hand as a chaser!
July 11, 2016
It’s official: the Hello PhD podcast is one year old! In honor of our birthday, we’re taking a look back at our favorite episodes and moments from the first year of the show. Stay with us… Cheers, Mate! We start the celebration with the Alpine Beer Company Hoppy Birthday Session India Pale Ale.  Brewed on Alpine Blvd. in Alpine, California (near San Diego), this beer packs a hoppy wallop. And listen – I like hops as much as the next guy – but a birthday cake made entirely of hops is probably going a bit too far.  Save ’em for the beer. The Way We Were We took a few moments to remember why we started this podcast in the first place.  Basically, it’s for all of you: the graduate students, postdocs, and career scientists who are navigating the PhD process and beyond. It’s a difficult road, but one that can be so richly rewarding that it’s worth the pain.  The goal of this podcast is to share the strategies and stories of other scientists to make the way just a little bit easier for everyone. We’ve had our favorite moments and episodes over the past year.  We’re still gnawing on the insights shared by Dara Wilson Grant in an interview about stepping off the tenure track. We also recall the #gradInsurance debacle at Mizzou and how quickly the story unfolded after administrators cancelled graduate student health insurance coverage without notice. We met lots of cool people this year, including a tenure-track professor, a management consultant, and a member of the teaching faculty.  They’re doing vastly different jobs, but they all love their work. Never ones to shy from controversy, we also covered a lot of the endemic biases and blind spots that plague the scientific community.  There’s a measurable gender bias in science, and we’re still using the GRE for admissions even when it’s not a good predictor of success. We’re also not doing a good job of supporting the real powerhouses of most labs: the postdocs. All in all, it’s been a great year for the Hello PhD podcast and we’ve loved connecting with you and hearing your stories.  We hope you’ll continue to share your successes and struggles over the next year to keep the conversation going.  You can reach us any time at podcast@hellophd.com or on Twitter or Facebook. One last note – we’ll be releasing new episodes biweekly rather than every week in the coming year.  That should give you plenty of time to catch up on past episodes while you work in the tissue culture hood. Thanks for listening!    
July 4, 2016
Jessica was finishing her third year of grad school when she finally decided she had had enough. Funding had gotten tighter, and her PI had basically checked out.  Many of her lab-mates saw the writing on the wall, and left their projects behind to find other work. With no support from her advisor or peers, she had little hope of turning things around. And then her thesis project – the one she just proposed and defended – was scooped by a competing lab and published in a major journal.  It was the last straw. Jessica had three options: * She could quit immediately, and have no degree to show for her three years of work. * She could find some portion of the project to salvage as a Master’s thesis. * She could start all over and try to find a new lab. Amazingly, she chose Option 3. A Spork in the Road This week on the show, we invited Jessica into the studio to share her story. It’s an impossible position, but one that graduate students face every day – the day you can see the conclusion of your dissertation topic and it’s a dead end. The decision to forge ahead or cut your losses is so challenging because of the costly investment we make in graduate education.  Graduate school means taking a subsistence salary for an unpredictable number of years, living frugally or taking on debt.  It’s a time when friends and peers are gaining valuable experience for their resumes while you try and try again to get your Western blot bands to appear with “publication quality.” It’s painful, too, because of the binary outcome.  You either get the degree, or you don’t.  There’s no “92%” when it comes to a PhD, even if you’ve completed all that work. Jessica shares the play-by-play mental and emotional process she went through during that fateful third year: realizing her current situation was untenable, remembering the optimism that had brought her to grad school in the first place, and facing her uncertainty about the future. She describes how she decided to start over in a new lab with a totally new project, and how she found a PI who would take her on after what looked like failure to the outside world. In the end, she earned her PhD.  Now she’s doing work she loves in the way she always imagined. If you’re considering a similar step out of grad school or into another lab, we hope hearing from Jessica will give you the inspiration and information you need to make an impossible choice.  Whatever you choose, we’d love to hear your story.  Email it to podcast@hellophd.com. You say Pecan, I say Pi’kahhhn As a special thanks to Jessica for sharing her story, we sample one of her favorite beers!  It’s the Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale brewed in Kiln, Mississippi.  It claims to be the first beer made with whole roasted pecans, but it’s only a matter of time before other breweries try it too. It’s apparently a little bit difficult to find, so let us know if you spot some in a store near you!
June 26, 2016
We’ve all had bad days in the lab: you throw out the supernatant you were supposed to save, or contaminate all the cells in tissue culture. It hurts, but the next day, you can start over and try again. Today on the show, we hear the true story of a woman who dropped a tube and splashed radioactive tritium all over her self, her bench, and the floor. And then things took a turn for the worse. Stop.  Just Stop. This week, our guests Nicole and Craig regale us with a tale of simple mistakes compounding with bad decisions.  We won’t spoil it for you – you have to hear it for yourself! We’re also excited to announce the launch of a website called Labmosphere by friend-of-the-show Juan Villalobos.  You’ll remember him from Episode 41 and his work on Peer Support at Oxford. Labmosphere has links and resources to improve and maintain your mental health while you complete your degree.  There’s even a place to share your stories and experiences with others. A few other resources we mentioned in this episode: The BenchWarmer’s Podcast – More tales from the world of science like the one you heard today. The National Postdoc Survey – Hurry up and take the survey if you haven’t yet! Prickly Paybacks This week, we’re drinking the Shiner Prickly Pear Summer Seasonal brewed in Shiner, Texas.  This was meant to punish Josh for making Daniel drink the ShockTop Lemon Shandy a few weeks ago. This beer combines all the fun of eating cactus with the flavor of blue Kool-aid. Just watch out for the spines!
June 20, 2016
As a second-year grad student, Craig was making progress on an exciting project in a new lab. Then, one morning, the PI called Craig into his office. “I got a really generous offer to move the lab to Sweden.  Do you want to come with me?” Should I stay or should I go? You might think of your lab as a physical location in a building at your current University, but in fact, research is mobile.  If your mentor gets a better offer, she may choose to move across the country or around the world, taking her grant money with her. As a graduate student you’ll be forced to decide between the University and your research advisor. This week, we talk with two scientists who decided to stay with the University. Craig was a second-year grad student who had only been in the lab a few months when his advisor got an offer in Sweden.  At that point in his career, he was able to find another advisor who would take him, and he hadn’t lost much time. Chris was in a different situation.  His PI left during his fourth year, and rather than uproot his project and his life, he decided to stay behind. Now, he’s the last man standing in an empty lab.  That choice has expanded his responsibilities as he tries to complete a dissertation while migrating research and reagents to his PI’s new lab at a different University. The decision to follow a PI is difficult, but Craig and Chris were both at points in their graduate careers where it made sense to stay.  Let us know what YOU decided to do when your advisor moved on by emailing us. Two hearts are better than none By inviting some new friends into the studio this week, we also landed a case of excellent beer!  Bell’s Two Hearted Ale is a refreshing American-style IPA and is one of Josh’s favorites. Hey!  Save some for the rest of us!
June 13, 2016
Shhhh!  There he is.  Behind that rack of Eppendorf tubes…. The elusive ‘Postdoctoral Fellow’ in his native habitat! If we’re quiet, we may be able to observe him as he completes an experiment, writes a few paragraphs in a grant proposal, and nurtures his young (i.e. graduate students.) Postdocs are difficult to study in the wild, and no one knows exactly how many of them exist outside of captivity. But thanks to a recent study from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), we are starting to understand their migration patterns as they leave the safety of the training lab and venture into the wider world. If only they’d wear tracking collars Last week on the show, we explored the embarrassing lack of data surrounding the number of postdoctoral fellows in American Universities.  We called for better tracking to improve training and prepare students for a broad variety of careers. This week, we get our wish, as Elizabeth Silva et al. help to shed a little bit of light on what happens to scientists after the postdoc period is over. In their study “Tracking Career Outcomes for Postdoctoral Scholars: A Call to Action” published in PLOS Biology last month, Silva and colleagues followed 1,431 postdocs from 28 training programs at UCSF.  The study ran from from 2000 to 2013, and represented labs from 277 different faculty members. So where did the postdocs go? Over 80% went on to careers we traditionally think of as ‘research’ in academia, industry and government.  Another 12% were in science-related careers like K-12 education, communication, policy, regulation, and business development. Another 4% sought more training, and 1% were classified as ‘other.’  While the bulk of postdocs stayed in research, not all went on to traditional tenure-track faculty positions.  In fact, the article implies that some labs produce more faculty-track trainees than others.  What’s their secret? In the end, we believe additional research like the UCSF study can help Universities to prepare their trainees for the full breadth of careers possible with a PhD. And while the UCSF data is important, it’s just a tiny snapshot of the overall ecosystem.  The authors call on other institutions to track their own students and trainees, so that we might begin to understand the lifecycle of a modern scientist. Beer and weed? To wash out the taste of last week’s Lemon Shandy, Josh picks up a top-shelf bottle of Clouds of Pale Gold Brett Farmhouse Ale from the Urban Family Brewing Co in Seattle.  It’s brewed with lemon and dandelion greens for a citrusy bitter one-two punch. And because it’s bottle conditioned, make sure you take the first pour.  Save the dregs for your friends and co-hosts!
June 6, 2016
It sounds like a simple question: how many postdocs are there in the United States? Maybe you want to know because you ARE a postdoc and you’re thinking about what kind of competition you’ll face for a faculty position. Maybe you’re a program manager at the NIH, and you’d like to direct extra funding toward STEM training and postdoctoral positions. Or maybe you’re a university administrator, and you’re wondering how the new labor laws will affect salaries this year. Well, too bad. No one actually knows how many postdocs there are. We Love to Count Things! Ah ah ah! And that’s the surprising answer.  In an era where we collect data on everything from the number of steps you took today to the composition of soil on Mars, no one seems to know how many postdocs we’re training at any given moment. Of course, there are ‘estimates’, but they range from under 40,000 to over 90,000!  How is it possible that we don’t have a better understanding of our scientific workforce and training outcomes? Participants in the Future of Research Symposium think we can do better.  They’ve called for better accounting and transparency for postdoctoral positions in universities across the country.  Only by tracking postdoc training and career outcomes can we improve the process for all scientists. When Life Gives You Lemons Also this week, we clear out the back of the fridge with a Shock Top Lemon Shandy.  The label proudly proclaims that it contains ‘natural lemonade flavor.’  Not lemon.  Not even lemon flavor.  But ‘lemonade flavor.’ Uhhhhhm…. No thanks.
May 30, 2016
You’ve worked hard in your biopharma job, and you really love the position.  The team is passionate and dynamic, the product is starting to make an impact in the market, and you begin to imagine your long-term relationship with the company. But there’s one problem: it seems like no one with a Bachelor’s Degree can move up in the organization.  PhDs from outside the company are hired into management positions, while you and your colleagues get passed over for promotions. What’s going on? And do you really need a PhD to get ahead in your industry job? Go Back to Get Ahead? This week on the show, we field a question from a listener working at a biotech company who wonders whether she needs to go back to school to move forward at work. Dear Dan and Josh, I’m someone who is considering applying to grad school, and I am a big fan of your podcast. Your honesty and advice about the grad school experience have helped me greatly in considering this next big step. I have been out of undergrad for two years working as a research associate at a biotech startup. I am surrounded by optimism for the future of our product and the growth of the company, and it is exciting to imagine a future without ever going back to school. I am not alone here – more and more college grads are joining companies out of college and taking time off before getting degrees. What is new is that many people I encounter who have made this decision have a negative view of academia and do not want to go back to school. They are learning and solving scientific problems at a rapid pace on the job; why re-enter the “slog” of academia? On the other hand, though, managers at my company tell me there is opportunity for those without PhDs to grow and have a significant role in the company (the managers often have PhDs), I have observed these companies continuing to preference PhDs in the hiring process. My question is, is there opportunity for growth and achievement for the many of us who have chosen not to return to school? Or does the PhD still represent a unique skill set that cannot be achieved outside of academia? The simple answer is: no, there’s not some magical transformation that occurs in graduate school.  You can have similar formative experiences in industry and elsewhere. But the simple answer doesn’t explain the listener’s experience at work.  Despite the fact that employees can learn on the job, there is a cognitive bias in the working world that equates a doctorate with almost mythic abilities. Like all biases, PhD-reverence is a mental shortcut that can have some unintended consequences. For example, a hiring manager might overlook an extremely talented candidate with a Bachelor’s and years of experience and award the job to someone with a PhD fresh out of school.  The first candidate may have more training and sharper abilities, but that takes precious time to assess.  A PhD looks impressive with one glance at a CV. At the end of the day, PhD-bias is a palpable force in the workplace, even if your research field is irrelevant to the current position! You can certainly advance without the degree, but it will take persistence, strong networking skills, and a willingness to advocate for yourself with your managers.  If you can impress enough of your supervisors and are willing to ask to move up, you can make progress. But if you decide to go back to school, make sure you choose a program and a lab that will support your career goals.  Look for universities with a strong Technology Transfer Office, and find a PI that understands your desire to work in industry.  Not all of them do, and you’ll need their support to finish the degree and get back to work. It’s the trail mix of beer
May 24, 2016
Postdocs are some of the most productive scientists on the planet, but you wouldn’t know it if you looked at a pay stub.  For years now, postdoc salaries have remained stagnant in the low $40,000s, causing many young scientists to find other careers in other industries. But a recently announced bill from the Department of Labor could boost postdoc salary with the stroke of a pen.  Dubbed “FLSA” (Fair Labor Standards Act), employees earning less than the $47,476 per year would have to be paid overtime or have their hours cut back to 40 per week. Last we checked, most postdocs fit that description! Postdocs Put the ‘Labor’ in ‘Laboratory’ Before you get excited about earning time and a half on your 80 hour work week, please note that the most likely outcome is a salary increase.   Universities will not want to begin tracking time sheets for their postdoctoral trainees and your Western blot will not wait until morning, so overtime pay or work-hour-reductions are off the table.  That leaves one option: boost pay to $47,476 annually. Some have speculated that postdocs won’t qualify for the new thresholds, as they are ‘trainees,’ and not full employees.  The Director of the NIH, Francis Collins, has come out publicly in support of pay raises and has already decided to make the FLSA pay scale standard for postdocs paid out of National Research Service Awards (NRSA). It’s a small step, but one that we hope will signal change for postdocs around the country. Better Than a Tyrannostallion We’re celebrating more good news related to labor – a new baby for Daniel and his wife! On tap is the Rye Pale Ale from Ponysaurus Brewing in Durham, NC.  Aside from a tasty beer and a nightmarish mascot, Ponysaurus boasts the most non-sensical tagline ever written: “Ponysaurus: The Beer Beer Would Drink If Beer Could Drink Beer.” I’m sorry, what?
May 16, 2016
We know that stepping from academia to industry is met with scorn for the person ‘selling out’ and leaving the university, but there’s a subtler form of bias against those scientists who actually like to teach. The moment you consider applying for a university teaching position, your advisors and peers will come out of the woodwork to tell you what a bad idea that is. It’s unstable, a waste of your abilities, and you’ll be bored in just four days! And God forbid you mention a job that doesn’t offer tenure. This week on the show, we talk with a professor who took that fateful teaching job, and lived to tell about it.  In fact, she’s happier than she’s ever been.  Ignoring the Voices This week, we follow up on last week’s interview with Dr. Shannon Jones, the Director of Biological Instruction at the University of Richmond in Virginia. Though Dr. Jones was offered several positions on the tenure track at research universities, she knew her motivational profile and passions.  That included nurturing students on their own scientific paths through teaching and mentorship. But turning down offers for a job with tenure was no easy decision.  In fact, her colleagues advised her to stick with academia, citing many reasons why a teaching position was a bad idea: * Without tenure, there’s no job security. * The pay is terrible.  You can’t make a living teaching! * They’ll give all the good classes to tenured full professors – you’re going to be stuck teaching remedial biology to undergrads for the rest of your career. * There’s no chance for advancement – you’ll do the same work the rest of your career. * Applying for grants and doing bench research is what you’re trained for.  Teaching is a step down and a waste of your skills! And on it goes. But these are myths, biases, and simplifications that don’t hold up to scrutiny. As you read this list of myths, check your own intuition and experience.  If you find yourself nodding along with the naysayers, tune in to this week’s episode to find out how Dr. Jones addressed these concerns and many more. All Day is Not a “Session” This week, we enjoy the All Day IPA Session Ale from Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, MI.   Curious about the notion of drinking all day, we look up the meaning of ‘session’ as it pertains to beer.  The etymology harkens back to a simpler time when employees were allowed to drink beer on their breaks. And for the record, citing precedent does not make it okay for you to bring a six-pack to work tomorrow!
May 9, 2016
Every day in a research lab is spent forming hypotheses, designing experiments, and examining data.  So it might surprise you to know that the scientific method is only rarely applied in the classroom. Wouldn’t it be transformative if the methods that professors use to teach science were tested and proven to be effective? Well, you’re in luck – we’ve found one such scientist who has focused her career on improving science education at the university level. The Leg Bone’s Connected to the Fumarate This week on the show, we interview Dr. Shannon Jones, the Director of Biological Instruction at the University of Richmond in Virginia. Dr. Jones’ sole focus is teaching and improving student outcomes as they train for careers in the biomedical sciences.  And as a scientist herself, she’s committed to improving the curriculum with evidence-based practices. How is a day in her class different from other bio classrooms? You may remember learning the Krebs Cycle “the old fashioned way.”  You memorized the names and structures of each chemical in the pathway and which enzymes and energy sources catalyzed the transitions. (The words pyruvate and Acetyl-CoA probably still give you nightmares.) At the end of the section, you took a test and immediately forget everything you had learned in order to cram the photosynthetic pathway into the same spot in your brain. Dr. Jones takes a different approach. She knows that the web provides a breadth of literature and learning available at your fingertips, so she’s more interested in how her students understand and synthesize what they’ve learned.  She presents data: a particular substrate has built up to unusually high levels in the cell.  Can the students figure out what part of the pathway is broken down, and how it might have happened? It’s a vastly different approach – asking students to solve a problem by learning the Krebs Cycle, rather than memorization for its own sake. And at the end of the term, her students do measurably better at recalling what they’ve learned. Tune into this episode for more insights into evidence-based learning practices, and how Dr. Jones can measure the success of her students. Hot Cuppa We take a break from ethanol this week (You’re welcome, livers!) to sample some tasty coffee.  Fact is, we had to record pretty early in the morning this week and we just weren’t up for the hard stuff. Instead, we turn up our noses at what’s dripping out of the percolator and dive into our own quirky notions of the perfect cup of joe.  It’s science meets snobbery with a splash of half ‘n half.
May 1, 2016
The good news is that your research project has gone well over the last few years, and you got your paper published. The bad news is that you published everything in that one paper, and you’re out of ideas. And you’re five years into the program. And your PI doesn’t want to help you anymore. How, exactly, are you supposed to get your research project out of the rut and back on track so you can graduate? Fasten Your Seatbelts That was the question posed by a listener this week.  And he’s probably not alone. Dear Josh and Dan, I am about to finish my fifth year in graduate school. We published my work several months ago in a good journal but I currently feel like I am in a rut. I started writing my manuscript early last year and it took over eight months and multiple rounds of peer review before the manuscript was finally published. The reviewers asked for more and more until, eventually, almost everything I’d worked on since joining the lab became included in the paper. It makes the paper great but it didn’t leave me much of a jumping off point for my next experiments. In fact, all of my proposed leads became dead ends. I’ve been working on more experiments but nothing has gone anywhere in over six months, which is really disheartening. Teaching responsibilities and other assignments have kept me from being able to focus on research like I used to be able to. Further, it feels like my adviser is no longer interested in my project. The only thing they want to talk about is another lab mate’s work and how something minor in my work tangentially relates to that work they are more excited about. I guess I’m writing because I am not totally sure what to do. I saw the light at the end but now I don’t. Do you have any suggestions for students in a rut like me? Sound familiar? First, we can commiserate about the glacial pace some journals take to get a paper published.  The constant back and forth with reviewers can ruin the excitement you once had for your results. But more importantly, we think the listener needs to change his focus: instead of finding ways to restart his research project, he should start taking steps toward graduation. Tune into this episode for more ideas on getting a project unstuck, or share your story with us by email.  We’re here to help! Here Be Dragons To celebrate the latest season of Game of Thrones, we’re drinking Seven Kingdoms Hoppy Wheat Ale from Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, NY.  It’s not clear what this beer has in common with the George R. R. Martin novels or the TV show, but it’s got a cork, and it’s pretty tasty! Winter is coming!  Er… actually summer is coming, but you catch my drift. And as promised, here is the ‘heartless’ cashew nut in fruit!
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