Yikes.. and some words of caution/advice

Paula Jean Schlax pschlax at abacus.bates.edu
Fri Aug 4 09:30:21 EST 2000


Graduate school can be a fantastic experience. Delving into a single
problem is really fun. My advice and words of caution are:

1) pick your area of study because you love it, but keep aware of the
trends in employability of your field.  I was very interested in
rational drug design, but by the time I finished my grad work, the
employment emphasis was on combinatorial approaches to drug discovery-
and I felt foolish for not learning those in a course or even a journal
club....I think I would have had more employment options.

2) pick a school and program that allows you to get a broad background
of training as well as your specialized training.  Major research
focuses in the country change often enough that you may want to
have the vocabulary to shift fields or be able to apply knowledge from
other fields into your own.  A few years ago, microbial pathogenesis was
a dead (so to speak) subject, but in a few years I suspect it will be
very hot...... (Besides- something may really excite you- as a physical
chemist I loved prokaryotic gene regulation)

3) pick a good advisor- go in a program where you do rotations. Every
student experiences different things with an advisor, but talking to Sr
grad students (in depth, more than 15 minutes) may give some insight to
whether there will be personality conflicts down the road, and whether
as a grad student you are told what to do on a day to day basis in
excruciating detail or expected to learn and develop your own project
and style of working. Also, rotations let you see the real hours people
keep on different projects in a lab. Most chem programs don't do
rotations, but most bio programs (including biophysics) do. Find out the
breadth and depth of the classes people took. Find out typical lengths
of residence and numbers of publications per student- don't just take
the advisor's word on these issues. Faculty memories can be faulty- mine
already is.

4) if you plan to work 40-50 hours a week, do it, but be effective-
choose your project wisely- projects that involve purifying large
numbers of proteins can require a lot of really late nights running
columns- a rotation might help you know this- also, poorer labs
sometimes have limited equipment that may hinder a regular 8-5 work
schedule.

5) watch for ageism- because it exists and is horrible- I've seen a lot
of my friends experience it- from advisors, from other students or from
support people in a department. Pick an advisor and program that has a
diverse population of students if possible- but this can be harder- A
lot of programs that have master's and Ph.D. programs that support
people from industry going to further their education on a part time
basis are more diverse than some of the top 10 schools (although not
uniformly).  They have some really excellent, and often flexible
programs (as well as invaluable contacts for industrial positions if
that's a direction that might interest you.)

Just some words, and just opinions....

Paula








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