Saturday, December 15, 2007

10 Simple Rules for Graduate Students

One of the professors here recently sent around an article with advice for graduate students. As I'm already in my 5th year here, many of the 10 simple rules aren't so relevant for me any more, but I wanted to pass them along anyways.

A short summary--

1. Let passion drive you.
You had better be excited about the project to which you are going to dedicate the next 5+ years of your life. If you don't like reading and thinking about it now, it probably won't grow on you. And those crazy experiments that come to you in the middle of the night? Go into lab the next day and try them out, because you never know what might work.

2. Select the right mentor, project and laboratory.
Mentor: It's this simple: pick a mentor that you can get along with in a professional atmosphere. Young or old, male or female, it doesn't really matter as long as you respect him/her and can understand his/her expectations of you.
Project: It is very painful to fail again and again for months at a time. Sure, it builds character, but that doesn't make it any easier. Make sure to talk with group members and find out the inside scoop as to what projects seem to have a lot of potential at the moment.
Lab: Work with people you like or at least those you can stand to be around for 10+ hours a day, 6+ days a week. If you can't talk with your lab members at least in a work related fashion, you really are going to be struggling when it comes time to ask for help.

3. Be an independent thinker.
It is okay to disagree with your PI on a scientific hypothesis, as it will only make both of you stronger. Just make sure you have all the data to back yourself up.

4. Balance is a necessary part of life.
Go to the gym, plan movie nights on the weekends, make group dinners. Some of the best friends that I have made during graduate school are the ones that I met biking 30 miles one or two times each week. Although the field of chemistry is relatively large, the people you meet and work with now will be your peers/reviewers/interviewers in the future. It is good to have friends in the field.

5. Think ahead to your career.
Take advantage of everything your school has to offer. Take extra classes if you want. Try to have as many different experiences as possible so that you know what you would like to do when it comes time to look for a job.

6. Remain focused on your hypothesis, but don't let it take over your life.
Set up experiments to prove your hypothesis, but set up just as many to disprove it. Don't forget the big picture. Sometimes proving that a theory is wrong is just as important as showing that it is right.

7. Fix problems now.
If you are struggling with some aspect of research or graduate school, talk to someone before it gets to be a big issue.

8. Publish! Attend meetings!
Other scientists may reveal tidbits of information at small meetings that they might not otherwise discuss in the literature. Often times these little things are the key to your success.

9. Be confident (but not arrogant), be thick skinned.
At some point your committee, group or class will question you until you feel like crying. More than likely this will happen multiple times. This is normal and hopefully will help you build confidence. Over prepare for everything.

10. Pick your thesis committee wisely. Stay in contact with them throughout your time in graduate school.
These will be the people writing your recommendation letters. Make sure they know when you make significant progress. Email them your most recent papers and set up meetings with each committee member at least once each year.


Stuck in the lab said...

Life seems so hopeless...

Chemgeek said...

I could have used this list several years ago.

I think the big one I learned was to be "thick-skinned." Lessons in humility will come from every direction. You need to be able to deal with people who want to break you down (so, hopefully they can build you up).

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