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Things I wish I had considered in grad school

Welcome to my blog!

Hello there, awesome reader. My name is Dr. 27. I'm older than that now, but I'm staying faithful to the origins of the blog.

This blog started 2 months before completing my PhD in a pretty southern university back in 2009. It was a way to practice my writing and take a break from all things thesis. My PhD is in a branch of structural biology where I studied some rather impressive stuff.

After completing the degree, I packed my life of 6 years in 3 days and moved to Canada to do a postdoc in a completely different field. Two years later, and after attending a lot of seminars, workshops and doing some much-needed soul-searching, I ended up getting out and looking for an alternative path to academia and industry.

The blog chronicles my mishaps, ideas, musings and tips on entering, staying and finishing grad school. It also talks about some (or a lot) of personal stuff. For a while, the blog became a place to talk about the frustrations of not knowing what to do after PhD. I wanted to explore alternatives to the traditional paths of research (academia, industry and goverment) whilst going back to my field of training (if at all possible). Eventually a job materialized. Follow my quest as I navigate the waters of being a staff scientist at a core facility.

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This may evolve into a series. I’ll also be crossposting some of these on 1DegreeBio.

Yesterday I caught myself thinking about my first few years in grad school. I was thinking about the interview, my answer, my first year of classes, rotations, etc, etc. I also thought about my qualifying exam and what I would be doing today, had I not passed it the second time around. I also thought about things I learned as I was going, and never asked anyone for, but wish I had.

See, I’m almost always on a cloud, oblivious to whatever is happening around me (apparently, people have been know to cheat on their significant others, in plain view, in front of me, yet I’m the last one to find out). Also, I don’t read instructions, I go and do, and when I hit a wall I go back and re-trace my steps (not very smart, maybe some vestigial cavewoman thing going on). I’m of the school of thought that things should be simple and if I have to spend too much time fumbling around and reading before I get started, I will quickly lose interest (life sci companies, make your instruments simple, and remember KISS).

When I entered grad school I thought things would be simple, just a little harder and faster than college. I thought I’d take classes for 1 or 2 years, be done with coursework and do a ton of research, write the thesis and get the PhD. Then during a recruitment session for my department, I learned that there was this pesky thing called a qualifying exam. My throat went dry, I could hear my heartbeat on my ears, faster and faster. I thought I would die. The qual came and went, I failed on my first try, passed with flying colours on the second one.

Then there were the bits of wisdom my PI shared through the years. Things about writing style, about arranging figures, about making sure figures were informative enough to have people in the audience see your point, even if they couldn’t hear you. Tips about applying to jobs, maybe turning into a consultant, tips about our approach and how to explain it better.

Then there were things I wish I had asked my PI for advice, or my labmates, or anyone else for that matter. In no particular order I hope to share some of those with you, in case you haven’t thought about them, or you have, but have questions. Maybe it will serve to keep you in the lab, or get out and work on something else. It’s just musings on things I wish I’d done more (or less) of to make my grad school experience enjoyable, and gear it towards what I’m doing now.

Stay tuned for those bits to come.

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