27 and a PhD

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Q & A from search terms

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.


March 2010
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Looking for something to write about, besides work, I enlist the help of the trusty WordPress search terms to answer more questions about grad school. These are just my opinions, so they don’t need to be regarded as the official word of the grad school lords, but some of these answers have been passed on to me, and others are just part of my experiences while getting the PhD. Here we go.

  1. Is the PhD qualifying exam hard ? – per usual, whenever I get a question about quals I direct readers to my entry on how my own qual went on. Check it out here. The qual exam basically serves to test the knowledge acquired over the 1st year or two of grad school. Depending on your school’s or department policies it may be super comprehensive, or just about your own topic of research. Mine was comprehensive in the sense that I got asked questions about biology, basic biochem, biophysics, along with more targeted questions about the research I was proposing. It can be hard in the sense that there might be tons of material to read in what appears to be very, very little time. My advice would be to familiarize yourself with the policies and procedures about quals, and start doing background research on the topic (or possible topics), especially if you know you have certain deficiencies. Consult books, reputable websites, review articles, or maybe even one or two of your profs who might be a great source of info. The more prepared you are, the more bases you’ve got covered the better you’ll do.
  2. PhD first year achieve little – I think that this is very common during your first and maybe even 2nd year. There are interdisciplinary programs which might require you to take classes for longer than if you had entered directly through a department. Therefore it is very normal to feel like very little was accomplished during the start of your grad career. My best advice is that as long as you’re learning, whether is hands on or not, you’re still learning. Learning and training with the basics is very important so that when it’s time to do your research at full speed. Also, if a considerable amount of time has passed and you feel like things aren’t going anywhere meet with your committee, talk to your boss, and be ready to change directions. Two things are very important, a) to not compare yourself with every single person from your class, and b) to know when it’s time to move along if the project looks like it’s not going anywhere.
  3. Things to get PhD grad – I’m thinking that this refers to what to get to a recent PhD graduate. In my case I was moving almost 800 miles away from where I did my degree, thus I knew I had tons of things to sell, donate or throw out, so I was most thankful for not getting furniture, or heavy things. I was very happy to get money, which was scarce at the time as I had to pay for the moving equipment, gas, lodging along the way, a worker’s visa and the 1st and last month’s rent (apparently) this is very normal in Canada, while where I lived before you only had to give a tiny amount for deposit and the 1st months rent. Jewelery is also a nice things to get a PhD grad. I don’t see anything wrong or not polite with asking the grad what he or she really wants. A nice vacation is also a great gift, but unless you have limitless resources it will be hard to get this one. A tie or a piece of clothing or accessory for the defense is also a nice happy and thoughtful way of gifting the grad.
  4. How much does it cost to move to grad school – I don’t have exact numbers, but you end up paying a few thousand dollars, in general, especially if you’re moving across the country (like I did). You have to consider that you’ll probably need to visit a time or two to look for a place to live. Then there are the expenses associated with driving (your car or a moving vehicle), your deposit, lodging along the way if you’re moving across the country or several hours away, gas, food, and furnishing your place. You may also need to purchase renter’s and car insurance if you already don’t have the latter one, and the initial costs of setting things up, moving or acquiring the furniture. All these are some of the things to consider (electricity, phone, cable, internet, water, etc are also part of this equation), so, as you can see it can go from a few hundred bucks to thousands in a matter or a few blinks. What I did was that I packed up stuff I would need (books, clothing, some small furnishings) and sent those ahead via the USPS, then packed my everyday clothes, shoes and other essentials and traveled by plane. I did do a visit prior to moving to find an apartment (expenses included transport, lodging, food, taxi and a bit of sight-seeing after the apartment was  scored, as well as deposit). I had been saving for the last 6 months of my undergrad. I saved about 3K and ended up putting some things on the credit card, so this gives you a general idea. Some schools might offer a tiny stipend for moving, while most schools I know of don’t, so keep this in mind. Also, keep in mind that it may take up to an entire month for you to start receiving your stipend money, so factor that into the equation.
  5. How do I manage my PhD stipend? – this is SUPER important. Especially if you’re carrying debt from undergrad or master’s degree. I’ve written a few posts about how I did NOT managed my money wisely while I was in grad school. To try to avoid my mistakes please read here and here. Know that you’ll more than likely be paying for rent, so factor that into the equation, along with insurance costs for the apartment and transportation if you will be driving to school. Factor in also parking and recreation activities (universities are crazy about charging grad students for rec fees associated with using (or NOT) the gym, so take this into account), health insurance is usually included in your package, but may not include a dental and vision care. Any expenses associated with medicines you take (for say high blood pressure or diabetes). Money for food is also something to take into account. And you may be paying for credit cards, so keep that in mind. The general areas where my grad student stipend went were as follows: a) rent (about 20-30% of my take home pay), b) car and apartment insurance, c) cell, power and cable+internet costs, d) minimum payment to 4 credit cards (at the time), e) monthly payment for my car (about 10-15% of my take home pay), f) food and grooming (shampoo, soap, undies), g) tithing, h) if there was something left, entertainment. So, this gives you an idea of the areas the money had to be distributed in. I finished paying my car a few months before my defense, and some of the money was funneled into paying off one of the credit cards. My last apartment was also the cheapest place where I lived, and my car insurance premium went down. I also started cooking more at home to save some cash and I stopped tithing.

1 Comment

  1. […] May I LOVE doing the “search terms” entries. As evidenced here, here, and here. I truly enjoy swifting through the terms that users have used and land them on my little […]

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