Today I’m bringing you part 2 to my “10 things I wish I knew about Grad School,” or, rather, 10 things I wish people told me sooner, as I learned this on my own during my journey, and its more advice I’d like to give newer grad students! You can read the Part I guide HERE.
1. Networking is an ongoing thing throughout grad school – I managed to network and make many connections through grad school via all of my involvement in various organizations and outreach. It’s never too late to get involved, and its a good way to make organic connections. I know a lot of people who enter their final or second to final year of grad school and make a note to start “networking.” A lot of times people try to meet so and so who works at X company, and it just comes off as needy – people can tell when all you want to do when talking to them is have them refer you to a job. If you have done this, its no biggie, but just my opinion that its always more organic and less awkward if you build relationships over time, and THEN ask for a referral favor. Example: join student government club, meet older grad student who is graduating and going to X company for job. Worked closely with student who is leaving and became acquaintances, and when its time to apply for jobs, its a lot easier to message and ask for a referral!
2. Use all of the resources available on campus!
A lot of people in my department have complained that the department hasn’t offered them enough options about career paths, potential jobs, networking, etc. While the department has stepped up their offerings, there are SO many resources on campus that I found on my own and I didn’t feel deprived of any resources. One of the big resources to use is the Career Center at your University. I got on their email list, and would get emails about recruiting events, information sessions, resume and interview workshops, among other resources. I also got on the mailing list of the department thats in my building, so I get their workshop/talk announcements and potential events! That way, you are always connected and hearing about things popping up. I can’t tell you the amount of times I heard a friend from a different department tell me about an event I couldn’t attend because I missed the sign up deadline.
3. BE PROACTIVE ABOUT YOUR GOALS AND CAREER.
No one, and I repeat, NO ONE is going to hand you a job/opportunity/whatever after grad school. You must work for it and be proactive about what you want to do and your goals. The worst thing you can do is just expect for things to work out and you will land whatever job it is you want. Be proactive about exploring different career options if academia isn’t your route, get information about what the job entails, network and meet people in that field, and apply!
4. Don’t burn bridges.
The people you meet in grad school will be your network. Go to socials and meet people in other departments, put yourself out there. Talk to the older grad student/post doc in your lab, in the lab next door. That being said, don’t burn bridges. There’s been many a time someone does something pretty shitty to me, talked about me, been really mean, etc., and its just unnecessary. In my last post I talked about how its not necessary to have everyone like you, but just don’t be an asshole (haha, sorry, just had to say it). Reputation and words about actions travel farther than you think. I’ve heard people in completely different departments know about how so-and-so barely comes to work.
5. Present your work often.
I presented my work a lot at various poster sessions, mini symposia, on campus events, international and national conferences. I took any chance I could to present. The more practice the better! You get better at knowing your own work inside out, answering questions on the spot, thinking about your project in new ways, get new ideas for experiments to try, and you get to practice interview type skills! You never know, you can make a connection for a future job, or could even win a poster prize! Also go to conferences in your 2nd or 3rd year if possible – I mentioned this before, but it’s a great opportunity to travel (potentially internationally!), meet people in your field and start collaborations with people.
6. Join a lab where you love the research and have a good mentor.
Don’t join a lab because its the flashy new lab with the most funding, or the lab in which you will get your Nature paper. Make sure you enjoy and really like the research, otherwise you will not have motivation when it comes to those long nights, or when you are in your 6th year and still have more experiments to do. A good mentor is also key – you might have a great project but if your mentor is closed off, abusive, expects you to work 14 hrs a day, not willing to help, etc., then it’s probably a bad situation and won’t lead to much growth, and instead more frustration.
7. Don’t be too ambitious with your projects – create a foundation.
Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket — do a project that has a high rate of success even if it’s low impact, because it can jump start your momentum and propel you forward. A lot of times you just need a few experiments to work to get your science momentum and confidence, and then you can tackle those more difficult experiments. A high impact project might not pan out, or might take years to take to completion, so definitely have many options. If one project doesn’t work, you have back up plans.
8. Communication is key with your peers, boss, coworkers.
Have an understanding with your coworkers, peers, boss – be clear about project goals, who does what – to avoid miscommunication and problems later. If you are collaborating on a project, discuss who will do what parts, to avoid wasting time doing the same experiments, and also talk about authorship up front. Arguing about authorship when you are in the writing phase will lead to a lot of frustration and issues. In addition, if there are personality or cultural differences with your boss, it is important to discuss it early because it can prevent issues later. Discuss the expectations also, so you have a clear idea of what to do.
9. Try to be professional with your lab mates.
Keep your feelings and personal opinions independent of your professional work in the lab. You don’t have to agree with others, you don’t have to like everyone, everyone doesn’t have to like you, but science goes more smoothly when people cooperate, are able to communicate well, and leave drama/feelings out of it! Just because you are in the same lab does not mean you have to be BFFs or hang out outside of the lab.
10. Prioritize your experiments list to not get overwhelmed.
I struggle with this one still, but write a list of what needs to get done.
Basically, do a brain dump where you just write everything down and that way you won’t forget. Then start separating those things into a high priority, medium priority, and low priority lists. You can also organize them accord to what is something that has to get done TODAY, this week, this month?
That way you can plan experiments/jobs for each week/day, and break them down into the smaller steps so you can get things done more efficiently.
What do you think about these tips?
Is there anything else you would add?
Let me know in the comments below!
Dear Andrea, so nice to read your post again… yes, networking is very important and the advice "don't burn bridges" as well… although there are some people that after some years you decide "I can't bear such an ego anymore" and the best is to walk away 🙂 Choosing a good mentor is really important, too. And using all the resources of the campus, too. I know many people who rely solely on google – no joke – and rare books at the libraries are neglected. Well, each at their own gusto 🙂 Loved the post! Hope you are having a great week! Hugs!
Thank you for this!! I’m super nervous/excited about starting my PhD in chem at UCLA and these tips make me feel more confident about succeeding and working in a lab there
yay! goodluck! I’m sure you will do great 🙂 glad this could help!