Graduate Student Success
Questions to Ask Before Graduate School
• I made this document for people interested in pursuing graduate school in the hopes that it will help them find the best match for them! And with STEMculture Podcast we recently (Sept 2019) updated it! It covers questions to ask to help you find the right university, program, and adviser for you: Questions to Ask Before/During the Graduate School search.
Hitting the ground running during in graduate school
• Read your graduate student handbook! Likely your department has one of these. Also, I have made a grad student handbook for grad students coming into our department, including a timeline for PhD students, that I hope people in my department find useful. If you would like to make your own, feel free to contact me directly (dani_crain AT baylor.edu) for the word and powerpoint documents.
• Your university likely has a counseling center where graduate students can get free counseling, or counseling on a sliding scale. Your mental health is so important to take care of during graduate school, and it’s wonderful how more and more people are talking opening about their mental health - knowing I’m not alone helps so much!
• My podcast, STEMculture Podcast, is a great resource to help you feel like you’re not alone and give some tips that will help with mental health overall. We will be coming out with a series on mental health in Spring 2020!
• GradSlack - Slack is an app that allows you to message with a group of people, with specific channels/topics within the group. Read more about GradSlack in this Science Mag article.
• Not sure how to make connections at conferences? Check out what ESA 2018 was handing out!
• NETWORK - I know some people feel weird about this, but it’s making connections with people who have similar interests who want to connect with you, too. Keep up with prior advisers/supervisors, keep up connections with labmates, and make new connections at conferences (see above). If you’re extroverted, hunt down people with similar research interests and introduce yourself. If you’re introverted, you can meet people at smaller gatherings, like a students gather or a gathering of people in your specific field. As an example, I went to a integrative physiology conference and there was a small meet-up of endocrinologists, making it much more comfortable to meet new people.
• The Pomodoro Technique - traditionally 25 minutes but you can easily extend the time to suit your work flow, but TAKE THOSE BREAKS.
• Writing Groups - increase accountability by forming a writing group with other graduate students/postdocs. State your session goals at the beginning, work for 50 minutes, take a 5-10 minute break, then work for 50 more minutes (look familiar? This is Pomodoro!). This is specifically for writing, not reading or data analysis, so plan accordingly. These are meant to be a way for graduate students to hold each other accountable for writing goals, be it for a proposal, grant, journal article, or dissertation. As word of mouth spreads, my writing groups have become increasingly interdisciplinary and it’s amazing what collaborations this has led to for me.
• Ever wonder how people keep up to date with literature? The easiest way is to set up Google Scholar Alerts - use search terms you’re often typing in and you’ll get an email anytime a new paper that matches those terms comes up. Make your searches specific, though, otherwise you’ll be inundated with papers. You may wish to review these papers weekly, or once a month, to decide which to read in depth versus which to read just the abstract.
• Get a paper/citation manager! There’s many free ones to choose from, Zotero and Mendeley being the most common of those. And because the internet is amazing, here is a whole matrix of paper citation software comparisons.
• Related to paper citation software, you may also find you’re on your phone and find a paper you want to keep track of, the app Pocket is great for this.
• Learn to code! R is free and is great for data management, analysis, and graphing.
Increase your visibility
• Make your own website! Here’s a Google Sheet of PhD/postdoc websites and what they used to make it. Take a look, see what you like, make your own! Start off small - the first page they open up should have your institution, position, research interests, publications, current research projects, and a way to contact you. But as you’ll see from the google sheet above, there are many variations on this theme. Happy hunting!
• Keep your CV updated and every year or so do a round table with other graduate students and look at each other’s CVs, it’s hugely helpful! GradSlack (linked above) did a virtual CV workshop where we all got to look at each other’s CVs and it was really great to share about CV tactics. Also, LaTeX creates freakishly beautiful and clean documents. Check out Overleaf for a web browser version that has veritable tons of CV templates to play with. Here’s my CV that I made with LaTex to give you an idea.
• Get on Twitter! You don’t even have to tweet, but start following scientists and researchers and other graduate students whose work you dig.
• Did you know you can get credit for the manuscript reviews you do? Check out Publons! The only information others can see is the year and journal you reviewed for. Get credit for the invisible work!
• Are you on LinkedIn, have control of your Google Scholar profile, are you on ResearchGate?