The Life of an Almost Grad Student

My frantic six months of graduate school applications, interviews, and decisions has been at an end for a month now and I’m only now starting to get over the shock and awe phase. Now during this weird intermission in my life before I move from working girl to student (unfortunately not the reverse) I’m starting to contemplate what it means to be in graduate school and what I should be doing there…I’ve turned to the blog #WHATSHOULDWECALLGRADSCHOOL too many times with shoulder slumping results.

People ask me what I’m going to do next and when I tell them I’m going for my PhD, that follows with a second question that it seems PhD students themselves don’t even know: “so, WHAT are you going to be doing excatly?” The path to a PhD differs for everyone and it seems like a really hard journey to a really elitist club, and I’m sure some people treat it that way. In fact, I think the PhD process is just really hard to define rather than just hard, a kind of nebulous space where expectations are vague, accomplishments hit or miss, and a “wow” is given to those who make it because “making it” has so much luck involved. Sure you have to work hard, but two people working equally hard can have frustratingly unequal results. One inevitably wonders, what lab deity did that guy bow down to for that result?? And while many things in science seem so analytical and logical and straightforward, the PhD process is remarkably anything but, with more meanderings, dead ends, and dropouts than anyone tells you at the beginning. It seems to deny explanation…except to explain why it takes ten years. Literally.

Someone has attempted to pin down EXACTLY what I will and should be learning in my PhD, in true scientific fashion with lots of tables and analysis, published recently in a very good journal. It’s as if to say, if you’re not doing all of this in graduate school you’re just not doing it right. It’s titled “Skill Development in Graduate Education” (Parker et al. Mol. Cell, Vol46:4, 25 May 2012, 377–381) and I took a peak just to scare myself a little more. Effort successful. The first figure attempts to summarize the key components of my impending graduate education with more arrows that I can ever follow one to the other. Will it really be like this?


A figure later in the text actually says one must “Prepare your mind before reading”. If the goal of this article is to try and elucidate more clearly what graduate students are supposed to do, I’m not sure that’s doing it. What someone can teach me how to “prepare my mind” unless they’re Yoda? Does this mean watching Star Wars again is research related? I guess I could do that… Research seems full of counter intuitive notions, notice I must be “Broad” (twice) but also “Deep.” I should be analytical and yet still creative, can you even learn to be creative?

My personal take away from this is to freak out a little, then “prepare my mind” with a nice vacation and some complete and total laziness before getting started on following all those intense and frenetic arrows pointing every which way. Hopefully one of them will be labeled “Making it” and I’ll follow that one. If any of you see it, let me know.


4 thoughts on “The Life of an Almost Grad Student

  1. So I’m going to have to agree with your blog. It looks pretty difficult to pin down your path and goals exactly. I have a few questions: 1) What was YOUR end objective and goals you hoped to reach along the way when you started your Phd journey? 2) What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a Phd? (I mean I know I’m always in favor of educating oneself, but I just wondered what the specific proposed goal of attaining a Phd is?) 3) Will it really take ten years?? Just wondering….


    • Great questions! A PhD can be obtained in a lot of different fields and some really do take ten ears to complete, although that’s usually a function of funding and personal commitment or unavoidable issues that come up that pause the work process. My personal goal, as I go for a PhD in genetics (I haven’t begun yet though, I start in the fall) is to discover something no one else has discovered about biology, hopefully with clinical applications to cancer therapy. That’s a little lofty and maybe unrealistic and because research is fickle and unpredictable it could take time or go really quick, I just don’t know. I would guess its going to take me 5-7 years to finish. There are many reasons to get a PhD, depending on your field, many job positions at Universities or Pharmaceutical/Biotech require them if you want to start above entry level. For me personally the simple answer is I love to do research, and it’s nice to be the one asking the questions and do it while working towards a goal, like a PhD, which will also support future research endeavors. Another reason to get a PhD is I get paid to do research, which in itself is pretty cool.


      • Ok, that clarifies things for me quite a bit. Now I know what my buddy Siobhan is really up to :p jk But seriously that is pretty cool. In school a lot of the time I liked the actual learning and research process (even now I keep myself studying and researching things a lot, just unofficially and for myself. And the subjects are pretty random, basically whatever I feel like researching at the moment lol) it was the tests I wasn’t crazy about. Well I hope a lot of things lean in your favor and you discover something new and amazing, you are hardworking and that’s my favorite kind! you deserve it 🙂 Happy research!


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