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Awesome Grad Student Advice for New and Current PhD Students

Advice From Someone Who Has Learned The Ropes


This guest post contains unique PhD student advice and is tailored to someone who is just starting out graduate school. For example, what are some real life advice and experience that will truly help a 1st or 2nd year (or later) PhD student?

So, here are the categories in a nut-shell: Advisor-related, Age, Studying, Extracurricular Activities, Career, Finances, and Other Advice (Grad School Depression, Wanting to Become A Professor, etc.) Enjoy 🙂

Advisor related:

-If you are lucky enough to get both research interest fit and personality fit perfect, congratulations! But sometimes, personality fit is more important than research interest fit as long as the research isn’t too different. A great advisor is interested in your career development, likes you as a person, advocates for you, and wants to hear your ideas. Even if his or her research is quite different from yours, they may give you the autonomy to work on your own projects and just supervise you. A bad personality fit will drive you nuts, even if you love his or her research. Consider that when evaluating your advisor fit. (This will vary by field: research fit may be less important in the humanities, more important in the natural and physical sciences. Social sciences are somewhere in-between.)

Don’t be afraid to be straight up blunt with your advisor when it comes to asking about your progress. Ask if you are where you should be both academic program wise and getting-a-job-after-this-mess-wise.

Be proactive. Advisors love when you draw up an agenda for your one-on-one meetings, come with talking points and progress to share, have concrete questions to ask, and have overall shown that you have been thoughtful and taken control of your own program. Of course, this won’t immediately come easily to you, but in time you will work up to it. Every semester I type up my semester goals, and at the beginning of the year I type up annual goals. I show them to my advisor and we talk about whether they are too ambitious, or whether I need to revise them, and how I can meet them.

Don’t expect your advisor to actually know what courses you have to take to graduate. They will know about comprehensive exams and the dissertation, but a lot of professors don’t really keep up with the course requirements, especially if their program is in flux. Get you a student handbook, and find out what you need to take. Map it out in a grid, and check off things when you finish them. Show this to your advisor every semester. You may have to explain how such and such class fills a requirement.

-Nobody loves you as much as you, except your mother. Keep this in mind as you take in advice from all sources, including your advisor. Your advisor is there to guide you, but that doesn’t mean you have to do everything he or she says.

Age:

Don’t feel like you have nothing to offer just because you are younger. I was 22 when I started graduate school. You got accepted to the program for a reason, and chances are you are just as equipped as any older students are to successfully complete the program, just in a different way.

-Your older classmates may be just as terrified as you. Talk to them. You have a lot in common. You are, after all, in the same place.

-You will feel like an imposter, like you don’t belong, or like you are constantly behind. Or all three. It’s normal. It will pass. (Well, sort of.) People of all ages go through this.

Studying:

You will have to read more than you ever did before, in less time than you ever have before, and you will be expected to retain more than you ever have before. The way that you studied in undergrad may need some tweaking. Be prepared for this.

-Corollary: you may find that your methods change with age or interests or time. I preferred to study alone in college, but in grad school, I prefer to study in groups. It keeps me on task and the socialization keeps me motivated. You may find that you shift from being a more auditory learner to a visual learner or whatever.

You will feel behind at first. This is normal.

-At some point you will realize that your professors don’t actually expect you to read everything they assign you. This, of course, will vary by program, but there will be at least one class where the reading is actually impossible to do in one week. The point is to read enough that you know the major themes and can talk intelligently about them, and then pick some of the readings to really dig into and think more deeply about.

For most programs, don’t worry so much about grades. If you stay on top of your work and do what you’re supposed to, you will probably get an A. How much grades matter varies from program to program. In some programs, a B is a signal that you are not up to par, and more than a few B’s will warrant a discussion with your advisor or the DGS. My program isn’t like that – A, B, it’s all meaningless. My advisor doesn’t even know what my grades are. But at almost all programs, a C means you need to retake the course, and two Cs means you have to convince the DGS not to kick you out.

Extracurricular activity:

What’s that? No, seriously:

A lot of your time will be unstructured. You will have coursework, but most grad classes meet once a week for two hours and you may have three classes. You may have meetings with your advisor every so often and some seminars or things to catch (like we have grand rounds and colloquia that are required), but a lot of time will be unstructured. However, since you have so much more work than you had in undergrad, you actually will have less free time than you had in undergrad. This may initially cause you great anxiety. It did for me. Some people love unstructured time, though. (I don’t.)

-Because of this, you’ll have to be planful about your non-grad school related stuff.

TAKE TIME OFF. DO IT. It’s important for your mental health. However you do it doesn’t matter. Some people work it like a 9-5 job. Some people take a day off per week (me) and maybe a few hours spread across the week. Some people work half days 7 days a week. However you do it, there needs to be a time when you say “f this, I’m going to the movies.”

-Find your happy place, something that keeps you the you you were when you came in. I love working out. It gives me energy and I feel good. I stay healthy. I also love reading fiction, so sometimes I just curl up with a good book, work be damned. You have to give yourself permission to not think about work, at least for a couple of hours a week. You may also discover new hobbies! (I never worked out before I came to graduate school.)

Your work will creep into all aspects of your life, if you let it. This is why I hate unstructured time. You will feel guilty for not doing something, because in graduate school, there is ALWAYS something you can do. ALWAYS. But since there will always be more work, there’s no harm in putting it aside for tomorrow, as long as you don’t have a deadline.

You may need to reach outside of your cohort for a social life. None of my close friends are in my doctoral cohort. I’ve met master’s students in my program, master’s students in other programs, and I know a few non-graduate students I hang out with, too. Go to graduate student mixers. (If your university doesn’t have any, organize some, if you like planning parties.) Join a student group that doesn’t take up too much time. I had a doctoral acquaintance who kinda laughed at me because I joined some student groups other than the doctoral student one, and I was usually the only doctoral student in those groups, but I met some close friends (and future job contacts) and had a good time.

DO NOT FEEL GUILTY FOR WANTING A LIFE OUTSIDE OF GRADUATE SCHOOL. This is paramount. This is important. You are a well-rounded, complex, multifaceted human being. NEVER feel bad for this. Everybody wants some kind of life outside of work. Yes, you may loooove your field, but that doesn’t mean you want to do it all day long. Some other doctoral students, and perhaps professors, may make you feel bad about this. Don’t let them. Just smile and nod. Then disappear when you naceed to.

Career:

Grad school is job preparation. Remember that from Day One. Always be looking for ways to enhance your skills. Read job ads and find out what’s hot in your field, what’s necessary, what’s in demand. For example, in my field statistics and methods are a hot commodity, and they’re not a passing fad. I happen to really like statistics and methods, so I have pursued that as a concentration of mine.

Don’t be afraid to take on volunteer work and part-time gigs that will give you skills that will be useful both inside academia and out, as long as it’s not against your contract. Your advisor may be against it, but he doesn’t have to know as long as it doesn’t interfere with your work.

-If you want to work outside of academia – if you are even *considering* the possibility – please please definitely do the above. Even if you aren’t considering it, consider the possibility that you won’t get a tenure-track job out the box and that you may need to support yourself doing something else for a while. You will have to prove to employers that you have developed usable, useful skills and this is one of the easiest ways to do it. But don’t overdo it – get the degree done.

For more academic related ones – always look for opportunities to present and publish. Presentations look good on your CV. Publications look better. When you write seminar papers, wonder if you can publish them with some revision. Write your seminar papers on what you maybe think you may want to do your dissertation on. Even if you look at them three years later and think “these suck,” you can at least glean some useful references and pieces from them. Discuss publication with your advisor early and often, and if you have the time and desire, seek out publication options with other professors and researchers. But if you commit to a project, COMMIT. You don’t want to leave a bad impression.

-If you can afford it, occasionally go to conferences even if you aren’t presenting. You can NETWORK, and you can hear some interesting talks, and you may think about new directions for your own research. You can also meet people who may tell you about jobs, money, opportunities, etc.

-Always try to get someone else to pay for conference travel before you come out of pocket. Including your advisor. Do not be shy about asking if he or she can pay. If he can’t, he’ll just say no. Usually the department has a travel fund for students, but often it’s only if you are presenting.

If you are interested in academia, you should get some teaching experience. There are two traditional ways to do this: TAing a course, and teaching as a sole instructor. If you can help it, I wouldn’t recommend doing a sole instructor position until you are finished with coursework. Teaching takes a LOT of time to do right. You should definitely TA at least one course, and probably a few different ones. But don’t overdo it, if you can help it, because again, it takes a LOT of time. More than you expect at the outset. If you are in the humanities, I think sole instructor positions are very important for nabbing jobs so when you are in the exam/ABD phase, you may want to try at least one. If your own university has none, look at adjuncting for nearby colleges, including community colleges.

(I would wager that the majority of natural science/physical science students, and most social science students, have never soley taught a class before they get an assistant professor job. At least, it’s not that common in my field, which straddles the social and natural sciences.)

Always look for money

Money is awesome. If you can find yourself you can do what you want, within reason. Your university will be thrilled, your advisor will be happy, and you can put it on your CV. It’s win-win-win! Don’t put yourself out of the running before anyone else has a chance to. Apply even if you think you won’t get it or the odds are against you (they always are), as long as you are eligible. Apply often. Apply even if it’s only $500. (That’s conference travel!) Money begets money. The more awards you get, the more awards you will get. They will get bigger over time. If you are in the sciences and social sciences, you should get practice writing at least one grant. You don’t have to write the whole thing, but at least get in on the process so that you can see how it’s done. Grant-writing is very valuable both in and outside of graduate school.

Revise your CV every so often. Then look and decide what you want to add to it. Then go get that thing, so you can add it.

The career office at big universities is often not just for undergrads. I was surprised to learn that my career center offers help on CV organization and the academic job search, as well as alternative/non-academic career searches for doctoral students. In fact, there are two people whose sole purpose it is to help PhD students find nonacademic careers, and they both have PhDs. This will vary by university – some universities will have very little for grad students. Find out before you write the office off.

It’s never too early to go to seminars/workshops like “the academic job search inside and out”, “creating the perfect CV,” “getting the job,” etc. NEVER. Often the leader will share tips that are more aimed towards early graduate students, or tidbits that are kind of too late for more advanced students to take care of. This will also help you keep a pulse on what’s hot in your field. It’ll help you know what lines you need to add to your CV. And they’re interesting.

Other:

Decide ahead of time what you are NOT willing to sacrifice on the altar of academia. Then stick to it.
I’m serious. If you decide that you do NOT want to sacrifice your relationship, don’t. If it’s your geographical mobility, don’t. I mean, be realistic, and realize that there will always be trade-offs. But you have to think about what’s important to you for your quality of life, and realize that there is always more to you than graduate school.

If you don’t want to be a professor, do not feel guilty about this. At all. Zero. However, you will have to do things differently than most doctoral students. Your advisor will probably never have worked outside of the academy (although this may vary depending on the field) so he may or may not be able to help you. But you have a special mission to seek out the kinds of experiences that will help you find a non-academic job. Test the waters with your advisor before you tell him this. My advisor was quite amenable to it, but that’s because I told him that my goal was to still do research and policy work in my field just not at a university, AND because it’s quite common in my field for doctoral students to do non-academic work. If you’re in a field where it’s not common (or where your professors refuse to believe it’s common, or it’s not supposed to be common)…well, you may be a little more on your own.

-Every so often, you will need to reflect on the reasons you came to graduate school. Sometimes, just sit and think quietly. Why are you doing this to yourself? Do you love your field? Do you need this degree to do what you want to do? Usually the answer is yes and yes, and usually you’ll keep on trucking. But sometimes when the chips are out you will need to reevaluate why you put yourself through this in the first place.

-To my great dismay, depression is quite common in doctoral students. Graduate work can be isolating and stressful. Luckily your health insurance usually includes counseling sessions. TAKE THEM if you need them. Do not be ashamed. You may be surprised with who else is getting them. (I found out that almost everyone in my cohort, was getting mental health counseling at a certain point.) Exercise can help, as can taking that mental health day once a week and just chilling. Don’t be surprised if you get the blues…

-…but be self-aware and able to recognize when the depression is clouding your ability to function. Doctoral programs have a 50% attrition rate, and this is rarely because that 50% is less intelligent than, less motivated than, less driven than, or less ambitious than the other 50% that stays. Often they realize that they are ridiculously unhappy in the field, or that they don’t need the degree anymore, or that they’d rather focus on other things in life, or their interests have changed. All of this is okay!

-You will, at some point, be like “eff this, I’m leaving.” I think almost every doctoral student has thought about dropping out and just kicking this all to the curb. You need to listen to yourself, and find out whether it is idle thought (nothing to worry about, very normal) or whether you are truly unhappy to the point that you need to leave. Counseling can help you figure this out.

-Don’t be afraid to take a semester or a year off if you need to. That’s what leaves of absence are for.

Lastly, and positively…

…graduate school is great! Seriously, when else will you ever have the time to study what you want for hours on end, talk to just as interested others about it, and live in an intellectual community of scholars and intellectuals? And occasionally wake up at 11 am and go to the bank at 2 pm? Sometimes you will want to pull out all of your hair but most of the time, you will feel fulfilled and wonderfully encouraged and edified. So enjoy this time!

The Top 10 Most Memorable Lessons And Things I Learned In Grad School

What I Learned Overall While Pursuing My PhD

After reading the article, “3 qualities of successful PhD students: Perseverance, tenacity, and cogency”, as well as Phillip Guo’s PhD Grind Epilogue/20 memorable lessons, I decided to write a series of articles stemming from both of these. I am 6 months away from graduation and wanted to reflect on my graduate school experience and give credit where it is due.

This is a two-series post: First, my top 10 most memorable/taught lessons (this post) as well as what it takes to be a successful PhD student (2nd post) and make it to the end.

Top 10 valuable lessons learned while in grad school:

1)      Grad School Taught Me How To Learn and Recover From “Failure.”

Yes it’s going to happen. You’re going to feel like a failure especially your first couple of years. You may realize that 90% of what you do DOESN’T work. If everything worked the first time, you’d get a PhD in one year. I took comments from my PI my early years in grad school personally. I became anxious and frustrated. I wanted to drop-out because of the repetition and the feeling that what I was doing was insignificant and meaningless (and would never amount to anything). But as I pushed through, all my worries, doubts, fears, and all those criticisms faded away.

As I matured in my scientific career, I learned to overcome these frustrations and realize that I am NOT a failure. I learn to recognize that “failure” is actually a normal part of grad school and is not a reflection on me as a person! And as I pushed forward and looked at the BIG picture, success was waiting for me further down the road. My project evolved and all came together in the end.

But the main lesson is that grad school taught me to ACCEPT, OVERCOME, and LEARN from failures and find solutions. And in the end, I am a much stronger person and equipped to better handle things in the real world in my future career. I am confident to say that grad school has made me a much better scientist, and I value the training/education that I was fortunate enough to receive.

2)      Grad School Taught Me That There Are Good Moments Even When There Are Bad Moments.

I’ve talked about things like the 10 Downsides of Grad School. But what about the good moments? I’m sure any student would say they are “happy” when they get good results or their project “works.” The moment when you know that things worked because you didn’t give up. The moment where you know you “killed” your presentation, you gained respect from your lab and others, and/or sparked the interest of collaborators.

The moment where you actually feel self-satisfaction after all your hard years of work. The moment where you actually LOVE science because of its uniqueness and the beauty of what it actually means to “research.” The moment where you gain satisfaction because your work is “significant” enough to publish.

So when a bad moment presents itself, you have to focus on the good. Kind of like a “delayed” result. Just when you think you have that “ah-hah” moment, you tweak it, repeat it, and that answer comes later. There are a lot of good moments in grad school. Just be sure to celebrate them when they happen. Don’t take them for granted because they don’t come as often as the bad moments.

3)      Grad School Taught Me That WE ALL HAVE DIFFERENT DEFINITIONS OF SCIENCE and Made Me Ask The Question: Do I Truly Enjoy My Work?

The answer is yes and I still do. It becomes a little more complicated because enjoying your work is not the “complete answer” to your future career. There are numerous issues. Some may want better job security or job prospects. Some may feel that COMBINING science with another field might help them make a bigger impact on humanity. Many PhD students will either end up hating or loving their research project at the end.

But even the ones who “love” research might pursue a different career. WHY? Why in the world would a successful PhD student who had a strong publication record go outside of academia? Isn’t that a waste? Doesn’t that mean that they truly didn’t enjoy or like research? It is NOT uncommon for a PhD student to gain love for other things COMBINING science with other things. Business is one example. I would also argue that one’s strengths can be better applied in a field that encompasses multiple disciplines.

How do I know? I followed my own guide. I did 50+ informational interviews with PhDs who worked at the research bench, then pursued a different career. From that (based on the value that I was able to bring to the table with my personal connection), I landed a job in the life science biotech industry as an Associate Product Manager while still in graduate school.

But who cares? Why does it matter? Why does the academic and industry field have to dislike each other? As I wrote about previously, if we bridged the gap between the two, there would be numerous benefits to society. Isn’t the whole point of scientific research to better human life? Or advance human knowledge?

So when someone in academia judges a PhD student for going outside of the field, it confuses me because everyone is just another piece of the puzzle helping to better the quality of human life. They are making a contribution no matter where they end up. But overall, grad school taught me the type of career I am fit for and should be pursuing (I had to network to figure this out- see #6).

4)      Grad School Developed My Character And Taught Me To Be A Leader (Personal Reasons For Getting a PhD).

I have always considered myself a leader prior to joining grad school. But as a senior grad student, I have honed in on this skill. I have become someone with MORE initiative. More passion. More drive. More tenacity. More mental toughness. More perseverance. More cogency. You name it. It changed me completely.

Grad school is nothing compared to undergrad. But I’m glad it is this way. You are entirely on your own. And for that reason, it “forces” you to develop certain character qualities and emerge a better and stronger person. It forces you to SEEK out answers. To learn. To put your own ego aside and realize that you are all in it together with a common goal: to help better human life through scientific research.

Grad school forces you to work together as a team and build on others to advance your work/knowledge (you develop team work and collaboration).  Grad school develops: perseverance and diligence, time management, writing and communication skills, analytical and critical thinking skills, and creative problem-solving.

Grad school also taught me to become a person whom an undergrad or new incoming grad student can look up to. I lead by example. To this day, I am still learning how to be an effective mentor (ie training in an undergrad) and manage someone. But as time goes on, I feel that my leadership capabilities have dramatically expanded. When I graduate and leave, I know that other grad students can fill my shoes and also lead by example.

5)      Grad School Taught Me To Value And Depend On My Friends And Family To Help Get Me Through (And Keep My Motivation).

I’ll be honest. I’m a very social person. Some can get through grad school without any social interaction or encouragement from others. Some cope with bad moments in grad school in different ways as I’ve mentioned before. But I will flat out say: There is NO WAY I would have made it this far without the help and support from close friends and family. Your mental and physical health are very important to maintain while getting through grad school.

You need people to support you to get you through. Even if it is on a financial or emotional level. A significant other (if you have one) is also very important to help get you through grad school, as I have seen with one of my best friends. Although your friends or family cannot completely relate to your situation (unless they went through the PhD process), they will hear you out, care, and listen.

You will find that your mental health will dramatically improve when you are more social and seek the encouragement and help of others I did. I only bring this up because of the high depression rate among PhD graduate students. But I just want to say thanks to all my friends and family, because they maybe don’t even realize how much I appreciate and need them to help get me through some of the hardest times of my life.

Maybe I’m “jumping the gun” here and giving a shout-out before I am fully finished, but 6 months from now I will still feel the same way and acknowledge the same people who helped get me (and keep me) to where I am today.

Further reading: Lack of social life in grad school and what to do about it.

Friends That Made It Possible:

 

 

6)      Grad School Taught Me To Pursue Things OUTSIDE of My Research Project.

What do I mean by this? I’ve written about “Grad School Tunnel Vision.” If you watched the PhD Movie, there is a line in the movie where the PI will say something like, “You need to live and breathe research. The only sleep you should get is a half-awake sleep so you can still be thinking about your research.” I cannot DISAGREE more (even though this was a stretched joke).

Although it is important to maintain focus and motivation, you need to do OTHER things outside of lab. It is important for your mental health. What do I do? I play in a rock band. I snowboard. I barefoot water-ski. I lift weights. I run my own online business. I network and meet interesting people outside of the University (your network is your net worth).

If you want to focus your entire life around your research project, you may graduate sooner (especially if you don’t mind working weekends and such), but your mental and physical health may suffer. This is not BLAMING or pointing the finger at grad school for unhappiness. Any job, career, or situation can create or be subject to unhappiness. The reality is that grad school is very lonely and isolating and if you learn to recognize it and fight it, grad school really isn’t that bad. At least for me, this was the hardest thing that I had to deal with and overcome.

7)      Grad School Taught Me To “Break The Scientific Barrier” And Focus On Publishing.

The Next Scientist touches on this quite nicely in a Graduate School Advice Series: Your #1 Goal Is To Publish Peer Reviewed Articles.

“Being an expert without peer reviewed publications equals to being an expert without a PhD.” ~The Next Scientist

First I thought that I was just getting results just to keep my PI off my back (at least that’s what it felt like). Then I passed my Preliminary exam. The more results that I got, the more I realized that there has to be an “end” to the story. Well, there is never really an end to any story.. Your project could go on indefinitely and another grad student could pick up the slack. My point is that my focus changed.

After I passed my prelim and my project became more “scientifically competent” I was focused on doing the needed experiments to get that first author peer-reviewed publication out. It was clear to me that this must be my number one goal. That serves as my motivation and light at the end of the tunnel. So I asked myself: What experiments do I NEED to do now and in the fastest amount of time in order to publish and graduate?

Your thesis committee is 10 times more likely to graduate you if you have published your work vs. not publishing. Just write that thesis 🙂 But don’t dwell on it. People talk about the thesis writing process too much. Don’t dwell on it, just do it. Find the motivation and push through (also see #5 above)!

Once you have that first author paper, it also reflects on your productivity to an employer and shows that you value your work and have developed as a scientist. So instead of being more of an “explorer” I became a careful planner. I became my own Project Manager. The most significant experiments I moved to the top of my list. I created a plan and tried to set goals. I weighed the value, time, and significance of each experiment. I created an outline and what figures I needed (in agreement with my PI). From there, nothing should stop you (except unexpected results) to get that paper out except yourself. That means you do multiple experiments at once instead of putting your eggs all in one basket.

8)      Grad School Taught Me To Give Back And Help Others Who Struggle Where I Once Used To Be.

As the new crop of grad students enters or joins your lab they are in the same boat you used to be. They have the same questions and are lacking answers. That’s where a senior grad student comes in. And I hope with my blog that I can help answer some of these questions. Very early on, I really struggled to even find a lab. Or know what classes to take. Or who to put on my thesis committee. Or how to do real-time PCR.

Whatever I learned and struggled with, I am willing to pass on to whoever I come across. But I will get to know someone personally, take them to lunch and listen to their situation in hopes of answering any questions they might have. The number one outstanding question is still: “What do I do with my PhD when I graduate?? I love research but I still don’t know what my career options are and I’m not sure if a career in academia is right for me.” This ties into #3 above. If that is your question, read this and this.

My advice is to collaborate as much as possible and help someone with less experience in order to get their publication out. Offer your assistance or expertise if you are the “go-to” person for a certain skill or method. Chances are you might even end up as a co-author on a future paper. Either way, you are improving your team-building skills and learning to be a team-player. This is a very attractive skill to an employer. Do it because you truly enjoy to help people, not because you have an agenda.

9)      Grad School Taught Me That It Is A Long-Road Ahead But To Never Give Up.

As tough and frustrating as grad school can be, it is important to keep your head up and push through.  If you feel like giving up, ask yourself what got you here in the first place. Be proud of how far you have made it. Try to focus on the positives. If you can’t: take a break and revisit whatever is bothering you tomorrow. Yes, it is a long process but you are not the only one faced with something that may seem impossible at first. I’ll just tell you that once you reach the ‘end,’ you will realize how ‘possible’ everything is and actually was in disguise.

But-I’ll just say that even during some of the roughest and hardest times when I just felt like quitting and giving up.. And when I couldn’t do it on my own and was really doubting myself.. God was always there for me. He helped me survive and get through all the rough patches. And without Him, I have no doubt in my mind that I would have dropped out with a Master’s degree a long time ago.

There is seemingly something missing from almost every blog and mouth of a grad student. They take all the credit. They don’t give any credit to the one person who made it all possible. God. Even if you don’t believe in God, that is fine. I am someone who believes in both God and science.  He will make your life a whole lot easier and joyful. Without God, I would not be here today. I had a barefoot water-ski accident in 2005, and God saved my life. But even throughout grad school..

Yes, I wanted to drop out many times. It’s actually normal (sounds crazy right?). The mistake would have been that this is what I WANTED and not what He wanted for my life. God has a plan for everyone. You can get through grad school without God, as I’m sure thousands of people do. But when you have God on your side, you have someone to turn to during those lonely times in grad school. When you have a relationship with God, He will keep your mental and physical health in check (along with #5 above).

He blessed me with good friends and family and provided me with a hopeful future. He is actually my number ONE reason that I made it this far and can truly say that I am a happy and very hopeful person. Grad school is a very long road. A PhD can take 5-7 years. I knew this before I started the program, but wasn’t prepared for how hard it would truly be. But the one thing I learned was to not give up, and God gave me the strength to see it through.

Read this poem

God has a purpose and plan for everyone whether we see it or not.. And in the end, all things will work out.. Do not be so short-sighted that you want everything now. Each day adds to the equation of perseverance.. So push yourself to the end and the next chapter of your life. But most importantly, don’t try to do it by yourself. Once you include God in your life, you will realize that there are bigger, better, and more important things than your own goals, selfish reasons, and broken dreams…

10)   Grad School Taught Me To Work Smarter and Not Necessarily Harder.

The key word here is: Productivity. Multitasking? No problem. “Work smarter and not harder” is my last lesson that I learned in grad school. When I look back at my past 4.5 years of grad school, I realize how hard I did truly work. Nights, weekends, and evenings on weekdays. But in my later years, as I became more competent, my productivity peaked. I learned how to multi-task and plan experiments better. Not just in lab, but also in my daily life.

It also empowered me to say “No” to my PI when something else made more sense to pursue. Your PI’s are a huge pool and wealth of ideas. But you have to know when to put your foot down and tell them you’re writing your paper. Or focus/cut off the experiments. Because if you don’t, they will take advantage of you and keep you longer. If you want that extra first author paper and need it for your career, then go for it.

But when you are working “smarter” and not necessarily harder, you will come to realize that a big part of this is knowing when you have enough data and the complete story to publish. Then the light at the end of the tunnel becomes more closely within your reach.

Overall, I learned effective time management: I can do multiple experiments, write my paper, maintain my social life, and run a business on the side all at once. And that’s all while maintaining my sanity.


Further Reading:

1) Graduate School Advice Series: 10 Things You Should Know Before Starting A PhD

2) Transferable PhD Skills

3) 6 Ways To Find Balance and Survive The Daily Grind and Repetition Of Graduate School

4) Phillip Guo’s PhD Grind Epilogue/20 memorable lessons

One Step At A Time: Bridging the Gap Between Academia and Industry

Industry-Academia Interactions: Bridging the Gap

By Ryan Raver
**This is a very complex and deep topic, hence the reason for the long, informative blog post**

With Stagnant NIH funding for the past decade or so, and dim job prospects, PhDs in the life sciences are now seeking alternatives. ‘Non-traditional’ careers are seemingly becoming traditional. There are two separate worlds: Academia and Industry. Both have very different goals and mindsets.

Post-docs or grad students wishing to enter industry can only hope that they have the minimum experience required to even enter industry, but many have no experience. But with an increasingly competitive job market, overabundance of PhDs, and lack of funding we find PhD grad students entering low paying post-doctoral positions, never to really come out. Some leave science altogether due to the “post-doc crisis,” where the average post-doc can last 5-6 years. Even more disturbing, doing more than one post-doc is not uncommon.

Not surprisingly, the harsh reality that statistically only 14 percent of those with a PhD in biology and the life sciences now land a coveted academic position within five years (according to a 2009 NSF survey), pushes newly minted PhDs and post-docs towards industry due to higher pay and better job prospects. So, why not tackle the problem BEFORE graduation or before completion of a post-doctoral fellowship? In other words, what can be done to bridge the gap between academia and industry and what steps can be taken for this to happen in this present day and age?

Until this happens, we will continue to see the gap between academia and industry grow. Professors, scientists, and post-docs will continue to have “tunnel vision” where all they know or care about is their own research, field of expertise, and work environment (academia). The real question is, if the gap were bridged, would you even need a post-doctoral position or could you just skip the post-doc and enter right into industry from graduate school?

Why Do We Need To Bridge The Gap?

The reason that there are so few jobs to be found in academe is not because there are too few colleges, universities, departments, or programs. If anything, there are too many. The problem is that the number of available jobs is vastly outnumbered by the number of people applying for them. There are simply too many PhDs produced every year for the higher education establishment to absorb them all, despite the absurd degree to which it has absorbed them into jobs that have nothing to do with traditional research and teaching. Today, universities hire doctors of philosophy to be in charge of their dormitories, alumni associations, and police departments.” (Source: http://100rsns.blogspot.com/2011/04/55-there-are-too-many-phds.html)

So it is important to consider all options, especially those in biotech/pharma/healthcare industry. More importantly, it is imperative that unless we start to train less PhDs every year, we need to prepare PhDs for the current job market. Otherwise, you may find yourself unemployed with a gap on your resume, or working a post-doctoral position into your late 30’s.

Today, businesses are looking for innovative solutions from the academia to help meet their business needs of higher productivity and lower costs, yet increase efficiencies. In the area of talent, the US has to strengthen its technical and management resources as these are crucial to knowledge-based industries. A market-driven approach to higher education has to be fostered in order to encourage manpower development from the grassroot level itself. The idea is to involve the private sector in higher education.

So What Gives?

In the third millennium, we have witnessed a lot of technological changes. These changes, however, have not been properly used by our graduates in order to compete in the present scenario. It is essential to have industry-academia interactions which will help to impart relevant knowledge and will be sustainable in the changing conditions.

Academic institutions seemingly place great importance and value on closer interaction with industry and R&D organizations. At the level of industry participation in technology development, some interaction has been witnessed between large public and private sector enterprises and academic institutions.

Still, industry support to basic research is virtually non-existent. Laboratory utilization by industry for developmental purposes and for product testing has seen some success. With the help of continuing education programs (CEP), participation from the industry is gradually increasing. The areas in which interaction is possible include industry support to basic research for knowledge creation, industry participation in technology development involving some exploratory work, academic intervention in solving industry problems, and laboratory utilization by industry and CEP.

Current Status of Cooperation Between Academia And Industry

1) Academics are driven by their conferences and technical journals and their need to publish.
2) Academics seldom attend industrial conferences as they feel this is below their standard.
3) Academics look down upon industrial newspapers and magazines.
4) Academics are not aware of the problems and constraints of industry.

(Source: http://www.reengineer.org/stevens/Harry-Sneed-CSMR2009-Stevens-Lecture-A4.pdf)

Reasons Behind The Gap Between Academia And Industry

1) Academics and Industrialists have a different mind set, therefore both are living in two different worlds.
2) Both Academics and Industrialists are pursing different goals entirely. The Academic is striving for recognition from his or her peers. The Industrialist is striving to survive.
3) Industry thinks in terms of short range goals whereas the Academic has a long range perspective.
4) Industry prefers proven solutions with a low risk, whereas Academia is interested in creating new solutions with a high innovation rate.
5) Industry seeks the minimum solution to minimize their risk, whereas Academia strives for a maximum solution to maximize their recognition.
6) Industry is mainly concerned with costs. Academia could care less about costs, it is mainly interested in the benefits (and prestige).

(Source: http://www.reengineer.org/stevens/Harry-Sneed-CSMR2009-Stevens-Lecture-A4.pdf)

Additional Reasons Explained:
The Gap between the needs of the industry and aspirations of academic community is very large. Academicians always have a strong feeling that unless these initiatives find a place in industrial sector, this interaction will be confined to only developmental activities. There is a strong mismatch in perceptions of the two on the issues related to technology development. At present, the academic community is not geared to face this challenge of translating an evolving idea into technology development.

Industry Needs and Expectations

Large industrial companies have the resources to invest in technology development initiatives. Academic participation is often needed in minor technological innovation. Small scale industries often depend on support in the areas of design, process improvement and machinery performance, etc. They also rely on processes to yield a product which already exists. In some cases, problem solving may simply amount to product testing and production enhancement in terms of quantity and quality. In such interactions, industry’s expected time frames have been immediate and investment is directed towards efforts that promise result oriented solutions.

Academia Expectations

An academician shows interest normally in problems that are intellectually challenging. His or her areas of interest lie in technology development initiatives and methods related to process and design improvement. Researchers have strong preference for working towards creation of knowledge in specialized areas. For industry-related problems, a researcher has to explore a variety of options which is time consuming.

In academic institutions, the time frame of an academician is governed by research guidance and teaching assignments.

Academicians are oriented towards R&D activities of the industry for funds which helps them to sustain their broader research interests.

Avenues For The Future

A support system is needed to ensure a focused involvement of both academia and industry. Academic institutions should develop systems and procedures to ensure that industry expectations are met without any compromise on academic aspirations. Initially, academia should conceive and take up short term, small budget projects which would instill confidence in industry and encourage it to start development projects. Industry also has to give a fresh look to its R&D efforts. This process must be guided by a complete shift from trading set up to a technologically- driven entrepreneurial set up. Academia should tilt the focus of basic research to applicative research. Research initiatives involving industry people with flexible formats could serve as the first step in this direction.

Venues should be created for close interaction starting from conceptualization down to commercialization. Setting up of technology incubation centers in close proximity of academic institutions could provide for fostering wholesome technology development.

Interaction between industry and doctoral programs

In the Pharmaceutical industry, Pharmaceutical education is a foundation for its structure. For example, R&D and pharmaceutical technologies are built up by supplying qualified pharmacists to the industry. The interaction should begin when researchers are doctoral students and should continue well after they start their careers.

Some institutions fear that if students are involved in industry work, it might distract them from their doctoral work. However, many professors and faculty are willing to put this fear aside. They may realize that allowing students to be involved with industry could have very positive benefits. Not only could it boost doctoral productivity/output, motivation, and potentially lead to a job (or even a start-up company someday), it would further foster the academia-industry relationship as the cycle continues with new post-docs and grad students.

Those who cannot secure academic positions will seek out industry positions and will need to acquire necessary skills, knowledge, and experience in order to successfully break into industry. Industry provides research topics, funding and access to data for research. Industry also provides an opportunity for employment outside the traditional academic setting.

Academia-Industry Interaction Should Be Considered As Part Of The Education

What are some examples of this? Well what are OPTIONAL coursework or classes that can be taken? The big difference here is that these classes should not be taught just by the school of business from people who lie ONLY in academia and know nothing about industry. There should be industry PhDs teaching these classes since they bring to the table real world experience and examples.

Also, with the presence of industry PhDs on campus, this should foster some sort of relationship. More importantly, this would allow for recruitment of outstanding candidates who lie in academia and are looking to break into industry. Keep in mind that grad students and post-docs aren’t the greatest at networking, so this would also allow for some exposure outside of their mundane lab environment.

Apart from classes, biotech/pharma/healthcare industry needs to be on campus with clear offerings for internships. The incentive is that you are recruiting the best and brightest to strengthen and grow your company. How can you possibly obtain industry experience while in grad school without an internship? How can you possibly compete against someone who has a PhD with industry experience and was just recently laid off?

A 3 month summer internship would dramatically increase a post-doc’s or grad students chance of landing a job in industry in this down economy. But until an academia-industry relationship is fostered on all levels (keep reading below), there will be little incentive to help struggling post-docs and grad students with offering internships and optional coursework that could give them an edge. This is definitely an employer’s market and they know it. But ignoring the problem that there is a growing gap between academia and industry will only hurt our economy further and leave more people unemployed.

A list of Sample Coursework (With Industry Sponsor): Financial Accounting Principals, Corporate Finance, Organizational Behavior, Bioscience Strategy, Market Assessment and Market Strategy, Business Operations, Clinical Trials Design, Conduct and Strategy, International Business and Global Health, Entrepreneurial Management, Applied Entrepreneurship, Product Management, Bioethics and Law, etc.

If Coursework Is Not An Option:

At the very least, companies should sponsor a series of lectures and presentations from distinguished professionals from the industry on or off campus. In addition, this could include networking events (Happy Hours), video shows on some industry projects, group discussions, debates and field trips to various industrial companies. After lectures or presentations, grad students and post-docs should have the chance to meet with the speaker and discuss potential opportunities, set up an informational interview, or further build their network.

Internships

At the completion an Elective Coursework Program (say you want to receive a minor in an industry-specific position like Product Management), grad students and post-docs should be allowed to apply for an internship. Obviously, corporate sponsors can still be selective in this case. But if a grad student is in a PhD program for 5-6 years (post-docs can last just as long) and is turned down, he or she can just reapply the following year. A 3 month summer internship could lead to a full-time position later on down the road with a “foot in the door.” After all, some experience is better than none.

Industry Team Project: Real World Experience

At the completion of one’s optional coursework, there should also be a final ‘Industry Team Project‘ where students are to solve a real-world problem in industry. An Industry sponsor should assign the Team Project.

You are getting the best of both worlds

First, you are getting the education you need taught by working professionals faced with real-world problems. Second, you are getting the hands-on industry experience you need during your doctoral or post-doctoral studies through an internship and/or industry team-based project.

Also, having an ‘Entrepreneurial Competition‘ hosted by a corporate sponsor (Burrill and Co. for example) would allow students to write a business plan, compete, and potentially turn their plan into a start-up company with help of small grants or funding. Such an example is shown here: http://bus.wisc.edu/degrees-programs/non-business-majors/burrill-business-plan

Going Further

The question of who holds the patent rights to a specific development is a major issue. Academic institutions are scared of losing patent rights to a particular research where industry is involved. At the same time several academic researchers profit from their research through business books, industry consulting and speaking engagements. Therefore, academic research and the pursuit of profit are not mutually exclusive.

One important way of facilitating interaction between academia and industry is for teachers to take sabbatical at business organizations in their field of expertise. Such involvement will facilitate mutual understanding of each others strengths and challenges.

In order to ensure that the teaching programs and the curriculum meet the challenging needs of the industry, senior personnel from industry should be involved as expert members of the committees which vet changes in curriculum as well as new academic programs. To provide a real-life exposure of the industrial world to its students, a “vacation training program” (similar to an internship) can be organized. The program can include industrial training of faculty and students with a built-in provision of incentives as well as for the appointment of adjunct faculty from the industry.

Provision of having honorary professors/faculty both from the industry and R&D organization gives an exposure to the students of interacting with working professionals. Several laboratories have been sponsored by the industry. Software worth millions of dollars have been donated by Technology companies.

Knowledge Transfer

The industry can hire significant number of students. This is a highly effective form of technology transfer. While working in the industry, students frequently return to universities and colleges to recruit new students.

Industry and Government Research Relationships

Many researchers are working in advisory or consulting capacities with a number of companies. In some cases principal investigators in research hold positions on the technical advisory board. Large scale collaborative projects are also being carried out in certain institutions.

Summer Camps

These can be arranged in collaboration with the industry to expose the students to various academic and extra curricular activities. As mentioned above, these can comprise a series of lectures and presentations from distinguished professionals from the industry and academia, video shows on some industry projects, group discussions, debates and field trip to some industrial companies. These camps serve as a forum for the development of over all personality, leadership, organizational skills and exemplary team work which are essential for a successful career in addition to academic activities.

Camps provide a platform for professionals to enrich the participants with their first hand experiences in the field and their professional expertise.

Provision for Scale-up Operation And Entrepreneurial Ventures

Students develop new products or processes which are restricted as bench experiments. Due to non-availability of scale up processes as a result of capital and operational cost, the research is not able to reach the market. Interaction and informal tie ups can ensure successful implementation of work developed in the institution.

Consultancy Services

Academic institutions can help the industrial companies by providing consultancy services which are sought by small-scale entrepreneurs having no access to R&D and quality control facilities. It can be in the form of evaluation of products, processes, software development etc.

Important principles for industry academic interaction

Following principles can be used as guidelines:
a) Open academic environment: It is the responsibility of the administration, the academic senate and departmental faculty to establish appropriate norms for existence of an open environment

b) Freedom to publish: Freedom to publish is fundamental to the university and is a major criterion for the research project. Faculty should be encouraged to engage in outside projects. These at the same time, should not interfere with their performance of teaching and research duties.

Closing Comments

It will have to start at one Major University and have the rest follow to adopt these sort of changes. Also, with the help of corporate sponsors, such awareness and interaction can be fostered and promoted on campuses and Universities nationwide. I personally have asked the CEO of Promega to be a corporate sponsor for UW-Madison to help bridge the gap for post-docs/grad students in the life sciences and industry. Such involvement at the minimum would include seminars/speakers from industry on campus. Many do not see the need or importance, however, someone has to make the first move. Until then, academia and industry will continue to not understand each other or see the need to have an intertwined and collaborative relationship (especially for the long-term workforce).

But until we ‘lead by example’ the gap will continue to grow and we will find life science PhDs without work, spending excess amount of time as post-docs, or leaving science altogether. It is no wonder we have “Post-Doc Professional Masters” like at Keck Graduate Institute: Keck PPM (which claims to “Bridge the Industry Gap”), but it is no surprise that Industry doesn’t even recognize this PPM certification as having any relevance at all. Why? Because you simply cannot substitute education for real-world experience. And until the gap is bridged, you’ll have to fight your way through and network your way into industry.

I will close with words from Cliff Mintz, who also shares the same idea and vision as myself:

Fixing The Problem

While there is no easy solution to fix the growing lack of U.S. jobs for Ph.D. scientists, there are several ideas worth exploring. An important first step would be for college presidents, deans, chairpersons, and tenured faculty members to acknowledge there is an employment problem for newly minted Ph.D.s and postdoctoral scientists. This, in turn, may result in curricular changes at the graduate level that would allow students and postdoctoral scientists to actively participate in additional specialized training to acquire the requisite skills to pursue nontraditional career paths.

If curricular changes turn out to be too labor intensive, expensive, or unconventional, then offering graduate students and postdoctoral scientists access to regularly scheduled nontraditional job seminars or holding annual on-site career fairs may be more appropriate. In contrast with the prevailing view that nontraditional career programs may interfere with graduate and postdoctoral training, it is likely the career insights offered by these programs may help expedite rather than hinder research progress.” ~Cliff Mintz (Author of Nontraditional Careers Options For PhD Life Scientists)

**This article was written in collaboration with Faculty Member Jamia Hamdard, Dept of Pharmaceutics, New Delhi

Further Reading

Tooling Up: Making the Cut In 2011

Broken Pipeline? Stagnant NIH Funding Threatens Future Generation of Researchers and Scientists

U.S. Pushes For More Scientists But The Jobs Just Aren’t There

Give Post-Docs A Career Not Empty Promises!

The “Post-Doc Crisis”

Nontraditional Careers Options For PhD Life Scientists

7 Easy Ways For Graduate Or College Students To Earn Alternative Income Or Make Money Online

Why A Struggle?

I have struggled with the question, “How Do I Earn Extra Money On The Side While In School?” my entire college career. When I was an undergrad, I was taking 18 credits (with 3-4 science labs), working in a research lab, and working a part time job 20 hours a week. I only knew of one way to pay for college tuition and fees: working a second job in the evenings and weekends. So I went into sales.

I sold cellular phones for TMobile, Alltel, Sprint, and AT&T. I did this for 4 years. The timing was perfect since the market was young and new customers were not uncommon during that time (cell phone bubble). When the Motorola Razr was worth 300 dollars back in 2004. Anyways, this job was hourly + commission and I made a killing. I was making 15-18K a year working part time while in school. But jobs like this are hard to come by (I had extensive sales experience prior), and require a lot of effort. Nowadays, cell phone sales will not pay as well because instead of new contracts everyone is upgrading. There are 300 million cell phone users in the U.S. I wonder what it was in 2004?

So.. With that said. Say you are studying for the GRE or MCAT. Say you are doing an internship on the side. You’re really hurting on money. You don’t have time to fit in a second job. You didn’t qualify for work study. Or you are in graduate school and aren’t allowed to take on a second job. Or you simply just don’t have time. How can someone earn extra income on the side without having to put in 20-40 hours a week? Without having to put on a work uniform and put in the set amount of weekly hours on top of your already busy life?

1) Online Tutoring.

Yea that’s right. If you are good at something like Math or English you can get paid to be an online tutor. A lot of them will require you to pass a certification test. But if you do (and meet the requirements), you can earn money in your spare time being a teacher. That is if you like to teach and have the patience. The payout can vary, you can get $15 an hour and this can go up depending on assignments and prior experience. You can check out more here: http://www.homework-help-secrets.com/online-tutoring.html

2) Teach A Musical Instrument.

A lot of people grew up learning/playing piano, guitar, trumpet, etc. If you have 5+ years of experience, all you really need to do is buy a book on the musical theory. I did it for guitar. So not only could I teach the technique of guitar but also the theory to support it (I had to brush up on this). Payout (on a craigslist ad and other sites) was $10-15 for a 30 minute session. You set the price. Build your client base, reputation, and watch your income increase.

3) Sell Stuff On Ebay and Craigslist.

You’ve heard it before. But I took my parents old car rims and sold them for $200 on a 7 Day Auction. They were just sitting there taking up garage space. They said I could have all the profit. We also had some old cherry furniture and dinette set sitting in our garage. Sold that for $150 in one day. More cash in my pocket. Electronic items will also sell. Did you upgrade your cell phone? Sell your old one. If you have the box and manuals then you’re golden.

Don’t want to ship something? Sell it on craigslist. Once you get used to writing sales ads, it comes pretty natural. Just make sure you have the full description and take PROFESSIONAL pictures. Yes lighting, background, and presentation will make a difference in the payout. Even having the full title makes a difference (especially when it comes to keywords).

Selling on Ebay and Craigslist is not Rocket Science, but it’s funny how people are too lazy to sell their old stuff because they think it has no value or they say they “Don’t have time.” Even old furniture has a price. Don’t just throw your futon or couch by the dumpster if you need the money. You can post a Craigslist ad or Ebay ad in under 5 minutes once you have the pictures and description. Lack the description? Well that’s what Google is for. Get out there and do your research! Get the specs. Go on Ebay and see what stuff is selling for. Look at the completed listings. I have made thousands of dollars on Ebay and Craiglist over the past 10 years. I have sold stuff from car stereos to clothes to ram air hoods for camaros. And you can too. You can sell simple stuff on Craiglist or Ebay like your student season football tickets. It doesn’t have to be some big ticket item. The possibilities are endless.

4) Get paid for your expertise or opinion.

We are all experts at something different. Say someone is an expert at waterskiing or snowboarding. Could they get paid to be an instructor? Yes. You factor in the time and the need for resources. Maybe you want to become a personal trainer because you are really into fitness (this does require certification). Maybe you speak a second language. Get paid to be an interpreter. You’re good at writing. Take it one day at a time. Write a book. Easier said than done right?

Only you truly know whether your expertise would have an immediate or more long-term payout. So you could invest your time to see payout later. Be a consultant. Teach a class. Be a coach. Be a photographer. You decide. Do you have the time to invest and what’s the risk/reward? If it isn’t feasible seek alternatives. Either way, pursue your passion and you can’t go wrong.

My Favorite One: Check Out Focus Group.com! If you take the survey by answering some questions (you fill out your profile first), qualify, and they pick you.. You’re in luck. Can range anywhere from $50-200 bucks for only 1-2 hours of your time. They do national studies as well as local (more if you are in a big city). I got paid $75 via a Visa Rewards Gift Card immediately after doing a 1-on-1 tobacco study. Getting selected is not easy, but when you do (if you do) it’s well worth it.

I’ve also heard of people getting paid to do online surveys. Although I’ve never really dug deeper into this as a way to make income on the side, I definitely think it is possible (from what I’ve heard). The only downside is that it is annoying and tedious. Check out sites like http://www.surveyspot.com/. I’ll leave it up to you to find which sites are legit. Make sure you set up a separate gmail just to send all the spam mail that you’ll get.

5) Start An Online Business.

Who has time, right? What happens is people think they have to do this all in one night. Or they need the idea NOW. If you want a successful online business it takes MONTHS. Sometimes years to even get it going. How do I know? I started my own online business while in graduate school. Back in 2009 I launched a site that sold various woodworking products. None of these products sold and that was after weeks of developing the website and paying for a dot com. People didn’t want to pay shipping. They wanted something they could see in person and buy locally.

So it seemed like I really had no marketable product or target audience, and that it was going to be another failed business. By accident, I tested the market with a sporting goods product (bean bag toss boards) and it sold the next day on Craigslist for $99. From there it led to a very successful business on the side (took one year to get established). 3 years later and it’s still going strong to this day. Sell whatever you see fit whether it is goods or services, it could even be developing your own iPhone app.

The key is consistency and to be persistent. It is wise to have an exit strategy, but don’t give up at the beginning, become impatient, or get easily discouraged. Now you may not be as fortunate as me and have the time to make products like this and sell them. In that case I’ll leave the idea up to you. You could buy products for wholesale and sell them for profit. This is not uncommon to buy in bulk (from China), add to the product features and sell it above wholesale.

I did this for cell phones and was an Ebay Powerseller for 2 years straight making 40 dollars on each phone I sold. Anything is possible when it comes to running your own business. Are you frustrated because the idea hasn’t come? That’s why you test it with a Craiglist ad. Test your market. A lot of times the idea can come by accident or when you least expect it. Forced ideas rarely work in my opinion. The best ideas are the ones that come when you least expect it.

If you do a Google search for ‘Earning Income While In College’ you will always get some list like ‘Top 8 Ways to Make Money.’ The site is littered with affiliate links and hyped up reviews. You have to wonder if the author even tried it for him or herself. Most likely they didn’t. Don’t waste your time. It is another example of a forced idea.

The best idea is your originality. That’s right. Stop giving plasma. Painting houses. Mowing Lawns. Doing Paper Routes. This is old-fashioned thinking. We live in a current day and age where you can utilize technology to your advantage. You just need to know-how. There are much better ways to make money and this brings me to my next point.

6) Get paid to be a writer.

Ever heard of Textbroker? If not, you have now. Get paid to be an author. You don’t have to be a professional writer. Typically, you can get paid close to 100 bucks or more for an 8,000 word article that you write (starting). As you build up your reputation and rating, you can get up to 5 cents per word. You pick the topic. The client sets the deadline and you have X amount of days to finish the article in your spare time.

Some people have also reported HubPages as a great way to earning money online. Every time you write an article or “hub” you can generate a large amount of traffic to your site. The more hubs and the more you grab your reader’s attention, the more hits you get. Then you can earn money through Google Adsense. HubPages has a very user friendly way of setting this up. I would look into it if you haven’t already and if you enjoy writing: HubPages Success Stories

Also see: 7 websites that pay $50 or more for guest blog posts

7) Sell An Informational Product Online.

This is by far the best way to earn a second income. The focus here is to create an informational product that truly adds value back to your readers. The extent and measure of value creation will be based on how well you truly help solve your audience’s problem or issue.

Once the value has been created, it is a win-win because you are helping others solve their problem(s) while at the same time you are receiving compensation for all your hard work.

Once you have a good informational product that is well-written and informative, this is the best bang for the buck. It’s a slow crawl at first and takes patience and persistence. It takes hard work. But with anything, hard work is a given. A lot of people want the immediate answer. They get short-up. They Google something and get caught up in some money making pyramid scheme or scam. There are thousands of money making methods online. Many methods lack the truth and best way to effectively do online marketing. Why? Because they pile on a million things that try and get you to purchase their product. Then you make some cookie-cutter website.

I know because I am an example of someone who got suckered into one of these get rich quick scams. They put you on some 14 day or 30 day plan. Deep down you know it probably won’t work. You have your doubts from the beginning. If it takes away the originality from you, your gut feeling will usually tell you it won’t work. And your gut feeling is almost always right. Without hard work and originality it most likely will not work. It produces clones of the original.

What happens is it dilutes everything. Lowers the quality. Discourages people. Who makes all the money? The person at the top. But what’s funny is the person is making money off telling you how to make money. The problem isn’t really being solved because nothing is being created that has substance or originality (there is simply promotion for more promotion). If the person selling the product actually told you useful information then I don’t think the market would be so saturated and confused. The truth is obscured.

My whole point here is what is the one TRUE method to actually earn a second income while in grad school or college? I have yet to read one or find a method that is geared towards specifically towards graduate, professional, or college students. How does one create a product to help another OVERCOME A PROBLEM? And keep the originality? And not product some cookie cutter website or product? The answer is you create your own informational product. The easiest one is an E-book.

And you don’t have to be a writer for this to work. You can pay someone on Textbroker to write it for you (this is optional). You’re busy with school. Time and money are scarce. So you can outsource your article (and add to it on your own if you want). You can invest your money in someone else. Or if you have the time, write the article yourself. Then it comes down to online Marketing Principles. You earn all your money back and more. It’s a no-brainer.

The hard part is getting the Traffic to your sales page/product and promoting your product. Once you get past this, the profits start rolling in. There really is no secret to it. It does take time and hard work, but it will be even harder if you try to learn it from scratch. In my book, I’ve done all the research for you and I’ve found out what does and doesn’t work. So you are already two steps ahead if you buy it and follow it. Why is this original? Because you pick the product or idea.

You pick the problem that you want others to overcome that is UNIQUE to your situation. Something you are passionate about. Maybe you’ll title it, “How I Found Ways in Grad School to Make Money on the Side.” Or “How A Science Blog Saved My PhD.” Or “Using A Science/College/Graduate School Blog for Online Advertisement/Promotion.” Or “How I Effectively Wrote My Thesis in 4 weeks.” Or “How to Effectively Network While in Grad School to Land Your Dream Job.” Lastly, “Top 10 Things I Learned in Grad School: For The New and Prospective Students.” Many more ideas here.

Tell people your story. Share your hardships. Your audience will listen. And you can sell your product and help others learn from your experience. Maybe it’s something you struggled with and now you look back at all you have learned and you can’t wait to share that information. But not only are you creating a product to help yourself earn income and tell your story, you are helping others along the way. So they can learn from your struggles or hardships. It’s a win-win. If you want to learn more, check out: Ebook: Second Income

I wrote it to help people like you. To give a step-by-step guide that isn’t sugar coated. That actually works and isn’t all hype. The best part: IT’S FREE.

Ultimately the idea is up to you. The only thing right now holding you back is yourself. If you want to go and work the traditional ‘second’ job to earn income be my guest. But the whole point of this blog is to make you aware of easier and more feasible options while you are enrolled in graduate or professional school. #1-6 all have the potential to work. I know because I’ve done it the past 10 years of my life. But the best bang for the buck while in college/grad school in my experience is #7. Dig deeper and you will not be disappointed.

Still Skeptical?

Check out my interview on I’ve Tried That, where I answer a very long series of in-person, in-depth questions.

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6 Ways To Survive Grad School and Achieve Work-Life Balance

Most people don’t want to admit the struggles they went through in grad school or even relive those memories. Working weekends and late nights are just one example. What I want to share with you are things that people take for granted. The things that get you through the Daily Grind of Grad School (all the way to the end) and working in a lab. Thinking about dropping out of grad school? Keep reading.

So how do you get through the daily grind for say 5-7 years? Most people laugh when I tell them this.

1) Your iPod.

Music can do wonders for your graduate school experience. I am able to listen to music while writing. More importantly, I listen to music while doing my experiments. Although this isn’t 24/7, I can testify that music has helped get me through graduate school because of its positive effect on your mental state.

You need to take everything in grad school that is at your disadvantage and make it your advantage. What I mean by this is that in most cases, you are a lone ranger in lab. You don’t really work in a team as you would in industry. Your project is your own and no one really cares about your work except you and your PI. If you experiment doesn’t work, you haven’t let down an entire team that is relying on you.

So with that said, you can ‘get away with listening to your iPod” since you aren’t spending a lot of your day in business meetings (if you went into business), or interacting with patients (if you went into the medical field). Plus you aren’t really talking to people in your lab the entire day (this can vary).

You are at a ‘disadvantage’ since working in a team is better IMO than working on something in solitude. So you can turn around, make the most of your situation and turn it into a positive. The ‘lone ranger’ scenario is also a disadvantage I think for someone who is a social person (like myself) and enjoys working with others.

But, if you love music like I do, pop in your headphones and you will see just how quickly your day goes by. Rough day or bad data? Crank up the heavy stuff. I let it go almost the entire day depending on my mood. I still keep the volume low enough so I can hear if someone needs to talk to me. And you know what? It calms my mood, motivates me, and takes my mind off the repetition and mundane routine. Not a big music listener? That might change.

2) Do not let your physical and mental health slip.

I noticed a lot of this has to do with not eating right or working out. I cannot tell you how many grad students skip lunch or dinner, or don’t eat breakfast (I am guilty of this). It is not wise. What happens is it throws your whole metabolism out of whack. It can also change your sleep patterns. You need to stay in a constant routine and STICK to it.

Stemming from this, you need to hit the gym. You need to go running, swimming, weightlifting, biking. It sounds so obvious. If it was so obvious then why don’t people find time to do it? Why do all the people who work in a lab seem so out of shape? You know deep down they care. They have to care. Or they live in denial. They claim they are so busy with their work lives that there is no time to exercise. If you aren’t exercising the excuse then becomes, “Well then I don’t need to eat right either.” That is where the poor attitude sets it. You become lethargic and may not even realize it.

You cannot tell me that poor diet and lack of exercise doesn’t affect your work. It does. It affects your mood, how you think, and how much energy you have throughout the day. I find time to hit the gym 2-3 times a week no matter what. This is almost as important as the actual thesis work you are doing. If you neglect yourself.. Your self-esteem will suffer. It can have permanent consequences if you spread this out over 5-7 years. Exercise is also a great way to release and lower stress levels. And guess what? Lack of exercise/poor diet is one of the reasons why the depression rate is so high in grad school. Which brings me to my next point.

3) Make an effort to hit up your friends and be social.

That means plan ahead. That also means during the week you should ask your friends to go to lunch or at least meet up. Does this sound lame? Well it’s not. I can’t tell you how many grad students eat lunch in lab EVERY day by themselves. You need to get outside and get some fresh air. Seriously put the can of soup down, get out there and God forbid spend 5 bucks on a lunch.

You need socialization to keep your sanity. So your daily grind includes lunch with your fellow grad students or friends. When the weekend hits it’s a whole different story.

The first couple years of grad school people tend to hang out more, that is also obvious. Why? Even though they are taking classes and are busy, it isn’t as bad as writing your thesis or busting your butt trying to finish up your last set of experiments. Plus everything is new, you’re getting settled in and you haven’t shaken off your undergrad years. When you get older (26+), people tend to go out less, have significant others, be annoyed by undergrads who stay the same age (you are the only one who gets older in this case), be more focused on their work, and just be less social overall. It fades out.

So what I’m saying is you need to find something you love and hold onto it. For me it was hitting up rock concerts. I have a group of friends who like rock music. I joined a softball team. I joined a rock band. I kept the ball rolling. I made an effort every weekend to call my friends and make plans. Find someone who has a pool, gas grills, likes to slam a few beers and you’re golden. Whatever it is, you know you have an interest with someone in your grad program.. Or you have an interest/activity.

You want to be in a Dance club? Do it. Cuz once you get out of grad school everything will change. The real world will set in. You need to enjoy these years of your life the best you can. You need to have as much fun as you can during some of the hardest years of your life. Keep the balance and everything will be OK. If you let the balance tip to ALL grad school, then you are in trouble. And that is why some people’s mental and physical health suffers so much. You need to vent frustration and relieve stress.

You also need good friends and family to get you through it. Let’s face it. Research is frustrating. 90% of it doesn’t work. My first few years I had to learn to accept this as normal. And realize that I am not a failure. Sometimes experiments fail for no and unforeseen reason. But to get through these frustrations took time on my part to keep the balance in check and have friends to help me along the way.

4) Find that ‘fun’ activity and hold onto it no matter what.

Some grad students have told me, “You know what got me through grad school? Lots and lots of beer.” I wouldn’t recommend this lol, but a lot of people just unleash on the weekends (especially first or second year grad students). I guess everyone has their own way of dealing with the stress.

My recommendation over beer is find that one activity that you absolutely love, similar to #3. Play guitar.. And if you have the money, take a vacation. You cannot be thinking about research 24/7 or you will go crazy. That is what professors want you to believe. To be completely submerged in your research.

Well guess what? A lot of great scientific discoveries were made when they weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing. The point here being that a lot of great ideas or innovations can come at random times or even by accident, instead of being forced. So that means by you doing that one thing that you love so much.. Is a good thing.

If you let it slip away it can lead to grad school blues or depression. I have a friend that loves to fish. I know someone who joined a book club. Another friend of mind travels a lot. Another goes boating/waterskiing in the summer and snowboarding in the winter (more along the lines of what I like). Anyways, don’t use alcohol as a ‘cop-out’ way of dealing with the stress of grad school. You’ll wake up sober the next day and you’re back to reality. So if you have something real and concrete to back it up and fall back on, so you won’t have to worry about tomorrow.

5) Don’t constantly obsess about your future.

Did you catch that? Don’t constantly obsess or worry about your future. Many times however, grad students delay the inevitable until it is too late. So what can you do? Start networking. NOW. It is never TOO early to start! This can tie in #3 above.

I see a lot of grad students who have NO clue what they want to do when they get out of grad school. Ok so why not plan ahead? Figure it out now! Why wait till you graduate, do a post-doc then decide?  That is a complete waste of time. Get on LinkedIn, find people in your field and start doing informational interviews.

Why do informational interviews? You learn about how others made their transition. You learn from their mistakes. You learn about the job market. You learn about what positions might fit you and what you might be interested in/good at. You learn about how you can have your ‘leg up’ over other applicants. You build a relationship with that person. They aren’t just a network contact. They are someone you can have lunch or coffee with for an hour and they’ll fill you in on whatever you want to know.

I think if grad students weren’t so lazy and did this prior to graduating, we would have a lot less post-docs and/or unemployed PhDs. A post-doc is only a continuation of grad school. Almost seems like the only thing you gain is slightly higher pay over your already very low graduate school stipend (if you are in the sciences), but it is a ‘cop out’ for those who still haven’t figured out what they want to do.

If you want to become a Professor than great-by all means do a post-doc and see if you can beat the odds. But I can tell you there are a handful of Post-docs that I know that say, “I’ll figure it out later.” Wrong attitude. Why are you doing the Post-doc without having a reason? You love research. Great. That doesn’t mean you spend the next 5 years of your life as a Post-doc. You’re only burning up more time and delaying the start of your life. So my advice is:

1) Don’t worry about your future (unless you haven’t spent any time finding about what to do with your PhD)

2) Start networking now so you don’t have to have a need to worry

3) Land a summer internship if you can leverage it via networking and come out with real world experience

Further Reading:

A Graduate Student Guide to Developing Your Professional Profile—Part 3: For Professional Careers in Industry, Nonprofits, and Other Fields

6) Don’t live with regret (to finish or not to finish).

A lot of grad students bicker and complain about the poor job market, being stuck as a post-doc, or low pay. You have two options: Accept your fate or make a change. If you don’t like where you are now then get out with a Master’s degree and do something else. There is NOTHING wrong with coming to a point of self-realization and quitting something because it doesn’t make sense to continue further. That is very self-empowering actually.

What doesn’t make sense is if you continued on knowing it really isn’t something you want to do, or you don’t really need the degree to get to where you want to be. The farther you string the PhD along the harder it is to quit. If you get to your 4th or even 5th year you are probably going to finish it. Why?

The more time you invest, the more you will justify the need to finish the PhD. If you don’t you will live with regret. So decide now if you are at this point. If you are a dissertator and in your later years (like me) and are doing all the things above #1-5 you should be fine. You will finish. Believe in yourself. You made it this far to the point where they [your professors] expect you to quit or when others would quit. But you pushed through. You didn’t do it for anyone else. You did it for yourself. So that someday you can look back and be proud. And know that all that suffering/hardship was not in vain.

If only you could see where you will end up 5-10 years from now… Only time and your work ethic will tell.  The PhD says something in itself. Some people will justify the need to finish a PhD with what’s called ‘Sunk Cost Fallacy’ (if you invest X amount of years this justifies the need to invest Y more years to finish), but deep down it comes down to what you truly want.

Not what other people try to explain or convince you of. You are the only person who knows what is truly right for you.. Sound cliche? Well think about it and put the family and peer pressure to the side. What do you ultimately want to do? Where do you truly see yourself 5 years from now? Do you need the PhD to get you there? If the answer is ‘Yes’ then focus on the now. The only thing that I will say… 5 or more years in a PhD program is a long time.

My best advice is to take each day one step at a time. You’ve heard this before. If you think about all the data and bad or future experiments that you are faced with on a normal basis, you can become overwhelmed. Break it down into little chunks, treat each day as its own. Watch yourself get that PhD. This is what worked for me over the past 4 years and helped keep my stress levels down. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” ~Mathew 6:34

Find what works for you, stick with it, and never look back.


Further Reading:

tameyourphd

uncommonphdguide

Should you quit your PhD?

Living in social isolation in grad school and what to do about it 

Grad Student Advice Series: What to do with your PhD: Post Doc or Real Job?

But not everyone wants to wade through several more years of shake flasks and pipettors, in hopes that serendipity and networking will eventually lead to where they want to be. Many are more comfortable taking steps — now — that keep their options open but help them move toward the career they want to end up in.


My Story: An Alternative Science Career Choice- Field Application Scientist (The Article That Saved My PhD)

Update: **As of Jan 2013 (7 months later after writing this blog post) I am now working as an Associate Product Manager at a Life Science Biotech Company and I did it through networking as discussed below.**

I found that in grad school you are entirely on your own. No one informed me of any career options apart from doing a post-doc. It was only through self-realization and hard work that I found out what I wanted to do. In all honesty, it started out with me typing on Google, ‘How to transition from science into business.’ Up came an article by David Jensen titled, ‘Tooling Up: The Application Scientist Career Track.’

If grad schools had more outside speakers from AAAS or Science Careers Magazine like David Jensen come give talks it would open the eyes of graduate students all over campuses. The problem is that graduate students do not seek out these opportunities or they put off having to worry about getting or even thinking about a real job. My school in particular (UW-Madison) has not had a speaker from AAAS for years. So, if related speakers like this do come to colleges, it needs to be more often and be more apparent (and emphasized that graduate students attend). I cannot tell you how many grad students I have approached and they have no laid out career path. No direction.

If you read David Jensen’s article it states, “But not everyone wants to wade through several more years of shake flasks and pipettors, in hopes that serendipity and networking will eventually lead to where they want to be. Many are more comfortable taking steps — now — that keep their options open but help them move toward the career they want to end up in.” Even the ones that want to stay in academia or even go into industry. They think a post-doc is necessary for this (this is only true for academia). And to be honest, a lot of people that I know who have graduated that are doing post-docs still don’t know what they want to do after their post-doc.

In my opinion, the whole point in getting a PhD is to get a job. A post-doc is only delaying this process (unless you want to be a bench research scientist than it is logical).  And not surprisingly, the ‘non-traditional careers‘ apart from the lab bench are now becoming ‘traditional careers.’ I have done informational interviews with PhDs from various biotech companies in my area. And it was ONLY then did I realize what kind of options were even out there.

Why am I so against doing a Post-Doc? Read this article and you will understand why: Give Post-Docs A Career, Not Empty Promises

I said to myself, “People actually use their PhDs in ways I never even thought possible.” They aren’t just stuck at the lab bench. They are business leaders at a company. They are product developers. They are head of a marketing segment. They are in the field helping a sales team, doing product demonstrations, shows, and presentations. How I see it: By getting the PhD first, I am demonstrating my scientific knowledge, expertise and ability to learn. The science is the hardest part to learn. This will allow you to later transition into more of a business role later on, and the business aspect will be much easier and quicker to learn.

An Excellent Stepping Stone

Interestingly, a lot of ‘high up’ business professionals in biotech industry that I have interviewed have started out as a Field Application Scientist (or in-house Tech Services), then they used that as a stepping stone into more of a business role. And the PhD is perfect for this type of position because it shows you have the technical expertise and scientific knowledge, and earns you the respect. No one told me anything about a FAS role. I just assumed that I was ‘stuck’ or ‘obligated’ to do a post-doc. So the other choice was to bow out with a Master’s degree? I didn’t know what my options were coming into or during my first years of graduate school. And being in academia most college professors have no interest in bridging the gap between academia and industry.

When I say ‘stuck’ I mean 3-5 more years of being stuck at a lab bench doing something that I do not fully enjoy (ie not using my interpersonal/people skills, extroverted personality, and other skill sets outside of science). I’m coming up on my 5th year and my project is going really well.

The good news is that I realized and it was pointed out (by my PI and thesis commitee) that I have only ~1 year remaining. That’s the last remaining year(s) of my life that I will be at the bench (full time), which didn’t seem so bad. This also gives me a lot of time to network, which made it more obvious that I need to finish, skip the post-doc and obtain a role that will put me in a position of strength allowing me to transition more into a business role. After all, networking is 75% of landing a job. Some will argue it’s 90%. Either way, it’s a large percentage. A cold resume submission these days only works 4-24% of the time helping you land a job. Anyways..

Post-Doc Obligation?

I have taken career/professional development workshops for graduate students, and talked to numerous people on campus in terms of career options (One example: http://www.news.wisc.edu/20408). To be honest, I got very little out of it. Everything I heard was about a post-doc. Or it was tailored specifically to academia-related positions. If you’re lucky, the event you attend would at least give you a brief overview of what to expect in industry. Most events I attended only gave me a broad overview of possible jobs without ever really going into the specifics or tailoring it to the individual. That is easy to do. It is a one-dimensional ‘broken system.’

What about the specific positions AVAILABLE in industry? Separate the academia group from the industry group then dig way deeper. Why not answer the real question? And address HOW to do it (i.e. informational interviews)? Where do people end up? I think a test could be used to assess people’s personalities and define their goals.

The first question you might ask is “Do you want to work at the lab bench your entire life?’ I can guarantee a fair amount of people will say “No.” Ok, so then what alternative options are available? They just think “I’ll do a post-doc then I’ll figure it out.” Statements like that indicate no direction. It shows that someone is naive and doesn’t even realize what career options you can even obtain with an advanced degree.

Sure colleges have career fairs. But I think the effort needs to be multiplied by 100. Ever think about individualized career workshops vs. going to some big generalized seminar with just a panel of speakers that discuss “What to do with your PhD?” all crammed in within a few hours?

I honestly got more out of doing one-on-one informational interviews in terms of career advice then I ever did attending a career fair, happy hour, product show, or any academic sponsored seminar, conference or presentation.. I learned a lot more and established a personal relationship with someone who might just offer me a job coming out of school (although this was not my main purpose/goal in doing informational interviews). I offered value to that person in return and built a personal connection.

These connections could be very important later on down the road for collaborations or even if I were to start my own company. The beauty of it all is that I got to ask them whatever questions I wanted and they took the time to answer them. Most people were in your shoes, therefore they will take the time to help. That is the attitude that I now have when I launched my website and blog. I will be writing another blog (and even e-book) about how I used informational interviews and LinkedIn to build a network out of thin air. And it’s still growing.

So again, a post-doc does NOT answer the question as to the direction of my career. What about after a post-doc? What about straight out of grad school? No one answered these types of questions and to be honest faculty in academia may not be aware because they aren’t working in industry (or know anyone working these types of roles in industry). It’s not that they aren’t willing to help, it’s just that in many cases they just don’t know. But until you actually TALK to the people in the field and do informational interviews (and find out how they transitioned away from the bench) you will never understand. That is at least how I learned and came to the point that I am at now.

If I could go back in time, I guess I wish I knew all of this a lot sooner (ie my first year of graduate school). That is why I am writing this post. However, I am still glad I stumbled upon the ‘untold’ importance of informational interviews and the possibility of non-traditional science careers on my own. Therefore, I will continue to build my network until I graduate. I will leverage my contacts and hopefully have a job interview ~1 month before my thesis defense. Then when I successfully defend, I will transition directly from grad school to a job. No post-doc. In my opinion, you are 90% ahead of all PhD students if you know what you want to do prior to graduation, because no one really figures this out until after the fact.

And let’s face it, networking to get a REAL job out of grad school is going to be much harder than networking to obtain a post-doc (some people don’t even have to network to get a post-doc because it is an easier position to obtain i.e. cheap labor to continue working at the bench).  Networking is a skill that can be learned. I just think that grad students are too afraid, are too introverted, or just think that they don’t need to network (or they postpone as long as they can). My next E-book on Networking (and my own personal experience) will be released sometime in 2013.

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

You have to find out what motivates a person, and for me it is the type of job I will obtain out of grad school. The light at the end of the tunnel. A post-doc is not the light at the end of the tunnel. It only lengthens the tunnel I’m already in. If I don’t have a clear direction or path laid out in front of me, everything diminishes and I think in the back of my mind that there is no point to getting a PhD.

I’ve struggled in my early years of grad school, but things are much better now that I have a focus and the insecurities (of my future) have diminished.  So if you are in graduate school, start networking and doing informational interviews NOW!

No one is going to seek you out as a graduate student. You are going to have to seek out the opportunities yourself..

Further Reading:

Some Important Things Most Students Never Ask About Graduate School

Give Post-Docs A Career Not Empty Promises!

Tooling Up: The Informational Interview:

 The Postdoc Experience: High Expectations, Grounded in Reality