What is a STEM PhD and what’s so great about it?
o Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics – These fields tend to make
money, lead to patents, etc., so your PhD will probably be covered by the school
if you’re in STEM field—and you will probably even get a minor, somewhat
o We stand on the shoulders of giants… and you get to be those giants… or
maybe shoulder pads on some other giant, but still!
Why grad school life can be really cool as well
o You can make your own schedule
o As daunting as pursuing a PhD can be, remember you are in this together with other folks—lean on them, make friendships.
o Being a crew of like minded and equally suffering grad students, reminds you that it’s rough for everyone at times and can really make grabbing a coffee break—forcing you to grab a coffee break—with a colleague a great step back from your work and provide each other with someone to lean on when you need it
o It’s also good to make friends with your fellow grad students for your PhD career.
Realize that you are in a scientific playground!
o First off—realize that you are CHEAP. You don’t cost much since you don’t get
paid enough, but this is actually cool, as your boss/advisor will usually allow you
more freedom to explore and experiment since you’re not tied to a large salary
(again, results will vary from different advisors)
o Even better, you are in a scientific and engineering playground. There are tons of
vials and fume hood and glove boxes and clean rooms all around you and
probably a bunch of whiz-bang toys for you to use. Overcome your fears and
jump in (albeit safely) and start playing. Almost everyone wishes they could be
back in grad school having this ability to “play” but while still being paid at their
o Most importantly realize it! Most students are so concerned with trying to survive
(a very real concern) that they don’t realize they are in the most open-ended part
of their scientific careers. Later you will get super specialized in something you
work on during this time, but what that will be is determined now. Explore
whatever seems cool and interesting to you. Robotics, catalysts that clean
exhaust pipes, in situ whiz-bang tools, whatever drives you, get into it.
o Collaborate with your fellow students to get into adjacent fields—HAVE FUN! I
have published papers with my fellow grad students that started with just a
simple conversation of “what are you working on”. And working on cool projects
Get to know the post docs, staff, Profs, etc. as well
o Obviously, getting to know your fellow students is a must, but get to know the
other folks in your program/school as well
o Post docs are usually very helpful—were in your position a few years ago, they
are also usually knowledgeable and driven and can help with your work, but also
in the future as collaborators and friends to find at conference—also can help
when trying to land a job
o Get to know the Profs, they are just people too and the younger ones are very
close to you in career and can remember the grind. Usually best place to find an
advisor aunt/uncle. The older emeritus ones are fun to get to know as well!
o Get to know the staff! They are usually working so hard to keep PhDs often
disorganized lives in order as well as helping students. Get to know them
because they are cool people, but you never know when some last-minute form
or something like that will be needed, it’s good to have them on your side!
o Facility managers are great people that usually like to interact with students as
it’s a part of the job requirements, know them
o Organize social events. Invite students, post docs, staff, even profs if you want.
It’s important to bond together and remember you guys are fun as well and not
just “hard working researchers”. Watch the world cup together, trash talk, have
fun. Take over a conference room to play the big game on the big screen, video
games too, scotch club—whatever!
To sum up two major points:
1. Realize you’re in a scientific playground of almost limitless possibilities
2. Get to know the people around you, especially your fellow grad students—form a crew!
Join us each week (new podcasts drop Monday) as we try our best to handle various topics involved in pursuing a STEM PhD and try and give our best advice, stories, strategies and mutual commiseration of choosing this career path
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