How do you tell your advisor that you don’t want to pursue the faculty path? Or, at least, that you’re exploring other possibilities? Maybe you’ve decided you don’t like research. Maybe you don’t like teaching. Maybe you’ve realized that you need to be in a particular geographic area. Maybe you’ve calculated that your chances of obtaining a faculty position are uncomfortably low. For whatever reasons, you want to consider a wider array of options.
“The conversation” can be anxiety-provoking, even in fields with a well-defined “industry” option. The stakes feel very high. What if it goes badly?
The five years in her PhD program included some of the best and hardest educational experiences of assistant professor Maureen Estevez Stabio’s life. She wants every student to have an equally transformative experience. Your PhD program is a time to learn and grow. To figure out what you love. Don’t let these goals get left behind in the dust of the urgent.
When students ask Dr. Stabio for advice on how to do well in graduate school, she usually offers these three pieces of advice.
- Follow your passions and talents
- Pick your advisor and lab wisely
- Learn to write well
“How am I doing?” Too often grad students have no idea how to answer this question. Am I doing well? Am I doing what I should be doing?
Most of the time, it is hard to be sure. We go through the day without much feedback. When we do get feedback, it usually emphasizes what is wrong. We learn what we should change and do differently.
But it is equally important to get feedback about what is going well. What should NOT change. What should continue. I call this “feedback for continuation.”
Creating her own structures was the critical key to success in grad school for ecologist Sasha Wright. Memories—some of difficult episodes —came rushing back when Wright was formulating her advice. “What helped me to handle those struggles?,” she pondered.
Her three pieces of advice for thriving in grad school are:
- Invest in your grad school community
- Develop close academic relationships with at least three advisors
- Set short term goals and achieve meaningful benchmarks
An immunologist and science policy analyst, Dr. Kenneth (Kenny) Gibbs offers three pieces of advice for graduate students. These are his views alone and do not represent official views of the NIH or National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), where he is currently working as a Program Analyst in the Office of Program Planning, Analysis and Evaluation. His opinions were shaped in grad school and by his research on STEM Ph.D. and postdoc career decisions.
Kenny offers three pieces of advice.
- Remember that Ph.Ds. are beginnings not endings.
- Go to a school and work with an advisor where you can see yourself doing well as a person.
- Manuscripts (and theses) only get written when you write them.