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Editorial: First Year Round Up

September 27, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

First Year Round Up
By: Alex Gulevich

Welcome to the new academic year! As a member of the class who made it through his first year in the first year of the BMCDB program, I thought it would be a good idea to write this month’s editorial talking about my general perspectives of the first year experience, mainly on getting through the rotations, what to expect in classes, and maintaining balance.

Rotations I’d say this was the most important item for the first years, even more so than classes for the simple reason that whatever lab we join, it’s a five-year commitment. Naturally we want to impress our rotation PI with our knowledge, skills and work. This means investing a major portion of our time reading manuscripts and gaining an in-depth understanding of the background and history of our rotation project, showing competence at the bench, and presenting and discussing our project without fumbling the ball. After five weeks it’s rinse, wash and repeat and the worst part about this is that even after all this work, there’s no guarantee you’ll be offered a spot in the lab. The most common reason is because the PI doesn’t have the money to support a graduate student, and this becomes frustrating for the student seeking the lab they desire.

Luckily there are a lot of labs out there with amazing and interesting research we can shop around for. Making a top ten list of professors and keeping an open mind is a good way to prepare for finding a lab. Send emails to professors letting them know why you’re interested in their lab, ask if they’re taking rotation students and if they will be able to support a graduate student, attach a CV or resumé, and set up a meeting time. It may sound over the top at first, but it’s the professional approach and most professors will respect that because it shows self-motivation, that you’re seeking the best opportunity to develop yourself as a graduate student, and that you mean business. Doing this earlier than later is best and meeting with several professors enables you to initially gauge how this person treats others, both academics and non-academics, and if this is the type of person you’d like to work with for the next five years.

Classes What can I say; it’s a lot of work and was overwhelming at times. There were plenty of assignments and manuscripts to plow through on top of the stressful process of finding a lab. The core classes are structured differently than the traditional classroom where instead of a single instructor is assigned to teach a course, several instructors rotating an average of once every other week are assigned to teach the course. This was a great way to expose the diversity of research conducted here at Davis and seeing how different professors from different fields think and approach problems. Many of the professors are enthusiastic teachers and are the experts in their field, and it’s always refreshing to see after so many years into their professional careers most are still untarnished by cynicism and are still driven by teaching and inspiring the student. However, having multiple instructors turned out to be a double-edged sword and the major drawback was inconsistency. Each instructor has their own teaching style, expectations and standards of grading. It was difficult to adapt to different teaching styles so often and because instructors had limited time teaching their particular section this made some prone to shooting shotgun loads of information in order to cram in all the material on time. This isn’t meant to criticize their ability to teach, but I think this is the natural tradeoff inherent in this type of course structure.

Balance I always find it important to take care of yourself physically and mentally. With the huge volume of work to get done, it’s easy to get stuck in the endless grind of experiments and class assignments. Make time for yourself and keep that time sacred for enjoying activities that help you unwind. Bike around Davis or to Winters if you can, watch Lion King 3D and not tear up after the stampede scene, think in new ways by reading Noam Chomsky or feed the imagination with Harry Potter, watch upcoming performances like the San Francisco Symphony at the Mondavi Arts Center or Cake at Freeborn Hall, spend time with your loved ones and significant others, anything that serves as a reminder to the other important aspects of life outside of our profession. Try swinging by to a monthly TGIF and chat it up with your peers over free pizza and beer or come out to happy hour at Sophia’s, it’s a great way to learn who the people in the graduate group are as individuals. Keep exploring the world and talking to others, there’s plenty to do and plenty of people to meet. Remember to stop and smell the roses every once in a while.

These are just a few of my viewpoints and philosophies that helped me get through my first year and I’m sure everyone has their own unique perspectives and experience. Whether you agree or disagree with what I’ve written, or would like to contribute anything yourself that you’d think would be helpful to current or future incoming graduate students, I encourage you to leave a comment and share your thoughts and I would also be more than happy to respond to any comments left for me. Otherwise, take care and good luck!

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