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So, you’re thinking about graduate school?

November 4, 2014 Leave a comment

Your interest in this piece might be to get an idea of how my graduate school experience has been at UC Davis. Perhaps you are thinking about attending or applying to grad school, or maybe you just want to compare your experiences in grad school with mine. If you are the former, congratulations on asking a few questions before you make a life-changing decision. If you are the latter, please leave a comment to affirm my experience or contrast my perspective with your own different experiences. I want to share these words for the people who are trying to find out about the graduate experience, what one may expect in this new environment, and how the first year will be like no other.

For me, I had no question in my mind. I was a non-traditional student returning to school for the best education I could get. I joined an undergrad science program at 24 and never turned back. Fully committed, I applied to a few schools in the Bay Area and went to all of my interviews. The choice I made was based on a number of things, but UC Davis was ultimately the best “fit” for me. Simply based on the feeling I got in the town, from the people and with the academic community, I knew there was something about the environment that just made sense. I arrived in the Summer of 2013 and began my first rotation early. Now, I have joined a lab, I am beginning my second year in BMCDB and I am learning more everyday. Experiments, mentors, seminars, and classes are all a part of this new stage in my development, and for the first time in my life, a text book is the least important source of information for my daily progress and learning.

The first year was designated for a core curriculum and finding a lab to join through research rotations. From my experience, I might suggest a few priorities and considerations for anyone in their first year of grad school. Funding, intellectual stimulus, and social competence are three things I was advised to consider before joining a lab. I feel lucky to have received the advice, and so, I share it with you. Above all, you must secure funding. This could be through a scholarship, fellowship or through a lab that is willing to support you for 5 years, but you must know where your support will come from. If you are not secure, you could face some dire challenges by working or teaching the entire time you’re in grad school or worse, you may not find a supporting lab = you’re out of grad school. They say we’re paid to go to school, but that doesn’t mean that anyone can foot the bill. If the University wants you, that’s great! But you have to find a lab that wants you for the following years. That’s both a personal and financial consideration. So, apply to every source of funding you can. Consider it one of your many jobs as you enter the world of scientific research. It also means you may need to limit your rotations to funded labs. Next thing to consider is your intellectual stimulation, and don’t be fooled by what you thought your interests were during undergrad research. Now is not the time to pursuit the same type of research all over again. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but rotations are fantastic! Now is the time to explore other options and learn about new types of science and research. If you make it this far, you should think about meeting with as many professors as you can for one-on-one meetings to learn about up-to-date research topics and how different labs operate. Don’t make the mistake of weighing your decisions to rotate in a lab based on internet resources or lab home pages. Plus, if you are flexible, you will find that rotating in almost any lab can be incredibly stimulating. Then, you will only have one remaining task: find the best fit. Social competence can mean different things in different environments. Everyone fits in differently. It is important to find a lab where you feel competent to communicate with the professor and everyone else in lab. This also means you can get along with your potential future colleagues.

So many things that I have not mentioned might include keeping up your grades (yes, you still have to earn your grades), maintaining and building connections to people who can write letters of recommendation, devising research proposals, getting familiar with your new environments, managing your income taxes and living expenses, keeping a sliver of work/life balance, etc. This list can be different for everyone. There are a lot of things that may happen to fall into place, but everyone has a different experience and a different knack for getting things done. I wish everyone the best of luck! I’ll recount my 2nd year in 2015 when it has come to an end. From what I hear, I can expect another year of important grades, vigorous preparations for my Qualifying Exams, and some challenging days with variable rates of success in my research progress. I am looking forward to it! If you feel like you’ve had drastically different experiences, please let me know by leaving a comment. The world of undergraduates in STEM fields deserves to hear your opinion – especially if you disagree with me!

A final thought. I once believed that getting a PhD would be 5 years of my life lost, a delay towards starting my real life. In hindsight, I find this idea to be absurd. I do not feel stagnant. I do not feel restrained. I do not feel like I am missing anything or losing any time. I feel like the education and network I have and will continue to develop during this time is something for which there is no substitute. I was fortunate to have a life structure that allowed me to continue my education. However, graduate school is not for everyone for many different reasons other than life structure. Research requires exhaustive patience, meticulous focus, and perseverance through trial and error. Despite inevitable failures one faces during research, your desire to learn must be greater than ever now. I encourage anyone who is still considering grad school to fully commit and pursuit a program that is right for you. You will gain more than you ever could have imagined.

Adam Contreras

2nd Year Graduate Student

BMCDB Graduate Group, UC Davis

Chiu Lab, Department of Entomology

UC Davis NSF GRFP Informational Meeting Announcements

October 2, 2012 Leave a comment

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2013-14 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program(NSF GRFP)

UCD NSF GRFP INFORMATION MEETINGS

 

     Tuesday, October 9, 2012 | 3:30 – 5 pm (no RSVP required):

ROOM 1005 Auditorium, Genome and Biomedical Sciences Bldg

Keynote Speaker:     Professor Rob Berman, Professor, Neurological Surgery, MIND Institute

Guest Speakers include Professor Barbara Horwitz, Neurology, Physiology & Behavior and

Professor Enoch Baldwin, Molecular & Cellular Biology

Current NSF GRFP Awardees:  Christopher Cunningham, Neuroscience | Katherine Isaacs, Computer Science, Aimee Bryan, Chemistry | Lisa Anderson, Chemistry

AND

Wednesday, OCTOBER 10, 2012 | 12:10- 1:30PM:

Multi-purpose Room, Student Community Center

Keynote Speaker:     Professor Mark Schwartz, Environmental Science & Policy, Population Biology

Professor Louie Yang, Entomology

Current NSF GRFP Recipients:  Aimee Bryan, Chemistry | TBA

 

 

Meeting: Former and current NSF GRFP National reviewers (above) and recent graduate student recipients will present an informative overview of the application, offering invaluable tips and advice to potential applicants. Sample essays will also be available.

 

 

 Program Description 

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in the relevant science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines* pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees, including women in engineering and computer and information science.

Amount:   $30,000 stipend and $12,000 cost of education annually for up to three years.

Eligibility:  applicants must not have completed more than 12 months of full-time graduate study or the equivalent (senior undergraduates, 1st and 2nd year graduate students are generally eligible). In addition, applicants must have US citizenship, permanent resident or US national status at the time of application. Applicant must be accepted and enrolled in a US university graduate program at the time of the award.

Deadline: mid November 2012 (varies by discipline)

Fields of Study(research-based):  Computer & Information Science & Engineering, Materials Research, Chemistry, Mathematical Sciences, Physics & Astronomy, Psychology, Social Sciences, STEM Education & Learning, Geosciences, Life Sciences.

 

 

For more information and application see URL:   https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/grfp/CommonFastlaneLogin.do

 

The Office of Graduate Studies is pleased to share the results of the 2012-13 competition. UC Davis is now 13th in the nation, with 107 NSF GRFP recipients! The results may be viewed at https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/grfp/CommonFastlaneLogin.do

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Deborah McCook, External Fellowship Advisor,  Office of Graduate Studies, 250 Mrak Hall, UC Davis, Davis, CA 95616

Email: dlmccook@ucdavis.edu  ~  Ph. No. (530)752-0653  ~ FAX No.: (530)752-6222

Funding and application processing information may be found at the Graduate Studies Website:  http://www.gradstudies.ucdavis.edu/ssupport/external.html

 

Top 10 Best Things To Know As An Incoming Graduate Student

September 21, 2012 1 comment

Top 10 Best Things To Know As An Incoming Graduate Student
1. Cite EVERYTHING, especially if it was written by your PI.  And make sure you read all those papers as well.
2. Remember that it’s better to be called “roton” than rotten.
3. Establish study groups early, and ask questions if you’re confused.
4. Don’t forget to eat, sleep, and occasionally have some fun (outside of lab)
5. Become friends with the lab technician- they know where everything is and how to operate it.
6. Liquid nitrogen is cold, very cold.  Likewise, Bunsen burners are hot, very hot.
7. Go out to lunch with your fellow first years- they understand best what you are going through, and 20 years from now they might be reviewing your papers.
8. Don’t be afraid of cockroaches, dead mice, or Drosophila.  They’ll turn up in the most unlikely places.
9. If you don’t like a lab after 5 weeks, you are definitely not going to like it after 5 years.
10. Get organized- keep a calendar and a list of things to do.  5 years feels like all the time in the world, but goes by incredibly fast.

Good luck first years

-BMCDB Bloggers

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Tips for riding your bike around UC Davis

September 19, 2012 2 comments

This first week of all the students being back in Davis is an exciting time but, also a hazardous time. The main danger being, riding your bike in a sea of inexperienced freshmen who are unfamiliar with the rules of the road and the responsibilities of riding a bike in Davis. Here are some tips to help avoid an embarrassing, costly and potentially harmful situation on your bike.

First tip: Get familiar with the laws/rules for riding a bike. Cops in Davis will pull you over and ticket you on your bike for: running a stop sign or red light, not using your hand to signal, riding with both headphones in (one is alright), riding inebriated (can lead to losing your drivers license) or otherwise irresponsibly/dangerously, and I think most importantly – for not having a bike light at night. A strong front light, back light, and ideally white or reflective clothing are strongly recommended while biking at night. Also, be familiar with the signs and be careful not to ride your bike in certain areas where it is forbidden (the MU and in certain sections of the Arboretum).

Second Tip: Pay attention while entering/exiting rotaries on campus! Most sensible people are familiar with the rotaries, but unfortunately most freshman are not very sensible. Technically the riders in the rotary have the right of way. Bikes entering the rotary must yield to bikes already in the rotary however, do not count on other riders to adhere to this rule. Many people will just bike right into a rotary without looking, so just be aware of this. When exiting the rotary it is never a bad idea to signal, and check over your shoulder that you will not hit another rider as you turn out of the rotary. Also be wary of actual traffic in the rotaries, buses, trucks, and cops can cause mass confusion when a high volume of bike traffic is present. Rotaries mishaps account for the majority of collisions and injuries on campus, so just be careful!

Third tip: Don’t be afraid to speak up! While riding around campus, especially around lunch of in between classes you will run into groups of slow moving bikes or people walking in the bike lane. Occasionally you can easily pass them by, but it is often necessary to alert those blocking the way of your presence. Just a quick “On your left/right” can save you from getting nailed by a swerving bike or errant pedestrian. Also very helpful with riders who are unable to ride in a straight line or are completely unaware of their surroundings (be especially aware of Cruiser bikes as they tend to be harder to control).

Davis is a great place to ride a bike, just make sure you do it safely and responsibly. If anyone has any other recommendations or stories please feel free to chime in!

Updates: When walking in a bike lane, remember to walk on the left side so you can see oncoming traffic. It is also a good idea to buy a U-lock, almost any other kind of lock can be easily cut (and there is nothing worse than finishing a long day in lab, and finding out that your bike has been stolen). Also a good idea to register your bike with the campus police for a variety of reasons.

Pro tip: As we transition from Summer/Fall into winter remember that the weather changes dramatically. Equipping yourself with splash guards on your front and rear bike tires can save you from getting an impromtu mud facial next time it rains. Riding your bike in the rain is not that bad, as long as you have the right equipment. Getting a solid rain jacket, rain pants, and a pair of water resistant gloves will make you much happier when you arrive at your destination.

Happy Riding!

-Gordon

Top 10 Tips to Succeed in your PhD

August 1, 2012 Leave a comment

The Soapbox Science Blog this morning has a post titled “Top 10 Tips to Succeed in your PhD“.  I agree with most of the tips, especially the one tip to write at every opportunity.  I find that I have more opportunities to give presentations, such as group meetings, colloquia, the student seminar series, etc and relatively few opportunities to write.  As a result I have polished powerpoint slides, but find myself toiling to put words to paper when I need to write.

I was surprised that the list lacked one tip: Read everything- read papers in your field, read papers related to your field, and read papers completely unrelated to what you are doing.  While writing may be more important to practice, reading will give you a mental picture of what your writing should look like.  Reading outside your field will also give you a new set of perspectives and ways of approaching your own set of questions.  If you only read in your field you will be stuck replicating experiments others have done and published, but if you read outside your field you will be exposed to new techniques.  As  PhD student we have the time to read, and we have the freedom to learn new techniques.  Reading is the gateway to bringing new ideas into your work.

Tammy Titan Bloom and UC Davis Botanical Conservatory Picture Show

June 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Seen through the eyes of a yeast biologist, the ‘Tammy” Titan made quite a visual (and odorous) showing this past weekend. In nature the flower blooms for 24hrs or less if pollinated, in the green house it lasted about 36 hours in a spectacular and all to rare showing. Enjoy my take on it below:

Tammy Titan Bloom

BMCDB Editorial: UC Davis’s Own LEED Platinum Sustainable Winery

May 21, 2012 Leave a comment

By Gordon Walker

With much thanks to Dr. Roger Boulton of UCD V&E

UC Davis is an innovative and amazing University that excels in many areas. From our roots as a Land Grant Agricultural school to our myriad of nationally ranked departments, graduate groups, and professional schools; no facility stands out as much, or is as representative of the true Davis spirit than the Pilot Winery, Brewery and Food Processing facility at the Robert Mondavi Institute on the south side of campus. The building is the culmination and crowning jewel of the RMI, which was made possible by an incredibly generous donation from the late great Robert G. Mondavi. Since starting at Davis I have had the chance to watch the building go from a construction site, to a fully operational research facility that is not only revolutionizing the science of food, wine, and beer but also pushing the boundaries of sustainable architecture and agriculture. This building has been LEED Platinum certified, meaning that it meets and exceeds the requirements of the US Green Building Council to be a “green building”. What is so amazing is that this is not just a “green” building but also a functional research facility capable of super sustainable food and beverage production. This building can serve as a model not only for wineries of the future, but also as a starting point for any structure or complex.

The winery features 152 mobile modular fermenters with the capability to do real time wireless monitoring of sugar levels, allowing students to actually track and manage their fermentations through their smart phones. These 152 fermenters are also linked to a ventilation system that works to sequester and trap carbon dioxide as calcium carbonate, this system greatly reduces cooling costs in the winery and provides a value added product.   The brewery features a state of the art Clean In Place (CIP) system that allows the entire brewing process to be done “in line” without any chance for contamination. The brewery also features a state of the art computerized brewery management system which allows students to mimmic commercial conditions but in small scale productions. The food processing facility is a large modular set of machines with capabilities to process a wide variety of crops such as tomatoes, peaches, almonds and other California staples. There is even a soon to be opened dairy processing facility that will serve to find practical solutions to problems faced by industry. While I could go on and on about all of the cool features of the Pilot facility, and the soon to be built Jess Jackson Sustainability Building, I will let Dr. Roger Boulton espouse some of the concepts and features that make this project so special.

Watch Dr. Boulton’s incredible power point presentation of the capabilities of the Winery and Jess Jackson Sustainability Building

Dr. Boulton’s Power Point Presentation

Long quote on the importance of the UC Winery Dr. Boulton

First LEED Platinum Winery, one of the highest (the highest?) point 
scores with 60 out of 69. One of 16 buildings at this level in 2011. It 
is energy and water positive as a building, probably the only LEED 
Platinum building to be so. It has gone beyond the LEED points for 
on-site water and energy, so a friend called it "Platinum plus"

The 152 research fermentors make the largest research facility in the 
world and with its wireless density and temperature sensors, the largest 
wireless network in the fermentation world. These fermentors has several 
innovative design features, from carbon capture, water-only heating and 
cooling for temperature control, mobile and suitable for both red and 
white wine fermentations.

The Jess Jackson Sustainable Winery Building is in the detailed design 
stage, and will be completed in Feb 2013. It is a passive utility 
building that will house the membrane systems for the filtration of all 
rainwater and cleaning solutions. It will house the carbon dioxide 
sequestration columns that will make calcium carbonate, the passive 
solar hot water, and the solar powered ice maker for the chilled water. 
It will make hydrogen electrolyticaly from solar power and store it for 
a hydrogen fuel cell for night time energy. These systems will be 
leadership commercial systems that will make the Winery self-sustainable 
in water and energy from on-site sources. This building will have 
insulations values between 60 to 80, compared to 20 in most houses. It 
will be among the most thermally-insulated (and therefore 
energy-efficient) buildings in the world, cooled only by night-time air. 
While the summer air temperatures might reach 100 to 105 in Davis, the 
building will not go above 82 F inside.

The rainwater capture from the three buildings of the Robert Mondavi 
Institute will be held in 6 x 40K gal tanks, like the 4 that are at the 
south side of the Winery complex. It will be filtered into RO water over 
a 6 month period. This will require about 1 or 2 KW for 180 days but is 
a preferred alternative to a filtration that is completed in a week, at 
26 times the KW requirement and sits idle for 51 weeks. The entire 
winery has been planned so that it can operate on storage rather than 
on-demand systems for all water and energy.

The cleaning solutions will be simple inorganic buffers, dilute KOH and 
KHSO4, at pH around 11 and 2.5 respectively. No pathogens grow in either 
solution and hydrogen peroxide is a sterilant at both pHs. These 
solutions can be re-filtered through a nanofilter for 90% recovery of 
both water and salts. After 10 cycles this will require only 1/5th the 
usual water and chemistry. The solutions will be pH 7 when mixed and can 
be used in irrigation without any clay destruction, a problem with 
sodium salts. There will be no phosphate for algal blooms in streams, no 
nitrate for soil nitrification, no organic to contribute to BOD 
(biological oxygen demand) or COD (chemical oxygen demand) requiring 
waste water treatment. The 10% retentate stream which has most of the 
juice or wine organics will go to the biodigestor on campus to become 
biogas.

All of these facilities have been privately-funded at a time of 
recession and financial problems at the State level and budget cuts at 
UC. It is a stunning example of what is possible without any government 
support and speaks to the wide array of personal support that we are 
fortunate to have.

Dr. Roger Boulton gives a tour and explanation of the UC Davis Winery

Here are some other press articles about the innovations of the UC Davis LEED Platinum Pilot Winery, Brewery and Food Processing Facility