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.
2nd Year Graduate Student
BMCDB Graduate Group, UC Davis
Chiu Lab, Department of Entomology
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
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.
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
Deborah McCook, External Fellowship Advisor, Office of Graduate Studies, 250 Mrak Hall, UC Davis, Davis, CA 95616
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ~ 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
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
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.
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: