Presentation on theme: "How to Succeed in Grad School: maximizing your grad school experience"— Presentation transcript:
1 How to Succeed in Grad School: maximizing your grad school experience Iris Lindberg, University of Maryland Medical School2014
2 The take-home message first: Personal initiative underlies all successful careers.-actively pursue different opportunities to succeed!Every successful person has originated their own success. They take responsibility for themselves. They DO stuff rather than passively waiting for things to happen.
3 What’s “Success”?Operational: the ability to graduate and move on to the next phase of your life (with choices!) with all of the skills you need -within a reasonable time frame (4-6 years)
4 What’s “Basic” (Common)Success? One good publication, in a specialty journal3.0 GPA in graduate schoolMastery of bench scienceMastering specific techniques in your field and peripheral but related fieldsExperimental design- some independence and someanalytical skillsAbility to communicate: write proposals and papers, give talksAcquisition of people resources (network) and information resourcesTwo good recommendations from faculty familiar with your workIncludes using controls
5 What’s “Excellent” Success? Three good publications (on important topics, in widely-read, higher-impact journals)Complete mastery of bench scienceIndependence at the bench; ability to design new projects from the literatureComplete mastery of a fieldExcellent ability to communicate: to write proposals and papers, give talks, work with othersHonors- grants, awards, etcStellar recommendations (top 5%) from three or more faculty familiar with your workIncludes using controls
6 How to Succeed?You must connect your stated goals with your actual effortThere are hundreds of applicants for every good academic positionBiotech companies want the same excellent credentials as academiaYour competition will have those credentialsThere is no substitute for hard workMost successful scientists say they put in 50-60h weeks as studentsIf it always feels like work, this may be the wrong job for you!this isn’t as bad as it seems because your area of focus will eliminate most of the assistant professor applicants, ie if the job is for a bioinformatics person in cancer research they will not hire a developmental person- and many people apply who are in the wrong area.
7 Personal Qualities Required for Success Passion for science, enjoyment of intellectual challenge, viewing bench science as “fun”: CURIOSITYTenacity, persistence= DRIVEAbility to visualize and work for a long-term goal (drive to finish): VISIONPositive outlookVast intelligence and brilliant coursework are less important than the above qualitiesScientists often use words like “playing around” with a technique, “cool new equipment”, etc, I cannot stress enough how important it is to enjoy bench science, to hardly be able to wait to see a result. If you do not feel that way about your work, you should think about switching careersAnxiety- a little bit is GOOD; paralyzing anxiety is not. A basically optimistic personality is a plus.
8 This Presentation Efficiency at the bench Obtaining, organizing, and presenting informationMaximizing your grad school experience
10 How to Succeed?While you need to have a hypothesis, much success is just luckYou can get lucky if you try A LOT of different experimentsAs you mature scientifically you will be able to run several projects concurrently (and test many effects in a single experiment)Increase your odds of being lucky by doing more! Be ambitious at the bench.
11 Maximize Your Efficiency at the Bench Start with a daily list of things to doPrioritize this list: do the most important things firstInterleave items so that the most jobs get donePlan for the next day’s work before you leavePut a date on EVERYTHING! It’s a locator device!Do something on at least one weekend day (this will actually save you months over the course of your graduate career!)Read/search literature mostly in the evenings (or while waiting for a process to finish)Watch out for inefficient use of computer/web timePeople with ADD have to be especially organized -and may need to shut out distractions with headphones.
12 Always Do Feasibility Estimates Many experiments (especially assays) benefit from a preliminary calculation prior to startingThese estimates need not be exact- ballpark it!Example: a band on a gel like the standard is 2 ug. What is your yield of protein? (is it worth proceeding?)Saves time!
13 Experimental Design: Thinking vs Doing Think about the actual figure in your eventual paper- how should it look?Run all appropriate controls and standards together with samplesThe sample data should always fall in the middle of the standard curve!More controls are better than fewer: positive AND negativeAhead of time, think hard about potential sources of error and ambiguity in data interpretation
14 Experimental Analysis Be your own worst critic: do the right number of replicates you need (or more)If error bars overlap, are results really significant? What does a power analysis show?Is this a generally accepted method in the field? Are there other experimental approaches which could confirm?Is there any way you could have obtained your results through artifact? (position on a plate, etc).Do not EVER give results to more than 3 figures since no one can pipet this well!Do not routinely “normalize” or take out “errant” pointsEven if the computer gives you ten digits! Note that many experiments just will not give you interpretable results. Do not do them again and again! Learn to let go! Ultimately someone else has to judge this work. Would you buy this car?
15 Establish Your Conventions (examples: you can make your own) Put standards on same side of gelSet up the control samples first, then experimental (i.e. always the same)When labeling tubes use the same color for control, and a different color for experimentalTry to make data analysis as easy as possible (for example, by using the same percentage of medium and lysate)
16 Experimental Analysis, II Do not keep repeating an experiment again and again in the hopes of getting a different answer.You must change something! (get advice)Do not be afraid to change your entire approach/project if you have really tried your best and you have not been able to get an unambiguous answerre-search= repetition. If you do not get the results you expect after two perfectly controlled experiments, nature is telling you something. Repeating it will just give you the same result! This is a very very common mistake, inability to let go of an unproductive approach or problem
18 You Need to Know How it Works Make sure you understand the theoretical basis for all:Kits you are usingEquipment you are usingTechniques you are usingYou can’t troubleshoot if you don’t know what is happeningAsk your advisor first when having problemsCompany literature and internet can help- just Google it
19 How to Develop Analytical Skills Critique your own experiments before you ask for advice:locate possible sources of artifact and errorcompare your results to published data in terms of unitsRead the literature in your area!Thinking vs Doing: remember to balanceTrouble shooting methods
20 Reading the Literature You are responsible for finding and digesting all papers relevant to your projectsYour mentor will love it if you provide them with hot new references related to your lab projects!Be ACTIVELY intellectually engaged!Learn to read papers critically. Were enough controls done? What is really new in the paper? What would be the next step?Not all papers in Cell or Nature are true…Take a cue from Michael Pollin: Read papers, mostly in your field, and not too much.Be ACTIVELY intellectually engaged!
21 How to Organize a Project Plan a paper! (aim for a top journal)Make a flow diagram of what you would like to put into this paper assuming your hypothesis is true (things will change)Set up a timeline for accomplishing the various parts of the project (specifics)Line up all reagents and people you need well in advanceIt is immature to ask someone else to drop everything and help you right away because you didn’t plan ahead…
22 When You Have ProblemsFirst analyze the experiment yourself, then take this analysis and get helpYou must show you have mastered the technique before you can claim that the line of work is unprofitable- are you getting reproducible results?Investigate the use of alternative techniquesDepending on the importance of the problem, you might want to use several approaches simultaneously
23 Other Problems in Grad School Mentor is not available to youPros and cons- you will become independent; however, it will take more timeMost mentors will meet at least once or twice a week with studentsCourses vs lab work- reach a balanceTroublesome interpersonal dynamics in the labGo to your mentor and discuss privately
24 What to do if you have fallen out of love with your project Think about why the experiments no longer interest youPersonal reasons?Constant ambiguity in results? Hypothesis wrong?Too small a question?No existing context for the question?Decide with your mentor if it is time to switch projects; if not:Read more papers in the general areaGo to a meeting and present your results to the group of people who work in this particular areaIe, motivational crisis Personal crisis, depression, things not going right (redouble your efforts) bottom line- you must love what you are doing. This is not mcdonald’s! the hours are long and the pay is small. Why stay if you are not truly involved?
25 Ideas“The best way to have a really good idea is to have lots of ideas”- Linus PaulingReading the literature generates ideas.Ask your mentor if you can branch out to explore potentially interesting side areas which always pop upDo not be afraid to pursue the most important problemsDo not continue indefinitely if unproductive, time-consuming and/or costly (risk-benefit analyses!)Focus on questions, not on techniquesYou will get better at generating ideas over time!No one starts out grad school with lots of relevant ideas. But the more you read, the more ideas you will have
26 Obtaining, Organizing, and Presenting Information
27 Obtaining and Organizing Information Lab protocols- always use firstTechnique books = ie the “Red Book”Online manuals and lab websitesGoogle as technical aidPubMed – look for papersCompany technical information and equipment manualsPeople: seminars, s and phone callsIt is much easier to have someone synopsize a field than to ferret out the information from primary sources
28 Obtaining and Organizing Information Never let your experimental data pile up without filing. YOU WILL FORGET!Summarize your conclusions on the first page of your experiment when filing; paperclip or staple each experiment togetherGo look at previous lab members’ notebooks. Which ones are helpful? Which ones are useless? Why?Keep a separate protocol notebook or sectionFile your references by subject and/or authorConsider the use of colorOrganize your computer files- papers, techniques, letters, coursework. Back up!!Never throw out primary dataLooking for things costs considerable time you could be spending doing other stuff. Always think about what you would like to see when you see someone else’s lab notebook – why they did the expt, what they did, how it came out. Filing systems vary by person. I like to put filed by subject in green folders and filed by person in red folders. I alphabetize all of them. Whatever saves you time in locating information is the best. BACK UP ALL COMPUTERS! (examples)
29 Obtaining and Organizing Information Databases- learn how to access NIHreporter, PubMed, and any others specifically pertinent to your researchPrograms- learn very early on how to use a scientific graphing program (not Excel) and any other specialized programs your lab uses (references etc)Looking for things costs considerable time you could be spending doing other stuff. Always think about what you would like to see when you see someone else’s lab notebook – why they did the expt, what they did, how it came out. Filing systems vary by person. I like to put filed by subject in green folders and filed by person in red folders. I alphabetize all of them. Whatever saves you time in locating information is the best. BACK UP ALL COMPUTERS! (examples)
30 People Resources Your mentor should be your primary resource Mentors are like movie producers- they organize the outside reagents and collaborations you needOther faculty members are nearly always willing to helpColleagues - students, postdocs, techniciansSeminar speakersHigh school and college friends!(eventually- anyone you have ever met, at meetings and other scientific venues!)Some of these are for recommendations; some of these are for the future; some just file away metally- Joe knows how to do flotation assays, for later. Political skills fall in this arena. For example Laurent’s lack of attendance at parties..
31 Giving talks and writing papers and grants See other thelindberglab.com presentationsThe more often you practice, the better you get
34 Choosing A Thesis Advisor Does interesting work (to you!)History of productivitySearch PubmedFundedSearch NIHreporterHistory of graduating students within 5 yearsCheck this!Personnel from the lab have done well in the past (see papers; ask them; Google them)Look for successful outcomes, not a “great lab atmosphere”. This can change rapidly depending on the particular personnel at the timeFollow your passion!
35 Funding Your Graduate Work F32 awards for US citizensDisease foundations for non-citizensIneligible if you apply too early or too late during graduate school- in the first committed year is bestAgain, be proactive! Look up deadlines your first year and aim to apply for something!Is your mentor a long-term member of a specific organization? That would be a good bet for you.
36 Mentors are Impressed by Grad Students Who… Set their own deadlines (projects, papers, grant applications, exams) and actually meet themRead the literature on their ownThink critically about their own experiments and those of othersAnd of course, work hard…There is a lot to learn. As with a medical residency it is hard to fit it all into an 8 hour day. The more experiments you do, the more you learn. All of these show initiative..
37 Consider Taking on Multiple Projects Discuss with mentor if you are ready to take on side projectsOffer collaborations with other lab members, if mentor approvesOutside collaborations also can provide other letters of reference
38 Attending Seminars Stay awake, listen, look Try to anticipate where speaker is goingWeigh the data- are conclusions supported?Mentally critique the speaker- could he/she have given a better talk? How?Think of questions to askTake notesMost speakers could have given better talks. The best ones capture your attention all the way through, leave you wanting to know more, and with some kind of takehome message.
39 Seminar Speakers Use your time with seminar speakers wisely Ask about merits of various techniquesAsk for feedback about your researchAsk about postdoctoral opportunities or grant opportunitiesDriving seminar speakers to and from the airport provides valuable one-on-one time
40 Attending a National Meeting Meet as many new people as possibleLearn about as many new techniques relevant to your work as possibleLearn about reagents (antisera, plasmids) and suggest collaborators to your mentorLook at style of presentations as well as raw data and conclusions- what field/technique/ question impresses you most?Try to get something out of every talk you attend and poster you visitAll levels, not just professors
41 Funding Meeting Travel Many meetings offer travel support for students who are presenting as first authorsWCBR; Endocrine Society; ASCB; SfNSee websites and plan aheadLooks very good on your resume
42 Try to Accumulate Honors: this will distinguish you from others Poster awardsTravel awardsTraining awardsFellowships
43 For Non-native English Speakers Try to take speaking and writing coursesIf this is not possible, get a native speaker to correct a half page of your writing several times a weekThere are no jobs for Ph.D.s who cannot formulate reasonable sentences in EnglishAnd accent reduction helps too- even a spanish accent is considered a liability in teaching at a med school.
44 Meeting Your Deadlines Personal vs official deadlinesYou should have both! (writing up papers vs proposal defense). Make your own deadline and stick to it by working hard with focusProcrastination“The best enemy of achievement”“The difference between your priorities and your results” (Barker, “At the Helm”)PerfectionismSometimes valuable (quality products), but not if it keeps you from finishing a taskWith your lists and timelines you are setting your personal goals to be met. These should be specific and clear sets of experiments, not “graduate by May”. Official deadlines are things like departmental requirements and grant applications. It is always up to you to inform yourself and to meet those deadlines. There is NO excuse.
45 Program ExpectationsMeet all of the program deadlines on time (or early) regardless of what others are doingOrganize your committee meetings WAY ahead of time, as faculty schedules will fill upMeet with your committee every six months: THIS IS IMPORTANT!Finish your thesis in 4-6 years or less. Unless there are mitigating circumstances, it looks bad on your CV if you have taken more than 6 years.
46 Qualifying and Preliminary Exams Vary by program- learn your requirements in the first year AND MEET THE DEADLINESDo not put off the thesis proposal! It is just a proposal! You should not wait until shortly before you graduate. Do it in the late second or early third year!If you must write a proposal, do not be afraid to contact faculty for helpCommittee- literature, technique tipsMentor- general suggestions for improvementAsk fellow students for examples
47 Learn To Multi-TaskIt is neither necessary nor desirable to take 2-3 months off from the lab to prepare for your qualifying exam!You can devote some time each day to benchwork and some to literature analysis
48 Call On Your Committee!To help with experimental design and supply references for techniquesTo outline a game plan and keep you on trackIf your advisor won’t let you leaveOnce again, a yearly meeting (or more often) is required! More frequent meetings are better.Or if you are having any kind of trouble.
49 Taking Initiative and Assuming Personal Responsibility You must seek out help when you need itBe proactive in other areas too- in suggesting seminar speakers, in locating new papers relevant to your research, outlining planned papers, suggesting collaboratorsYou must become THE go-to expert in your field!You should know MORE than your mentor by the time you leaveBe proactive!! This is the most important slide in the presentation
50 Taking Initiative and Assuming Personal Responsibility Your mentor may identify meetings for you, but you can also identify meetings in the field - and try to get scholarships!Pre- and postdoctoral fellowships all have deadlines; you have to identify and meet them!Do not leave the lab before finishing/ submitting your manuscriptsIf submission not feasible, prepare the final figures to be usedBe proactive!! This is your life! If you leave an unfinished manuscript, you may lose first authorship.
51 Working With OthersDocumented ability to work in teams is critical for industry/biotech jobsMust prove that you can direct studentsDon’t turn down summer undergraduates!Being a good lab member means helping out with chores without being askedSynergy: you get more done when each person helps a project with their particular expertise! Volunteer to help.More papers! Do not decline summer students…even if they distract you from your work
52 Learning How to Mentor Others Undergraduates are valuable sources of labor but must be taught basic research as well as backgroundPositive: help with laborious techniquesNegative: need to train, often many times, as well as closely supervise= time-consumingSupervision includes making sure students keep a good lab notebook
53 Other Grad School Opportunities Voluntary teaching- helps presentation skillsCollaborations- you can initiate under certain circumstances (ask your boss)Provides more faculty recommendationsReviewing papers (ask your mentor if possible)Writing IACUC applications (ask if you can help)Learning as much as possible at all times-Techniques which may be useful to you in the futureLearn how to operate available specialized equipmentMini-courses from companiesSeminars from all departments (2-3 a week maximum)Proactive is the key word here
54 Starting Collaborations and Getting Reagents Your mentor will generally be the one who writes another lab for reagents and collaborationsHowever, you can make suggestions for collaborations and reagents that will facilitate/expand your work
55 Writing ReviewsVolunteer to help write reviews that are requested of your mentorIf there is no recent review of your field, ask your mentor if you can write oneYou will need to show that you can multi-task effectively (i.e. keep up with benchwork) before your mentor will agreeReviews are great for preparing for writing a thesis..
56 Looking for Postdoctoral Positions It is never too early to start identifying potential postdoctoral mentors and grant opportunitiesInvite for seminars; look up at meetingsLook for a mentor whose previous postdocs have been successful (ask where they have gone; talk to other lab members)Funding- constant?Publications- good rate?The best predictor of success is… success!
57 What Do PIs Look For in Postdocs? INDEPENDENT thinkers!Ability to trouble-shoot, analyze results critically, and think of the next stepAbility to set up new techniques from the literatureHard workers with a passion for scienceAppropriate background for the labBest: bring something new to the labWillingness to write a grant to support themselvesMust plan at least a year ahead in order to do this
58 What other skills do companies look for in a postdoc? Do you have experience writing up proposals?Do you have experience writing up regulatory documents such as IACUC applications?Do you have experience critiquing and summarizing the literature for others?Do you have experience presenting information to others?
59 Writing a Postdoctoral Training Grant (F32) You need to show you will grow intellectuallyGoing to another institution recommendedLearn other techniques or a new fieldIdentify an experienced postdoctoral mentorOne year or more before anticipated graduationBe proactive- most people are looking for fellowsSubmit your proposal well before movingSuccess elements - in order of priorityYour mentor’s reputation (pubs, grants, status)Your own accomplishments (grades, pubs)Training plan (courses, techniques to be learned)Research plan (clear, doable)
60 Graduate Student Bill of Rights You will receive general training in a specific fieldYou will receive training in experimental designYou will meet regularly and often with PI and other trainersYou will receive training in writing papers and grantsYou will write the first draft of papersYou will get input on your proposals and see your mentor’sYou will receive training in giving talksYour mentor will always listen to you first before you go publicIf your mentor is not training you in these areas, ask why!
61 At the End of the Day…You are not an “electrophysiologist”- you are trained in SCIENCEYou have valuable design and analytical skillsYou can organize information efficientlyYou have communication skills, both written and verbalYou are trained for many jobs!
62 Do Not Worry About Your Ability to Do Things in the Distant Future when the time comes, you will have those skills!
63 Resources At the Bench, by Kathy Barker (Cold Spring Harbor Press) At the Helm (same author)Survival Skills for Grad Students: talks, posters, grants, papers, jobs:Similar Site Run by IBRO:MIT’s site:Grant writing:Tips on Writing Scientific Reports:American Society for Cell Biology has lots of information:
64 Resources- Predoctoral and Postdoctoral Fellowships NIH individual grantNIH training grantMany, many other sources- disease-relatedAHA and ACS are the largestNIH research training opportunitiesHoward Hughes Medical InstituteAlfred P. Sloan FoundationBurroughs Wellcome FundRobert Wood Johnson FoundationMany, many disease foundations