Early in your training, you’re working to master understanding of the process to complete your graduate degree, and not thinking much beyond that. When you really understand this process and have applied your understanding – you’ve already set yourself a rough schedule for all the required activities for completion, and you’ve settled into your thesis lab and outlined and begun your thesis work – you’re ready to spend more time thinking about what happens after you complete your degree. This is what we are calling “advanced.”

Since writing and presenting are both such critical activities in graduate school, we’ve provided you with some great resources to kick-start your abilities in these arenas.

Excelling in Graduate School (Collaborative Learning and Integrated Mentoring in the Biosciences (CLIMB) program webpage, Northwestern University) – This page has numerous resources addressing a variety of transitional challenges new graduate students often encounter.

Oral Communication Skills (Collaborative Learning and Integrated Mentoring in the Biosciences (CLIMB) program webpage, Northwestern University) – This page links to video and ppt resources for delivering oral presentations in various settings.

Written Communication (Collaborative Learning and Integrated Mentoring in the Biosciences (CLIMB) program webpage, Northwestern University) – This page links to video and ppt resources for academic writing in science, including writing grants and dissertations, and meeting abstracts.

Secrets to thriving in graduate school (2015) (Science Careers website, Jan 2015) — This article provides tips on how to form habits that help you be successful in grad school.

On Becoming a Better Scientist (2011)
Raymond B. Huey, Israel Journal of Ecology & Evolution, Vol. 57, 2011, pp. 293–307, 10.1560/IJEE.57.4.293

ABSTRACT: Good scientific research yields insights that are important and general. But the process of learning to do good science is far from simple, and the inherent challenges are often more motivational than scientific. I review various ways that may help scientists (especially young ones) to do better research. Perhaps the most important is to spend time with people who are smart, productive, and enjoy what they are doing: motivation and success are infectious. Trying some risky projects, for which success is not guaranteed, can enhance motivation. Before tackling risky projects, however, seek advice from those with experience; but make your own decision. Always be as self-directed as possible (and as political): actively seek opportunities and don’t wait for them to come to you. If you have to learn a skill that is challenging or unpleasant, try to convince yourself that you look forward to learning it. Similarly, develop a high tolerance for repetitive tasks, which are inevitable components of science. In particular, learn to communicate well both in writing and in speaking: treat communication as a vital apprenticeship to be learned. Conflict is inevitable in science, but collaboration with opponents can be a positive way to resolve and grow beyond conflict. Staying fresh becomes a challenge as scientists age, but changing fields, continuing to go to seminars and meetings, and interacting with students and new colleagues can minimize one’s personal fossilization.

Other advice:

Don’t gossip. Do talk to people and gather information.

Attend seminars, even when you feel like you don’t understand them. Here is a great idea to help you practice extracting information out of seminars, even when you’re new and unfamiliar with the whole field. (It’s developed for mathematics grad students, but easily adapted for you)

To train yourself how to read primary literature, read primary papers paired with commentary – use the commentary to help you understand how to identify critical information, and the language scientists in your field use to convey it.

Practice self-discipline — you’ll need this in spades to write, do your research, and do your career exploring and planning.

Don’t be too negative about others’ research – especially others in your department, or others that you may encounter. Remember, you can question the validity of the conclusions or the methodology without out-and-out attacking the research or the researcher. Watch your tone and be conscious of how inflammatory your chosen words are. You can be respectful to other scientists as people and colleagues while questioning their science.

Start a savings account — no matter how little you’re being paid! Setting aside $50-$100 a month for savings will really add up — and when you graduate, having enough of a financial cushion that you can afford to not be paid for several weeks to a month will make your transition to whatever’s next much, much easier.

We will continue to develop this post to provide more content and resources for graduate students. If you know of resources or content you think should be represented here, please email me at svolk@ascb.org.

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