To Jargon or not to Jargon

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Contributed by Elisha Wood-Charlson

Jargon, as defined by Google, consists of “special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.” So, you can imagine why jargon is a natural target for science communication training and workshops. Hey, science jargon even has its own April Fool’s spoof article.

Well, as it turns out, defining jargon and identifying jargon create a bit of inherent irony. A word is only considered ‘jargon’ when it isn’t well understood, so when are science words ‘jargon’ and when are they not? Google’s definition suggests that jargon can be specific to a group, and not necessarily restricted to a technical field. In addition, Google gives the entertaining synonym of “slang”, which begs the question – are scientists actually speaking our own form of “Science Jive”?

One of the most challenging parts of science communication is understanding your audience well enough to choose vocabulary that will communicate your science accurately while still getting your message across. Therefore, we need to start thinking about our “Science Jive” in layers. How far removed is our target audience from our science field?

The Russian Doll of Science Jive
Nesting Dolls (Photo Credit: James Lee)

Nesting Dolls (Photo Credit: James Lee)

As with all science communication efforts, you must first understand your audience(s) before you determine how much jargon you can layer on. The smallest, innermost ring is your peer group (you are the doll in the center). Your peer audience will include members of your lab group, your collaborators, and even your fellow participants in a domain-specific session at a conference. Almost everything in this ring may be considered jargon to a general audience, who resides in the largest, outermost doll layer. And, although some of the jargon translations from the far inner ring to the far outer ring may be the most challenging (discussed later), the dolls in the middle are where things get really interesting. How well do you know your audience two rings removed? For example, I recently attended the 2015 AAAS conference in San Jose, CA. Having never attended an AAAS conference before, I was surprised at the breadth of science topics presented. They ranged from looking at the effect of epigenetics on the brain to 3-D printing of 4-D mathematical models to microbial oceanography, my personal ring of Science Jive. So, how do you know when to jargon and when not to jargon?

The best way to figure out your audience is to understand where they exist in the science communication space. Do they read popular science articles, like those in Scientific American or Discover? If so, getting familiar with those journals (if you aren’t already) will help you determine which jargon level you should speak to. For example, in situations where “addition of viral concentrates resulted in decreased photosynthetic activity” might not work, something like “after adding more viruses, the cultures started dying” might be perfect. From another perspective, if you are writing something for a government office, you might consider getting in touch with whomever is in charge of science-related issues. Depending on their background, they may only be one or two jargon rings away. Or, if their background isn’t in the sciences, they may comfortably reside in the far outer general public ring.

Communicating Science Jive to the Outer Doll

Have you tried explaining your research to a family member? Megumi Chikamoto had a great post (4 Feb 2015) on Real Science at SOEST! blog about jargon, relating to her 7 year old son and making her message more understandable to a broader audience.

Translating jargon takes a bit of trial and error. Pick a prominent jargon word in your specialization and start trying out alternative vocabulary with the lab down the hall, fellow students at a departmental seminar, or with other science departments that meet up for pick-up soccer games after work. In the end, you may still end up with a word(s) that can’t be captured at the level of accuracy you require. Another strategy is to develop an analogy for your research. Can you capture the dispersal model or biogeochemical flux pathway in a metaphor or image? For example, Donn Viviani, a graduate student in C-MORE, is able to transform his research into the simple process of making a cup of tea!

In the end, only you can decide when to jargon and when not to jargon, and it will take practice. However, there should also be a collective effort by every science specialization to establish some translated terms that are acceptable replacements for their domain. In some areas, such as climate change, this is already happening. But we shouldn’t wait for a social movement to motivate us! Scientists are people too, and we should be making an effort to communicate using language that can be understood by our audiences.

 

Other resources
Scientific Jargon, Thompson Writing Program handout by Jordana Rosenberg 2012
Terms that have different meanings for scientists and the public, log post by Andrew David Thaler at Southern Fried Science
Words Matter, AGU blog post by Callan Bentley


Elisha M. Wood-Charlson has a PhD in marine science, and has worked in a variety of research areas including coral symbioses, marine viruses, and viruses in corals. She is currently testing out life as a science communicator and is finding the creative latitude enjoyable. She works for the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) as an educator, designing #scicomm training for graduate students, postdocs, and early career researchers (check out the new Science Communication Portfolio training guide on the SOEST website!). She is also managing the EarthCube Oceanography and Geobiology Environmental ‘Omics (ECOGEO) Research Coordination Network (RCN), which demands structured communication between the scientists asking the difficult ‘omics questions and the bioinformaticians making the tools to help answer them.

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What drives me: Giving more, taking less

Here is the first entry of our 1st SOESTblog Writing Contest “What drives you?”! Each week, contestants will share what drives them to do their research day in and day out. Each article will be posted for 1 week and winners will be determined by the most # of reads on the site! Help Chantel this week by sharing her article!

 

FaceCrop_CChangContributed by Chantel Chang

I remind myself daily about why I subject myself to the challenges of graduate school (e.g., lack of sleep, free time, and money, feelings of incompetence, etc.) in order to answer questions from myself and others like, “Why am I back in school at the age of 30 while most of my peers own homes, are starting families, and get free weekends?”

The initial driver was that I knew what I did not want. I could not stand to stay in my previous career as an occupational therapist because it was missing something for me on a personal level. I believe everyone has a natural strength – a gift, and I recognized from grade school that mine was in mathematics and analysis. Today I realize how important it is for me to use mathematics, and to keep learning and growing. I chose to study oceanography because of the complexity and dynamic nature of the ocean. With an interest in biophysical modeling, I create computer models to assist with answering questions like, “What are the major physical, biological, and behavioral drivers that impact genetic or larval connectivity in the ocean?” Or “How might computer models be used to assess and improve placement of marine protected area boundaries?” I could study oceanography for a lifetime and still have more questions.

However, my primary driver goes beyond mathematics and my interests. My primary driver is that I strive to give back to Hawai‘i. As a fifth generation child of Hawai‘i, my favorite memories were of surfing and bodyboarding with my family in the crystal-clear blue ocean, while taking lunch breaks to feast on spam musubi and Hawaiian Sun juice. I’ve fished for ‘ahi and mahimahi, snorkeled and dove the Hawaiian coral reefs, and hiked the tall mountains of O‘ahu. Hawai‘i has provided a tremendously beautiful home and I hope to give back to the islands more than what has been given to me. I hope that many future generations will be able to enjoy Hawai‘i as I have. I’m not quite sure of what my specific contribution will be, but I believe that a deeper understanding of the ocean and environment is a good starting point.

During those moments of exhaustion, which are common in graduate school, I remind myself of how lucky I am to be allowed to live here in Hawai‘i of all the places in the world (less than 1%, about 2 in 10,000 people in the current world population, live in Hawai‘i) and to be in a situation where I am able to return to school for a career change. I focus on what I am grateful for, the give-take relationship between the land and humans, and I realize that the stresses of graduate school are temporary and trivial compared to those that Hawai‘i is under. Imagine the burden of Hawai‘i – the rise of industrialization, an increasing population and pollution have put tremendous stress on the islands, corals and marine life over the years. It’s common to hear stories of the ‘old days’ from my father’s generation when fish were plentiful and marine life was thriving. But now, “there’s not as many fish” in those same places where they used to be abundant. Even in my lifetime, I can remember what it was like to see open land instead of condominium upon condominium.

With everything back in perspective, I continue on with a renewed spirit and the mantra “give more, take less.” What can I do for Hawai‘i?

Liked Chantel’s article? Share this article today!

Finding my SOEST niche: From occupational therapy to mathematics to biological oceanography

 FaceCrop_CChangContributed by Chantel Chang

I had invested in a master’s degree and four years of work experience, but I could not imagine another 40+ years of constantly being around people in pain. As I, the occupational therapist (a.k.a. the pain bearer), gazed upon the agony in the patients’ faces during therapy, I realized that my career no longer reflected ‘me.’ Furthermore, I would often see readmissions and feel discouraged because we had just completed weeks of exercises, daily living and safety training. Although I have seen some successes, the failures took too large of a toll on me. The good income and job stability were not enough to lessen my heavy heart.

“I needed a change”

After reflecting on what I enjoyed most since grade school and did best in academically, I concluded that I should return to school to study mathematics. I wasn’t sure how I would survive Calculus III without having done any math for nine years, or where a degree in math would lead me, but I needed a change.

As a second Bachelor’s student majoring in mathematics at the University of Hawai‘i (UH) at Mānoa, I took Oceanography 201: Science of the Sea to fulfill degree requirements. I have always felt a deep connection to the ocean being born and raised in ʻĀina Haina, so my mind was blown away with how much mathematics was in oceanography!  I had no idea that waves could be explained with differential equations, and I never thought about the spreadsheets of data that are available to study the ocean.  At the moment I learned about the math-oceanography connection, I knew that I wanted to be an oceanographer.

Chantel standing in front of her poster at the ASLO/AGU/TOS Ocean Sciences Meeting held in Honolulu, HI in February 2014.

Chantel standing in front of her poster at the ASLO/AGU/TOS Ocean Sciences Meeting held in Honolulu, HI in February 2014.

After completing my B.S. in Mathematics and a certificate in the Marine Option Program in December 2013, I was accepted into the Biological Oceanography Division with a graduate research assistantship. Finding myself in another transition, I was nervous about not being able to keep up with the biological and oceanographic jargon and concepts. However, having one successful transition from occupational therapy to math, I felt that if I worked hard enough and remained passionate, I could survive. However, along with my stubborn determination to succeed in my new field and my perfectionism, I found that time previously used to visit ʻohana (family) and friends, exercise, and surf was all invested into studying night and day, while drinking unhealthy quantities of coffee.

“My life balance was off”

It took me hours to read one journal article, and then I’d need to read it again… and again… and again to comprehend it.  I felt that I was more than a couple of steps behind my classmates (most of whom knew that they wanted to be marine scientists pretty much since the day they were born) – in my mind, I was miles behind. The most common thing I’d hear from ʻohana and friends was, ‘long time no see,’ and fellow graduate students asked why I didn’t attend social events like ‘Coffee hour’ or Nerd Nite. I realized (after several months of study and no play) that my life balance was off.

Near the end of the semester, I was approached by Anela Choy, a recent PhD graduate and co-founder and program manager of the Maile Mentoring Bridge Program (ʻMaileʻ for short).  Maile is a program that supports Native Hawaiian and other underrepresented minority undergraduate students interested in ocean and earth sciences by pairing them with graduate student mentors within SOEST.  Anela indicated that she was leaving Hawaiʻi at the end of the year and that she needed another local person from Hawaiʻi in the SOEST graduate program to take over her program management duties… and that I was one of about five current SOEST graduate students who were from Hawaiʻi.

I knew there weren’t many of us locals in SOEST, but I was shocked with the lack of kamaʻāina (from Hawai‘i) graduate students in SOEST.  It’s baffling that there aren’t more kamaʻāina in SOEST, when we have grown up with a beautiful ocean surrounding us and active volcanoes nearby.  Perhaps many kamaʻāina are like me; we love Hawaiʻi’s natural beauty, but just havenʻt thought about studying it for a career. I wasn’t sure if I should take Anela’s offer to be an alakaʻi (leader) for Maile because of my life balance struggles from the last semester, but I took it anyway because I thought of the possibility of helping more kamaʻāina realize that great science is being done in their backyards!

“Maile has been a blessing”

I found Maile has been a blessing in helping me to improve my time management skills and feel at home in SOEST.  My position as program manager forced me to actually take lunch and study breaks, in order to attend SOEST events where I could meet colleagues. Although every single person has been very welcoming and I enjoy meeting people from different places, it was interesting to feel almost an instant connection and comfort in meeting other kamaʻāina within SOEST.  They understand the local culture, mentality, pidgin language, and the challenge of being in a rigorous graduate program while being home which involves juggling large extended ʻohanas, friends from ʻda hanabata (childhood) days, and new friends. They recognize the importance of ʻohana, but also the importance of being a part of SOEST because of the need for diversity in creating a more comprehensive and accurate scientific perspective. Being a part of Maile and meeting well-balanced and successful kamaʻāina in the ocean and earth sciences gives me fervent hope that I, too, will be a role model for future kamaʻāina in SOEST, find my balance in graduate school, and a career that is more ‘me’.

Chantel talking to Kapi'olani Community College students at a career mixer

Chantel talking to Kapi’olani Community College students at a career mixer

 


 

Chantel Chang is a graduate student pursuing a M.S. in Biological Oceanography, working with Dr. Anna Neuheimer on a project involving biophysical modeling of holoplankton.  She is also an alakaʻi for the SOEST Maile Mentoring Bridge.  In her re-found free time, she enjoys spending time with her ʻohana, surfing, reading, and eating House of Pure Aloha shave ice. Check out Chantel’s professional website!

 

Read this original post at: https://earthscigradblog.wordpress.com/

Name the Three Types of Rock: Balancing Music and Minerals

Contributed by Christine A. Waters

Phaedrus Quote

iPhoto by Christine A. Waters

Igneous Geologist Under Pressure

Graduate school is an inevitably stressful experience. I entered with a mix of feelings: optimism, adventure, skepticism, motivation, and fear. For the first two years, in an attempt to channel these emotions in a positive direction, I practiced extreme discipline which I hoped would contribute to my success as a graduate student:

  • I made my job a priority (above everything, even my health)
  • I frequently pulled all-nighters without sleep and followed a “military minimum” rule (a minimum of four consecutive hours of sleep per night).
  • Almost every single day of the year, I went to the office to work as if the stock market’s opening bell rang.

Believe it or not, there was little tangible or emotional reward as a result of this behavior. Every scholarship or honor that I received (i.e. National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a three-month work internship, accommodations/travel to a conference) contributed to a growing pile of tasks. My discipline had created an environment progressively more challenging and harder to maintain day by day. In fact, the bullet points above, when adhered to strictly, had the effect of greatly increasing the negative stress of graduate school.

In a study recently discussed on Science Magazine’s Life and Career blog, 78.5% of graduate students in science feel overwhelmed, with 60% feeling exhausted, hopeless, sad, or depressed nearly all of the time. That seemed like a discouraging statistic to me! Hoping to not become one of the students in the study, I decided to re-balance and take control of my life. I reassessed my standard operating procedure for daily activities by making some non-work time with one of the recreational niches offered at my own institution.

Metamorphism

I decided to return to an activity that always made me smile. I joined the UH Summer Band, a community band that rehearses at the university during the summer months. As I entered the rehearsal room for the first time, I felt like a school girl on her first day at a new campus: “Where do I sit? What do I do? How do I talk to these people who are already gathered in circles?” Admittedly, the freshman feeling was refreshing given my long comfort with academia. There were music majors in the group, and others, like me, who just wanted to play. I slowly made acquaintances and then friends. Every week, I looked forward to working with new music.

UH Fall Campus Band playing at Ala Moana

The UH Fall Campus Band, led by director, David Blon, performing at Ala Moana Center Stage, on November 26, 2013 | iPhoto by Greg Bagnaro

Kismet and Positive Stress

Kismet, to my friends, is the feeling we get when the music is just right – when it fills our body and mind. Music is my second language. I began with a Yamaha keyboard when I was in the first or second grade, picked up the flute in the fourth grade, and played the latter through my last year of high school. Music, for me, is a lifelong chase and a clandestine love. However, since the world is full of flautists with greater talent, I retired my flute to explore more sensible and less competitive career opportunities: electrical engineering, the military, and graduate school. For the past thirteen years, I dabbled on the flute for my own enjoyment when I could – playing for the 304th Signal Battalion in Korea during special events, marching with the Miners at the University of Texas at El Paso in 2006, and touring with And the Furies Say in 2007.

It is humbling to note that my stress-relieving activity actually produced some stress. The difference is that this stress was ultimately positive and inspiring! Returning to a retired pastime required much willingness to bruise my self-esteem. It was a struggle to be a born-again intermediate, to no longer be able to play with the same elegance and technique of years ago. Initially, there was frustration. Later, there was acceptance for the growing nimbleness in my fingers and awareness of my embouchure. The practice is challenging – just as it was when I first began learning to play. Quitting is sometimes reason enough to remain quit. I was deterred to begin again from fear of my growing lack of conditioning – as one might be from a sport she has left. For hobbies that required years of training, I recommend a modest relapse, as clumsy as it may be. For me, the experience has brought a harmonious (pun intended) balance to my previously work-controlled life.

Sedimentary Fill and Collateral Effects

Loosing work ties for two hours a week in one recreational niche became a gateway through which I am now able to enjoy life as a graduate student. So far, I have played with the UH Fall Campus Band, and I have also enrolled in the UH Concert Band. Music is an incredibly mindful experience, and I’ve found that playing with the university bands has been a generous and wonderful outlet for my stress. During rehearsals, I concentrate on the sound I’m producing, the combined sound of the band, the instructions given by the director, and the feel of the keys beneath my fingertips. There is something elevating and magical about being a part of a large creative force – kismet indeed. I believe that many others who have “retired” their instruments can identify with this and remember it sentimentally. I encourage my fellow students to go out and find the activity that challenges, motivates, and inspires them – outside of graduate work. And, if there are other mélomanes (music-lovers) in our science group, I’d love to hear about your own experiences below!

The UH Summer Band will be performing at Ala Moana Center Stage on July 24th at 7:00 p.m.


“Vesuvius” by the University of Hawaii Concert Band Aloha Concert on May 4, 2014, from†musicAENni†YouTube

 

 

Christine A. Waters is a veteran of the United States Army and a graduate student pursuing a M.S. in Marine Geology. She is working with advisor Dr. Henrieta Dulaiova on submarine groundwater discharges off the Kona coast of Hawai’i.

Read this original post at: https://earthscigradblog.wordpress.com/

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Q&A Part 3: You got in! How to survive grad school

Thanks for continuing to read about the “Path to Graduate School.”  Today completes this theme and the last 2 questions of Part 3: “You got in! How to survive grad school!” We hope this has been helpful to all of you!

Question 14: What sort of career planning and/or professional development will I need to be doing while I’m in grad school?

Attending conferences, workshops, and seminars seems to be the key to networking with other professionals:

“Your advisor will be a great resource for this sort of thing. Hopefully they will mentor and counsel you regarding your professional development and career goals while you work towards your degree. You can also take your own initiative by working to attend conferences, publish your work, and attend workshops and seminars that are geared towards proposal writing, teaching, and researching different topics.” – Kendra Lynn 2nd Year PhD Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“Attending conferences and workshops are a great way to network with people that have similar interests in similar fields. I volunteered to be an organizer for a major international Ocean Sciences conference and it has been great for my professional development. Volunteer to review papers for a journal you appreciate.” – Michelle Jungbluth 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“Mostly building some contact network.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Talk to your advisor or chair about what’s important in the field. Networking with people in the field.” – Joy Leilei Shih 5th Year PhD Marine Geology and Geochemistry

“Go to conferences, give talks, do outreach and education, go to workshops” – Astrid Leitner 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanographer

Also, put yourself out there and take opportunities to give talks and apply for fellowships:

“Public speaking/communication skills and writing skills are the areas where grad students seem to need the most improvement. Take classes and go to workshops that will help you improve these skills. Volunteer to give talks. Apply for various awards, fellowships, because these applications will help you communicate the objectives of your research clearly.” – Myriam Telus

“Looking to your future can be terrifying, but you need to plan ahead. Apply for that grant, look into PhD’s early in your masters, and talk with professors about the subjects that really interest you. They might have suggestions about programs or professors with similar interests.” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

However, since we’re all busy, target your professional development towards your career goals:

“It’s always good to keep in mind what your goal after grad school is – if you are interested in teaching, get some teaching experience. If it’s communication, practice science communication. If it’s being a professor in an academic institution, network and talk to other professors, set up collaborations, and go to conferences. Tailor your professional development to what sort of activities will give you the skills you need for your career. Grad school is already extremely time consuming, so be choosy about how you spend your time” – Shimi Rii 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

Finally, get started early on preparing your resume materials:

“Development of CV, cover letter, and resume materials.
Writing skills, knowledge about best practices for publishing and reviewing manuscripts and writing proposals.
Teaching experience.
Professional meeting presentations, domestic and international (oral and poster presentations)
Leadership and management skills
Improving communication skills to inform diverse and broad audiences.
Involvement in departmental, school-wise, or societal level service.” – Allison Fong 6th Year PhD Biological Oceanography – Microbial Ecology

Question 15: Should I become a Teaching Assistant (T.A.) or a Research Assistant (R.A.)? Is this enough to live off of or should I get a student loan?

First, ask around and get information:

“There are many options to get paid in graduate school, talk to people and investigate” – Alma Carolina Castillo 3rd Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“T.A. and R.A. salaries vary from one department to another. In my situation, both T.A. and R.A. salaries are enough to live comfortably on. I would research the funding provided by the department you want to work for, and then make your decision based on that information.” – Kendra Lynn 2nd Year PhD Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

Here at SOEST, it is definitely enough to live on:

“TA or RA all the way! If you’re responsible with your money and live in a reasonable rent apartment you can live off of it for the entirety of your degree without getting a student loan.” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

“Don’t get a loan! You don’t need one! We make enough to live off of and even have fun once in a while 😉 Just live within your means and accept that you’ll be living a life that is rich and fulfilling in many ways, even if you don’t have a lot of spare cash. You won’t be living in a palace with an ocean view, but who wants to be that pretentious, anyway? Sharing a place with roommate(s) makes things a lot cheaper, too. *Caveat: Getting to Hawaii, or back to the mainland, to start school is the exception–you’ll have to hand out a wad of cash for plane tickets, security deposits, etc. before your salary kicks in, and if you don’t have savings or financially supportive family members then a small loan could potentially be necessary.” – Emily First 3rd Year PhD Experimental Petrology

“R.A and T.A should be enough to live off of, unless you have a family to support. Then I don’t really know.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Try to live off of a T.A. or R.A. and only get a loan if you have to. Some departments pay better than others.” – Joy Leilei Shih 5th Year PhD Marine Geology and Geochemistry

Some sound advice about T.A. or R.A., if you have a choice:

“The way it is set up here, you can live off either, but TA-ships are time consuming and will probably extend the total time to graduation if you choose to do it for multiple semesters. I recommend applying for fellowships and grants to get your own funding.” – Michelle Jungbluth 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“A T.A. is great for gaining teaching experience and looks good on a C.V. if you want a job that involves teaching (such as being a professor) after you graduate. But it can be a lot of work, taking time away from your research, which is ultimately what you need to complete to graduate. An R.A. could also turn into work away from your own research, but ideally, an R.A. will actually fund your research–that is, the research you’re getting paid to do is also the research that you’re doing for your thesis/dissertation. I have an R.A., and I’ve found it’s enough to live off of and have not needed to get any loans.” – Katie Smith 5th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

Thanks again for your readership and participation.  Any comments or suggestions are always welcome!  

Q&A Part 3: You got in! How to survive grad school

Thanks for continuing to read about the “Path to Graduate School.” We have a new category, Part 3: “You got in! How to survive grad school!” Here are answers to questions 12 and 13, and we will post questions 14-15 next week, finishing up our Q&A session! Hope this has been helpful to all of you!

Question 12: I got into a graduate program! Should I take time off before starting graduate studies?

trave-the-worldhttp://www.etravelblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/trave-the-world.jpg

Some say yes:

“yes” – Alma Carolina Castillo 3rd Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“It depends on your personal circumstances. If you’re feeling burned out or have personal things to take care of, take a semester/year off. If you’re feeling ready for it, jump right in!” – Kendra Lynn 2nd Year PhD Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“Yes.  Recharge your battery, get in some travel and relaxation time to prepare yourself for the rigors of grad school.” – Allison Fong 6th Year PhD Biological Oceanography – Microbial Ecology

“Sure, if you can.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“YES” – Astrid Leitner 1st Year PhD  Biological Oceanographer

Some suggest that it is not worth putting off:

“why?” – anonymous 

“You will likely find out whether you got accept in March-May, but you will not start grad school until August/September. You can use the summer before grad school as the “”time off””. If you need more time off for whatever reason, talk to the folks in your department about that and check if it is okay with them.” – Myriam Telus

“Depends on the reason. It doesn’t necessarily hurt, but I don’t think there’s a benefit either.” – Joy Leilei Shih 5th Year PhD Marine Geology and Geochemistry

“Why put it off?” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

“Not necessarily if you are eager to continue coursework, research, etc. and really like the academic environment.” – anonymous

Question 13: What are the best tips for surviving grad school?

survive-grad-school-part2(1)

http://www.universityaffairs.ca/how-to-survive-your-first-year-of-graduate-school-part-2.aspx

My personal favorite answer:

“thats what I want to know…” – anonymous

But more seriously, it is important to maintain a BALANCE between work and your social life:

“Have friends and hobbys.” – Alma Carolina Castillo 3rd Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Balance. You must have balance. A graduate degree is a big investment of your time, energy, emotions, and intellect. You cannot expect to be productive working 24/7 for four years – there has to be a balance so that you can appreciate the work you’re doing. Make sure to take time to sleep, eat properly, socialize occasionally, and work hard when the situation calls for it.” – Kendra Lynn 2nd Year PhD Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“My #1 tip: become friends with your cohorts and get mentors. Grad school, especially your first year with all the classes, is all about comaraderie and students helping each other out.  Be friends with the technicians in your labs. They will help you tremendously.

My #2 tip: Allow yourself to relax.  Manage your time wisely and allow yourself to pick up a hobby that lets you blow off steam or not think about grad school for an hour. Be it yoga, sport, art, hiking, etc., take care of your well-being for a healthy lifestyle.

Also check out this link:

http://blogs.nature.com/naturejobs/2013/10/09/graduate-school-survival-skills” – Shimi Rii 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“Relax, do your best. Maintain broad interests but still focus on what you are doing.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Work hard and play hard.  You work a lot as a grad. student, but make sure that you have other activities in your life so you don’t feel stuck in research and come to despise it.  I joined a paddling team.  It opened up my social circle and it’s a very fun way of exercising.” – Samantha Weaver 1st Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

“Dont fall behind, stay organized, develop a good relationship with colleagues, lab mates, and your advisor.  GO TO THE BEACH – mental health days are clutch” – Astrid Leitner 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanographer

“Strike a balance between school, social life, and rest.” – Joy Leilei Shih 5th Year PhD Marine Geology and Geochemistry

Other general tips: stay focused, take ownership of your work, communicate with your advisor and classmates, and work hard:

“Stay focused on what you want to get out of it all.  It wasn’t meant to be easy, it also wasn’t meant for everyone to do.  There will be times when you question why you started, but the rewards should outweigh the costs and you need to see the light at the end of the tunnel.” – Michelle Jungbluth 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“Choose an advisor you will enjoy working with because you will have to deal with this person on a regular basis.” – Myriam Telus

“Grad school is a marathon, not a sprint.  Don’t treat it like undergrad, where you just need to pass the classes; take ownership of your project.” – Donn Viviani 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“Be self motivated. Make a timeline and stick to it, because nobody is going to do your work for you.” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

“Be proactive with respect to your classes and research. Be honest with your advisor. Work hard.” – anonymous

“Study with classmates.  Go to faculty if you have questions about the material and need further explanation.  Build a good working relationship with your adviser.  Learn to manage your time and energy efficiently.  Build and invest in a support network.” – Allison Fong 6th Year PhD Biological Oceanography – Microbial Ecology

“Just keep swimming. Let it be. Keep a positive mindset. Live Aloha. And, work your darn booty off!” – Christine Waters 3rd Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

Thank you for checking out the answers to Q 12 and 13! We will post the answers to our last 2 questions next week! Happy New Year!

Q&A Part 2: You’ve decided Yes!: How Best to Apply to Graduate School

Thanks for continuing to read about the “Path to Graduate School.” Here are answers to questions 9, 10, and 11 finishing up our second category, “I decided, Yes! How best to apply to grad school.” Next week we will post questions 11 and 12 from the next category “You got in: How to survive graduate school.”

Question 9: Can I get my graduate degree from an institution outside the U.S.?

Flags

 The basic answer here: YES.

“Yes you can. You just have to do the research and figure out what the requirements are for foreign institutions.” – Myriam Telus

 “Most definitely. Europe in particular has many well-funded institutions with good research opportunities.” – anonymous

“Yes. Europe and Australia have good programs, however the U.S. is still, in my opinion, the top.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“YES” – Astrid Leitner 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanographer

 “Yes.” – Joy Leilei Shih 5th Year PhD Marine Geology and Geochemistry

 Some received their Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree outside of the US and came to UH from there:

“I got my undergraduate from a Canadian school. It makes transferring during your degree almost impossible, but the degree stands up in other places and international tuition can still be much cheaper than US universities. Make sure the university is still well known outside of the country.” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

“I went to England for a Masters and came back to UH for a PhD.  I highly recommend international (if you are willing to pay the $$$) because it is a great experience.” – Samantha Weaver 1st Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

Question 10: How many programs should I apply to?

Basically, do your research on the different programs and apply to as many as you are interested in and would actually go to if you get accepted:

 “As many as you have the patience for and the money for applications for. Don’t settle though! only apply to places where you actually want to go and are interested in the research” – Astrid Leitner 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanographer

 “If you find that 5-6 programs have what you want and people you want to work with, then I would apply to all 6.  If you are only really interested in 3 programs, then apply to 3.

Apply to as many programs that fit your goals and would be realistic options for what you envision your grad school experience to be.” – Allison Fong 6th Year PhD Biological Oceanography – Microbial Ecology

“As many as you are interested in. I only applied to one because I knew I wanted to work in that particular lab.” – Michelle Jungbluth 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“It does not necessarily depend on the program.  It depends more on who you want to work with:  look at the research that the faculty are doing, talk with current students to get their opinion on their adviser…do YOUR research on the program and the adviser.” – Samantha Weaver 1st Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

“As much as you can and want” – Alma Carolina Castillo 3rd Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“3-4. And don’t apply blindly.  Establish a connection with a potential advisor before applying. The applications are reviewed in a committee and if they recognize a name, your application is more likely to be picked out of a crowd.” – Shimi Rii 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“Apply to the top three schools you are interested in.” – Myriam Telus

“I applied to 5 universities for my degree. Applications can get expensive, but it can be worth it to make sure that you have options in the end. Of the 5 I applied for, 3 accepted me and 2 made stipend offers. Make sure the places you apply are ones that you would be willing to live, and that the department seems like a good fit.” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

“As many as you want.” – anonymous

“At least 4. You should have a “”top choice”” that is far reaching, two that are reasonably within your experience level, and one that is a “”fall back”” school.” – Kendra Lynn 2nd Year PhD Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“4 or 5.” – Joy Leilei Shih 5th Year PhD Marine Geology and Geochemistry

“I applied to five:  four that I was very interested in and were tops in my field, and one that was more of a “”back up,”” though there are no guarantees when applying for grad school.  That fifth school lost my application and it never got processed!  Good thing I got in other places.  Better to apply to a handful and try to have meaningful communication with potential advisors than apply to twenty and be just a face in the crowd.” – Emily First 3rd Year PhD Experimental Petrology

“3-4 is a good number (at least). Not sure.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

Question 11: Should I apply for a master’s or doctoral degree program?

Most said that it depends where you see yourself in the future, and it depends how confident you are that a Ph.D. will be necessary for your future:

“Loaded question. This really depends on why you want to go to graduate school and what sort of job you might want to end up in afterwards. Do some research. Talk to some people. If you just want to try, start with a M.S., since Ph.D. is a long commitment.

Check out some of these links:

http://blogs.nature.com/naturejobs/2013/10/17/back-to-school-why-choose-a-phd

http://blogs.nature.com/naturejobs/2013/10/18/the-involuntary-phd” – Shimi Rii 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“If you want to go into academia or if the job you want requires a doctoral degree then, get a doctoral degree. If you are not sure what job you want, but you are sure what field you want to work in, get a masters (you can always switch to a doctoral during your masters if you want). If you are not sure at all, get an internship.” – Myriam Telus

“Depends on the end goal and field. A master’s degree is a good stepping stone if unsure.” – Joy Leilei Shih 5th Year PhD Marine Geology and Geochemistry

“If you know you want to get a doctorate in the end, you can skip the masters and directly apply, though you might have a better chance of getting accepted if you already have a masters.” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

“Depends!  I came to Hawaii as a Master’s student and recently decided to switch to a PhD.  At first, I wasn’t sure I could handle the commitment of so much more school, and I thought I would want to be back on the mainland and closer to family after a couple years.  But I love my work and the people in my department, and have realized I’d like to continue in academia– for that, I need a PhD 😉 A lot of my friends have switched from one to the other (and sometimes back again).  Not to say that’s recommended, but if the program offers both degrees, it’s usually negotiable after you start your studies (pending funding, as always).” – Emily First 3rd Year PhD Experimental Petrology

“Up to you.  If you feel like you are ready to commit to 7 years of hard work, living on a graduate student salary, love research and are sure you want to do research for 7 years – PhD.

Anything else – Masters” – Astrid Leitner 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanographer

 A few recommended starting with a Master’s, you can always do a Ph.D. afterwards:

“Start with a M.S. if you’re not sure of what you want to do. Otherwise, both are good.” – Kendra Lynn 2nd Year PhD Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“M.S.” – anonymous

“I personally think it is valuable to start with a Master’s.  Not only do you potentially get an extra publication or two out of it (I got 3 from my Masters work), but you also may realize what you do want to do and that it may not require a PhD.  A surprising number of students do not complete PhD programs.” – Michelle Jungbluth 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“In my opinion start at the MS level to see if you like the academic research environment. You can always continue, switch universities, or work for a bit afterward.” – anonymous

“Most places start you in a master’s track. Then you can try to advance straight to PhD.  Unless you are sure you want an academic life or you really need a PhD, start with a master’s.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

One person recommended going directly for the Ph.D. without question! You can always take a step back to a Master’s if you decide the Ph.D. is not for you:

“Doctoral and if you dont like change to master” – Alma Carolina Castillo 3rd Year PhD Physical Oceanography

Graduate

Q&A Part 2: You’ve decided Yes!: How Best to Apply to Graduate School

Thanks for continuing to read about the “Path to Graduate School.” Here are answers to questions 6, 7, and 8 for our second category, “I decided, Yes! How best to apply to grad school.” Next week we will post questions 9 and 10 from the same category.

Question 6 – Should I apply to the graduate program at the same place I’m getting my undergraduate degree or go someplace different?

The answers were split, some recommended to definitely go to a DIFFERENT school…

“Different of course!!” – Alma Carolina Castillo 3rd Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Someplace different – new people new attitudes new research new connections” – Astrid Leitner 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanographer

“There are mixed opinions on this. I am of the school that believes you should NOT go to the same institution. There is a Hawaiian proverb that says, “A’hoe pau ka ‘ike i ka hālau ho’okahi” or “All knowledge is not taught in the same school”. Going to separate institutions allows a student to be exposed to a variety of teaching styles and curriculum, a diversity of cultures and training environments, and engages them to utilize their social networking skills with new people. It might demonstrate to others that references to their knowledge, adeptness, and skill aren’t biased (if they come from both/all institutions). It also challenges students’ personal mettle by taking them away from familiar atmospheres and   inserting them (at least in the beginning) into alien ones, almost requiring them to start over again (while learning to maintain long-term relationships with individuals over new distances). I think this, for scientists in particular, better prepares you for your diverse and eclectic future.” – Christine Waters 3rd Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

“I would definitely recommend applying to different institutions. This is a chance to grow and by staying in one place I don’t think you get as much of a chance to do that.”– Kendra Lynn 2nd Year PhD Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“In my personal opinion, you should go someplace different. You’ve most likely already been there for 4+ years, it’s nice to get a change of scenery.  Explore a new school, environment, people – diversify! Of course this depends on everyone.  Also, if you have already been working on a project in your undergrad, and want to continue working on it,it might be more prudent to stay in the same program/school.” – Shimi Rii 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“If you can, I would suggest going to a different school for grad school. Going to a different place allows you to expand the number of people you know and worked with. If you can’t go to another school for whatever reason or you really love you undergrad school, then I don’t think there is any problem with staying at the same place for grad school. Just be sure to go to conferences, talk to other people in your field, and even start collaborations with them if possible.” – Myriam Telus

“Yes if you have are interested in the research and have a good connection with a faculty member. No if you think other places will provide you with opportunities more along your research interests.” – anonymous

“I was always told that the more institutions you study at, the better.  That said, if your undergrad institution has a stellar program in your field, you shouldn’t rule it out.  If you do go to grad school at the same place you went to undergrad, consider branching out for a post-doc.” – Emily First 3rd Year PhD Experimental Petrology

“Someplace different, unless the graduate program is very good at your current place or you have personal reasons to do it.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanogrpahy

…while others said that YOU COULD STAY at the same school for the right reasons:

“If you liked your undergraduate school and the department you’d be applying to, then that’s a good reason to apply to the same school. But there’s also no reason to limit yourself to only looking at the same school. Your needs in grad school will be different than in undergrad. Look for a school that is known for having a strong department for your chosen field, or a specific professor whose work is in line with what you want to do. Even though I loved my undergraduate school, when I decided to go into oceanography, I wanted to find a school with a larger oceanography department.” – Katie Smith 5th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“There are costs and benefits to either option.  Same place means you already probably have a project in mind and connections to get it done, but it may be worth taking the risk to start in a new lab on a new project to gain insight into a new area of research.  I enjoyed moving to a totally new place (from Wisconsin to Hawaii) and starting totally fresh.” – Michelle Jungbluth 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“If there the department or professor you are working with is well known in the field, it can be worth it to stay. Otherwise I would apply to other programs to get a well rounded education. It can start to look weird if you get all your degrees from the same place.” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

In general, go where you find the BEST MATCH for yourself:

“Explore your options.  If you have an academic adviser or faculty mentor that can help you navigate through the pros and cons of different programs, then seek his/her advice.  Go where you find the best match to your interests, skills, and goals.” – Allison Fong 6th Year PhD Biological Oceanography – Microbial Ecology

“You should apply to the best grad school you can get into.  You should apply to a place where you have a potential adviser working on a topic you are interested in.” – Donn Viviani 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“Personal choice.  It is recommended to go somewhere else to get ‘other university’ experience.  I knew I wanted to do a PhD in Hawaii (where I did my undergrad) so I went to England for a Masters.  It was definitely worth it to see how different researches teach and conduct research.” – Samantha Weaver 1st Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

“There is a lot of talk about ‘diversifying’ your degrees and institutions to become a ‘well-rounded’ academic, but ultimately you should apply to and attend programs that will make you happy to be a part of, regardless if you stay in the same place or go someplace different.” – Sara Thomas 3rd Year MS Biological Oceanography

 

Question 7 – What can I do to get into graduate school if my grades aren’t very good?  – What  could improve my chances of getting into graduate school?

Most recommended to get experience in the field you are interested in, for example through an internship or outreach…

“do an internship with the one you want to work with” – Alma Carolina Castillo 3rd Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Get an internship or work/volunteer in a lab, especially with a professor you are interested in working with. Good GRE scores should help.” – Myriam Telus

“Intern or work for a couple of years in the field you wish to study.” – anonymous

“Best thing is probably getting to know, like doing an internship with the person you are thinking of working (being advised by) under/with.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Social success is still very much based on who you know (no matter what field you are in). Make sure you interact with the individuals you would like to work with at the universities of your choice. Apply for internships and fellowships as an undergraduate (and participate in them). Engage in community outreach (in the field you’re choosing to pursue). And though it seems egocentric or narcissistic, don’t be afraid to toot-your-own-horn about any real accomplishments in these areas when you write your personal research statement!” – Christine Waters 3rd Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

or a senior thesis project or other WORK IN A LAB during or after your bachelors:

“Complete a senior thesis or other research related experience. This is often a strong part of a graduate school application.” – Kendra Lynn 2nd Year PhD Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“Have experience working in a lab.  Having lab or field experience can help a lot.” – Donn Viviani 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“Experience.   I think the fact that I had taken that time off to work and discovered that I did not want to continue on that path was a benefit to my resume.  Also that despite wanting to change, I was still able to get good letters of recommendation from those that I worked with was great.   It is about people and building connections.  If you take the time to get to know the people you want to work with by reading papers or stopping by their office, or talking with them on the phone, the chances that you will be remembered when they are looking at applicants will be much greater, and they may not care as much about that C you got in Chemistry (ahem. me).” – Michelle Jungbluth – 1st Year PhD – Biological Oceanography

“The best thing you can do is get work experience in your field. Any kind of research you did with a professor, volunteer work at schools, or work-study program is worth mentioning in your application!” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

Study hard to do well on the GREs:

“Establish a connection with the advisor you want to work with. They can pull massive strings. That being said, study hard to get good GRE scores.  And, maybe taking some extra classes at your undergraduate or at a community college to boost up your grades couldn’t hurt.” – Shimi Rii 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“Do well on the GREs and if the option exists to take a GRE subject test, study hard and aim to do well on that test, too.  Take the general GRE more than once.  Contact potential future advisers/researchers in the programs you are interested in.  Ask about opportunities in their research groups and see if internships are a possibility.  Some fields have post-bacc programs with additional coursework that can demonstrate your understanding of higher level material.  If interested in pursuing research, immerse yourself in an active research group and gain research-related work experience.” – Allison Fong 6th Year PhD Biological Oceanography – Microbial Ecology

And get to know your potential future advisor:

“I had low GREs.  At the same time I came to know the adviser that I wanted to work under.  He knew my work ethic and what I wanted to do, and I knew that he values developing good researchers instead of just using PhDs to do research for him.  Main point: get to know who you want to be your adviser and make sure they know you.” – Samantha Weaver 1st Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

OVERALL take home here:

“Study hard for the GRE.  LOTS of research experience- volunteer for labs, look for internships good letters from professors that know you and will vouch for you” – Astrid Leitner 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanographer

“Good GRE scores, good letters of recommendation, experience showing a dedication to the field.” – Joy Leilei Shih 5th Year PhD Marine Geology and Geochemistry

Question 8 – Is it possible to switch fields? Can I get into a different field than the one I was in for my undergraduate degree?

The answer here was a resounding YES!

“Yes. It is definitely easier to go from a degree like physics, math, or computer sciences into a more specialized field like geophysics. Professors will often look for these students because they have more analytical though processes.” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

“Yes, you can switch fields between undergrad and grad school. It’s easiest if the fields are close–for instance, I went from environmental engineering to physical oceanography. If you’re making a dramatic change of fields, the difficulty will be in demonstrating not only that you have the skills for your newly chosen field, but also the interest. People will ask you why you want to do this new field, and it will help to have an answer beyond “”Because it seems cool.”” Did you take one or two classes in undergrad just for fun? Did you get a summer job that gave you a taste? Luckily, most grad programs will accept students who are missing a few of the background courses they expect, as long as you take those classes to catch up in your first year.” – Katie Smith 5th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Absolutely!  Many fields are interdisciplinary- entering a different field means you will add to your ‘knowledge tool box’ while bringing new perspectives to those studies.” – Sara Thomas 3rd Year MS Biological Oceanography

“Yes” – Alma Carolina Castillo 3rd Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Definitely – though, I’m not the one to ask. I went from Geology to a specific field within Geology.” – Kendra Lynn 2nd Year PhD Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“Definitely.  This was the case for me.   I did work in a lab as a volunteer for a few months before taking the plunge into a new field, but it can be done (I am proof).” – Michelle Jungbluth 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“It’s possible, as long as you took the required undergrad courses. If you are missing 1 or 2 of those requirements (e.g., Calculus), then you can usually just take them in addition to your grad courses. If you are missing several required courses then it might be worth taking those classes before you start grad school.” – Myriam Telus

“My undergraduate degree was not in oceanography.  I had taken the required science courses during undergrad, but I had not majored in a science.” – Donn Viviani 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“I think so but you may have to take lots of additional coursework.” – anonymous

“Yes!  In some cases, post-bacc coursework will be necessary to help you transition and fulfill basic and recommended requirements of a grad program, but changing fields is possible.” – Allison Fong 6th Year PhD Biological Oceanography – Microbial Ecology

“Yes. Just make sure you have most of the background knowledge covered.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Yes!” – Samantha Weaver 1st Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

“It is possible to switch fields. My B.S. is in Environmental Science, and I am now pursuing a graduate degree in Geology and Geophysics. It wasn’t difficult at all.” – Christine Waters 3rd Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

“YES” – Astrid Leitner 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanographer

“Yes. I switched from physics to oceanography.” – Joy Leilei Shih 5th Year PhD Marine Geology and Geochemistry

Thanks for reading the answers to questions 6-8 for our second category of questions, “You’ve decided Yes!: How Best to Apply to Graduate School”. We hope you found them useful, and please comment below, we’d love to hear from you. Stay tuned for questions 9-10 next week! 

Q&A Part 1: Deciding to go to grad school, Questions 4-5

Thanks for continuing to read about the “Path to Graduate School.” Here are answers to questions 4 and 5 for our first category, “Deciding to go to grad school.” Next week, we will post answers to “I decided, Yes! How best to apply to grad school.”

Q4

Question 4: What if I want to go to grad school, but am not sure which field to choose?

There were a variety of great advice that resulted from this question! An overwhelming group of students advised to get some experience before deciding:

“Try getting an internship or volunteering in a field you think might interest you. Take classes in potential fields if you can. Grad school is not like undergrad where you can usually sample different classes for two years before picking a major. There may be limited opportunity to switch fields early in your grad school career, but it’s rare and you should really go in knowing what you want.” – Katie Smith, 5th year PhD in Physical Oceanography

“Shoot for a Master’s, because it will let you gain experience but not at great cost of time and energy. Only pursue a Ph.D. if you’re sure of what you want to study. Alternatively, gain a few year’s work experience or complete an internship or something to help you decide.” – Kendra Lynn, 2nd year PhD in Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“Get experience! Volunteer or try to get an internship in a lab that does research that interests you.  Summer is often a good time to get experience in the field or lab, because grad students are most actively doing research during the summer.  Browse through lab websites in departmental webpages and don’t be shy about emailing a professor, post-doc, or grad student to ask if they need help.” – Shimi Rii, 4th Year PhD in Biological Oceanography

“Choose the field that has researchers you would enjoy working with. Talk to many researchers and graduate students in the fields you are interested in, and get their advice about what decision you should make. Going to conferences in the fields you are interested in may help you make your decision. If you are still not sure which field to choose, get an internship in one of them. Another option is to get a Master’s degree, this should take 2-3 years.” – Myriam Telus

“This is where it is important to gain experience in what you think you want to do prior to diving into a graduate program. You may save time in the long run.” – Michelle Jungbluth,1st year PhD in Biological Oceanography

“I think it’s easier to find an appropriate program and gauge your interest in specific research projects when you know what field you want to study.  Internships or part-time positions in different research fields may help you decide what really interests you and in what type of graduate program you can pursue that line of inquiry.  I found that short (1/2 year) investments on different projects allowed me to narrow my focus and determine what field to select for graduate school.” – Allison Fong, 6th year PhD in Biological Oceanography

“Sit in on some classes, look for internship on labs, ideally before you graduate from college. – Saulo Soares, 6th year PhD in Physical Oceanography

“Take different classes in undergrad to find out and take time off after undergrad to learn a little bit more about yourself.” – Samantha Weaver, 1st year PhD in Geology and Geophysics

“I would recommend taking some time off to pursue an internship or fellowship in one of your fields of interest. This will allow you to become better acquainted with the job. Some students decide after an internship that the job is really not for them. This could be said, in my case, for the first four years of my military career in telecommunications. Don’t allow your experience to take four years like mine did. Go for something that is just a summer or one year long. ;)” – Christine Waters, 3rd year PhD in Geology and Geophysics

“Talk to the professors of the classes you enjoyed. Read lots of papers – go to the online databases and type in stuff you are interested in and read what’s going on in those fields. Do you want to do something like that? If so, you may have found a good place to start. Now go find professors that are working on that kind of research. Talk to them, volunteer for them. – Astrid Leitner, 1st year PhD in Biological Oceanography

“Invest your time in a summer internship or temporary/part-time positions in prospective labs or institutions.  This, way you can explore options and ‘try-out’ different paths you might pursue in graduate school.” – Sara Thomas, 3rd year MS in Biological Oceanography

Another overwhelming group advised against grad school if you are not sure what field to go into (check out this article about not using grad school as a way to postpone making life decisions, “The Involuntary PhD“):  

“Don’t use grad school to put off figuring out your life.  Figure it out by traveling, living,  working,  socializing  with people who are doing interesting things.  An inspired applicant trumps an unsure one.” – Anonymous

“Then you shouldn’t go to grad school until you know.  Grad school isn’t an extension of undergrad.  You should only go if you really know what you want and why you want to do it.” – Donn Viviani, 4th year PhD in Biological Oceanography

“Don’t go. Find something you’re passionate about first, and then apply. Otherwise you will just end up wasting years of your life and burning up savings when you could be working an industry job and saving for your future.” – Sarah Maher, 3rd year MS, Geology and Geophysics

“Then you should not go to graduate school in research science. Maybe try an MBA or a law degree instead.” – Anonymous

“You should know which field you want to be in before you commit to something like grad school.” – Joy Leilei Shih, 5th year PhD in Marine Geology and Geochemistry

Q5

Question 5 – How much money will I make after I get out of grad school?

Your pay range seem to depend highly on whether you decide to stay in academia or go into the private sector:

“Depending on which sector I enter after my degree, I can expect to make between $50,000-$100,000 (academia vs. industry).” – Kendra Lynn, 2nd year PhD in Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“This is a hot topic – it depends of course on what you do out of grad school.  Typically, with a M.S. in sciences, a job as a technician at the University or a government job might pay starting at $45K.  In a biotech corporation, this pay could be as high as $60K starting.  With a Ph.D., the pays will range from $70K-90K, starting salary. It also depends on your negotiation skills.” – Shimi Rii, 4th Year PhD in Biological Oceanography

“No idea. An industry job (drilling, oil) can make a six-figure salary, but anything else will be a lot less. It depends on what you want to do.” – Sarah Maher, 3rd year MS, Geology and Geophysics

“Dependent on your credentials, your career goals, and your discipline.  There’s no general answer.” – Allison Fong, 6th year PhD in Biological Oceanography

“Between $70K-$100K” – Joy Leilei Shih, 5th year PhD in Marine Geology and Geochemistry

This concludes our first category of questions, “Deciding to go to grad school”! Thanks for reading and we look forward to your comments!  Stay tuned for Part 2: “I decided! How best to apply to grad school” next week.

Q&A Part 1: Deciding to go to graduate school, Questions 1-3

As a continuation of our ‘Path to Graduate School’ topic, we asked our SOEST graduate students to answer 15 questions about the graduate school experience.  These questions are broken down into categories, and today we are posting the answers to questions 1 through 3 for our first category, “Deciding to go to grad school.”  Stay tuned for answers to our other categories, “I decided, Yes! How best to apply to grad school” and “I got in! How to survive grad school” in the coming weeks. 

Q1

Question 1 – When do I go to grad school and when do I decide?  Immediately after I receive my bachelor’s degree? Should I do an internship?

The answers were varied! For example, some applied right after their baccalaureate programs:

“Based on personal experience: I had decided that I would go to graduate school when I was very young (nerdy, I know). It was always my dream – so, when I was wrapping up my B.S. in Geology, I started applying for graduate programs. I started graduate school the fall after I graduated with my B.S.” – Kendra Lynn, 2nd year PhD in Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“I started thinking seriously about grad school my junior year of undergrad.  I was in my second year of an internship and found that I enjoyed research and wanted to advance my understanding of marine ecology beyond what I had learned in my coursework.  I applied for grad school my senior year and started grad school the following year.  At this point, I had already completed three internships and knew I wanted to study biological oceanography.  I decided to continue into grad school immediately after receiving my B.Sc. because I knew what field I wanted to pursue and it required I had more research experience and training.” – Allison Fong, 6th year PhD in Biological Oceanography

“I chose to go to graduate school immediately after receiving my bachelor’s degree, mostly because I felt like I had a lot of momentum going into it (that I didn’t want to lose by taking time off). In retrospect, I wish I had taken a bit of time to relax my brain, because now, in comparison to other students, I seem quicker to intolerance for failure and burnout when deadlines are numerous and on short time scales.” – Christine Waters, 3rd year PhD in Geology and Geophysics

“It depends on how long you want to live on your parent’s couch. The ideal time to apply would probably be the last fall semester of your undergrad to limit the amount of down time in between schooling. If you’re not doing anything related to your field of study after you graduate, the sooner you apply the better.” – Sarah Maher, 3rd year MS, Geology and Geophysics

Some, on the other hand, took some time off to work: 

“I took a couple of years off after my bachelors and worked. This allowed me to determine that the focus of my bachelor’s degree was not what I wanted to continue doing and I discovered my love for Oceanography.” – Michelle Jungbluth, 3rd year PhD in Biological Oceanography

“I worked for eight years before I went to grad school.” – Donn Viviani, 4th year PhD in Biological Oceanography

“I took a year off and worked as a technical assistant in developing a volcanic crises awareness course.  While it was a great experience and I enjoyed the time not worrying about classes and homework, it made me realize that I did not want to be somebody’s assistant.  I wanted to work on my own research instead.” – Samantha Weaver, 1st year PhD in Geology and Geophysics

“Go when you are ready, that is, when you have a good idea about what you want to study and when you find a couple professors/departments you would really like. I worked (paid work) for a year in a lab before going to grad school. During that year, I had lots of time to think about what area of geology/planetary science I really enjoyed and I got to research different schools and I spoke with many people about the various departments I was interested. I took a GRE course and I got to visit many of the schools I applied to. I did not have time for all of that during my senior year in undergrad.” – Myriam Telus

Some did internships:

“Grad school’s focus on research makes it different enough from undergrad that it’s useful to go in with an idea of what it will be like. If you did an undergraduate research project with a thesis, that could be enough, but a summer research internship or a job in research after graduation may also help. You can also go to grad school once you’re sure your career goal requires another degree. I worked for two years in science research after graduation. I really liked it and wanted to continue in that field, but it was clear the only way to move up was with another degree. That’s when I made my decision to go to grad school.” – Katie Smith, 5th year PhD in Physical Oceanography

“When I earned my bachelor’s I knew I wanted to continue on to higher education but I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go or what I wanted to study.  It wasn’t until after I invested my time in a summer internship that I realized what field I wanted to pursue.  I was able to begin my graduate studies a year and a half after completing my undergraduate studies.” – Sara Thomas, 3rd year MS in Biological Oceanography

In conclusion:

“You can go to graduate school anywhere from immediately after you graduate to MANY years after graduation. It really depends on opportunities and frame of mind.” – Anonymous

“Definitely after getting some life experience” – Anonymous

“Go when you are certain you need a further degree or when you know what your research interests are.” – Astrid Leitner, 1st year PhD in Biological Oceanography

“You should go to grad school … when you feel like you have a question you want to pursue about an organism, ecology of the location, how certain processes work, etc… Graduate school doesn’t discriminate against age (though the time commitment can be more difficult as you get older, with family and other obligations).  However, I recommend getting some experience in the field you are interested in before heading straight into grad school – it is a commitment and you want to be passionate, excited about the topic you are studying, and why! I worked for a year after undergraduate to start my M.S., and after my M.S. worked for 2 years before going back to school for my Ph.D.” – Shimi Rii, 4th Year PhD in Biological Oceanography

Q2

Question 2: How much does it cost to go to graduate school? How much money will I need to live on?

Since most professional schools cost a lot of money, and undoubtedly there are many who are still paying off student loans from undergrad, money is a big concern for many considering graduate school.  Good news! Graduate school education in basic research, especially in SOEST, is often more wallet-friendly than most people might think:

“ZIP! NADA! In the sciences you either are funded through a teaching assistant position or a research assistant position. They waive your tuition costs and pay you monthly (just enough to get by)” – Astrid Leitner, 1st year PhD in Biological Oceanography

“I have free tuition at school and my adviser pays me $1800 per month, which is confortable for one person” – Alma Carolina Castillo, 3rd year PhD in Physical Oceanography

“For me, graduate school doesn’t cost anything. I was supported by my department on a Teaching Assistantship (TA) for the first year of my degree, which included a tuition waiver and a bi-monthly stipend that covers my cost of living and expenses etc. For the rest of my degree, I am supported by an NSF Research Assistantship (RA) that will cover these expenses.” – Kendra Lynn, 2nd year PhD in Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“Often times in graduate school you will get a Research Assistantship, either as a Teaching Assistant or Graduate Assistant, which means that at UH you get your tuition waived and you get a stipend that basically equals half-time pay (starting = ~$18-20/year).  With a tuition waiver it’ll only cost you the basic fees to go to grad school (~$300/semester) plus books, study materials, etc. On top of that you will need money for rent, food, etc., and the stipend (barely) covers but is enough to get by.” – Shimi Rii, 4th Year PhD in Biological Oceanography

“My fellow G&G grad students and I are pretty much all either RAs or TAs, which means we get paid and also get a tuition waiver.  So the cost of school itself is limited to roughly $400 per semester of student fees, plus books and other supplies.  Class field trips off-island are common and may cost another few hundred dollars per year.  Most expenses, however, come from non-academic areas: rent, food, transportation.  I find that I have enough money to live comfortably without taking out loans, and I get about $1700 per month.  (I have a car and pay $750 a month for rent; food takes up at least a couple hundred dollars more, plus the same in utilities, bills, etc.)  It helps that I got summer overload salary, which basically doubles your pay over the summer; this is not uncommon and it definitely helps to fund trips to the mainland, car repairs, etc.” – Emily First, 3rd year PhD in Experimental Petrology

Prospective graduate students should take note, however, that the stipend you get per month depends on what stage you are at in your graduate career and what degree requirements you have completed. Research the school you are applying to and talk to the graduate students in the department to find out a more accurate value of what your stipend would be!

 There are, of course, other experiences:

 “I went to graduate school in England.  It is VERY expensive to be an international student.  One year cost me $45,000!  At the same time, it is the only debt that I have from education (I paid my way through undergrad and fortunately PhD’s in our field receive a stipend) and with all of the great experiences that I had, I have no regrets for going into debt for it.” – Samantha Weaver, 1st year PhD in Geology and Geophysics

“I applied to five graduate schools. Each application was approximately $75. Add to this the cost of the GRE (~$160), which I took twice… Also, since I moved from El Paso, Texas, to Honolulu, Hawaii, from a house that I was renting to a sublet condo, my move cost me approximately $4,000. As an Army veteran, I had many more items than I think the usual undergraduate student might have (full living room set, kitchenette, bedroom set, and household accessories – most of which I sold prior to moving, but I had to move the rest). There was a lag between my last paycheck in El Paso and my first paycheck in Honolulu, too, of almost three months! This was the toughest part. I had just shelled out a ton of money for the move, and now, I was not making money. That’s the part I think you have to prepare yourself for the most – how to pay rent, buy groceries, etc … for the few weeks or months your university takes to get you into the system. I ended up borrowing from EVERYBODY.” – Christine Waters, 3rd year PhD in Geology and Geophysics

Some good advice about how to wisely use your stipend:

“Whatever department you are interested in working in, check whether they cover your tuition and provide a stipend. The stipend depends on where you go to school. You have to check how much it cost to live in the city you are interested and compare it to the stipend they are offering you. Make sure it is enough to pay for an apartment, utilities (water, gas, electricity, phone) and food. In Hawaii, if you share an apartment, my guess is that you will need a stipend that is >$1500/month.” – Myriam Telus

“In Oceanography, at least here, we are paid enough for basic living costs (rent, food, etc) and we get a tuition waiver.  So if you are careful, you won’t leave graduate school with more debt than you came in with.  Our department has a bit of delay between when you first start and get your first paycheck, so be prepared for a couple of months of out-of-pocket expenses prior to your first stipend check.” – Michelle Jungbluth, 1st  year PhD in Biological Oceanography

“You have to be prepared to make an initial investment (rental deposits for housing, buying furniture, a bike or car to get around, miscellaneous expenses). Depending on your major you can actually be paid to go to school or at least get tuition waived, but most stipends will only cover the most basic costs of living (rent, food, and insurance) so you won’t be saving money. In Hawaii, about 50% of my paycheck goes to rent, so making wise choices about where you live initially can pay off in the long run.” – Sarah Maher, 3rd year MS, Geology and Geophysics

Q3

Question 3 – How long will it take me to complete my graduate degree?

The answers depended on whether the student was pursuing a M.S. or Ph.D.:

“7 years” – Alma Carolina Castillo, 3rd year PhD in Physical Oceanography

“My master’s degree will take 3 years.” – Sarah Maher, 3rd year MS, Geology and Geophysics

“4-5 years, since I am a Ph.D. student who did not complete a Master’s degree.” – Kendra Lynn, 2nd year PhD in Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“Depends on where you go and what degree you want.  In England, I did a one year Masters.  Here in the U.S., my PhD will take at least four years.” – Samantha Weaver, 1st year PhD in Geology and Geophysics

“Depends. A PhD will take 5-7 years depending on the field. A Master’s, 2-3 years.” – Saulo Soares, 6th year PhD in Physical Oceanography

“I’m not done yet, but the average for a Ph.D. seems to be 5 years. Master’s degrees seem to take 2-3 years. It depends on your progress with your research and writing.” – Myriam Telus

“I came to UH Manoa for a two-year master’s degree. Having obtained my own funding through the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, I will complete a five-year PhD (hopefully).” – Christine Waters, 3rd year PhD in Geology and Geophysics

Those are “average” number of years . . . obviously the time depends on you:

“How hard do you want to work?” – Anonymous

“It is what you make it.   If you are motivated to finish quickly, you will be more likely to get done earlier.  I got my Master’s degree done in 3 years, and hope to finish my PhD within 4.” – Michelle Jungbluth,  1st  year PhD in Biological Oceanography

“It depends on the program, the project you are working on, how hard you work, and sometimes on luck in lab.” – Donn Viviani, 4th year PhD in Biological Oceanography

“This is course-load and project dependent.  I was able to earn a Plan A (thesis-based) M.Sc. in 2.5 years, but the average in my program is 3.75 years.  The intent was that my Masters experience would prepare me for doctoral research and it did, but I shifted my focus and started to work in a different research group.  This shift added time because it was not a direct continuation of my Masters research.  The Ph.D. alone took 6 years.” – Allison Fong, 6th year PhD in Biological Oceanography

Thanks for reading the answers to questions 1-3 for our first category of questions, “Deciding to go to grad school”. We hope you found them useful, and please comment below, we’d love to hear from you. Stay tuned for questions 4-5 next week! 

Questions about Graduate School

As a continuation of our ‘Path to Graduate School’ topic, we are looking to answer the most important questions that the un-initiated may have about graduate school.

Below you will find 15 questions under three broad categories that are often on the minds of post-baccalaureate students while they contemplate their future education.  Please skim the questions, and as a comment please add additional questions that you think are important.  Please comment your additional questions by Friday 11/1/2013, and they will be added to the survey that will be sent out to the SOEST graduate student body for answering.  Their answers will be posted soon thereafter.

Deciding to go to grad school

  1. When do I go to grad school and when do I decide?  Immediately after I receive my bachelor’s degree?  After an internship?  When?
  2. How much does it cost to go to graduate school? How much money will I need to live on?
  3. How long will it take me to complete my graduate degree?
  4. What if I want to go to grad school, but am not sure which field to choose?
  5. How much money will I make after I get out of grad school?

I decided Yes!: how best to apply to grad school

  1. Should I apply to the graduate program at the same place I’m getting my undergraduate degree or go someplace different?
  2. What can I do to get into graduate school if my grades aren’t very good?  – What could improve my chances of getting into  graduate school?
  3. Is it possible to switch fields? Can I get into a different field than the one I was in for my undergraduate degree?
  4. Can I get my graduate degree from an institution outside the U.S.?
  5. How many programs should I apply to?
  6. Should I apply for a master’s or doctoral degree program?

 I got in! How to survive grad school

  1. I got into a graduate program, should I take time off before starting graduate studies?
  2. What are the best tips for surviving grad school?
  3. What sort of career planning/professional development will I need to be doing while I’m in grad school?
  4. Should I do a T.A. or a R.A.? Is this enough to live off of or should I get a student loan?

From garbage sorter to marine bioacoustician

By: Brendan Rideout

Brendan RideoutIt’s hard to pinpoint when my path to grad school began, but one possible beginning is the summer after graduating high school. Going into my final year of high school, I knew I wanted to go to university (I’d known this since I could spell ‘university’) but still hadn’t chosen a major. Theoretical physics, math, engineering, and even the Catholic priesthood were all paths I considered. A mentor suggested I more seriously consider engineering. After some research, the Mechatronics Engineering program at the University of Waterloo (UW) sounded very interesting; this was the first year it was being offered at this school, and the focus on robotics appealed to the little kid inside me who remembered watching Transformers cartoons growing up. Looking back, I’m amazed at how little thought I put into this decision and how, despite this lack of careful planning, things have worked out remarkably well.

I accepted UWs offer in March 2003 and graduated high school in June. That summer I taught violin lessons (along with working at a garbage transfer station, but that’s another story) part time so I could afford to buy a laptop for college. By all outward appearances, my students dad, Scott (not his real name), was a hardworking farmer who lived a few miles up the road and who I’d known for years. However, after getting to know Scott I discovered that in addition to being a beef farmer he was a SONAR system programmer for the navy. I’d heard of the field of underwater acoustics before, having read a steady diet of Tom Clancy novels growing up, but had never thought to wonder if people actually worked as researchers or designers in that field. It sounded like a neat field to work in. I didn’t know it at the time, but that afternoon spent learning a few things about underwater acoustics would have a dramatic influence on the path my life would take.

In September, I started my engineering degree and spent the next 4 2/3 years specializing in pattern recognition and signal analysis. I never forgot that afternoon I’d spent with Scott, though, and whenever possible I took elective courses (such as remote sensing and advanced fluid dynamics) which might one day let me work in underwater acoustics. During this time, I also spent 2 years in co-op work placements in manufacturing, food processing, package sorting system design, MEMS research, ship maintenance planning, and defense contracting. For my senior design project, I was finally able to combine my interest in acoustics with my engineering skills, coupled with my many years of musical experience, and with two other musical classmates in Mechatronics designed and built a software program which generates the sheet music based on the live performance of a guitar or violin. This project would prove to be very important in my eventual acceptance to grad school.

In February 2008, I was two months from finishing my engineering degree and, somewhat mirroring my experience at the end of high school, still didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation. Most of my classmates were starting full time jobs while others (less than a third, I estimate) were continuing on to grad school. I was exploring both options, but after living on spaghetti sauce for months the thought of an income sounded quite appealing. I had a couple interviews for a computer programming job close to my parents’ place which I was strongly considering taking. To keep my options open, over spring break, when most of my friends either went home or on holiday, I was looking into acoustics graduate schools in the United Kingdom when I stumbled upon the website of the Canadian Acoustical Association, a collection of scientists and engineers (mostly Canadians) working in acoustics-related fields in disciplines as disparate as architecture, medicine, and oceanography. Acting on an impulse, I looked up the backgrounds of the association officers and came across their past president (Dr. Stan Dosso, at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada), and learned that his research interests included underwater acoustics and geophysics. His underwater acoustics research sounded really cool, although I didn’t understand much of it. I contacted Dr. Dosso, sent him my resume & transcript, described my sheet music project to him, and asked him if he was looking for grad students.

The first of several underwater acoustic data collection trips (this one in July 2008) I went on to the Chukchi Sea (northwest of Alaska).  Note the sea ice in the background!

The first of several underwater acoustic data collection trips (this one in July 2008) I went on to the Chukchi Sea (northwest of Alaska). Note the sea ice in the background!

After that first discussion, things fell into place. Dr. Dosso flew me out to Victoria to meet him in person and see the campus. Our meeting went very well, and he got me in contact with an underwater acoustics consulting company (JASCO Applied Sciences) in Victoria who I would work part-time for throughout my MSc degree. JASCO also partially sponsored my MSc research, and to this day I maintain ties to them. I started in the MSc degree program at the University of Victoria in the fall of 2008.

Deploying underwater acoustic recorders in the Chukchi Sea in August 2009.

Deploying underwater acoustic recorders in the Chukchi Sea in August 2009.

In the fall of 2010, as I was nearing the end of my MSc research and was starting to write my thesis, I had much less uncertainty in my career path than at the end of my college days. My job prospects were good, I was more confident in my abilities than I was leaving college, and I enjoyed living in Victoria. In November, I attended my first major scientific conference: the 2010 Acoustical Society of America meeting in Cancun, Mexico. I presented my research into underwater passive acoustic localization and tracking of Pacific walruses, and got some good feedback from the other members of the bioacoustics community. Upon returning to Canada, I got an intriguing email from another grad student who had seen my talk. She was a PhD student at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (a lab at the University of Hawaii), and had been asked by a professor (Dr. Eva-Marie Nosal) at the University of Hawaii (UH) to keep an eye out for students who might be interested and capable of pursuing a PhD in passive marine mammal acoustics which built upon concepts in electrical engineering. This student suggested I get in touch with Dr. Nosal, as the work I’d presented in Cancun sounded similar to the type of work Dr. Nosal was looking to do. With visions of long sandy beaches and drinks with tiny umbrellas, I contacted Dr. Nosal and a train of emails culminated in an hour-long Skype discussion with me in my lab at the University of Victoria and her in her office in Honolulu. We came to the decision that my abilities, experience, and research interests were a good fit for the project she had funding for, and so in January 2011 we started the process of enrolling me at UH in January 2012 (I still had to write and defend my thesis, and had a prior commitment to work at a NATO acoustics lab for the fall of 2011).

Grad school isn't all work and no play.  In March 2010, two friends and I drove from Vancouver (British Columbia) to Inuvik (Northwest Territories) and got to see the reindeer herd managed north of town.

Grad school isn’t all work and no play. In March 2010, two friends and I drove from Vancouver (British Columbia) to Inuvik (Northwest Territories) and got to see the reindeer herd managed north of town.

The rest largely fell into place. Dr. Nosal and I stayed in touch during 2011 as I tracked down some insidious bugs in my software, finished my research, and spent 3 months working at the NATO lab in Italy (then called NURC). I ended up defending my MSc thesis on January 4th 2012, submitting my final paperwork to the Graduate Studies department on January 6th (including the revisions to my thesis), packed my house up on January 7th (bequeathing my IKEA furniture to my bemused roommates), flew from Victoria to Honolulu on January 8th (never having been to Hawaii before), spent my first month in Hawaii staying with a friend I knew from my time in Italy who, it turned out, was also a grad student at the University of Hawaii, and started at UH on January 9th. Since coming to UH, I’ve finished all the recommended courses for the PhD program in Ocean and Resources Engineering, presented at two international acoustics conferences and a seminar on marine bioacoustics, had my first paper accepted for publication (based on my MSc research), and am continuing to work on ways to leverage my experience in signal analysis and underwater acoustics to gain information on the properties of the ocean using underwater acoustics. I like the work that I do, although some days it can be frustrating. As it turns out, my initial interest in underwater acoustics all those years ago hasn’t been fleeting. However, even if I don’t work in this field for my entire career, attending grad school has been a very rewarding experience for me; grad school has taught me, and is continuing to teach me, how to work and think like a scientist. I’m confident that there are many transferable skills which I am gaining during my time here, and am grateful that I chose to continue my university career after college rather than jump at the first job which came my way.

Brendan Rideout is a PhD student in the Ocean and Resources Engineering department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where he works as a Research Assistant for Dr. Eva-Marie Nosal.  His current research involves adapting and developing algorithms to estimate ocean waveguide impulse responses using vocalizations created by underwater marine mammals.

Path to Graduate School

By Christine A. Waters

Christine A. WatersMy path to graduate school was a mountain, and I was the stone. While many students view this challenge from the perspective of Sisyphus, perpetually rolling their boulders UP the mountain, the momentum with which I left my undergraduate institution flung me over a cliff and off of a ledge. “A rolling stone collects no moss,” is an ancient proverb credited to Publius Syrus, then, of Italy. He was, in fact, a former slave, who by his charisma, wit, and intelligence won his freedom and education. (Today, we refer to the people who create these laconic messages as aphorists.) I’d like to think this particular aphorism encourages me to “keep the ball rolling.” My reasoning for this metaphor, with the mountain and the stone, will become clearer throughout this article, but for undergraduates, uncertain about your future, but/and considering graduate school, I suggest these actions:

TAKE RISKS: Attempt to get research positions or internships during your undergrad. I was an Environmental Hydroscience major at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). During my last two years there, I participated in four Research Experiences for Undergrads (REUs), two consecutive years at my home institution and two summers away from home. When I applied for my first REU, I wanted to get away from El Chuco for a while and to try something new. I didn’t have a defined idea of what I expected, and I didn’t know how to accomplish this, but I did know that I wanted to “gain experience as an undergrad in environmental science”. (This was a good Google Search phrase!) And, because I have never been wicked charming or Stephen Hawking intelligent, any time I’ve applied, beginning with the first REU, I’ve tactically increased my odds by applying for more than one at a time (hint hint). Here is how risk taking, smartly, has boiled down for me:

I participated in four research studies in two years but was rejected for six! Few “successful” people are strangers to rejection. It’s okay. Take risks. Those experiences paid off.

Picture by Joe Petri, fitness and success coach (joepetri.com)

Picture by Joe Petri, fitness and success coach (joepetri.com)

EXPERIMENT: My first undergraduate research experience was at the Sevilleta Long Term Ecological Research facility, in Socorro, New Mexico. While at the Sev (as it is known), I learned many skills that are useful to my graduate research now (collecting water samples, conducting measurements with a multiparameter probe, plotting data in ArcGIS and SigmaPlot Elements software), but the REU also required us to work with other students on their projects while tenured. So, in addition to being exposed to those things particular to the craft of my own choice (geochemistry), I also pulled all-nighters with biologists and learned to “sex” kangaroo rats, for example. (I know you’re giggling now, but to “sex” a kangaroo rat is a familiar way of saying that I learned to identify its gender.) I followed pogo ants in the desert, got peed on by desert turtles in a turtle mobility study, aided in a prairie dog reintroduction program, and facilitated in setting up insect traps at burn plots to see how controlled burns affect wildlife diversity at the refuge. I was introduced to many topics, learned many new things, and made friends and acquaintances that I maintain to this day. When writing about this research to the National Science Foundation (NSF), I talk about the American Geophysical Union (AGU) poster that resulted from my own research and the master’s thesis my samples supported. But when I think about this particular experience, what I remember most are these people and the days and nights I spent working on these other projects. I also hallmark this experience as where I began to want to be a scientist. The exposure I received was just enough for me to finally settle into a discipline. Sometimes, it’s hard to commit to formal wear without trying a few dresses on first.

How to sex kangaroo rats. As a side, the night this picture was taken, the film crew for “My One and Only” (starring Kevin Bacon and Renée Zellweger) were filming on the road in front of our study site. ;)

How to sex kangaroo rats. As a side, the night this picture was taken, the film crew for “My One and Only” (starring Kevin Bacon and Renée Zellweger) were filming on the road in front of our study site. 😉

WORK HARD AND INVEST IN YOUR SUCCESS: My subsequent REUs resulted in much reward, and this is where my metaphor of a boulder rolling downhill (as opposed to me forever pushing one uphill) makes the most sense. I don’t want to bore readers with a previous research essay, but you’re welcome to search me out to ask more about each one of these experiences! In the NSF Pathways to Geosciences Program at UTEP (that I participated in for the two years between summer REUs), I had the opportunity to share my research at the local colloquiums and assist in almost monthly outreach with the local K-12 students. (I love interacting with the kiddie scientists!) I presented at the Students for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans Research Expo. This hard work acted as a gateway through which I was better armed to apply for REUs the summer following my Sevilleta summer. I submit apps to REUs again and ended up going to work for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) as a Summer Student Fellow. There, I was given a travel award to attend the AGU Fall Meeting 2009, to present my results as first author in a poster. Later, I presented a second poster as first author at the Goldschmidt Conference 2010 in Knoxville, TN. The demand for products, given my full-time undergraduate status, my two part-time jobs, and preparation for conferences left me in this frame of mind like a “ball was rolling”… but it was good stress and it was rolling in the direction of success. Graduate school by my last year only seemed like a natural investment – something that would continue to expand my mind, continue to fuel my ability to meet with individuals who piqued my curiosity about the world we live in, that facilitated my travel to new places, and that harnessed my energy for something productive, creative, and helpful.

With my poster at Goldschmidt… Ms. Joan Lederman of The Soft Earth in Woods Hole, MA, included samples my advisor (Dr. Bernhard Peucker-Ehrenbrink) and I had given to her in her book, “Gaia’s Glazes: Mysteries of Melting Sea Mud Revealed”. I am pointing to a picture of one of the sample baggies on which I had written “Snowball Earth Samples for Ms. Lederman”.

With my poster at Goldschmidt… Ms. Joan Lederman of The Soft Earth in Woods Hole, MA, included samples my advisor (Dr. Bernhard Peucker-Ehrenbrink) and I had given to her in her book, “Gaia’s Glazes: Mysteries of Melting Sea Mud Revealed”. I am pointing to a picture of one of the sample baggies on which I had written “Snowball Earth Samples for Ms. Lederman”.

COMMIT TO HELPING OTHERS ON YOUR JOURNEY: This might be lumped in with, “build a support network,” though there is more to it than that. I’m going to throw to the air that “committing to helping others” is even more important than simply having a support network, but I’m not going to make an argument. You’ve read my article. I’ll leave you with this: Writing this has been cathartic, for me, in that my path to graduate school was rather unplanned. I wanted to vent about it, but after creating this for you, I find that I, inadvertently, did a good job of preparing myself. What I suggest to undergrads thinking about grad school is to utilize the knowledge I’ve presented here to your advantage. Continue to arm yourself with expertise. Continue to build your professional networks. Empower Yourself, consciously, and through it all, do it with humor, care, and a whole lot of patience! Much Aloha, and break a leg!

For more information about:

WHOI Summer Student Fellowship: https://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=36375

Sevilleta REU: http://sev.lternet.edu/REU

To find other NSF REUs: http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/reu_search.cfm

Christine A. Waters is a veteran of the United States Army and a third-year graduate student in the Marine Geology section of the Geology and Geophysics Department. She is working with, advisor, Dr. Henrieta Dulaiova, on submarine groundwater discharges off the Kona Coast of Hawaii.

From a pre-Veterinarian, to Animal Behaviorist, to Adoptions Counselor, to Biological Oceanographer…

JungbluthMBy Michelle Jungbluth

I found out recently that my 12 year old self knew where I would end up.

In going through some old boxes and folders from elementary school, I found my time capsule from 6th grade with the following question:  Where will you be in 10 years?  My answer, ‘Marine Biologist’ (cue my jaw to drop as I read this, because I didn’t remember writing it).  Little did I know at the time, that I would in fact find my way to fulfilling that dream, only a few years and many side-tracked voyages later.

To make a long story short, I grew up in Wisconsin.  For college I attended the University of Wisconsin Madison and completed a bachelor’s degree in Biology, with a focus on terrestrial animal science (land-locked state, seemed like a logical decision).  During the beginning of this undergraduate career I wanted to be a Veterinarian, but realized that it wasn’t the right path for me.  So I moved towards animal behavior, and spent 2.5 years working with primates at the a primate research center in Madison.  While it was an exciting job (I have lots of stories…), I did not feel comfortable with future career opportunities, and knew that I would have to find something else.

Pumpkin day at the primate center was always exciting.

Pumpkin day at the primate center was always exciting.

In the spring of 2008, my boyfriend of 3.5 years (now husband), Sean Jungbluth (see his article from 2 weeks ago here), got accepted to school here at UH Manoa, and asked if I would move to Hawaii with him.   After a bit of deliberation, we packed up our things, bought our one-way tickets, and started our lives in Hawaii.  For my first two years I worked at the Hawaiian Humane Society as an Adoptions Counselor.

At a local pet store trying to find a home for this adorable little chihuahua mix.

At a local pet store trying to find a home for this adorable little chihuahua mix.

Wanting to continue my education, I started volunteering in a lab where I learned DNA extraction, PCR, and sequencing.  I had always been interested in genetic techniques but never needed to learn them with my prior animal behavior focus, and quickly fell in love with the ocean and molecular biology of copepods.  Luckily, the lab I was working in had an opening for a graduate assistant position working on a project studying copepods in Kaneohe Bay, and I excitedly accepted the opportunity.

Me in front of the RV Atlantis, a Woods Hole ship where I got to spend 2.5 weeks helping my husband collect samples for his research

Me in front of the RV Atlantis, a Woods Hole ship where I got to spend 2.5 weeks helping my husband collect samples for his research

This convoluted journey to become a biological oceanographer involved a lot of round-about paths, a lot of difficult decisions, and perhaps a little bit of luck.  In the end, I am happy about how I got here, where I am now, and where I may be going in both the near and distant future.

Michelle Jungbluth is a student in the Oceanography department at UH Manoa characterizing the response of plankton communities to storm events in Kaneohe Bay. She is specifically looking at the response by copepod nauplii, the youngest (and more abundant) life stages of copepods, using a DNA-based method called quantitative real-time PCR to study their role in the marine food web. 

Gambling on Oceanography in Hawaii: The Risk Was Worth The Reward

By Sean Jungbluth

Sean Jungbluth

To describe my path to graduate school, I begin when I first really began entertaining the idea of attending graduate school, which was in my fifth year of university-level work at University of Wisconsin at Madison. I extended my stay in college so that I could pursue Bacteriology as a second major in addition to the general Biology major that I already had obtained. I had sampled a wide variety of classroom and/or research laboratory experiences spanning many biological disciplines during my time as an undergraduate, but ultimately, I really enjoyed the hands-on work performing molecular microbiology based experiments; this sort of lab work really called to me. Inspired by top-quality professors, I knew that I wanted to perform some type of microbial genetics based research for a career.

I interviewed for several jobs within the Biochemistry and Zoology departments after graduation, but ultimately my diversity of experiences allowed me to find a job at a biotechnology business in the Madison-area where they make products for molecular biology. I really enjoyed my time working at this company and continued to expand my knowledge and technique base; however, my desire to continue my education was something that prevented me from getting too comfortable being a staff scientist at a biotechnology firm. I was working there for a few months before talking with a college friend, who happened to be moving to Hawaii. I was asked if I, and my girlfriend – now wife – wanted to take a chance and move out there with him. Not fully content with our employment situations and ready to take a big risk, we decided to take a chance and move to the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

I began looking seriously into graduate programs offered in Hawaii as soon as we made the decision to move there, and quickly decided to apply to the University of Hawaii at Manoa for graduate school. I had done my research and knew that this school had a high-rated Oceanography program, so I decided to take a big chance and apply because, like many people, I find the ocean to be an exciting frontier of exploration. I was able to narrow down a list of professors that I would enjoy working for quite quickly and did my best to contact them in hopes of identifying potential opportunities. Perhaps some of that networking paid off because when applications were reviewed, surprisingly, I was offered a graduate assistant position studying the microbial life at the bottom of the ocean. This still amazes me; I still feel like one of the luckiest people in the world to be picked to do this sort of work, so I cherish every minute of it.

Sean Jungbluth is a PhD student in the Department of Oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His research utilizes deep-sea submersibles and molecular tools to look into the nature and diversity of microbial life living within the deep subseafloor. Besides science, he also enjoys current events, scuba diving, surfing, reading, Frisbee, and laughing.

What was your path to graduate school?

Response by John Casey

I’ve been asked this question on occasion in less formal situations and have always drawn a blank, my eyes glaze over and I rattle off some long-winded recount of a series of disparate events that I suppose led me to graduate school, inevitably leaving the person who asked the question uninterested. There was no moment of clarity, no profound advice from superiors, no obscure accident that drew me to graduate school. I was, however, blessed by a contiguous series of exceptional mentors who, for some reason, took a particular interest in my progress from early education through university and later as a technician. With some exceptions, aptitude and merit is a fairly level playing field in the applicant pool for graduate education, that is, if you are considering further study you likely meet the eligibility criteria and credentials for application. Rather it would seem that motivation and confidence are more essential attributes, and for me those attributes grew from experience working with and for my mentor and supervisor Dr. Michael Lomas as an REU fellow and technician at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. I worked for several years for Mike and was fortunate to participate in various capacities in many research projects with many collaborators from our small field, observe the work-life (im)balance of many of my superiors, and was exposed to the rote and practical aspects vital to growing and maintaining a small research group. With that experience I suppose I was less surprised by the challenges that face all early career scientists, and which dissuade and disenfranchise many. I have few words of wisdom to encourage the prospective earth sciences applicant, but if you take anything from this blog entry it ought to be that there is no substitute for experience: find opportunities to engage with a mentor, work or volunteer in a lab, and if possible apply with your own funding. Oh and keep in mind, basic research will be a short-lived privilege for many, so enjoy it humbly!

Casey_Waimea

John Casey, surfing Waimea Bay

John is a 3rd year Ph.D. candidate at UH Manoa studying central carbon metabolism and the photorespiratory pathway in marine picocyanobacteria. He is broadly interested in the role of marine microbes in mediating elemental cycles and organic matter transformations in the oligotrophic gyres. (https://sites.google.com/site/cmorecasey/)

The One With The Peanut Butter M&M’s

By Shimi Rii

Shimi RiiIn May, I embarked on HOT-252, (possibly) my last HOT cruise for my Ph.D. project.  I say ‘possibly’ because you never know what your committee may spring on you at the last minute. Inside, however, I felt a bit giddy but already nostalgic – there were many adventures that sprung out of these trips to our most frequently visited station in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG).

Leaving Honolulu harbor

Leaving Honolulu Harbor for a business-as-usual HOT cruise.

I have now completed a 2-year collection of monthly DNA/RNA and primary production samples within the Hawaii Ocean Time-series (HOT) program.  The HOT program is now on its 25th year of physical and biogeochemical measurements at Station ALOHA (22° 45’ N, 158° W), an ocean station representative of the NPSG, one of the largest ecosystems on Earth.  For the last 2 years, I had a duffel bag packed with acid-stained garb that was re-washed after every cruise, a mini toiletry set, my yoga mat, and my ukulele, all neatly set aside and ready to go each month.  On May 20, I folded my clean clothes full of pukas (‘holes’ in Hawaiian) and stowed away the empty duffel, hoping not to jinx myself.

Station ALOHA, site of the Hawaii Ocean Time-series, located at 22° 45’ N, 158° W.

Station ALOHA, site of the Hawaii Ocean Time-series, located at 22° 45’ N, 158° W.

I’m looking forward to the benefits of lab life: carpal tunnel syndrome on my pipetting hand, the ability to tell which centrifuge is on by its particular drone, being able to catch up on All Songs Considered podcasts.  But I will definitely miss the monthly trips to Station ALOHA – especially the ping-pong match of playful insults I’ve grown accustomed to throwing at my shipmates, playing Dominion until the wee hours when we should be sleeping, and the constant fight against motion- or food- or microscope-induced seasickness.

In truth, my shipmates have become my sea-going family.  Each HOT cruise is marked by a random exciting event that distinguishes one from another, much like a Friends episode: “The One With All The Fish” or “The One With the Mysterious Smell (you know who you are).”  We worked like a well-oiled machine, understanding each other’s looks, knowing when a Trichodesmium bloom would occur, and enjoying moments of camaraderie at 1 a.m.

A cruise that will forever remain warm and fuzzy in my heart is HOT-242, my first birthday cruise. Though I’ve sailed on research ships for over 10 years, I somehow managed to stay land-rooted on my birthdays.  I woke up to a bouquet of balloons on my stateroom door with a gift bag full of candy and a card signed by everyone on board.  It was just another birthday, but I felt special. This year, I wasn’t going to have Facebook greetings from high school classmates that I never talk to anymore.  Never mind that I had to wake up at 3 a.m. for my CTD cast; I was with my Station ALOHA ‘ohana (family) and it was going to be an awesome birthday at sea.

Balloons from the Station ALOHA ‘ohana on stateroom door.

Balloons from the Station ALOHA ‘ohana on stateroom door.

Science on my birthday cruise was nothing out of the ordinary, with every hour being accounted for and occurring like clockwork, as per usual on a HOT cruise.  The only thing different was an assignment to track down a rogue seaglider that was deployed a week prior.  This seaglider, an autonomous profiling instrument designed to give us real-time environmental data, decided to ignore all assigned depths and commands and it fell on our crew to bring the rebel home.  Unfortunately, this resulted in a spontaneous jaunt to Kaua‘i across the 72-mile-long Ka‘ie‘ie Waho Channel.

The rogue seaglider that went off track during HOT-242.

The rogue seaglider that went off track during HOT-242.

I had been feeling great for the first 4 days of the cruise, and by the time the ship started its channel transit, I was done with my work and watching movies in the lounge with a bag of peanut butter M&M’s.  Unexpectedly, that familiar, slightly acidic taste had developed in my mouth.  “You doing alright? Ready for your birthday cake?” My colleague teased, noticing my fear-filled wide eyes.  “Are you sweating?” He kept on. I glared and waved him away weakly, overcome with sudden shivering. The M&M’s were now sloshing around in my stomach, much like the water around the boat.  It was dinner time, and the smell of sautéed shrimp, normally my favorite, didn’t help. I took deep breaths and closed my eyes, determined to make it to my birthday at sea celebration.

Finally in the mess hall, I closed my eyes to concentrate as my ‘ohana sang “Happy Birthday” and presented me with my cake.  I can do this, I told myself. This day can still be awesome. I managed a smile and stood up to cut the cake, when the room blurred and started spinning.

Gulp. “Fernando, cut this,” I blurted out, shoved the knife in his hand, and ran to the nearest head (bathroom on a ship).

Thanks to HOT-242, it will be a long time before I can eat peanut butter M&M’s again.

Sara Lee birthday cake that I never got to taste.

Sara Lee birthday cake that I never got to taste.

Shimi Rii is a 5th-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  Her current research looks at the diversity of tiny eukaryotic phytoplankton and their role in carbon cycling in the North and South Pacific Subtropical Gyres.  She enjoys creating things, relaying the awesome-ness of microbes to high school students, and practicing science writing. 

Chasing Plankton

By Michelle J. Jungbluth

JungbluthM

October 23, 2011.  The day started out sunny, warm, pretty much a normal day on Oahu.  Little did I know that it was going to be my own personal ‘D-day’, the next day would be the beginning of a very busy 14 days.  I was having a great night grilling at a friend’s house in St. Louis Heights.  After taking a step out of the house to get some fresh air, I looked mauka into the sky, and noticed the clouds looked darker than usual over the windward side.  “It’s going to happen tonight…” I said, more to myself than anyone around me.  Sure enough, a couple of hours later I went home, hopped on the internet and checked the rainfall. They had already received over an inch of rain in Kaneohe, with no sign of letting up.

I had been preparing for months: e-mailing undergraduate clubs looking for any bodies willing to be ‘on call’ for helping with sampling, assembling all the supplies I would need, checking the forecasts, and generally keeping my wits about me waiting for the day to come.  Greater than 2 inches of rain in 24 hours, that was my trigger.  No less.  I started my “rain watch” in late August, after that any hint or mention of rainfall made my ears perk up, and I immediately checked the forecast.  But one of the first things I learned is that it actually can be difficult to predict severe weather on the islands more than a few days out, unless it’s a monster of a storm.

Waterfalls pouring from the Koolau mountains on the Windward side of Oahu on a particularly rainy day (photo credit: Michelle Uchida)

Waterfalls pouring from the Koolau mountains on the Windward side of Oahu on a particularly rainy day (photo credit: Michelle Uchida)

You might be wondering why I am chasing a storm. Well, I am interested in the response of the plankton community to storm events and how these storms influence the marine food web around the Hawaiian Islands.  We know that the influx of nutrients causes rapid changes in the plankton communities within short time scales, and I specifically want to know what is happening to different species of copepod nauplii (youngest life stages of copepods, the most abundant metazoan in marine ecosystems all over the world)  after these storms, as compared to calm non-storm periods.  This requires sophisticated DNA-based methods, which will be the topic of a future blog article and (hopefully) a few journal articles.

Sunny vs Showers. Contrasting conditions in the bay lead to very interesting plankton dynamics, there are mountains behind that grey haze of clouds.

Sunny vs Showers. Contrasting conditions in the bay lead to very interesting plankton dynamics, there are mountains behind that grey haze of clouds.

Once I arrived home on the night of the storm chase, I sent a flurry of e-mails: to my list of available volunteers to start assigning days to people and get the first couple of days covered, to reserve a boat  for all 14 days at HIMB, and finally, the e-mail to my advisors, subject line: “Storm chase-now!” with obvious contents.

The 14 days of sampling was a whirlwind of activity.  I drove all my supplies from UH Manoa across the Koolau Mountains to HIMB, took the shuttle boat across to Coconut Island, loaded my supplies onto the boat, drove it to my GPS-located sampling location in the center of the South Bay, collected all my samples, measured the water quality, left my supplies on HIMB (I am ever so grateful to someone who will remain anonymous, thank you for sharing your space), and drove my samples back to campus for processing, which was another hour of work.   Then rinse and repeat the same procedure for 13 more days.

Michelle deploying the plankton net

Michelle deploying the plankton net

 The dynamics of the bay tend to change rapidly, and we could see that in the clarity of my plankton samples as well as the water quality measurements.  One day the chlorophyll levels were low and stratified, the next day they were high and seemingly well-mixed.  “Oh look, the freshwater lens is coming, I better collect my zooplankton before it gets here!” to avoid clogging my fine-mesh plankton net.  Each day was an adventure.

Size-fractionated plankton samples collected in Kaneohe Bay

Size-fractionated plankton samples collected in Kaneohe Bay

Each day also presented unique challenges. One day an unmanned sailboat slowly drifted past my boat while I was anchored, and we called it in so that someone could tow it back to its origin before it drifted into the unsuspecting reef.  Another day we rescued a fellow boater whose engine failed and left them stranded not far from HIMB.  On a breezy Sunday, we were anchored at the field site, and then out of nowhere a sailing race began in the exact region of the bay we were sampling from!  I don’t think the sailors were thrilled about it but hey, there was little I could do, I had been sampling there for the past 2 years doing my time-series.  And then there were the days we got stuck in the pouring rain… I rushed to collect my samples while my wonderful volunteer intermittently bailed the boat to keep us from sinking.  However, most days were average, gorgeous Hawaiian days, and sampling could not have gone more smoothly.  Those days always remind me how lucky I am to study biological oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.   I am finally processing those samples for my PhD work and getting some really exciting data, which is a nice addition to having stories about storm chasing.

Michelle Jungbluth is a student in the Biological Oceanography department at UH Manoa characterizing the response of plankton communities to storm events in Kaneohe Bay. She is specifically looking at the response by copepod nauplii, the youngest (and more abundant) life stages of copepods, using a DNA-based method called quantitative real-time PCR to study their role in the marine food web.