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!  
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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.” 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?

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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?

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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.?

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 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

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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.

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.

How I got into science

By Donn Viviani

Donn Viviani“Aw Mr. V., you ain’t a scientist.”  I was used to a lot of personal criticism from my students.  They had opinions, frequently negative and freely expressed, on the clothes I wore, the food I ate, the car I drove, my breath.  Generally I found this pretty funny- what do preteens know about neckties?  It isn’t as if they fly off the rack at Hot Topic, apparently the apex of fashion for many of my students.  Somehow, though, the fact that my students didn’t see me as a scientist bothered me far more than their opinion that riding the city bus to my job made me a loser.

“I am a scientist and a teacher,” I told them.

“No, you’re a teacher Mr. V., not a scientist” another student replied.

I pointed out that I had worked as a lab technician in a molecular biology lab and my contributions had been acknowledged in a published paper.  They still didn’t agree, so I gave them all detention (well, I considered it).

A few weeks later I was chaperoning a group of my students through the Getty Center Museum, looking at an exhibit that included sketches and specimens of plants, ferns, and insects prepared by early European explorers.  I should have been thinking about state content standards and how to use the exhibit and field trip to plan exciting hands-on science lessons for my classes. Instead, I was wondering about ecological interactions between these organisms in their environments. Daydreaming about making field observations and conducting experiments to test these ideas.

The truth was that while I enjoyed teaching and liked my students, I was tired of enforcing dress codes I didn’t care about and prepping my students for weeks of standardized tests.  I was sick of riding the bus halfway across the city to the classes I needed to maintain my emergency teaching credential.  I was downright resentful of the instructor whose class often consisted solely of asking us if we had questions or issues from the past week. If he received no interesting answers, he would say ”well, you have to be here for three hours to get credit for today”, and lock the door and read the newspaper.

So I didn’t go back to teaching the next year.  I worked part time and took a few more science classes at my undergraduate institution.  In one of those, I geeked out by looking at bugs on beach wrack and spiders on riverbanks.   The next semester, I found myself an apprenticeship program at Friday Harbor in Washington State, where I went out to sea, and measured the oxygen content in Puget Sound.  Oxygen is one of those things we cannot live without, like water, and love, and coffee. Because it is invisible and freely available in air, I hadn’t thought much about oxygen before that.  Once I started measuring it, however, I was hooked by the way that biology, physics, and chemistry combine to control how much oxygen is in seawater.  I started looking for a graduate program where I could further study dissolved oxygen in the ocean.

Since this is posted on a graduate student blog, I obviously was accepted to graduate school!  I earned my master’s degree looking at how photosynthesis and respiration change in different parts of the Pacific Ocean (by looking at changes in dissolved oxygen), and wrote a paper on my work.  I’m now working on my doctorate.  Since coming to graduate school, I’ve spent nearly a year at sea.  I‘ve seen the Southern Cross and the Perseid meteor shower from the darkened deck of a ship.  I’ve crossed the Great Pacific Plastic Patch, the Equator, and (nearly) through the track of a hurricane.  I’ve learned much about the ocean; more importantly I’ve learned that there is so much we still don’t know.  Most importantly, I think, I’ve truly become a scientist.

Donn Viviani is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  His current research involves looking at how open ocean primary production (via photosynthesis) is partitioned between particulate and dissolved pools. He has spent 329 days at sea doing scientific research.

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/)