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Advice for Graduate School

Posted by naturalproductman on April 14, 2009

Here’s some good links to advice for graduate school:


PhD survey link

Science magazine link

ACS advice link

(If ACS link didn’t work) ‘s take on higher education

Asking for a letter of recommendation

University of Oxford’s admission criteria for undergrads but also applies to graduate students

Basically these websites let you know about a career choice in science and what it will take. Your advisor most of all is probably the most important aspect about grad school. He can make your life miserable. So I would say that this is something you must contemplate carefully before actually deciding. I would:

1) Listen carefully to the gossip going around within the department about a specific professor.

2) Be wary of professors who say one thing and act differently.

3) If something is too good to be true, it probably is – no group is going to be too happy – for example, I remember the students within the group were pretending to be SOOO happy in the group when it really was just a way for them to get you to join.

4) When professors fight for students, it’s a sign of a bad department.

5) When a professor is REALLY REALLY desperate for you to join his group, that’s a really really bad sign.

6) Also look at what former students are doing now – when most of the students go into faculty positions, usually it means that the professor is really good and that they care about their students.

7) Does the advisor let his/her students review manuscripts?  This is an essential skill when joining academics.

8) Does the advisor promote going to conferences and giving talks to practice public speaking?

9) Because of the rise in technology, we now have access to websites such as rate my professors where you can see other people’s views of the professors.  Usually this rating system can be a good sign of how good of a teacher your potential advisor will be.

(10) How well will the advisor take in the students’ input? In other words, sometimes the professor will never allow the student to have any input in the project (ie: tell the student that the ideas will never work).

(11) Will the professor let the students write their own papers?  Learning how to write is an essential skill for any scientist.

If anybody else has any other advice, it would be appreciated.

Be prepared for the worst in grad school:

Daily Nebraskan Article

5 Responses to “Advice for Graduate School”

  1. Stefanie said

    thank you for this post, I think it is a very important topic to speak about, but I think I have to take on on this a bit. Having worked with a couple of people in the past years, I just started a faculty position in January. I just want to add a couple of comments to your points:

    1) Gossip can be true but can also be completely misleading. I believe it is best to have a proper talk with the Professor and see if you “get along” quite well. If there is no sympathy whatsoever from the first minute this is very likely not to change. Also important is to talk to the group – are there tensions?

    2) I agree on that one but not every professor is mean in nature!

    3) There are indeed very happy groups, where there are little to no problems but they are very rare. But equally important to the professor that will supervise you, the group has to have a good social basis. The professor can do his/her best, if there are some problematic individuals in the group, the harmony is gone…

    4)Where professors fight for students might as well be a department with more space than students!

    5) Or you are just good in what you do, so you might had a project year in the group and did a real good job.

    6) This is a very important point. But joining other faculties is a very personal decision. I think it is more important to see in the current job situation that former students do get a job OR are being paid by their supervisor until they find a proper job

    7) Far more important than reviewing manuscripts is participating in writing them – also, how is the publication strategy? Is there roughly one publication per student per year? This is an excellent cut, if there are more than 20 % of students without any publication after 3 years, I would ask question about the why.

    8) Absolutely important point! Posters are equally or even more important than talks on the PhD level!

    9) These webpages mostly take on lectures – just because students don’t like you lecturing style does not necessarily mean that you are a bad supervisor (just keep that in mind in case you read something negative).

    10) This is a two-way system, you should also listen to your supervisors advice, it’s important to exchange ideas and talk about them. A supervisor has the right to say “no” to certain things but he has to explain it properly in a non-discrediting way.

    Finally, I would like to add, that finding the right group to join is also very much depending on the nature of the project. You can have a fantastic supervisor and a real nice group but if you are not feeling happy with the chemistry you are doing – this won’t help you. A PhD will be a battle and it will frustrate you at some points but if you are fighting through these bad time it is really rewarding. One final piece of advice – don’t forget your own personality, if you are a group person, very social and like to share your ideas with others, don’t join a group that doesn’t have any group activities and doesn’t do a coffee or tea break together. If you are on the other hand more a “loner” don’t join a group that puts a lot of social pressure on you. After all, you are going to spend a lot of time with these people and it is very important part of your career. You don’t want to make it harder than necessary.

    Trust your stomach 😉

    • naturalproductman said

      Ah thank you very much for your insight! These are definitely important things to consider.

      • naturalproductman said

        I have to add that these were just my personal observations as I have gone through in graduate school – however, everyone has different experiences of course – there is a really good book out there called Phd is Not Enough and has even more observations from another person’s perspective:

      • Stefanie said

        yes, same here, I think it is good for others to hear different opinions but in the end everybody will have individual experiences! Thank you for putting this out though!

  2. naturalproductman said

    The other thing I should point out is something I heard before from many people: grad school should not be how fast you finish but it should be thought of as being able to endure. There will definitely be obstacles that may try to prevent you from graduating but you have to be able to keep going and learn as much as you can!

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