Tag Archives: graduate school

As you set out on the way to Ithaca…

Today’s post was written by Alexandra Courtis.

Artificial PhotosynthesisFavorite spatula and lab clogs in hand, I recently arrived on campus to start graduate school at one of the most diverse and fast-paced research universities in the world. My physical transplantation from undergrad was Spartan, partly on account of my personality and partly on account of my pithy research stipend. I packed my backpack and suitcase with the things I was certain were absolutely necessary to survive the journey. I wish these critical items were purely practical, but I have to be honest:  my outdated but “lucky” periodic table and a stuffed toy neuron were safely stored alongside my tattered (and certainly more essential) chemistry textbooks.  Everything else was treated to an uncertain train ride on a precarious pallet—successfully haggled from a very unyielding stationmaster, I should point out.

As I quickly discovered, the trials of moving cross-country pale in comparison to the challenges of the research journey I have just embarked upon. Simply put, starting graduate school is not altogether unlike a sucker punch. Not every first-year will admit it in broad daylight, but over drinks, many would agree: we feel as if we have been knocked down a couple notches from the glory days of our senior year. Perhaps this is driven by having to “start over” in a new research field, breaking centrifuge during our first week in lab, or simply a factor of being lowest on the lab totem pole but certainly our trials have just begun.

Science Utopia: Some thoughts about ethics and publication bias

Psychology’s integrity in the public eye has been rocked by recent high profile discoveries of data fabrication (here,here, and here) and several independent realizations that psychologists (this is not unique to our field) tend to engage in data analytic practices that allow researchers to find positive results (here,here, and here). While it can be argued that these are not really new realizations (here), the net effect has turned psychologists to the important question: How do we reform our science?

Humanizing the graduate student lifecycle

Graduate students gather at the start of the school year.

This week, thousands of new students will begin their graduate careers at UC Berkeley. Though many graduate students in the STEM fields have been entombed in their labs and offices all summer, we can’t help but take note of the newest generation of our peers. Since I was a first-year student back in 2008, I’ve seen the same beats repeated with each new class. In coming to understand this “graduate student lifecycle” both at Berkeley and a variety of other schools, I’ve realized two important points: (1) Berkeley does a very large number of things correctly, and (2) there is one particular shift that would result in an enormous quality of life improvement. More than rewriting any institutional protocol, I see a strong need for a change in the way graduate students interact with each other. Perhaps so many of the negative experiences and connotations of graduate school are passed from student to student, rather than being endemic to the institution itself. We need to replace the sense of pity (for both ourselves and others) with something more useful: compassion.