Words of Wisdom

Dr. Stephanie Wissel (PPPL)

  1. One of the biggest challenges to overcome is how to balance academic work with everything else in your life.  Personally, I find that if I structure my day, I can accomplish everything I want.  For example, doing mental work in the morning ensures that it gets done, and leaves time for meetings and collaborations in the afternoon.
  2. Another great challenge is public speaking.  When I was younger, I hated it, but being a good communicator is crucial to being a scientist.  To meet this challenge, I gave more talks, and kept practicing public speaking.  It eventually worked!
  3. In terms of making career decisions, you don’t have to know what you’ll want to have accomplished 40 years from now!  I find that having a shorter-term outlook (one to two years) and a longer one (five) helps me make choices that will help me get where I want to be.

Professor Andrea Graham (EEB)

  1. How did I fall in love with biology? Actually as an undergraduate, I thought I wanted to be a math major! Then, I took a developmental biology course with an incredible teacher, one who inspired me to become a biology major. You can’t always predict or even rationalize your path in science, so I’d say that following your instinct is the best bet! Certainly don’t fight your sense of where the most interesting questions lie.
  2. Take time to do the thing you’ve been dreaming of. I always had a thing for India, so I traveled the world after completing my senior thesis. I am now so appreciative that I took the time for this experience. Do it sooner rather than later!
  3. When I make career decisions, the most important thing to me is the science. You have to be passionate about the questions you’re asking, the research you’re pursuing. That has to be driving you.

President Tilghman (MOL)

  1. Choos[e] your adviser really carefully. Because once you’re a graduate student, your life revolves around your relationship with your adviser  And if that isn’t a good relationship and if that isn’t someone who is treating you like a serious person… the road gets really hard.” This means “talking to the people who are in the current lab.
  2.  I think it’s really hard to be a scientist if you don’t love it. Interrogat[e] yourself regularly. “Do I really enjoy this?”
  3. Probably the most important thing you can convey to your sons AND daughters…is to give them encouragement that they should aspire to be what it is that they want to be.

Professor Landweber (EEB)

  1. Fight hard. Put as much time into your cover letter as into the abstract main point of the paper, since the cover letter and abstract are sometimes the only thing the editorial staff read when deciding whether to send a paper out to review. Be your own best advocate. If you really think you’re paper is better than the reviewers say or definitely worth reviewing for their journal, call up the editor of the journal and let them know that, or propose how you can ably counter the reviews in a strong revision.
  2. Slow down. If I had it to do over, I’d stay at least another year or 6 months in a postdoctoral position, since I only did one year. It’s nice to mature a little before becoming a professor, and sometimes it’s advantageous to start a faculty position in January rather than the beginning of the school year. I lived in Boston, but it wasn’t until my last year in grad school that I realized that Boston offers student tickets. Don’t miss out (too much!) on fun. My first 3-week vacation was five years into my tenure track job. Don’t let this happen to you.
  3. Talk to program officers–people who administer grants. They’ll often try to help if you’re an “up-and-coming” scientist who didn’t quite make the cut for a grant, and sometimes there exist sources for starter grants or a bit of seed money. That will get the ball rolling for you.

Professor Prentice (PSY)

  1. You get rejected A LOT in science, because you’re always trying for the best job, the grant, always moving up and forward. Many guys have the attitude: “I’m awesome, those reviewers are stupid.” For women, it’s hard to bounce back, often. You really do have to believe in yourself, unshakably. This is probably the most important thing to do well in a scientific career.
  2. Slow down. Take time before grad school to explore, travel, breathe. It doesn’t help you, really, to be in a rush. Once you get here, to your professorship, you’ll be doing the same thing for a long time. Enjoy other opportunities before then.
  3. The people you meet as a grad student are the people you’re with, forever. Subfields are small, so you’ll get to work with that community for a long time. Science is very social. Be sensitive to your relationships with people in science.

Professor Adriaenssens (CEE)

  1. In order to achieve equal treatment, it can be best to keep your home, personal life separate from your academic life. Even if I have something going on at home, like a sick child or similar responsibilities, I’ll try my best to be on time to my lab, meetings, class. I’ll try not to call in and say, “because of my children…”
  2. No, there’s not enough time for everything that you’ll want to do in life. But, you can definitely have a job that lets you incorporate some of those interests. Being an academic can allow such flexibility.
  3. Have women friends, so you’ll have other people to talk to, and to get advice from. You’re not alone!
  4. I recommend not waiting too long to have kids. You don’t bounce back that easily when you’re older.

Professor Rudloff (ORF)

  1. To find out things that no one has discovered before–this is really inspiring. As a research professor, I am always expanding my own horizons. Also, another part that is really enjoyable is teaching and helping students do independent research.
  2. Advice for when research gets you down: know that there will be an up! I always try to keep that thought in mind. Also, I’m a big analyzer. I figure out why I’m in a low, and that helps to pull me out of it.

Eve Ostriker (AST)

  1. I don’t really see overt sexism anymore. There can still be issues. A lot depends on who your mentors are. You have a network, and sometimes mentors like to have protégés that remind them of themselves. Since there are not as many women in the upper levels, there is the effect of not so many higher-level [women] mentoring younger people. But I have had great mentors who were men, and it’s not only women who can relate to you. Find someone who will be supportive.
  2. People talk a lot about “can you do both?” [Being a parent and a full time scientist]. It’s not easy, but you’re all ambitious people and that’s why you’re here, and you’re not afraid of doing difficult things. It’s worth it.

Joanna Smith (ARC)

  1. In a lot of the science fields on campus, there are ways to combine your interests. In doing collaborative projects, I have found more and more ways of combining these techniques [such as computer science applications] with the humanities.
  2. One thing in my field that I noticed was that men tended to run the field projects and women tended to specialize. I think it’s important for all students to be taught how to do all parts of the project.

Christine Avanessians (Program Manager at Microsoft)

  1. We don’t want to talk about [feeling like we’re under pressure]. It’s a sing of weakness, and we don’t talk to the guys about it, but it’s normal. You’re not alone.
  2. We always want to improve. Try to use that to your advantage without letting it control you.

Grad Student Panel 2012

Mary Burroughs (2nd year, CBE)
  1. [Research] is more of a job than school.
  2. Ask about opportunities to go to conferences. 
Cara Brook (2nd year, EEB)
  1. Ask your advisor about their views on the role of an advisor, and then ask [his/her] grad students the same thing. 
  2. [On taking two years off before starting grad school] There are experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything. A lot of it informed what I do now. I used that time to remember who I am as a person. I have a better perspective on how to maintain my sanity.
Munan Gong (2nd year, AST)
  1. For me, I have to get my mind off the work sometimes. I plan something fun, and then I know I need to get the work done before that. 
  2. Having a hobby outside of academics helps [for meeting people]
Jessica Lueders-Dumond (2nd year, GEO)
  1. After taking three and a half years off, I had to relearn equations. It had been ten years since I had taken calculus. There are trade offs [regarding whether to take time off before starting graduate school]
  2. I didn’t really know when I was an undergrad that I wanted to go to grad school until I worked several jobs. I really like research and the flexibility.
Mei Chau Zheng (3rd year, ELE)
  1. I suggest having a mentor to talk to [about starting a family while in grad school]
  2. Find out what motivates you. No one is going to tell you what time to be at the lab. You have to know what gets you going out of bed in the morning.

Grad Student Panel 2013

Christina Faust – 4th year, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology – EEB
Katie Fitch – 3rd year, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering – MAE
Ugne Klibaite – 1st year, Program in Quantitative and Computational Biology – QCB
Ai-Lei Sun – 3rd year, Astrophysics – ASTRO
KatieAnna E. Wolf – 3rd year, Computer Science – COS
Audrey M. Yau – 5th year, Geosciences – GEO
  1. The grad school life is different [from industry]. You’re with your peers a lot, and there’s a lot of opportunity to do things other than your research. You’re not working with 50-year-old men all the time.
  2. I was really worried about going to grad school that I’d be a fish out of water [by going straight to grad school from undergrad and being on the younger side], but in grad school there’s a really steep learning curve, and everyone reaches the same point.
  3. Coming straight from undergrad, people have topics like multivariable calculus fresh in their minds, but people coming from industry have more of a big picture mindset.
  4. I love getting people excited about grad school, but I’m not always excited about grad school. There are some days you don’t want to ask me about grad school.
  5. If you go somewhere that you’re excited about multiple people’s research, you have opportunity for collaboration even if you stick with your original advisor. If there’s only one person, there’s a possibility that they will leave. Consider if they have tenure, if they have family in the area, if they have other job offers.
  6. You need to evaluate the advisor as a person, whether you could have a good relationship with that person. Talk to the other grad students. You’re going to be working with that person for the next five years. They’re going to be your new parents. It’s important that you’re comfortable with that person.
  7. If you’re planning on going into academia, choose your grad school based on the advisor, because at conferences people flock to the person because of their research, not their school. If you’re planning on going into industry, choose your grad school based on the name of the school, because employers will recognize the name [Princeton].
  8. If you do research [as an undergrad] and you like that field, try to go to a conference. You get to see and meet the people you might be working with in the future.