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Life Science PhD Program Interview Tips


It’s that time of year again: the air is filled with holiday cheer, people are making New Year’s resolutions, and prospective PhD students are frantically refreshing their inboxes.

If you recently applied to PhD programs in a biomedical or life science field, chances are good that you’re anxiously awaiting (or you’ve already received) invitations to travel to some of the campuses for an interview lasting several days. When I was an undergraduate senior applying to PhD programs in neuroscience, I had a vague idea of what these interviews entailed – one-on-one meetings with a few professors, campus tours, and opportunities to mingle with current students and my fellow applicants. But I had little guidance on the details of what would be involved. What questions might the professors ask? What questions should I ask professors and current students? What should I wear?

Here I will summarize what you can expect during these interview weekends, from the meetings with professors to the late-night student social hours. While some aspects of the weekend will vary or occur in a different order depending on the university or program, graduate school interviews tend to have common threads, and with the right preparation you’ll be ready to nail that first interview!


The Preparation

Perhaps the most stressful part of the interview occurs before the interview itself. At some point after you’re notified of the program’s interest in interviewing you, you’ll start to receive a mountain of emails to settle arrangements for your hotel, travel, and other logistics of the visit. This can be overwhelming, but it’s important to pay attention, read each email carefully, and meet each program’s deadlines.

It’s also important to note that each program will have a different way of doing things; you may have your flights booked for you automatically, you may have to contact a travel agent to arrange your bookings, or you may have to book your flights yourself and get reimbursed later. If you’re interviewing at many programs, creating a folder in your email client for each program can help you stay organized during this process. I also highly recommend making a spreadsheet so that you can check off every step of your preparation as you complete it for each program.

As the interview draws near, you’ll receive a list of several faculty members (usually four or five) that you’ll be meeting when you visit. These people generally fall into one of two categories: 1) professors of interest that you either listed on your application or emailed to an administrative staff member upon their request, or 2) members of the admissions committee whose work might be quite unrelated to your own interests. I’ll get into the specifics of these interviews in a later section, but suffice it to say that you should briefly look up these professors ahead of time. Contrary to what you might hear, there’s really no need to read their papers unless you’re extremely interested in one of their labs. But you should take 5-10 minutes to read their faculty webpage and get a general idea of what they do. Don’t stress too much about this – you can do this at the airport or on the flight and you’ll be fine.

The Introductions

After your hard preparation, it’s time for the fun part – the interview weekend itself. When you fly in, you’ll probably arrive in the evening and be treated to a nice dinner with faculty and current students to welcome you. If you’re like me, the most intimidating part of this will actually be meeting your fellow applicants. Particularly at your first interview, you may be unsure of what to expect and might not know how to interact with these peers. It’s an awkward situation since you’re all technically competing against one another, but in the collaborative spirit of science, you certainly wouldn’t want to treat one another poorly…especially because some of these people will be your future colleagues and good friends if you attend the program!

Try not to worry about this. Some people may be trying to show off their knowledge and experience, but the reality is that, despite any differences in your sub-fields or time spent doing research, every applicant is in just about the same place. Take this opportunity to chat about science with your colleagues and have fun learning about their work. You may not previously have been in a situation where you were surrounded by people excited about the same thing that you are, so take advantage of it! Even if these people don’t end up attending the same program as you, you’ll probably see them again at other interviews, and for the next several years at conferences and other events in your field. Put your best foot forward and do your best to make some acquaintances.

The “Interviews”

Yes, that’s “interviews,” in quotes. That’s because the faculty “interviews” are really more like informal conversations and are much less stressful than you might expect. These commonly last about 30-45 minutes, depending on the program. If you haven’t had much practice interviewing, this can seem like a long time, but the time goes surprisingly quickly when you get into an engaging conversation.

The meeting will usually start with some small talk. The professor may want to know where you’re from, how your flight was, how you’ve enjoyed your visit so far, and other pleasantries. Then the conversation will turn to you and your research. Your interviewers will probably have read your application materials, but they might not have time to brush up on the details right before the interview, so their memory will be a bit hazy. They’ll often ask you to give a broad overview of your experience and your personal role in your research projects.

If you’ve worked on many projects, it may be best to focus on a single one. In advance of the interview, pick a project for which you can succinctly describe the background and motivation, your specific contribution, the results, and the conclusions and future directions. It’s more important that you demonstrate your scientific thought process than that you attempt to gloss over every project you’ve ever worked on. You won’t have time to talk about all the research you’ve ever done, especially since the professor may have questions that will draw out the time you spend on just one project. While these questions can feel intimidating, their ultimate purpose is not to test you but rather to see whether you and your way of thinking would be a good fit for the program. Alternatively, perhaps the professor has a genuine question that they’d like to clear up for understanding.

From here, the interview can go any number of ways. Some faculty may ask you to describe a second project. Others may ask you about a particular area of your application, such as a weak grade in a relevant class. Others may tell you about their own research. Still others may ask you to explain your reasons for applying to that program in particular. Often, the interviews will involve a combination of many of these topics. If they ask if you have any questions about the program, don’t be afraid to ask what’s on your mind. Faculty can be good resources to answer questions about the program requirements or the dynamics of their own lab.

Above all, try to relax. These meetings can seem intimidating, especially if you’re talking with a potential future advisor, but ultimately the professors are people too. They just want to get to know you, and they’re probably excited to meet some intelligent and motivated young scientists!

The Recruitment

Besides meeting with faculty, another central aspect of the visit will be the program’s attempt to recruit you by showcasing their facilities and resources. This can range from a presentation about the program requirements, to lab tours, to campus tours.

These activities often play an even larger role in the visit than your faculty meetings. Take this as an opportunity to “interview the program.” After all, if you’re admitted and choose to attend, you’ll be spending several years in this environment. It’s important to make sure that you choose a program and university where you’ll feel comfortable and supported from your first day through graduation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions during this process! The faculty and current students should be more than happy to help you find the answers you need to make an informed decision.

The Social Events

When the faculty meetings and time for showing off are over, you’ll get a taste of the social climate of the program. Most interview weekends will include one or more social activities where you can mingle with your fellow applicants and current students, and perhaps also faculty. These events occasionally occur at a faculty member’s home, but often they will be at a local establishment such as a bar or restaurant, so that you can see how you might spend your free time if you join the program.

This is your chance to learn more about the people that may be your future classmates and colleagues, as well as to explore the city or town outside of the campus. Current students will be happy to answer questions during these events to help you decide if this is the right environment for you. These events are a prime opportunity to ask questions that you might not feel comfortable asking faculty, and you’ll be more likely to get honest answers from current students who are immersed in the program on a daily basis. Here are some questions you might consider asking:


  1. What is your favorite part of the program?
  2. Is there anything about the program that you would change if you could?
  3. How are the courses? Do they provide a solid conceptual foundation for your research? How much time do you spend on classes in comparison to research? Do you have any freedom to choose advanced electives?
  4. How well does the stipend match the cost of living? What other financial support does the program provide (e.g., university fees, health insurance, gym membership)?
  5. Do you feel supported by the program staff and faculty? Who is the go-to person for any concerns you might have?
  6. How does the program support students’ professional development? Are there workshops, individual development plan requirements, etc.? Are both academic and non-academic careers discussed?
  7. What do you do for fun both on and off campus?

Finally, while you should make sure to have fun and generally relax during these events, remember that you are still being interviewed. Current students may have an influence on the admissions decisions based on the way they see you interacting with others during social events. Don’t ruin your chances by bad-mouthing your current lab or having one too many free drinks.


The Follow-Up

After you leave the university and return home, you’re not done yet! You should be sure to follow-up with the people you met during the weekend. This includes professors, administrative staff, and any students who may have gone the extra mile for you. For example, did the department assign you a student host to show you around? Did a student have an extended individual conversation with you at a social event? If you can locate their contact information, these people would be good candidates for a quick email to say thank you. While these messages won’t be likely to make or break your acceptance, they will leave a lasting impression and certainly can’t hurt.

The Attire

Clothing gets its own section because I personally found it to be one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the process. PhD interviews tend to be less formal than what you might expect for job interviews of other types, but it’s still important to look nice so that you make a good impression. In general, dress for the weather. February in Pittsburgh is quite different from February in Los Angeles, and you’ll want to pack accordingly.

For cold and snowy weather, it is perfectly acceptable (and perhaps even encouraged) to wear snow boots. You’ll be doing a lot of walking and often won’t stay inside just one building. These shoes can be paired with black or khaki pants or dark jeans, and a nice sweater, dress shirt, or blouse. Some people will wear blazers or suit jackets, while others won’t. Use your best judgement and wear what’s comfortable for you. For warmer weather, substitute a short-sleeve dress shirt and weather-appropriate dress shoes, and you’ll be good to go!

In Conclusion

Most importantly, be sure to have fun! Remember, if you make it to the interview stage, the admissions committee already likes you. At this point, you’re really not trying to “prove yourself” anymore – you’ve already done that in your initial application. Instead, your objective for the weekend should be to gauge whether the program and the university would be a good fit for you. This process should be enjoyable. Take advantage of the opportunity to explore new places, network, and “talk science” with your peers for a few days…and bask in the pride that comes with every acceptance and the knowledge that you’ll soon be a seasoned graduate student.


Meredith Schmehl is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Neurobiologyat Duke University, and a STEM advocate in science communication efforts such as outreach, writing, and policy. Follow her on Twitter @MeredithSchmehland visit her website at meredithschmehl.com.

Memoirs of a Guilty Grad Student: How to Fight off Graduate Student Guilt

Memoirs of a Guilty Grad Student: How to Fight off Graduate Student Guilt

“What are you doing reading this blog post? Isn’t there an experiment you should be running or a paper you should be reading?”

That nagging voice in your head is a little something that we call “graduate student guilt”. What is graduate student guilt, you ask? Grad student guilt is that feeling of shame that we have all felt when we choose to watch another episode on Netflix or leave early for the day to go on a run… or read this blog post. It is a maladaptive behavior that perpetuates itself throughout the academic culture. It is something that each and every one of us has felt at some point in our graduate school training. Good news is that we can beat it. In reflecting upon my own experiences with grad student guilt over the years, I believe there are a couple key sources of grad student guilt and many ways to overcome it. So here they are:

Problem #1: Failure by comparison.Academic research is built upon independence. The same can be said for graduate student progress. In many programs there are critical “milestones” such as comprehensive/preliminary exams, advancing to candidacy, submitting grants, etc. These milestones have been developed to provide structure to an inherently unstructured degree path. Although these milestones occur at different times for each student, it is shockingly easy to compare your progress/success to fellow students. “Classmate A already advanced to candidacy and I haven’t even thought about forming a committee yet”. This process of comparison is deeply engrained in each and every one of us. We have been trained to seek ranking and order. Simplifying the process down to ranking yourself among your colleagues is impossible due to the nature of the system itself. There is no clear cut “recipe for success”. Therefore, comparing yourself to others will inevitably result in feelings that “you’re behind” and “you’re not good enough”.

Solution:So how do we break this vicious cycle of comparison? Stop competing with others and start competing with yourself. Keep an updated CV. Check back frequently and evaluate your progress over the past year. It may shock you just how much you have gotten done even when it feels like you’re standing still. Celebrate your successes. No matter how small. This will help you actively acknowledge the progress you are making, build self-esteem, and help to break the cycle of comparing yourself to others.

Problem #2: Working hard or hardly working. What is your metric for success? Is it the number of hours you work in a day? How about the number of papers you write in a year? Each person has their own definition of “success”. The idea that people who work long hours are “dedicated” and “successful” permeates all career fields- not only academia. However, no one stops to ask the question of “what did you get done?” while working those late nights or weekends.

Solution:One of my mentor’s taglines has always been “Work smart, not hard”. This is an important concept in getting over grad student guilt. Identifying your own work habits (and not comparing them to other students… see “Problem #1”) is the first step in working smart and not hard. What are some other ways that we can work smart? Ironically, one answer is by not working. Crazy, right? What I mean is that carving out time in your life to not work (and I mean really NOT WORK. No checking emails, editing document X, etc) and do something that you truly enjoy. Self-care (aka acknowledging that you are a living, breathing human being with needs, hobbies and interests outside of our research) allows us to reset and avoid burn out. When you get back to work, you’ll have a clear head and be ready to work smart. Shockingly, we require sleep, nutrition, and exercise to achieve our maximum productivity. Put that 3rdcup of coffee down, take yourself to the grocery store,  make a well-balanced meal, go for a walk, call a loved one/friend, take a multi-vitamin, and go to bed at a reasonable hour then let me know how much more productive you feel. I dare you.

Problem #3: Seeking order in an unorderly world.We all seek order. We seek consistency. We all go back to our roots telling us that “if we do X then we will succeed”. However, we must re-define “order” in the academic world. This environment often does not provide us with the order that we so desperately seek. The hard deadlines, the tangible measures of success. Though it seems counter-intuitive that a lack of order may be fueling our grad student guilt, uncertainty in our lives often leaves us feeling like we’re running in mud and getting nowhere (aka “I must not be working hard enough”).

Solution:Establishing order and defining our own successes is a great strategy to start taking back control of our perceptions of progress. We must set our own goals and find what motivates us to complete them. We need to take time to figure out what motivates us and moves our progress along. We must establish order and a feeling of consistency to meet our own needs. Think about your “good days”. The days you go home feeling fulfilled and proud that you checked off everything on your to-do list. What was that day like- the schedule, the environment, etc? What promoted your success? Inevitably not every day can be our best, most productive day ever. Which brings me to my last point. Embrace the chaos. Coming to terms with the idea that there will be productive days and not-so-productive days (e.g- finished that entire season on Netflix kind of days) is essential to helping us be kinder to ourselves and, in turn, rid ourselves of grad student guilt.
As I now get off of my soapbox, I hope that I’ve cast light of my own experience dealing with graduate student guilt and provided some ideas of how to fight it. There is no “cure” but there is hope in treating it. Acknowledge it. Understand it. Let it go. And most importantly- remember to be kind to yourself.


Deborah Luessen

Advice for students entering graduate school

The first year of graduate school can be a scary one, but we are here to say it is not impossible. As a first-year student, you are learning to navigate scientific papers and what feels like an unmanageable amount of material. Everyone in your class has different expertise and this can appear to set an uneven playing field when in reality, everyone is learning something new and different. It’s difficult not comparing yourself to your classmates because that is the natural reaction, but really do not do it! Remember that you are all trying to figure this whole thing out and that YOU are just as deserving as the rest of your classmates to be in your class.

Some general advice: Form a study group; they will be your life line during the first year. When choosing a lab, do not become paralyzed in the decision, just do the best you can and find the mentor that fits you BEST. The science will change as you continue in your career, whether that be a post doc or industry, but the MENTOR during your PhD training is of utmost importance. Reading papers will get easier, and as the year goes by, you will be so surprised how much you have learned and the difference in how you approach scientific questions. This will be gradual but it will happen when you are not paying attention. And last but not least, take it all in because it will go fast! Before you know it you will be starting your second year wondering what happened to the first. Enjoy it because it really is a truly amazing time!!

Advice from the Co-founders of GradSlack:

The greatest advice I can give an incoming first year student is to find your support system. Find the people that celebrate you on the good days and lift you up on the bad days. Remember to take care of yourself and define a work life balance that works for you. DO NOT GIVE UP! There are days when you will not want to do it anymore but remember you were selected amongst many other people for your position and you deserve that spot! You have been given an opportunity that only 0.00128% of people on planet Earth are given, so make the most of it!

Brittany Jack

Don’t let yourself freak out TOO MUCH. I know I was nervous after quitting my stable corporate job to go down this unknown path – but at this point, I haven’t looked back! It was quite intimidating to go back to school surrounded by people that seemed to know everything already, but reach out to them, let them know areas you may be struggling with, because there are times when they too will need you (believe it or not 😊). So, take a breath, and realize our jobs allow us to sit in a classroom or work in a lab and learn ALL DAY, how many other careers give you that opportunity? So just enjoy it!

Roz Henn

You’ll struggle a lot the first year. You’ll struggle in class. You’ll struggle in your rotations to find a home. You’ll struggle to balance school and your personal life. But embrace those struggles, because from them come really wonderful things! Class is tough, but you’ll learn so much even if you don’t realize it! You’ll learn to think scientifically, to question the world around you, and how to read scientific papers without wanting to give up. Finding a home (lab) can be a HUGE struggle, or at least it was for me. So really do everything you can to get the most out of your rotations. Ask questions, learn new things, form relationships with the people in the lab and the PI. Even if you end up not choosing a particular lab, you’ll walk away with a wealth of information and hopefully a few new people in your corner. The balance between work and personal life can be tricky, but you’ll learn during your first year how much time you realistically need to put into studying and you’ll learn how much you need your friends and family outside of school. When you’re having a particularly rough day remember that what you’re doing is worth it, and when you’re struggling, you’re really growing!

Brae Bigge


Last week, we noticed Twitter was buzzing with questions and tips regarding professional websites. We hopped on the train and decided to make that our focus for the week. We created a channel, #websitework on #GradStudentSlack. Students posted their websites for feedback, others provided some very appreciated advice, and a few provided questions for us to ask @NewPI_Slack and @FuturePI_Slack. Here we’re going to summarize some of the tips that were circulated last week. We hope it’s helpful, and if you have any more questions or advice, send us a tweet on @GradSlack or jump on our #websitework channel!

The first question asked was: “Do you have websites and how useful do you think they were for getting jobs or interviews?”

I did have website. No idea if it was helpful but did give me another thing to update and think about how I was presenting myself. On the other hand, I just turned it into my faculty page so I didn’t have to start from scratch this summer.

The first thing I’ll do when meeting an unknown scientist, or even if I do know them, is look at Google scholar. Making sure it’s up to date is a good idea. Websites, less so, but that’s a personal preference.

As someone who is currently hiring a postdoc: make a website! One that includes the things you have chosen to highlight and show to the world. It lets you build the narrative you want to convey. It’s both good for you and good for those trying to learn who you are.

Also, when I was on the faculty job market, there was a huge uptick in my website traffic between app submissions and interview requests. So people were definitely looking at it.

I agree with @DanTGrimes. I didn’t have a website when applying for postdocs. Having a professional presence such as LinkedIn, ResearchGate, and Google Scholar gives the information employers are initially looking for. Anything after that, they can ask at an interview.

I also didn’t have a website while looking for post docs, but it’s probably to your benefit to get one set up early so you can market yourself and your research interests (I need to also take my own advice, but I will have my website set up soon!)

I didn’t have one at the time of job search, but I did notice that a lot of people google searched for my name during the process (more than I expected). So I would make sure if you do have a presence on a lab website, ResearchGate, LinkedIn etc. To make sure they are up to date.

Personally, I don’t care about websites when recruiting, but I do need to see SOMETHING online. Linkedin, gscholar, github, whatever. Something that confirms your cv/expands on your cover letter.

As a grad student/postdoc I did not have a website. Can’t hurt, but a presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, GoogleScholar, etc. would probably be more valuable. A well written cover letter and a clean CV (good formatting, easy to read and digest) are probable more important IMO.

Our second question was: “When did you set up your website? And did you buy your domain or not?”

Set it up a personal site when you start your PhD or even before. These days it’s nice for PIs to get more info on you. Then just convert to a lab website later.

GitHub.io is free, though depends on University policies

Low bar: wordpress. It gets the job done.

I personally use Blotter, wich is slightly more involved but produces some beautiful sites (e.g. Bedford.io or @EltingLab whose site I essentially copied)

I personally found wix.com to be very user friendly with a nice finishing look

Wix is pretty great. Other options along those lines include squarespace, yola, and weebly.

GradSlack Elevator Pitches

As a thank you to our members for their enthusiasm since GradStudentSlack began, we opened two surprise channels a few weeks ago. The channels were only going to be available for 24 hours, but due to the huge response, both #elevatorpitches and #howdoyoustayuptodate channels remain open. As part of #elevatorpitches we had a contest for a chance to be featured on @gradslack twitter and here on the website. We had a great response and narrowed down the participants to 5 finalists, Deanna Tiek, Sarah Kerns, Jordan Harrod, Lyndsay Kissell, and Dani Crain. We posted the finalist’s elevator pitches in gradslack and asked our members to vote on the best elevator pitch. The winner was Dani Crain! Congrats Dani and all finalists!! Thank you to everyone who participated in both the contest and voting.


 Our Winner!!


Dani Crain is starting her fourth year as a graduate student at Baylor University in Fall 2018. Follow her on Twitter @DCrainium. Here is her winning elevator pitch!


My lab (with Dr. Stephen Trumble at Baylor University) reconstructs baleen whale’s lifetime events using the hormones in their earwax. Whales produce earwax which builds up in their ear canals over time. This earwax forms a plug that, when cut in half, shows layers similar to tree growth rings. We use the hormones from these layers to show when an individual whale experiences stress, when they reach sexual maturity, and when they are pregnant. Big picture this allows us to look at the environment at the time these animals were alive. To date, we have 150 years of data from the mid-1800s to present day that shows whales were stressed out during World War II (no kidding!) and that different species of whales may change their pregnancy rate in opposing fashions to changes in sea surface temperature.

Twitter: @DCrainium



The finalists:


Deanna Tiek is a fifth year in the Tumor Biology program at Georgetown University. Her research focuses on discovering new dependencies of drug-resistant glioblastoma to determine better therapies for the future. @tieker23


Over 15,000 people, like John McCain and Beau Biden, are going to get diagnosed with glioblastoma this year, and about half of those diagnosed will have passed by this time next year. It is the most deadly brain cancer with an average patient survival of 14 months, and only 1 in every 20 patients surviving 5 years after diagnosis. Though awareness and funding are increasing with foundations like the Biden Foundation, the outcome is still abysmal due to the many special biological features of the brain, our poor understanding of glioblastoma, and its rapid resistance to chemotherapy. My goal is to study resistant brain cancer to both detect resistance earlier and design targeted therapies that will continue killing cancer cells even after drug resistance has occurred. Hopefully one day we can have glioblastoma survivors opening foundations, rather than opening them in their honor.


Lyndsay Kissell is entering her fourth year as a Chemistry PhD student at Portland State University focusing on the intersection of science and art. Her primary project is developing sensors for early detection of corrosion products via spectroscopic methods.


Did you know that corrosion treatment and maintenance consumes an estimated half-trillion dollars a year?! With the new sensor I’m developing, we could apply a simple carbon quantum dot-hydrogel patch that glows under “black” light to metal structures (over paint or other coatings). If the gel stops glowing, we’ll know the underlying metal is corroding, and the appropriate personnel can treat that corrosion at a much earlier stage! We may be able to help avoid million dollar reparation projects, and instances of structural stability being compromised! I’m Lyndsay Kissell, and I’m working to address the corrosion problem in the developed world.



Jordan Harrod, who studies at Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology, is starting her first year as a PhD Student in Medical Engineering and Medical Physics. Twitter: @jordanbharrod


*This is actually my undergrad research – I start my PhD in August.

Is your fantasy football team lagging behind the rest? Did your favorite player twist his or her knee the wrong way?

I might be able to help.

My research focuses on the meniscus, a crescent-shaped piece of cartilage that prevents friction between the bones in your knees and distributes your bodyweight as you move throughout the day. Unfortunately, meniscus tears are one of the most common athletic injuries, especially in football. If left untreated, they can lead to arthritis in fairly young athletes. In the past, my lab developed a tissue engineered replacement meniscus to solve this issue, but we discovered that our replacement couldn’t support your weight because there was an abrupt transition from soft tissue to bone at each end of the meniscus. This transition is called the enthesis. Normally, our meniscal entheses have four regions of mineralization that help to stabilize your meniscus as it supports your weight. Our tissue engineered meniscal entheses only had two regions – bone and soft tissue.  My research focused on finding a way to add those two intermediate regions into our tissue engineered menisci using demineralization gradients, so that when the meniscus is implanted, it would work just as well as the menisci we’re born with.

(Unfortunately this is the extent of my usefulness when it comes to football, so if that’s not why your fantasy team sucks, I can’t help you. Sorry!)




Sarah Kearns is a third year in the Program in Chemical Biology Ph.D. program at the University of Michigan. She looks at the structure and function of the molecular roads of the cell using different types of microscopes. Sarah is also the communications director of Michigan Science Writers and runs her own blog, Annotated Science. Twitter: @annotated_sci.


Just like cities, our cells have a complicated system of molecular roads called microtubules. These long tubes serve as molecular highways for cargo transport. Motor proteins walk along these roads to deliver organelles and other proteins to the right place in the cell. Where drivers follow road signs and use GPS to navigate, cellular motors look for chemical changes to the microtubules to know where to go. Using different types of microscopes allows me to look at these particular marks either in or out of the cell to determine the cellular and structural functions of the modifications. Certain modifications and their associated motor proteins have been implicated in many diseases, so I hope to learn how these different road signs signal for aberrant molecular processes.

@Gradslack’s own AMA with @NewPI_Slack

@Gradslack’s own AMA with @NewPI_Slack

Since beginning gradstudentslack, we have tried to engage members with week-long activities to increase involvement while the platform is in its infancy. We asked the members of gradstudentslack if they had questions or needed any advice. Using Twitter, we reached out to a fellow slack community (@NewPI_Slack) for the answers. As not only a benefit to the current @gradslack community but also to future members, we have compiled all the questions and answers from the last week’s Twitter Q & A with @NewPI_Slack. Thank you to all the members of @NewPI_Slack for your advice!!

Question 1

Hey @NewPI_Slack , @gradslack students need your help! We’ve gathered some questions, and throughout this week, we are hoping to get some advice. Our first question is what is the best way to stay up to date on literature within your field as well as large scientific discoveries?

I make liberal use of RSS feeds for key words, specific scientists/research groups, or journal table of contents.

@Prachee AC

In addition to logistics:
1) read the things your advisors are sending you
2) make a ritual for reading since it’s the first thing to get dropped when busy
3) discuss with others to reinforce what you read
4) keep a list of questions/ideas that come up

I’m a little old school and will print off the papers I intend to read. If the pile grows too big on my desk it annoys me and I have to sit and read so I can have my desk space back.

Lab journal club. Insist on having one of you don’t have one.

Scan the arXiv / relevant_preprint_server daily.

There are folks out there who tweet out papers they find interesting, and, invariably, I find some of them interesting, too. ‪@jcamthrash is a great follow for good papers.


Three things:

  1. Google scholar alert,
  2. Follow relevant twitter pages
  3. LinkedIn posts


  1. Setup pubmed alerts
  2. Setup ‪@biorxivpreprint alerts
  3. Have regular journal club meetings with people from your field, doesn’t need to be from your lab.
  4. Start a lab culture of sending relevant papers to lab members, they will do they same to you.
  5. Read the papers


  1.  Dedicate time slots for reading papers.  I do twice a day, morning and evening
  2. go to Twitter + screen preprints ArXiv or BioRxiv for the latest in your field
  3. Pubmed search using your favorite keywords
  4. Discuss the scientific discoveries with your advisors & colleagues

Dedicate specific time every week to read (that’s where ALL of us fail, even profs)! Ask your advisor for classics within your field – think 20, 30, 40 yrs ago. Example: Peter Nowell’s 1976 paper on clonal evolution in tumors for cancer biology studs.


Also set up keywords in the pubmed feed and any new abstracts will get delivered to your email every morning. Typically there are 0-4 new abstracts each day depending on the keywords.

Join a professional society ‪@ORSsociety get/read their newsletter. Follow researchers on Twitter and researchgate. Check suggestions on Google scholar.

Email alerts/RSS feeds from your favorite journals in the field; following people/projects on ResearchGate; Twitter; attend seminars/lectures from visiting researchers; attend conferences (or browse abstracts if unable to attend)

RSS feeds (you can even make them on pubmed) and twitter are my main resources for the literature.

Question 2

@NewPI_Slack here is question #2! What is the best way to learn and prepare for lab management skills, especially surrounding finances and lab personnel?

Applying for funding (fellowships) and dealing with as much of the adminsitrivia for this process as possible is very helpful. I learned a lot from the two predoctoral fellowship submissions.

100% agree re: predoctoral fellowships. Strong endorse.

IMHO, I would focus more on learning how to multitask and mentoring newer students in the lab (which also reinforces your knowledge). Both are key aspects of lab management.

Best way to get better at multitasking is to tackle a lot of things at once! Some balls will get dropped but over time you’ll get more efficient.

I use the house remodel equation. Estimate the time and money for a project… Then double it. If you don’t use all the supplies you have leftovers for the next project!

Question 3

Question #3 for @NewPI_Slack! If we are looking to eventually become a PI one day, what should we focus on finding in a post doc laboratory (size/stage of lab/etc.) that would allow for an easier transition to a PI position?

Postdoc is often a good time to switch subfields a bit and learn a new set of approaches, etc. You can always go back to the skills you learned in you PhD! Take the opportunity to add some new things to your toolkit!

Second this advice. The world already has an <insert your PI’s name here>, find some way to make yourself stand out.


Important q’s to find out:

  1.  Will the PI let you take your work with you?
  2. Will they provide the career dev opportunities you’ll need (send to conferences for networking, encourage grant writing)?
  3. Are current/past postdocs publishing CONSISTENTLY?

Can members of ‪@FuturePI_Slack also answer…? :)A supportive PI and supportive environment are absolutely crucial. IMO lab size/stage/project/etc… are not nearly as important.Find a PI (and lab members) you are comfortable communicating with, and who will be there for you.

Further echoing previous advice. Look for a PD mentor who challenges and supports you. You will benefit most if given the freedom to develop, work on, and take independent projects or work that you jointly conceive. Practice mentoring and grantwriting, and get feedback often.

I would add to this great convo that finding a mentor that also allows YOU to mentor and collaborate (graduates, undergrads, even high schoolers) within reason, will help build management, communication, and team-building skills essential to success as a PI

IMO, a mentor supportive of your ideas and development of your own scientific niche and a mentor who will help you develop a backwards game plan (i.e “we are going to submit your K99 here and we need to do XYZ to lead up to that”)

One of the simplest questions that often gets overlooked, ask current trainees in the lab that want to stay in academia “if you could do it again, would you still join this lab or go elsewhere?”

I agree with everything previously mentioned.  Supportive mentor and environment are key. Consistently publishing, grant plan of action and mentor with record of past-trainees as current PIs are all important!

A place where you have resources to publish lots of papers and take or develop projects to bring with.

Question 4

 Today we have our last question for @NewPI_Slack! What are some good ways to deal with imposter syndrome?

Actionable solution: Keep a happy folder of things that make you feel good and validation from your advisors/peers. Go back and look through it when things get rough. It’s hard to see things clearly from the inside. So best to get out of your own head when that happens and use objective evidence!

I second this! I keep emails like this in a folder called Perspective.

Make a Spotify playlist and listen to it when imposter syndrome hits you. Quite therapeutic!Also friends who are supportive when others have a imposter day, reminding as to how awesome they are.

Yes! This is my #1 imposter syndrome strategy. Even better if you do this with friends and share inspiration. Some of my favs from the @NewPI_Slack list: Wrote My Way Out Roar Unstoppable Remember the Name Try Everything Lose Yourself Who Says Hickory Drive It Like You Stole It

And my #2 strategy is find friends who are willing to be open about this. You’ll soon realize how many of the awesome folks you know are also worried they don’t belong, think that’s crazy because you know they’re amazing, and start to realize they feel the same about you.

Not at all a NewPI, but something that helped me a lot was when my boss told me “It’s my job to critique. If I stop critiquing your work, I’ve given up on you. And critiquing is the easy job. You’ve got the hard one of creating!” She said this after editing my 1st paper.

When I realized this- it helped me to realize that she’s not planting seeds of doubt. She’s watering sprigs of promise.

Develop close friendships, and then be open and honest with them. Imposter syndrome is so common, we all need to hear it normalized. Sharing with others helps them deal, and they can in turn help you. Peers can see strengths when you only see weaknesses.

I’ve found that imposter syndrome can often result from comparing oneself to others. Try to remember that different projects, experiments, PIs, etc. move at different paces. Everyone, despite how they may present themselves, was once inexperienced and has experienced failure!

Remember that everyone makes mistakes and that they are a necessary part of growth. Walk away when having those feelings and go exercise.

Remember that no one is perfect. Be kind to yourself and realize that you have gotten to where you are because of your accomplishments. Talk to your peers and mentors as they are likely experiencing the same feelings.

I found being open with your colleagues to be best. On @NewPI_Slack things are regularly met with a me too, or empathy, or a “this is what I did when I felt that way”. Give others a chance to support you.

Build a strong network of colleagues and realize we all have the same doubts.

Stop comparing laterally but only longitudinally to yourself. As long as you keep at it, today’s you are definitely not imposter of yesterday’s you.


We hope this helps everyone as much as it has helped us!

Brae, Roz, and Brittany

Meet the Creators of @GradSlack

Brae Bigge


I’m Brae Bigge! I graduated last year from Wichita State University with a BS in Biochemistry-Chemistry, and I just finished my first year as a graduate student at the University of Kansas Medical Center. I’m still rotating to decide my research focus, but I’m very interested in protein biochemistry. I was awarded the Self Graduate Fellowship this year, which allows me to develop professionally while working towards my career goals and my personal goals of creating a STEM-related outreach program for students in rural communities. When I’m not in the lab, I enjoy spending time with friends and family, hiking and staying active, watching Netflix, and reading.

Rosalyn Henn

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Hi I’m Rosalyn Henn!

I graduated in 2015 from Truman State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Biology, and a minor in Business Administration. I have just completed my first year of graduate school at the University of Kansas Medical Center in the Department of Cancer Biology, where I have both Dr. Danny Welch and Dr. Devin Koestler as my Co-PIs. I am interested in utilizing Next-Gen sequencing technologies to help better understand and direct studies in the field of  Cancer Biology. I was chosen as a 2017 University of Kansas Chancellor’s Fellow, which allowed me to meet other motivated graduate students across the University of Kansas’s campus. Outside of the lab (and time at the computer!), I enjoy running, yoga, and experiencing all that Kansas City has to offer!

Brittany Jack


My name is Brittany Jack, and I recently finished my first year in graduate school at the University of Kansas Medical Center. I joined the Avasthi Lab in the Anatomy and Cell Biology Department. We study the kinetics and regulation of cilia assembly using Chlamydomonas reinhardtii as our model organism. My project centers around actin redundancy in Chlamydomonas and its role in cilia assembly. I was awarded an NSF graduate research fellowship as an undergraduate in March of 2017. I graduated from Rockhurst University in May 2017 with a B.S. in Biochemistry.  As part of my NSF fellowship, I am involved in creating/providing undergraduate research opportunities to students at Rockhurst University.  When I am not in the lab I enjoy going to the movies, being a pet parent, and spending time with family and friends.

Thanks for joining us! Brae, Rosalyn and Brittany