By nature, I am an early morning person. I love to wake up with the sun at dawn and start working between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. Perhaps it is the silence or the lack of interruptions, but I find that my mind is the sharpest during the early morning hours. During my last semester in graduate school when my thesis deadline was nearing I was frequently in lab by 6 a.m. and started doing experiments or writing my thesis right away (sometimes the two simultaneously). By the time my colleagues arrived between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., I had already revised a chapter of my thesis or completed a significant part of an experiment.
Clearly, this schedule is not for everyone, and I realized this the hard way. I worked on a study with a lady named Sara (not her real name), and she was definitely not the early morning type. On good days, she strolled into lab with her coffee at 11 a.m., but sometimes she showed up in the early afternoon. There were days when she did not even begin working seriously until I was about to leave to go home. She was a hard worker and stayed in the lab until the early morning hours, but it took some effort on both of our parts to collaborate on our project.
While Sara and I practically lived in different time zones, we had one thing in common: a structured schedule. Graduate school can be an unstructured experience for many students. There are few deadlines and only vague guidance from the PI’s, and somehow graduate students must find a way to complete an original and novel research project. No wonder that towards the third or fourth years, many students lose motivation and even question the purpose of graduate school altogether.
So, what can you do to be productive this semester? How can you be motivated each day, get your work done, spend time with your friends and even squeeze in a few (i.e.7-9) hours of sleep at night?
The answer is a structured and regular schedule, and the beginning of the semester is the perfect time for planning. Students who were successful in graduate school (i.e. graduated relatively quickly with a good publication record) attribute their accomplishments to balancing work with a healthy personal life. By the time you are in graduate school you probably know which time of day you are most productive. So, schedule the highest priority tasks for the 3-4 hours when your mind is the sharpest. Also, make sure you take care of your body and relationships. A good rule of thumb is to schedule at least three hours a week for hobbies/sports and at least three hours to connect with your support group (spouse, friends, student group etc.)
Cannot get out of bed in time, or are tempted to stay up late again for no good reason? Reward yourself for sticking to your schedule. Bagel with lox and hot chocolate with whipped cream were among my favorites, but I know fruit smoothies and foaming lattes are also high on people’s lists. Have fun!
I write a biweekly Question and Answer column on an online scientist community called Benchfly.com, and I recently received the following question: “How many fellowships do most people apply for when starting their postdoc?” This is an interesting and relevant question particularly as the tough job market is channeling more PhD’s towards the postdoctoral track. According the NSF and the National Postdoctoral Association, there were 89,000 postdoctoral fellows in the United States in 2008, and the percentage of PhD’s going into postdoctoral positions is increasing*
Some students do not need to apply for postdoctoral fellowships because their PI’s have funding for them. Others are not so fortunate, and they need to go through the bureaucracy and secure their own funding. On the flip side, the process of applying for postdoctoral funding gives students experience in grant writing, which is valued highly in academia. Since there are only limited numbers of agencies that grant postdoctoral fellowships in each field, most students only submit one or two applications.
I know that most PhD’s would rather start a job after graduation than do a postdoc, but my advice is to view your postdoctoral position as a unique career opportunity. Many graduate students are so focused on their dissertations that they do not have time to think about their career paths. While you will probably make half as much money as your friends in industry or tenure-track positions, a postdoctoral fellowship will allow you to:
- Explore different career options at workshops, seminars, and networking events
- Gain more marketable job skills
- Improve your publication record
- Increase your professional network through conferences and collaborations
So, where do you find postdoctoral opportunities? I listed a few online resources below, but your thesis advisor is probably the best person to talk to. He or she could recommend other groups whose research could compliment your experience, as well as places to apply for postdoctoral fellowships.
For more information and to connect with other postdocs, visit the National Postdoctoral Association at:
Of course, universities job bulletin’s and your field’s professional association are also excellent places to find postdoctoral listings.
Fellowships in the Social Sciences and Humanities:
You can find more information about postdocs PhDNet’s latest newsletter at:
I never heard about repetitive strain injury (RSI) until I was in graduate school. One of my friends complained about pain in her arms following long periods of typing, so she began wearing arm braces and took several weeks off from work. Although her condition improved, her arm pain recurred after extended periods of typing. Less than a year later I developed similar symptoms soon after I switched from a desktop to a laptop. Looking back, this should not have come as a surprise since it is very difficult to type in a comfortable position while using a laptop. I loved my laptop, because it was so light and convenient, but I had to let it go in order to be able to type without pain. (In the references below, you will find advice on how to use a laptop more comfortably, in case you must use one.)
During my recovery I learned quite a bit about the importance of stress management and ergonomic typing habits. I also learned that RSI was a "silent epidemic" in graduate school. Of the 100 people I interviewed for my book, 28 experienced RSI to some extent (more than 1 in 4). A few students were unable to type for weeks or even months due to extreme pain. Others were not diagnosed with RSI "officially", but they felt pain in their backs, arms and shoulders after many hours on the computer.
Probably most of you readers have heard about RSI, but here are a few things you might not have known:
- If you feel pain persistently in your arms, those symptoms can turn very quickly (overnight) into severe pain and inflammation in your joints. The best strategy way to avoid serious injury is to seek medical advice as soon as you experience pain or discomfort from typing.
- Pain from typing frequently does not develop until after you have stopped typing. That is why it is important to take frequent breaks (every 15-20 min) and stretch your arms.
- Activities other than typing (e.g. swimming, playing instruments) can aggravate RSI, and you might need to cut back on these activities until you recover.
Fortunately, there are many resources about RSI in books and on the Internet. Of course, you should always seek medical advice first, but here is some additional information:
RSI Guard: http://rsiguard.com
Books about RSI:
Dr. Pascarelli's Complete Guide to Repetitive Strain Injury: What You Need to Know About RSI and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome by Emil Pascarelli
It's Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! RSI Theory & Therapy for Computer Professionals by Suparna Damany and Jack Bellis.
If you are experiencing symptoms of RSI, remember that recovery can be slow, but most people are able to restore complete function to their arms and hands with proper therapy and ergonomic typing devices. We know this is a topic that many students care about and we would love to hear your stories and experiences. Simply click on the "Reply" button below to post a comment (you need to be logged in to see the "Reply" button).
Wishing you the best,
Dora Farkas, PhD, Founder, PhDNet
For many individuals in graduate school, there are a wide number of directions that can be taken in the next phase of their careers. These include applying for a post doctoral position, exploring another academic track, or finding an opportunity in industry. For people who have not worked in industry or corporate settings, identifying and pursuing these job opportunities can feel overwhelming and frustrating. There are a multitude of functional areas to pursue and a wide range of companies to choose from. There are also various methods to search for and research positions including on-line job sites like monster and medzilla, career fairs, personal networking, and recruiters. A successful job search often leverages many different methods simultaneously, but we feel strongly that professional and skilled recruiters can focus and accelerate your search. Below are a few points to consider to help increase the success of the relationship and the probability of finding an opportunity through a recruiter.
- You should know how recruiters are getting compensated. Internal recruiters are employees and are typically getting a salary. Agency or freelance recruiters are typically heavily incentivized with bonuses or commissions based on how many people they get hired. It helps to understand factors that impact their relationship with you as a candidate. I recommend briefly clarifying who they work for, what their relationship is with the company involved, and how they are compensated for working with you.
- Always take control and stay in control of your search by keeping track of the activities and information related to your job search. This includes knowing where your resume is posted, what companies and positions you have applied for, contacts you have made at those target companies, and recruiters that you have spoken with. Keeping track of this information will help you in the long run and will give the impression you are organized and professional.
- Recruiters can be good sources of information about career options in industry given their exposure to many different companies and their experience in placing people into a variety of roles. If you are uncertain about a specific job or career path, ask questions.
- Many recruiters are specialized in certain areas, for example, preclinical research, clinical research, consulting, marketing/commercial areas - when you are talking with them, make sure their focus and expertise is relevant to you so that you maximize your time and theirs.
- Many recruiters only work with specific companies - you can ask them which companies they are working with to make sure they are relevant to you. They may also specialize by sector, such as just pharmaceuticals or medical devices, or they may work with specific types of companies such as large multi-national or small start-ups. This is important to keep track of. You may work exclusively with one recruiter for A, B, and C companies and another recruiter for X, Y, and Z companies.
- Communication is critical. Be honest with recruiters and let them know about the various activities you have undertaken in your job search and any companies that you have applied to. If you have applied to a company without telling the recruiter and if the recruiter than sends your resume in, both you and the recruiter can end up looking bad and this can leave a negative impression.
Self reflection is extremely helpful when looking for a job regardless of whether you are using a recruiter or trying to find an opportunity on your own. Identifying which corporate culture, work environment, management style, and responsibility level, that you will thrive in are all important factors to finding a job match which will accelerate your career. As you interview with companies, also realize that the interview is two sided - you are interviewing the company as much as the company is interviewing you. Recruiters can provide structure and guidance to you along the way, making their input so valuable as you choose your next role.
Best of luck in your search!
Lauren Celano, Co-Founder and CEO Propel Careers
It is no secret that men earn more than women for the same jobs. But is the gender wage gap closing and how does it affect faculty salaries?
In March, 2010 The Institute for Women's Policy Research published an article (http://www.iwpr.org/pdf/C350.pdf) that showed that the gender wage gap was still very significant. The nationwide ratio of women's and men's median annual earnings was 0.771 in 2008, compared with 0.778 in 2007. While the wage gap has narrowed during the last 50 years (the ratio was 0.6 in 1960), there has not been much change in the last ten years. The gender wage gap is also significant among people with advanced degrees. According to a study in 2001, the women to men ratio of annual earnings was 0.72 for those with Master's degrees, and 0.75 for those with Doctoral degrees. (http://www.womensmedia.com/new/Lips-Hilary-gender-wage-gap.shtml).
There is good news for those who are intending to go to academia. The following chart was adapted from the Chronicle of Higher Education (http://chronicle.com/article/Chart-Average-Faculty/64999/) and it shows the average faculty salaries for the 2009-2010 school year.
While there is still a gender wage gap in universities, it is much lower than the national average. I also thought it was interesting that there was no significant gap for Instructors. If you are interested in teaching (and I know many students are) this could be a great career path for you.
There is an excellent book by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever called Women Don't Ask. In this book Babcock and Laschever show that women are four times less likely than men to negotiate their salaries, and this contributes very significantly to the gender wage gap. In fact many women do not even know that salaries are negotiable. In their sequel, Ask For It, Babcock and Laschever show you specific techniques to sharpen your negotiation skills in all areas of life, including the salary negotiating table. What I enjoyed most about these books were the stories that showed how much women can achieve by preparing well and asking the right questions.
Wishing you the best,
Dora Farkas, PhD, Founder, PhDNet
When I was a graduate student diet was the furthest thing from my mind. I had a busy schedule and a tight budget, and I ate food (a lot of which was free at the dorms and department seminars) just to get me through the day. Towards the end of my graduate years I decided to start paying attention to the quality of the food I ate so I went to a "Nutrition Seminar". I received well-meaning and sound advice, but it seemed nearly impossible to implement. Eat five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day? (Who has the time?) Increase the amount of dark leafy greens in my diet? (How do I even prepare those?) Choose lean sources of protein? (Pizza, anyone?)
As a scientist, I knew that eating better would be good for my body and my mind too. Healthy diets improve your thinking skills, which are incredibly useful when you are trying to wrap up your thesis. The problem was that I did not know how to incorporate healthy eating habits into my busy and frequently unpredictable schedule (e.g. my experiment did not work, again).
What finally motivated me to switch my diet was my weight-lifting class, which was held early in the morning. I did not want to have anything heavy in my stomach before heading to the gym, but I did need to eat something. Shakes are fantastic, because you can pack a lot of nutrition into one glass, and they go down quickly. All you need is a blender and healthy ingredients. There is no cooking, and the cleanup is minimal.
The picture you see is of a shake I prepared myself, called "Pick-Me-Up Anytime Fruit Shake". The recipe if for 2 people, but if you drink the whole thing, you will have 3 servings of fruit in your body, including berries. Need a refresher in this hot weather? Here we go:
- 1 cup of vanilla yogurt
- 1 cup of apple juice
- 1 banana
- 1 cup of fresh or frozen berries
This might sound strange, but I have also added a handful of spinach or salad greens to this shake and it is still delicious (and we got a cup of dark leafy greens into our system too!). Try it, and you might be pleasantly surprised.
Since we are on the topic of weight-lifting, I also wanted to share with you a recipe that really helped me build and define muscle tone. This delicious chocolate shake also includes flax seed oil, which is packed with brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids.
Super-Charged Muscle Smoothie (1 serving)
- 1 cup milk or soymilk
- 1 scoop soy powder (15 g)
- 1 banana
- 1 tsp cocoa powder
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tbsp. flax seed oil
Initially it will seem like a lot of extra work to make these smoothies, especially if you need to invest in a blender. In the long run, however, this time, energy and money will give you a very nice pay-off as you will feel healthier and more energetic.
For more shake and smoothie ideas, visit:
Dora Farkas, PhD, Founder, PhDNet