100 episodes

Science is hard work, but making it through a PhD program and into a rewarding career can seem downright impossible. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone shared the secrets for success at every stage? Admissions, rotations, classes, quals, research, dissertations, job-hunting – avoid the pitfalls and get back to doing what you love. It's like getting a PhD in getting a PhD!

Hello PhD Joshua Hall and Daniel Arneman, PhDz

    • Life Sciences
    • 4.8, 102 Ratings

Science is hard work, but making it through a PhD program and into a rewarding career can seem downright impossible. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone shared the secrets for success at every stage? Admissions, rotations, classes, quals, research, dissertations, job-hunting – avoid the pitfalls and get back to doing what you love. It's like getting a PhD in getting a PhD!

    138. Listener Mail: Changing Fields, Comprehensive Exams, et al!

    138. Listener Mail: Changing Fields, Comprehensive Exams, et al!

    The mailbag is overflowing, and it’s time to answer YOUR questions.

    First up is Leslie, whose summer internship was cancelled by COVID. Now it’s not clear whether a fall application to grad school will be successful.

    Dear Josh and Dan,I am an undergrad at a small liberal arts college looking to apply to biomedical PhD programs this year. At my school, there are very few opportunities to do research outside of course-related labs. I’ve listened to a lot of your podcasts about applying to grad school, and I’ve learned that research experience is one of the most important parts of a PhD program application. I was able to intern at a lab in a large research institution last summer, and I was admitted to an REU program on the West coast this summer. Like many programs, the REU was cancelled due to the pandemic. I was really excited for this opportunity, and I am worried that this will hurt my chances of being accepted. Will admissions committees take into account the fact that most summer internship experiences were cancelled this year? Should I mention on my application that I was admitted to the REU program?

    We talk about all the tectonic shifts that COVID has caused in the academic world. And while some changes (like class grades moving to pass/fail) are no big deal, the quality of your research experience remains paramount.

    We share some ideas for getting that experience over the coming months, and how to hedge your bets.

    Next up, Ethan is hoping to enter a new research field that is far outside his prior experience.

    Hello!This summer, I graduated with an undergrad degree in Mathematics and I’m about to start a PhD in Mechanistic Biology (focussing on plant genetics). Luckily, I have found a supportive supervisor with a background in computer science. I’m very hopeful she will be able to help me navigate the transition from a purely theoretical perspective to a mix of wet-lab science and bioinformatics. I’m aware of how important the supervisor-student relationship is and I’m glad I’ve developed this positive relationship.However, I am struggling to find examples of students who have moved straight into a new topic after undergrad. The main difficulty I envisage is the culture shock I’ll face while working in the biology department, and the different expectations and values relating to research. Do you have any advice about surviving (and hopefully thriving by using my niche set of skills!) in this new environment?

    Of course we have advice! 😀

    We’re pretty certain Ethan’s background in math and programming are going to be in demand in his new program. As the biological sciences increasingly embrace large data sets, having some tech-chops will put him ahead of his peers.

    At the same time, we think it’s important for Ethan to do the hard work of catching up on what he’s missed in the biological sciences. Learning the new field deeply will unlock insights that a single-subject scientist will never see.

    He also needs to be ready to deal with the impostor syndrome that affects every student. It just may be more pronounced as he gets his feet wet in a new academic ocean.

    Last, but not least, Rhiannon is wrestling with not only a pandemic, but also with comprehensive exams!

    Hey Josh and Daniel,I’ve been listening to your podcast for the better part of my PhD and I absolutely love it! It’s my favourite thing to listen to during the long days of cell culture. 😀With the current COVID-19 situation, I’ve decided to use the time away from the bench to work on my comprehensive ex...

    • 43 min
    137. Tools for Finding a Research Mentor

    137. Tools for Finding a Research Mentor

    There are two conflicting truths for many early-career graduate students:

    * The mentor you choose is vitally important, and can impact your ability to complete a PhD and your career trajectory years into the future.* Many students choose a mentor based on feelings, hunches, and hearsay.

    Truth 1 should be self-evident by now. A mentor trains you, helps you develop a research program, and ultimately has a say in when and how you graduate.

    Later, they will also write you letters of recommendation and speak with the search committee that may consider you for a faculty position.

    Toxic mentor relationships have driven countless students away from science altogether, and healthy mentor relationships have acted as a springboard for fruitful research careers.

    But what about Truth 2?

    Given the importance of choosing a mentor, why do so many students ‘rely on their gut’ when making this life-altering decision?

    This week, we talk with a scientist who has developed the tools and framework for making that choice more rigorous, and hopefully, more successful.

    Dr. Andres De Los Reyes, PhD

    Finding Your Fit

    Dr. Andres De Los Reyes has benefited from great mentorship throughout his scientific career. And that experience helped him develop the tools to aid every emerging scientist in their own journey.

    He writes about those tools in his book The Early Career Researcher’s Toolbox: Insights Into Mentors, Peer Review, and Landing a Faculty Job.

    Dr. De Los Reyes argues that there is no single mentor on earth who is right for every scientist. A student’s goals, personality, and training trajectory are unique, which means that finding the ‘right’ mentor is also individual.

    But sorting the mentor needle from the University haystack can be difficult.

    Dr. De Los Reyes recommends spending some time understanding which scientific questions really light your fire. He calls it your “burning question,” and understanding what drives your inquiry will help you identify a mentor that can support you.

    According to Dr. De Los Reyes, “You might find somebody who does work aligned with that [burning] question. The degree to which you can pursue ideas and studies linked to that question is partially dependent on you, and very heavily dependent on who trains you.”

    “Because we only get as much leeway to pursue our questions insofar as those who train us allow us to do so. And mentors vary considerably on how much independence they give to students to pursue questions.”

    Seeing STARs

    One of the tools in The Early Career Researcher’s Toolbox is called The STAR Framework. It’s a model to help students identify both their own needs and preferences, as well as a way to identify a mentor who will match.

    STAR stands for Size, Time, Area, and Resources. A trainee can assess each element to determine whether the mentor can fill their particular need.

    For example, ‘Time’ refers to “The quantity and quality of time a mentor spends meeting with their trainees.”

    Some trainees may be new students, or postdocs entering a new field. They’ll need MORE time from the mentor for hands-on training, experimental design, or paper editing.

    • 51 min
    136. Rebuilding an Inclusive Academia with Dr. Ashalla Freeman

    136. Rebuilding an Inclusive Academia with Dr. Ashalla Freeman

    As protesters march in the streets, you’ll hear calls to “Defund” or “Disband the Police.” These advocates argue that tweaks and training programs will never be enough to meaningfully alter the course of modern police departments, some of which can trace their origins to slave patrols in the South.

    You simply can’t get there, from here, they say. We need to reimagine what we mean by ‘public safety’, and look for other ways to foster healthy communities.

    That same revolutionary approach may sharpen our thinking on academic training at a University.

    As we grapple with the way our society treats people of color, we can’t turn away from the advantages and obstacles enshrined by our educational system.

    Indeed, access to education may be one of the many steps in our path to equality.

    We caught up with Dr. Ashalla Freeman, Director of Diversity Affairs for UNC Chapel-Hill’s Biological & Biomedical Sciences Program and Co-Director of the NIH funded IMSD program.

    Dr. Ashalla Freeman, PhD

    Dr. Freeman works to promote the development and success of biomedical PhD students from groups historically underrepresented in the sciences and implements diversity awareness programming for the UNC School of Medicine Faculty Diversity efforts.

    This week on the show, she shares her ideas for making science more diverse and inclusive. Some solutions, like regular training for students, faculty and staff, could be implemented tomorrow with tangible results.

    But the real, and lasting, changes take more work, and more introspection. She talks about the need to explore the origins of academic training, and how its very designs have always privileged some groups over others.

    When we ultimately understand how our academic institutions were born and evolved, we’ll be able to reimagine them from the ground up with diversity in mind.

    And diversity – of experience, ideas, and people – can only strengthen and accelerate scientific progress.

    • 51 min
    135. The Science Training Toolbox with Dr. Andres De Los Reyes. Plus, Antiracism for Academia

    135. The Science Training Toolbox with Dr. Andres De Los Reyes. Plus, Antiracism for Academia

    Have you ever lamented the fact that there isn’t some kind of instruction book to help you navigate your scientific training?

    Wouldn’t it be nice if someone explained how to choose a mentor, or what it means to give a ‘job talk?’ And is there any advice for how to deal with that negative peer-reviewer, or how to escape a sub-par PI?

    Well, you’re in luck, because The Early Career Researcher’s Toolbox: Insights into Mentors, Peer Review, and Landing a Faculty Job by Andres De Los Reyes, PhD, is exactly the guide you’ve been looking for.

    And this week, we get this clinical psychologist’s insight into why academic training is so stressful, and how you can overcome the major hurdles along the way.

    Emerging Academics

    Andres De Los Reyes, PhD

    Dr. De Los Reyes shares his definition of an Emerging Academic, a word he uses to describe that intense training period between undergrad and a faculty position. It’s a little bit like ’emerging adulthood’, he says, when we leave home to become real ‘grownups’, with all the uncertainty and responsibility that entails.

    One reason academia makes that transition difficult is because our training programs are more focused on ‘book smarts’ than ‘street smarts,’ he says. We spend years learning the depth and nuance of our scientific field, but hardly anyone teaches us the actual skills that faculty use to succeed.

    For example, you may get lucky enough to co-author a paper or two with your PI, but has anyone taught you how to successfully apply for grants?

    Do you know how much budget to ask for when setting up a lab?

    And what do you do if one of your competitors reviews your paper, and actively works against you with the editor?

    The Early Career Researcher’s Toolbox answers those questions and more. It’s packed with step-by-step instructions, sample emails and cover letters, and personal stories from other Emerging Academics to help you realize you’re not alone on this journey.

    It’s essential reading whether you’re an undergrad, a new faculty member, or anywhere in between.

    Black Lives Matter

    We also take some time in this episode to continue a conversation on many hearts and minds recently.

    As the United States opens its eyes to the institutional racism that resulted in the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and many before them, we must also reflect on and mobilize against the racism endemic in academia and research institutions.

    That starts by listening to the voices of black and minority students who have faced implicit and explicit bias at every stage of life, including the Ivory Tower.

    Then, we must do some work to understand your own implicit biases,

    • 57 min
    134. Lessons from the Quarantine

    134. Lessons from the Quarantine

    COVID-19 is a wildfire burning its way around the planet.

    Its impacts are devastating to nearly every aspect of our modern lives: loved ones lost, economies destroyed, and plans put on hold indefinitely.

    But like a fire, it’s also shedding light, illuminating the hidden corners of our society and our routines that we may not have taken the time to examine before.

    When this fire eventually burns itself out, should we go back to living in the dark, or are there lessons we should learn? Are there torches we can carry beyond this trial to more permanently transform our work, our values, and our lives?

    This week on the show, we reflect on the lessons learned from the global experiment that COVID-19 has forced on our lives.

    Though none of us chose to participate, we have all been enrolled in a massive clinical trial.

    We have upended our work habits, leaving our labs and offices to quarantine at home. We’ve been forced to rethink the pace of our work, the value of ‘face time’, and the strategies we employ for doing everything from lab work to ordering takeout.

    And while the devastation is real, not every change has been harmful. On the contrary, we’ve identified at least five transformations that we’d like to maintain even after the pandemic is over…

    Slowing our pace may speed up science

    Most researchers have been out of the lab for two months or more. What have they been doing with this extra time?

    For many, it’s a chance to spend more time thinking about their research, rather than doing the next experiment just to keep busy. This planning time can pay outsized dividends, as we learned when we spoke with Dr. Jimena Giudice back in Episode 122.

    Scientists often fill their days with busyness and experiments, without thinking strategically about how those results will advance their next paper or the question they hope to resolve.

    Slowing down has allowed many scientists to plan a leaner, more targeted approach to those answers.

    Technology can make science more accessible

    Raise your hand if you’ve participated in a Zoom meeting that, three months ago, would’ve been done in person with half as many participants…

    By pushing conversation online, we’ve opened up a whole new world of collaboration where your physical distance from the research is no barrier to your participation. As dissertation defenses, journal clubs, and research seminars move online, science becomes more accessible and more collaborative.

    We need to ensure that this online access continues even after we can safely meet together in person.

    Remote work has some advantages

    Sure, you need to be physically present in the lab when splitting cells or running a PCR because your house or local coffee shop don’t have a laminar flow hood, Vortex mixer, and thermocycler.

    But what about the times you need to read journals or write a manuscript? Many scientists can find the lab distracting when engaging in these solitary pursuits.

    But ask the typical graduate student whether it’s okay to ‘work from home for a few days’ while writing, and they’ll reflexively default to lab attendance regardless of the activity, the holiday, or the weekend.

    As we prove to ourselves and our colleagues that we CA...

    • 55 min
    133. Galileo and the Science Deniers – with Dr. Mario Livio

    133. Galileo and the Science Deniers – with Dr. Mario Livio

    Four hundred years ago, Galileo Galilei knelt before a group of Cardinals of the Catholic Church and was forced to recant his heretical belief that the Earth revolves around the sun.

    “This must have been horrific for him,” says Dr. Mario Livio, author of a new biography titled Galileo and the Science Deniers. “To basically disavow everything he strongly believed in as a scientist.”

    This week on the show, we talk with Dr. Livio about Galileo’s life and struggles, and what his experience can teach us about the science deniers living in our own time.

    Finding the Center

    Galileo was an Italian astronomer, physicist, and polymath who lived and studied in Italy around the turn of the seventeenth century.

    He may be best known for an experiment that he probably didn’t actually do – the apocryphal tale of Galileo dropping different objects off the side of the Leaning Tower of Pisa to see how they would accelerate.

    But Galileo’s astronomical observations, and the conflict they produced, take center stage in Dr. Livio’s new book. It’s a story that surprisingly few people have heard.

    “Galileo is one of the most fascinating personalities in history. While everybody has heard about Galileo, I discovered that very few people actually know exactly what happened to him,” Livio recalls.

    Dr. Mario Livio, author of Galileo and the Science Deniers

    The book begins as a straightforward biography, describing Galileo’s early years, studying and teaching at Universities around Italy. But as the chapters progress, the reader begins to pick up on the faint but steady drumbeat of Galileo’s impending battle.

    Dr. Livio sets the stage: “Aristotle and Ptolemy had a geocentric model of the solar system, in which the Earth was at the center and everything else revolved around the Earth. And the Catholic Church, over the years, adopted this particular model as its orthodoxy.”

    “Copernicus changed that by suggesting that the sun is actually at the center, and the Earth and all the other planets revolve around the sun. And that’s where Galileo enters the scene.”

    The book describes Galileo’s astronomical observations that built a case for the heliocentric model of Copernicus. The reader gets to follow along on this path of discovery, observing Galileo as he observes the Phases of Venus, or spots circling the sun, and draws new conclusions about the position of our planet in the solar system.

    The Road to Rome

    But inevitably, Galileo’s research and writings come to the attention of the Church, and his trajectory is locked on a path toward conflict with Pope Urban VIII.

    Through a series of Papal threats, legal injunctions, and a three-phase trial that reads like the script of an episode of Law & Order, Galileo is found “vehemently suspect of heresy” for asserting that the Earth revolves around the sun.

    He must choose between recanting these views or being labeled a heretic – a title that would lead to his torture and death.

    Nearing seventy years of age,

    • 1 hr 2 min

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5
102 Ratings

102 Ratings

Kelsell15 ,

Fantastic for scientists of all career stages!

This podcast does a great job of explaining all aspects of academia! It can be so hard for first generation PhD students to navigate the “boy’s club” that academia sometimes appears to be. These men seem so nice and approachable. Great speaking voices as well!

amberberry07 ,

Good but get to the point

They waste so much time (sometimes 15+ minutes) before getting to the point of the episode. Only downside, otherwise I really enjoy the content that actually relates to the episode.

CWH50 ,

Too Political and Biased

I wish the hosts had been able to keep their political biases out of the episodes. It was interesting and humorous to hear their hubris to assume that they are absolutely correct. Their ‘training’ as scientists obviously missed the critical thought portion. As a scientist who has been in academia and industry I was hoping for a podcast that would actually show open inquiry and fairness. UNSUBSCRIBE.

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