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

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!

    106: HelloPhD Guide to Grad School Applications – Acing Your Interview with Dr. Beth Bowman (R)

    106: HelloPhD Guide to Grad School Applications – Acing Your Interview with Dr. Beth Bowman (R)

    See our previous episodes in this series:

    * 101: HelloPhD Guide to Grad School Applications – Knowing When, and Where, to Apply with Dr. Beth Bowman* 102: HelloPhD Guide to Grad School Applications – Crafting the Perfect Personal Statement with Dr. Brian Rybarczyk

    With most jobs, you’ll need to submit a polished resume along with a handful of ebullient references. Maybe you’ll pass through a phone-screen with HR and then spend 20 minutes with the hiring manager.  

    To get into grad school, the interview process will take days.

    Grad school interviews often start with a flight to a new city.  You’ll have a casual chat with the grad student assigned to retrieve you from the airport, then meet the fellow candidate with whom you’ll share a hotel room.

    The moment you get settled, you’re off to dinner with some faculty, followed by an early bedtime.  That’s because tomorrow morning, you’ll pass through a series of orientation sessions, faculty interviews, a tour of the city, and finally, a late-night out with the current students in the program.

    You’ll fly back home the next day, grateful to be sleeping in your own bed.  And just when you get settled, you’ll need to hop on a plane to reach the next school where you’ll start the process again.

    Best Foot Forward

    Interview season can be rough on prospective students, and there’s plenty of work to be done.  But that doesn’t mean you need to be stressed.

    This week, we talk with Dr. Beth Bowman, Assistant Director of Graduate Programs in Biomedical Sciences and Co-Director of the Summer Science Academy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.

    Dr. Bowman has spent her career recruiting top-tier students to her program, and advising applicants on their own grad-school journeys.  She’s the author of the Materials and Methods blog, where she explores the grad school application process and the intricacies of scientific training.

    In this episode, we explain what you can expect from a typical interview weekend, from booking your flight to making a plan for the NEXT weekend in your schedule.

    On the way, we answer some burning questions:

    * Should I pretend that I want a career in academic science, or can I be honest about my career goals?* What kinds of questions will my faculty interviewers ask me?* What if I’m shy? How can I make it through dinner?* What is the dress code?* Should I go out to a bar or party with the current grad students?* How can I reschedule my interview if I have a conflict with another school?* And many more!

    Though interviews make most applicants very nervous, just know that by getting the interview, you’ve received a great vote of confidence from the admissions committee.  

    It’s expensive to purchase plane tickets, hotel rooms, and food, and to commit the time of faculty, students, and staff to your visit.  If they invited you to visit, they REALLY want you to choose their program!

    You should feel proud!

    • 1 hr 12 min
    125: Demystifying the Research Institute

    125: Demystifying the Research Institute

    Most PhD students attend traditional academic institutions of higher educations. It’s the world of classes, campuses, and mortarboards you probably think of when you think about a University.

    But there’s a less-traveled path to a PhD that may actually hold some benefits for certain students, including those coming back to school after working for awhile, or those with families.

    We’re talking about research institutes, and it’s possible you’ve never even heard about this alternative path to a PhD.

    Research on the Brink

    Research institutes may not be on every student’s radar. Though there are several varieties, most research institutes exist as hybrids – not quite academic, but not quite industry. Not quite public, but not quite private either.

    Of the 10,000-15,000 research institutes in the United States, many were formed either to explore specific topics (agriculture, defense, or energy) or to bridge the gap between the lab and the wider world. These bridge-focused institutes can be industry partnerships or organizations that interface directly with patients through hospitals or clinical trials.

    This hybrid approach appeals to many scientists who want to see the tangible effects of their science out in the world. Instead of waiting for basic research to wind its way through publications, they can work directly on technologies that benefit patients.

    And happily, many institutes will actually train students and grant PhDs. This may be in collaboration with a traditional university (like the Max Planck Research Institutes), or a PhD may be granted by the institute itself (like Scripps).

    Voices from Beyond

    We talked with Kaylee Helfrich, a fourth-year PhD student at the UNC-Chapel Hill Nutrition Research Institute. The Institute is located about 2 hours away from the Chapel Hill campus in Kannapolis, NC, and that gave Kaylee a different experience from her campus-centric peers.

    This week on the show, she shares the challenges and benefits of doing research at an institute. We learn about classwork, how she finds collaborators and mentors, and tips for staying in touch with other students.

    We also learn about how the lifestyle differences could be either a blessing or a curse, depending on the student. Because most of the employees of the institute are career scientists and administrators, there are fewer students with whom to socialize after hours.

    On the plus side, those hours tend to follow a standard office work day from 9 AM to 5 PM with weekends off. For some PhD students, that may sound too good to be true!

    Leave a comment below and tell us about YOUR experience at a research institute. Was it the right choice for you? How does it differ from Kaylee’s experience?

    The King of (Pumpkin) Beers

    We nearly missed it this year, but we managed to sneak it in under the wire – it’s our annual tasting of the seasonal pumpkin beer!

    This time, we taste-test the Pumking Imperial Ale from Southern Tier Brewing.

    Curious what we thought?

    Let’s just say, the best thing about this beer is the mascot.

    a href="https://www.promega.

    • 33 min
    124: An Art Contest JUST For Hello PhD Listeners

    124: An Art Contest JUST For Hello PhD Listeners

    We’re bringing you this bonus episode to encourage our listeners to submit their artwork to the Promega Art Contest for Creative Scientists. This isn’t for everyone – it’s just for listeners of Hello PhD!

    The deadline is nearly here (December 1st, 2019), but you can still visit the contest page to submit a digital image of your fine artwork, photography, microscopy, or whatever!

    Five winners will receive prizes by mail and have their art on display at the Promega Employee Art Showcase.

    One Grand Prize Winner will win a free trip to the Art Show opening in Madison Wisconsin!

    We called Dr. Aparna Shah, who was last year’s grand-prize winner. Her submission, “an image of an immuno-histochemically stained mouse brain slice acquired on a confocal microscope” came from a project she had since abandoned. Thankfully, that image was still a winner.

    You can read all about her experience here:

    Oh, the Places You’ll Go, Thanks to Science!

    So don’t wait! Submit your images today!

    • 9 min
    123: Anatomy of a Micropublication feat. Nate Jacobs of Flashpub

    123: Anatomy of a Micropublication feat. Nate Jacobs of Flashpub

    In a world where it’s “Publish or Perish,” you’d expect “publish” to be the more favorable option.

    But, if you’ve ever spent a year or more performing experiments, crafting figures, writing a manuscript, finding a friendly editor and arguing with reviewers, that “perish” option might just sound pretty sweet right about now….

    It’s no secret that the publishing industry has an inexplicable choke-hold on the scientific community. A handful of companies exercise editorial control, deciding which findings are permitted to enter the information stream. They charge the researcher who submits the paper, then charge exorbitant fees to the reader to see what was ‘printed.’

    While the information age has flooded nearly every aspect of our daily lives, its transformative power sometimes seems to be walled off at the laboratory door.

    Luckily, there are a few scientists who are willing to chip away at that wall.

    Minimum Viable Publication

    Nate Jacobs wasn’t far into his postdoctoral training when he realized that the joy of publishing a paper had faded.

    Nate Jacobs, PhDCEO of Flashpub

    “I started getting really frustrated with the publishing process. Every time I published, it kind of felt like a failure. I wasn’t sure if other people would be able to reproduce it. It didn’t feel collaborative.”

    Nate said it started to feel almost as if he was talking to himself, rather than engaging in the back-and-forth communication of a scientific debate.

    “The best example of this,” he says, “is the discussion section. It’s called ‘discussion,’ but you proceed to have a conversation with yourself and create these straw-man arguments. It started feeling really fake to me.”

    Access was another problem. If your university can’t afford to subscribe to a journal, you’ll be forced to write to the paper’s authors, or to scour SciHub or other less-than-legal sources.

    “Of course I’m going to have to be a criminal to get my PhD done,” Nate adds wryly.

    So what’s a postdoc to do? Nate decided to give new life to an old idea whose time had come.

    Making a Micropublication

    “If you think of the current literature as big, slow, and exclusive, micropublication is the opposite of that,” Nate says.

    He summarizes a micropublication this way: “It is a single figure, a single finding. What differentiates it is that you’re not waiting until you have a full, complete, clear narrative. You’re really publishing individual findings.”

    Imagine an average cell biology paper. You might have multiple figures showing Western blots, immunofluorescence, DNA purifications, or statistics. Presumably, those are all referenced in the narrative arc of your paper, supporting some new conclusion.

    But along the way, you probably did a few experiments that “didn’t work.” Or maybe they contradicted your central finding, and you left them out in the interest of finally finishing up your manuscript.

    Some of those experiments would probably benefit from additional controls, or better antibodies held in another lab. You won’t learn about those improvements until the reviewers send the paper back,

    • 56 min
    102: HelloPhD Guide to Grad School Applications – Crafting the Perfect Personal Statement (R)

    102: HelloPhD Guide to Grad School Applications – Crafting the Perfect Personal Statement (R)

    Please recount your life story, all of your future plans, and why this graduate program is uniquely suited to fulfill those dreams.  Limit your answer to 140 characters.

    Okay, okay, the typical “Personal Statement” prompt on your grad school application is probably not that outrageous, but they CAN feel both cryptic and overwhelming.

    Here’s a real prompt from a real grad school application at a major university:

    In 1-2 pages, describe your career goals, research interests, past and present research experience, and why you’ve chosen the [Name Redacted] Program for your graduate studies.

    This prompt can induce instant writer’s block in even the most prepared applicants.  So where do you begin?

    This week on the show, we share tips for crafting the perfect personal statement that will highlight your grad-school-readiness and potential for greatness in a career beyond the degree.

    Anatomy of an Application

    The typical graduate school application has four main parts:

    * Transcripts* Test Scores (GRE, TOEFL, etc.)* Letters of Recommendation* Personal Statement

    Let’s unpack these one by one.


    Transcripts are the easy part. If you’ve already done the hard work of researching schools that will be a good fit for your aspirations, you simply need to visit the registrar to send transcripts. 

    Sure, it’ll cost you a few bucks, but the main concern here is timing.  It can take moments or months for official transcripts to make their way to the intended school, so start early.  Many programs will accept ‘unofficial’ transcripts with an application as long as you send the real-sealed-deal eventually.

    Test Scores

    It seems like only yesterday when every graduate program required applicants to submit GRE scores, as well as some GRE subject tests.  That’s because it pretty much WAS yesterday.

    In the last year, nearly 100 programs have dropped their GRE requirement.  You can find a running list, maintained by our very own Josh, in a Google Doc he updates regularly.

    And while the GRE may not be required, many applicants will still take it.  Our advice is that if you choose to take the exam, you should definitely study.  Check you university’s website for test-prep classes and guides.

    If English is not your first language, you’ll also need to take a language proficiency exam like the TOEFL.  Typically, grad programs will expect scores to be recent – within the last year or two – to ensure you’ve kept up with the language.

    To learn more about the GRE requirement and why it’s falling from favor in biomedical graduate programs, check out our previous episodes:

    023: Seriously, can we ditch the GRE already?

    065: Does the GRE Predict Which Students Will Succeed?

    Letters of Recommendation

    While you probably won’t need to spend a lot of time on this section of your application,

    • 1 hr 4 min
    122: Tenure Tracker – The Life Non-Linear with Dr. Jimena Giudice

    122: Tenure Tracker – The Life Non-Linear with Dr. Jimena Giudice

    Dr. Jimena Giudice has all the traits of a promising new faculty member.

    Through her training and early career, she has earned more than a dozen grants and awards. She’s co-authored two dozen papers. And she has trained students and postdocs, gaining a reputation as a highly effective mentor.

    You’d expect that Dr. Giudice’s undeniable success was the natural result of an early immersion in science and a dogged adherence to the well-worn path through college, grad school, and postdoc.

    But of course, you’d be wrong. Before discovering a love for scientific research, Dr. Giudice spent ten years answering a different calling.

    Changing Focus

    Dr. Jimena Giudice

    Growing up in Argentina, Jimena didn’t know that her eventual career in science was even an option.

    “My parents are architects, my sister is an architect, my cousins are architects, uncles are architects or graphic designers. So I really didn’t have anyone close that I could imagine you could do science as a career,” she recalls.

    So after high school, she enrolled in college to study industrial engineering.

    Four years into a six year degree, she put her studies on hold and made a personal decision.

    “I changed my path, and that’s when I started considering being a nun. I entered a congregation when I was 21.”

    Jimena knew that after three years in the congregation, she’d have the opportunity get back to school to continue her studies. Her congregation was focused on education, which gave her valuable experience.

    “I was teaching at different levels. Primary school, kindergarten, secondary school, people in the street, rural schools. I was full time working and teaching,” she says.

    As her fourth year of service approached, she started to think about what she could study during the next three years that would help in her congregation. She visited the university to explore the available courses, and found that her options expanded well beyond the architecture and engineering paths she had known as a child.

    “I remember the first image I have in my head is seeing students with white lab coats and the labs with glass windows and walls. And I have that image in my mind. I said ‘That’s what I want. I want to do that. I want to be with a white lab coat doing what they were doing.'”

    That moment was transformative. Afterwards, she says, “I always had the dream of doing experiments, even though I liked education and teaching. Thats when I saw for the first time that science is something where you can study and work and have a career.”

    One Good Turn

    With her passion for science ignited, Jimena had a new problem. A chemistry degree in Argentina takes six years, but her congregation allowed just three years to pursue a degree while also working during the day.

    She did the majority her classes at night, and traveled an hour and a half between the community where she lived and the university.

    “I had to multi-task a lot of things. My philosophy was: when I am in classes, I am in classes, and I have to get as much as I can from here because I don’t have a lot of time to study at home,” she remembers.

    • 57 min

Customer Reviews

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!

gqueeny ,

Ready to apply.

I have been preparing to apply to grad school for the past 2 years, and finding this podcast was the last piece of the puzzle I needed to get the ball rolling. I am submitting applications in December and feel so much more confident with HelloPhD’s tips and support.

Thank you, Josh and Dan!

PhD Warrior ,


I can’t say enough about this podcast. It’s really helping me as I write my dissertation!!!

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