What I wish I knew before Grad School #1

Graduate students are a valuable commodity.

When I naively walked into my first rotation as a graduate student in a real lab, I believed that I was simply a nuisance, an obligation of higher scientists to perpetuate the cycle of science careers with fresh minds.  As such, I was overwhelmed and honored when each of the three labs I eventually rotated in offered for me to pursue my thesis with them.  Unfortunately for me, I was in an interdisciplinary program which promoted co-mentorship and had almost no ability to say ‘No’ to anyone.  Thus, I entered into a ridiculous three-way mentorship thesis trying to collaborate between three labs.  Don’t ever do that.

In fact, I think the entire concept of collaborative projects and mentorships for graduates students is a recipe for disaster.  Any experienced Principal Investigator (PI) will tell you that collaborating effectively is one of the most difficult things to do in science.  These programs expect novice scientists that are trying to learn the ropes of doing real research and that are, to be honest – still maturing adults, to navigate one of the most challenging scenarios in their career from day one.  I think that that is just plain mean.  The only successful collaborative thesis projects I’ve seen have been either collaborative only in name, or orchestrated by a graduate student with years of prior experience in the either science or collaboration.

The fact is that Graduate students are at a minimum cheap labor, as you may already know, but also an important line on any investigators CV.  The number of students a PI has successfully mentored into a career in science has a significant impact on his ability to get grant funding, the life blood of academic research.  It is also critical to the lab as a whole, because without a good track record in mentoring by the PI, students and post-docs in the lab will be at a disadvantage when applying for their own  fellowship funding to support their salaries and research.

Being invited to do your thesis work in a lab is a great sign.  It means that you have probably shown potential and a strong work ethic.  But do not understand the invite to be a gift of generosity, whether you feel you deserve it or not.  It is an exchange.  You will receive a project,  some mentoring (hopefully), and  funding with which to carry it out (hopefully).  The mentoring PI will receive ‘cheap as dirt’ labor for his most risky projects and a critical bonus to his CV and reputation.  Whether this is a fair exchange or not is what you need to figure out before committing to a lab for the next 3-4 years.


About jaurelguay

I'm a Research Scientist, a Husband and Father, and Published Writer. View all posts by jaurelguay

One response to “What I wish I knew before Grad School #1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Because, Unicorns.

Adventures in Parenting, Family Blending, Loving, and Living.

Theo Taylor

Theo Taylor is a writer, fitness freak and college student who has been published by Thought Catalog, Asimov's and Aphelion. He writes star spanning science fiction and monster filled high fantasy. His debut novel ROGUE COSMOS will release in August, 2015. If he's not reading or writing, check the gym. He's almost always in the gym.

Killer Kitsch

Art, entertainment and pop culture blog for the discerning geek & nerd

Kin S. Law

Steampunk & Sci-fi-fantasy author


Wherewolves the Novel


Official site for author JD Spero

Just another blog, a place to share my inspirations, my writing, etc...


Writing Stories on the Hearts of Children

Spark: A Creative Anthology

Spark is a quarterly anthology accepting Poetry, Flash Fiction, Short Stories, and Creative Non-Fiction. We encourage both established and emerging talent.

Under a Starlit Sky

Flash Fiction & Short Stories

Tony's Thoughts

My opinions, my views. Nothing else.

Anika's Antics

The Official page of Anika Arrington. I write things. Some of them end up here.

here + now

let's talk . let's drink. let's live.


Steampunk music and the people behind it

The Daily Wordforge

Wordsmiths, tell stories.


Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight uses statistical analysis — hard numbers — to tell compelling stories about politics, sports, science, economics and culture.

The Dream Forge

by Anders Blixt, SF author and game designer


Blowing minds, melting faces, and pissing off The Man since 2009.

Protect Young Minds

Kids Can Learn to Reject Pornography

Rave Reviews By Nonnie Jules

Reviews Make an Author's World Go Round

How do we feed the world's starving

We feed billions of people in need, this is how.

The English Major's Blog

A blog for Sheila van den Heuvel-Collins: writer, editor and tutor


science | philosophy | thinking

Silly Robots

Writing Science Fiction was always this fun

Planetary Defense Command

Defending the planet from bad science fiction

From Researcher to Patient

My fight against acute myeloid leukemia...in the lab and in my own life.

The Torn Page - A K Hinchey's Writing Blog

Where fantasy and reality collide...

All Five Sisters

All five of us - together in one place!

one cool site

WordPress blogging tips & tutorials

Ben Ireland Books

Books by Ben Ireland

Nelson Literary Agency

Just another blog, a place to share my inspirations, my writing, etc...

Marian Rosarum

fairy tale and literary fantasy author

Scenes and Sequels

The writing and ramblings of David Kearney

Lori Lesko - BLOG

Just another blog, a place to share my inspirations, my writing, etc...


graphic designer, bibliophile, spoonie


tell a redemptive story with your life. now.


The Science Of Survival

Airship Ambassador

Information for the Steampunk Community - www.AirshipAmbassador.com


Just a shiny little place to dream.

Just another blog, a place to share my inspirations, my writing, etc...


Just another blog, a place to share my inspirations, my writing, etc...


Just another blog, a place to share my inspirations, my writing, etc...

Novel Conclusions

"We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master." - Ernest Hemingway

%d bloggers like this: