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Found 5 results

  1. Like most PhD students, I am having a difficult time with my qualifying exams and would like some recommendations on how to proceed from others who may have experienced something similar. I should start out by explaining that I started my program as a Master’s student at the suggestion of my advisor. I didn’t come from a great undergraduate program that actually had research options and my only prior experience with research was during my year off working with a previous graduate of my advisor. During my third semester, I petitioned for a switch that my advisor was enthusiastic about and transferred to the PhD program. I was also informed recently that I received the NSF graduate research fellowship award, meaning that I won’t have to be supported with teaching/research assistantships any longer. All students are expected to complete a prospectus which entails writing a research proposal about planned research and then presenting that proposal in front of the graduate committee. I did this during my second semester as a Master’s student and again in my fourth semester after my switch in programs took effect. Also during the fourth or fifth semester, PhD students take the qualifying exams. This requires five written exams over the course of one week, each from a committee member which assigns you a topic - usually related to their field of research, not yours. If you pass this, you are able to move on to the oral exam where they ask you additional questions with all members present and this may be related to previous topics or from any topic in biology. The topics I was assigned: general ecology, comparative physiology, flight biomechanics, mammalian auditory systems and auditory processing, and mammalian and insect visual systems. I was given eight weeks to work through a mountain of textbooks and papers that were recommended, in addition to resources I found myself. Needless to say, I haven’t slept properly due to all the stress and have been remarkably unproductive in every other aspect (which is extremely unlike me). I passed the written exams with little problem. They weren’t spectacular, but no exam I’ve ever taken (SAT, GRE, midterms, finals, etc…) has ever been great just due to the anxiety from all the pressure. For my oral exam, however, I was asked the first question and I just broke. Ultimately, I ran out of the room in tears right before an extreme panic attack, unable to even tell my committee members what was happening to me. The stress, the anxiety, were things that I tried to keep unnoticed because I don’t want to be perceived as weak, or that student who can’t handle the pressure. Since that incident, I’ve talked with my members and admitted to struggling with these things. To say that I’ve always struggled with tests and public speaking is an understatement. But it’s something I’ve been actively working (including counseling and medications) on since beginning undergrad and have focused especially on this past semester knowing I would have to do this. Despite all the work and preparation, I couldn’t do it and I don’t know if I actually ever will. My committee members tell me that it shouldn’t be any different than any other time I have to speak. I disagree. When preparing for a conference or a lecture or even a job interview, you are generally narrowly focused on one topic that you’ve had the opportunity to rehearse and practice (not to mention no one at a conference tells you that you can’t come back if your talk isn’t good). This is very different from walking into a room with five people who could ask you literally anything. The goal of these exams is to confirm that PhD students are broadly trained in biology, despite specializing in a particular field and to ensure that they are truly qualified to do research. I get it, but I also think I’ve managed to demonstrate these things in other ways. I’ve done a lot of coursework because Master’s students are required to have a certain number in addition to research, which is not a requirement for PhD students. I’ve taught science courses at my university and another university prior to entering the program, I’ve passed the written portion, and I’ve managed to get an NSF grant. All my members say to me that they know I’m prepared, that I know the answers, but they still insist on me going through this ordeal to continue. I am exhausted, humiliated, and frustrated to say the least. So, has anyone else had these experiences? Were you offered any sort of alternative way to prove you’re competent? Or am I really going to have to just accept that this shortcoming is going to alter my life plans despite being very capable in every other requirement? Am I really just not good enough? Is this really the best way for the Deptartment of Academics to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff or is my career as a biologist being held hostage behind faculty traditions passed on as normal?
  2. Has anyone been offered and been able to accept the FLAS and NSF GRFP in the same year? We cannot receive funding at the same time, but has anyone been able to be on reserve for their NSF GRFP while accepting the FLAS for their reserve year?
  3. Hey everyone, I'm a second year grad student in neuroscience. I applied for the NSF GRFP last year and didn't get it and I plan to apply again this year. My question is as follows: I really like my essays from last year, and ideally I wouldn't want to change them very much, other than modifying them slightly to reflect how my graduate work has progressed over the first year (including achievements, etc.). For the research proposal essay I would still like to use the same proposal, and add a tiny bit about how I have already been working in the direction of that proposal. For last year's application, I got all good to excellent marks from whoever reviewed my application, so based on that feedback it seems like I just need to make it a bit better in order to serve a good chance at getting the fellowship (and I think adding my 1st year achievements and research might do the job). So, my question is: will reusing the majority of my essays from last year hurt my chances in any way? Tied into this question: I imagine a new set of reviewers will be assigned to read my essay; will they have any access to my essays from last year? I imagine that if they don't have any access to my last year's application, then my plan above would work just fine.... What do you guys think? Thanks in advance!
  4. Sorry this is SO long, but I REALLY appreciate anyone who takes the time to read this!! I am a first year Molecular Biology PhD student in California, and I am amazingly unhappy with how my program has been going so far (ie, I have been miserable and often anxious/depressed). I keep trying to keep a positive attitude, but it feels like no matter how hard I work, things still aren't working out (and I don't feel very supported or valued by my department). I'm trying to be proactive about my anxiety, and I regularly see a therapist. There have been a string of events in my personal life–had I known at the time of choosing at a PhD program–I would have NEVER chosen my current school/program. The biggest event was in October when my mom was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, across the country, in the rural midwest. She has gone through a great deal of chemo and multiple surgeries, and it has been difficult to put a handle on the metastasis. I have been traveling home for every holiday (spending an entire month between December-Jan as well as spring break), and I have gone home for each surgery (for long weekends). I have done this with the blessings/permission of my rotation professors/department head, but it has been truly exhausting. Because of my family's specific situation, I do not have any other family members that can care for my mom 24-7, when she is doing very poorly/right after a surgery (thus part of the reason I want to visit home). My parents tell me upfront that they don't want me to sacrifice my career opportunities (I am a first generation college student), but I know in my heart that they need me (and I need to be with them). I always have such a heavy heart, knowing that my mom and my family is suffering on the other side of the country; I hate being so far away from home. One of my close friends also committed suicide during my first rotation (and he sent me a package in the mail right before he passed away; which I never got a chance to thank him for, since I was "so busy" working in lab), which also gave been a heavy heart. If these personal-life issues were the only issues, I would consider taking a medical leave. I chose not to, however, because I thought it might complicate my NSF GRFP funding/I didn't have the money to keep paying rent in my apartment, without being paid. I powered through, and now that it is the time where we are supposed to "choose" thesis labs, I am finding out that none of the three professors who I rotated with want me to join their lab. It is very distressing to me, because I have tried *SO HARD* to keep everything together, slap on a happy face, and try my best. Despite everything, I still worked 8-16 hours in the lab every day, and I had data for each rotation. When I would go home for short trips, I would work extra hours in the night and entire weekends (getting only a few hours of sleep), to make up for lost time. I was extremely passionate about the topics of research in the labs I rotated in, in I would have been happy to join any three of them. I was extremely thoughtful in choosing my rotation labs. If nothing else, I hoped at least one of the 3 professors would have noticed and appreciated my grit and determination. But I got feedback from the department head that I should "seriously start looking for 4th rotation labs, because none of my first 3 rotation professors 'want' me in their lab." After meeting with each of the three professors, I confirmed what the department head said to be true (they either told me that they didn't think their labs were "where my interests truly lied" or that they thought I should go somewhere were I could get more mentorship). I don't really understand their comments; since I was very enthusiastic about their work and I was increasingly independent, especially towards the end of my rotations (once I had been trained–able to design, carry out, and analyze my own experiments, from scratch). I understand, however, that these are just nice ways of telling me they don't want me in their lab. Adding to this, I even had one professor called me "slow" (in regards the way I think and reflect on problems) towards the end of my rotation (which was a bit offensive, she I am registered with the disability office for being dyslexic–which honestly, I don't feel like greatly effects my work). I have NEVER been called "slow" before in my life. As a different scenario (but equally bothering), a PhD student in the last lab I worked in went out of her way to tell me that she strongly advises me NOT to join the lab, that I would have a very hard time being successful there, and that the professor doesn't even know or care that I exist (harsh!). She told me not to take it personally, because the professor is very busy and has nothing invested in any of her rotation students (in addition to not knowing who they are). She even encouraged me to not give a final lab meeting, because it would save everyone time (of not having to listen to me present); and of course this PhD student is the person who schedules lab meetings for everyone. The professor of course knows who I am, because I had met with her several times one-on-one, and I am still planning on presenting my data in lab meeting. I was so humiliated, however, that I cried in front of this PhD student (mind you this was a few days before my mom was due for another surgery, so I was already extra emotionally vulnerable). I tried my best to be hard-working in this lab, I would ask for help when I needed it, and I got some interesting data–I honestly have no idea what I did to deserve those comments from this PhD student (I didn't even ask for her opinion or indicate that I hoped to join the lab!). Of course, I did not want to join this final lab (especially after these comments/experience). I understand the easiest thing would be to find a 4th rotation lab, but so far, I am truly not interested/passionate in any other labs at the university (and this department makes me feel very horrible about myself). It is a huge source of anxiety for me to be so far away from my family at this time. I have my own NSF GRFP funding, in addition to 2 years of an NIH training grant (I really can't understand why none of the three professors will take a chance on me; they don't even have to pay for me!). I don't feel wanted or respected in my department now, and I feel so misunderstood. I don't expect to be liked by everybody, but I can't understand why I am liked by seemingly no one. I went to a good university for undergrad, worked in several research labs (with publications and good rec letters), did an international research fellowship, and I try to have good people skills/be very respectful, humble and polite (I know it must not seem like it in this post haha, forgive me; I'm just trying to give context to me situation). I have a new publication that will be coming out next year, for a project that I worked on as a senior in college. I don't brag/ever bring up these accomplishments here in my program; I'm just disclosing it here, because I am having such a hard time understanding why I went from being so well-received in my past research experiences to being so-poorly received here. Originally, in addition to this school in California, I was accepted into: UChicago, UWash Seattle (Genomics), Harvard, UNC, and Princeton. I am really kicking myself now, because had I gone to UChicago or Princeton, it would have either been a 2 hour direct flight home or a 3 hour train ride (whereas traveling to/from California takes at least 7-12 hours and is expensive, to get to my family). Is it possible to try to transfer another school (such as UChicago or Princeton)? Honestly, if it weren't for NSF (and the fact that I've dreamed of being a scientist since I was 14), I might consider leaving the PhD path altogether. But I'm not ready to ENTIRELY give up; it seems so stupid to do that, just because I am having such a hard time in my current program (and I don't entirely understand why). I don't want to do a PhD on a topic I'm not passionate about (or in a department where I feel not supported/not wanted), but I have hope that there might be other options. I wouldn't mind having to start entirely from scratch at a new school, since I'm only a first year now. I don't expect my PhD experience to be magically better at a new school, but at least I were to struggle, I would be struggling closer to home. If I were to attempt transferring, would I need to reapply in December, or is it at all possible to contact the department and somehow explain my situation (to transfer)? And out of curiosity: Has anyone had the experience before, where they had NSF, but had a horrible time finding a lab that wanted to take them? What are peoples thoughts? Thank you so much!
  5. Has anyone on this thread ever dealt with making a change to their minor field of study once they were awarded? I have a question regarding this that I am very concerned about. I applied as someone not yet in grad school and specified "psychology - other" as my minor field of study since my proposal and previous experiences didn't really fit neatly into any of the listed options for minor field of study. At the same time, I applied to clinical psychology Ph.D. programs for graduate school (my application was not clinically-oriented at all, hence why I was still able to be awarded). I also specified my undergraduate institution as my proposed graduate institution since that helped me make the strongest connection between my background and a potential research project, as well as the fact that my recommenders would be able to speak best to a project that already fit with what their specialties were. I know several students (more than I can count) who have gotten the NSF even though they are enrolled in clinical psychology Ph.D. programs. They basically took the approach of making their application sound as "un-clinical" as possible, couching their previous experiences and proposed research in terms of basic science work. For example, several of them research ADD/ADHD, and so they wrote their applications under "cognitive psychology"; a few others I know who research marital and family clinical outcomes applied within "social psychology", etc etc. In any case, now that I am making a decision on where to attend grad school, I am concerned about the fact that I will need to make a change to my minor field of study in order to accept the award since I am leaning towards a clinical psychology Ph.D. program that is 1) housed within a medical center, 2) very "clinically oriented" in terms of the types of research that it specializes in. From what I gather, this is handled through the Coordinating Officer (CO) at the school that you'd wish to attend. Seems as if it is up to the CO's discretion as to whether they approve the change or not. Has anyone had to go through this before and run into an trouble? How much finagling/justifying do you think I would need to go through in order to iron everything out smoothly given my circumstances? I know I will have more follow-up questions on this depending on what you all have to say, so I will just leave it at that for now. Y'alls input would be SOOOOOO appreciated. Thank you to you all. =)