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St Andrews Lynx

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Everything posted by St Andrews Lynx

  1. Although I don't think it should be too difficult to get accepted in to a grad program with that kind of background I think it can be quite hard to go to organic synthesis from computational. A lot of people who apply to do organic synthesis at grad school (and who will be your peers) have several years of research experience already from undergrad. Learning synthetic techniques takes time (it took several years for me to become consistently good at running column chromatography, for example), and some people are never going to be good at it! I've seen a few cases of people trying to move in to organic synthesis from other fields - they've been quite frustrated and sometimes have fallen behind their lab mates when it comes to research progress. The sooner you can try out organic synthesis the better (is there any way you can try an organic project at your current university?). Make sure there are several POIs you could see yourself working for at the school you choose, ideally with a mix of synthesis/computational research.
  2. Yeah, some undergrads can be over-entitled and I would be annoyed in your position. In fairness, I do sometimes invoke the authority of the prof is charge when students get really argumentative with me over scores I'm not going to change - "If you still have a problem after I've told you all this, you can go talk to Prof X." - since I know the professor will have my back and their word carries a bit more weight. It does tend to shut them up (most don't bother going above my head after I've invited them to).
  3. At this point, your PI isn't going to change. If you decide to stick with him you'll be in for much the same communication style and interactions. Perhaps they're uncomfortable saying hard truths ("you aren't working hard enough/you don't know enough"), or perhaps they only have this vague sense that something isn't right and it isn't based on anything concrete. Is he used to dealing with non-traditional students? That might unfortunately be part of his problem (his problem, not yours!). My translation of what your PI wants is for you to be more proactive. Not just saying "X doesn't work" and stopping there, but giving your own suggestions about what to do next in your meetings. Not just asking for advice, but offering 1-2 suggestions of your own and seeing which one he likes the most. He doesn't want you to mindlessly churn out data, but to work smart and explore the literature in depth. These excessively non-confrontational, indirect people are fairly common in academia. I can't give you much advice about whether you should stick it out or change labs other than what I've said above (he's not going to change). It's unlikely that you can get the perfect combination of great PI + exciting project + ideal management/communication style, so you need to think carefully about what's really the most important thing for you.
  4. In line with @knp - my advice would be to proactively go and join any conversations that this student is having 1-on-1 with the faculty, perhaps bringing 1 or 2 other female PhDs along at the same time as wing(wo)men. (i) 'cause I suspect you won't be able to get the male student to act considerately of his own accord (ii) I don't think you can complain about a buddy relationship unless there's an ethical issue (e.g. unfair grading, allocation of resources). The most benign reason is that the individuals involved don't realise they're causing issues for others or propagating an exclusionary culture. Networking is all about proactivity - whilst some great advisors will help introduce their students to fellow academics...most would never think to. I suspect that's what the dude in question is doing. Unfortunately you've got to play the same game.
  5. I think that while the undergraduate experience can be thought of as "academic" and "life experience", it's really just "academic/professional" at grad school level. In the sciences, obtaining PhD can be thought of as "your first full-time job". There isn't a lifestyle associated with it to the same extent. One big challenge of trying to make undergraduates your main friendship circles (in addition to what has been said on this & another threads) is the question of logistics/schedule alignment. Undergrads typically bond with people who are in their dorms or classes - which is where they do a lot of their "social interacting". The studious ones socialise during hours in the library or in informal study groups. The non-studious ones go to parties. Their schedules are built around classes, internships & work, which means their free time comes at odd intervals. A lot of them will head home on the weekends to stay with their parents. As a grad student it isn't easy to fit yourself in to this. You aren't living with them, and you aren't taking the same classes as them. Your schedule isn't going to fit very well over theirs. The socially-inexperienced undergrads are less likely to head out to student groups anyway - they'll spend the evenings in their dorms. The students who get a kick out of meeting new people (i.e. the more socially-adept ones) will be at the student groups interested in talking to new faces. At this point you may as well as try and make friends with fellow graduate students. I understand that the idea of tackling "easy" interactions with undergrads is comforting. However, if you want to become an academic you will have to learn how to interact with academics. And I don't think "training" yourself on undergrads alone can adequately prepare you for dealing with 60 year-old distinguished professors or fellow assistant profs. The sooner you can fake being socially-adept (which is what most of us do anyway) with more "advanced" individuals, the easier your academic career will become.
  6. I'd say that lab dynamics are the PI's personality/management style are more important factors than research interest alignment. At the simplest level, your research interests may change over the next 5 years. Your PI's style is a lot less fluid. Since both A & B are very new, I'm not sure how much you can discover about them prior to joining their labs. A person who is nice when teaching still might be demonic towards their grad students. Their funding is all hypothetical until they get grants, and the direction of their fledgling lab research is subject to change (in my own lab they apparently started out investigating X. Topic X never managed to generate anything successful. Then there was a weird side-product that turned into a whole new line of investigative research. The PI needed grants and publications, so they quickly re-angled their lab to take advantage of the projects that gave them these things). Regardless, interact with both PIs are much as you can until you need to make a decision. Listen and observe. Go with what your instincts are telling you.
  7. Use the internet. Meetup is great for meeting people who share your interests, and the gatherings are already structured (e.g. going out on a hike, having a game night) which makes them easier to navigate. For dating, set up profiles and try OKCupid, Match, etc. You can try looking through the archives of Dan Savage's "Savage Love" - there is advice for everyone everywhere on the dating experience/sexuality spectrum. I'd also encourage you not to look at this as a rigid scientific process. If you say to yourself now "I can only obtain a meaningful relationship with a person who has had 0-2 serious relationships"... (i) you limit your dating pool (ii) you stay in incompatible relationships longer because you think this "should" be working (iii) cutesy-newness is overrated. Same with friendship. If you start saying to yourself that only friendships with "mentally-underdeveloped" undergrads could possibly work out...you're going to struggle to find any friends. Some undergrads are fiercely intelligent and will be able to contribute meaningfully to discussions about your research. Some grad students have plenty of friends who are undergrads. Wouldn't it be more useful to have friendships with sociable and emotionally-mature folk, so you could learn somethings from them? Part of having friends in the first place is to enjoy their company: why deliberately seek out "friends" who are awkward to be around? I think that all good things involve plenty of trial and error to get to. You need to go on lots of dates with a variety of people to figure out who you're attracted to and what is important for you in a relationship. You need to take the initiative when it comes to making friends and be prepared for cool people to blow you off/forget to invite you to their parties. Don't assume that you are too different or inexperienced to form friendships/relationships the way that "normal people" do. Don't expect everything to be perfect the first time you attempt it.
  8. I wouldn't necessarily conclude that your friend "purposefully avoided people" based on what you recounted here. Sometimes social isolation is self-inflicted...but it can also be that she was getting bad vibes from the rest of the cohort, or that she was unhappy in the program and the isolation was a product of that (rather than the cause). Or she's one of those people who doesn't make many tight social connections. There's no guarantee if she talked to 10 people a day that she'd be any happier in this particular program or want to continue. Support your friend. Don't preach or judge. Don't assume that she's a failure for choosing to leave the program. Sometimes it takes more courage & intelligence to leave than it does to stay.
  9. I think it's a nice thing to have, but it's unlikely to make or break your grad school applications if everything else is strong.
  10. As far as I'm aware, admission committees don't tally up the number of research credits you have when looking at PhD applications: instead they try to determine (through your letters of rec and any publications/awards) how much research experience you have and how good you were at it. Obviously you could have taken 5 research credits...but never showed up in lab. The comment you made about the lab mentor is a bit confusing. Are they a graduate student in the lab, or the professor? How much time would you be committing to this particular lab without taking research credits (vs. with)? If we're talking about a significant drop in time spent on research, you might want to consider switching mentor or lab to ensure you actually get some meaningful research done. If the mentor is just a grad student, you might want to consider talking to the professor in the lab to ask what they recommend you do.
  11. I'm at a public university where the grad students have been unionised for quite some time (in addition to the part-time/adjunct lecturers as well as the tenured faculty). I think it works out well - although I see the overall effect as only being slightly beneficial to us. In my mind also, graduate students who teach are definitely "staff", and should be treated accordingly.
  12. At the risk of being provocative...I want to ask. Is it that you feel you are unable to balance both (i.e. imposter syndrome or poor self esteem)? Is there a medical reason you struggle with both? In the literal sense, most of us cannot manage both at exactly the same time (I wouldn't get far trying to write my essays while performing an analysis in the lab for instance) but we usually have to switch between the two during the course of a day and wouldn't give up entirely on one for more than a week or so. The reason I ask is because as grad students we are expected to balance both research and coursework in our early years. Yes, you need to do well in the coursework to pass your qualifying exams...but your advisor won't want to keep you past qualifiers if you have no research progress to show by that stage. Sometimes to do both it means making sacrifices, and working longer hours than you would like. Talk to the graduate students in your department who passed the qualifying exams. Find out the balance they struck. How long before their qualifying exams did they start to prepare? How much research did they accomplish during their first 2 years?
  13. Yeah, it was probably not a good idea to talk to your everyone else but your PI about the sabotage. Regardless of the validity of the concerns, pumping it through a rumour mill rather than going through professional channels undermines your case and leads to too many hurt feelings. It sounds like the comments you made about Sarah prompted your friends to behave in ways - as you said - out of your control. And now she has the opportunity to play the victim, not necessarily without justification. I get the feeling that the sabotage described is only the tip of a whole f**ked-up iceberg of a dysfunctional lab. If the situation is really worse than this anecdote, I'd consider leaving the lab as diplomatically as possible before (i) you are fired (ii) something even worse (professionally or personally) happens. You don't want your future career tarred with what has been going on around you.
  14. A lot of the time grad students (especially in the sciences) aren't really students, but employees. A two week vacation allowance is what you'd get as an employee in industry, say. Two weeks vacation + one week over Christmas + federal holidays is fairly average for grad students. The difference you're describing also has a "cultural" component. A lot of research labs are intense places to work: the boss expects long hours (and a research output that reflects that) and short vacations. In my lab we're also expected to show up on Saturday and put in a decent working day. Usually the labs with the longer hours are the most ambitious - they want lots of results (to get funding, papers, etc) and to make a mark on the field. There is also some kind of implied or real threat hanging over the grad students about non-compliance with this work ethic (getting criticised or even kicked out of the lab). That said. A lot of these research labs also attract very intense people. The kind of folk who want to put in long hours and see vacations as a dangerous distraction or delay to their output. The folk who want to get high-impact papers at whatever cost. It works out: the advisors and grad students both get what they want, no one has an incentive to change. It's up to you to decide if you want to be in that kind of lab or not. My suspicion is that if you tell your advisor you are unhappy with the hours/vacation allowance, their response will be "Well, I'm sorry to lose you...". Most bosses are set in their beliefs about what a "productive lab" should resemble and won't negotiate different treatments of different students.
  15. Could also be that if the document was adapted from your project report your advisor didn't think it was necessary to email it back to you. On the plus side, it sounds like your advisor does care you about your project & reports, else he wouldn't be sharing it with everybody.
  16. Does your advisor behave in this way towards the other students & postdocs? If so, then I wouldn't take the non-emailing personally. Fuzzy has covered the main pieces of advice I'd have given. If the advisor is more responsive to some students in general but not others then there is more of a problem. But every advisor also has to manage their own time and might choose to monitor some projects more closely than others (perhaps if a project is nearing publication, or there is a collaborator involved). Also, it might not be clear to your advisor that you are wanting feedback, if you are not specifically asking for it. They might be assuming that everything is OK when they receive your project reports.
  17. If you were interested in patent law/IP (intellectual property) then it is more common to get a science degree and then get trained in the law stuff after you've been hired by a company. The advantage of that approach is that the company who hires you will cover the costs of the law degree/qualifications, and you get paid a salary. Would you have to pay for the joint Chemistry/JD? If so, I personally wouldn't bother. I know of one person who completed a Chemistry PhD, but helped out in their university's tech transfer office as an intern during that time (when an academic wants to commercialise their work or start a spin-off company the TTO helps with the legal & patent issues). That might also be an option to pursue if you are curious.
  18. I'd go with the top choice first. Sometimes a PI gives (slight) preference to the students who rotated with them first. If you are taking courses this semester too then as the semester moves on you might have to spend less time in the lab on rotation and more time studying for exams. Feel free to approach all 3 PIs to ask about sitting in on their group meetings throughout the semester (before & after your rotations with them). It's a useful way to gain exposure to their research and lab dynamics, and shows commitment on your part.
  19. There's usually more dignity retained in walking away of your own free will, versus being forcibly removed. It might help you feel better about the situation looking back on it later (you pushed the button/were in control of what happened). I think it reflects better on you in the eyes of others: by "dropping out" you had the maturity/self-awareness to see things weren't working out in this program, and so acted accordingly. Being "kicked out" suggests that you didn't notice there was a problem. These are the "psychological" benefits, in addition to the practicalities Juilletmercredi mentioned.
  20. It sounds like - in the eyes of the boss - there's some kind of pattern of behaviour he doesn't like, and the broken piece of equipment is a continuation of that. The best case scenario is that the meeting will simply be a warning that you should change your behaviour. Most PIs aren't assholes enough to kick you out of the group without giving a formal warning and a chance to rectify. Some PIs are more willing to kick out students than others. You should have a sense of how your PI operates. Do a lot of students in your lab leave with a Masters degree, or no degree at all? Are there stories of your PI asking people to leave? Under what conditions were they asked to leave? Without knowing the PI we can't tell you what's about to happen. My advice for the meeting is as follows. If the boss makes a generalisation/statement that doesn't make sense to you (e.g. "your lack of attention is a problem") then politely ask for some recent examples of the concerning behaviour. Listen respectfully to what they're saying. Ask them for advice on how to improve. Keep calm. Don't make excuses or immediately try to explain/defend yourself if your boss brings up grievance(s). Even if you think what they've said is stupid or a complete misunderstanding (a) it tends to make people angrier when they raise a concern that's legitimate to them...only to have someone else dismiss it (b) it comes across as lacking in empathy and abdicating responsibility. For instance, if the boss says "You broke an expensive piece of equipment" the inflammatory response(s) is: "But it wasn't a major/expensive breakage! We got it fixed in-house. I don't see why this is a big deal" A better response is simply: "Yes. I'm sorry."
  21. I think that you need to talk to your advisor about this, and promptly. You do have evidence at this point: the things that you have told us in the post. Experiments don't work when she is around; but do when she isn't. Setting out decoy reagents and the reactions work. Unless you set up CCTV cameras in the lab, you aren't going to get evidence that is much better than this. My advice would be to talk to the advisor with your fellow group members. Bring along a written summary of the evidence and concerns. Leave out the aspects of Sarah's personality (micromanager, ridiculing others, etc) and stick to the "sabotage facts". Keep calm: your PI might respond with shock or anger (if they have suspected nothing up until this point), you don't want to derail the discussion. If your PI refuses to admit there's a problem or does nothing, then you might consider talking to a university ombudsman (impartial mediator) to get advice on what to do next. Or resigning from the lab if you don't want to support unethical research. Hopefully the PI will listen to your concerns. In the interim, try to keep your research secured and confidential. That might mean locking up your lab notebooks, setting up decoy reagents/hiding your own reagents. Sabotaging other people's work is an awful thing to do - but it isn't as bad for the PI w. respect to their tenure/funding/publications as if this student was faking positive data (that subsequently got into their grants or papers). I don't think that concern for the PI's wellbeing should stop you from reporting the suspicious behaviour.
  22. I think it's more important that you have a couple of years' worth of experience in 1 lab, and that you have demonstrated some independence and acquired good (field-appropriate) skills in the process. Your research doesn't have to be ground-breaking or super-trendy: you aren't really evaluated on the kind of research you do, just how well you do it.
  23. I agree with how you're thinking about this, and think that PI A sounds like a good choice. You shouldn't be working on a research project that bores you to tears...but nor should you sacrifice your own happiness and professional development/training just to do that one research project. There's always the risk that your dream project will fall through: PI doesn't want you to work on that; project fails completely and you need to work on something totally different; you realise you weren't as interested in the topic as you thought you'd be.
  24. American chicks will like you and your accent. If you are so inclined towards that sort of thing, of course.
  25. What I like to do is send letters to my grandparents. If your grandparents are more electronically-savvy than mine you can maybe do Skype chats. Regardless, although regular contact doesn't match seeing somebody in person...it is still maintaining a strong connection. It sounds like mentally you are still living at home. You may need to try harder to live in the place your body is (in this case, grad school). That means making a decent effort to find new friends. Sure they may not "get you" in a way your childhood friends do...but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy their company or form a meaningful connection to them. Part of being "got" involves helping people understand who you are by opening up and being honest, and by making an effort to understand the other person. What I liked the most about moving away from home into places where I knew no one was that I had to opportunity to try new things without any obligation to others. For example, when I was living at home I did a lot of long-distance running with a group of people. When I moved an hour down the road to university I continued with the running because I was still connected to that social group. However, moving to a new country meant that I could break that pattern and take up new sports. I kinda found it more fulfilling to form a totally new identity in the foreign country, rather than attempt to continue with my old habits. It helped me make a more meaningful connection to this new location and made the experience feel less transient. If there aren't grad student societies you can join in your school, look on Meetup.com for interest/social groups you can check out. I know that your family wants you to be happy and productive, wherever you are in the world. Your experience in this new location is whatever you make it!
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