It's that time of year again: back to school. For some of you, it's an exciting (and terrifying) time to start a new graduate program. For others, like myself, continuing a graduate program for the past several years is nothing new. I started my 21st year of school today (side comment: HOW?!?!) Regardless of where you are in graduate school, I've compiled a very short list of advice for those newbies out there.
1. Be open to new opportunities and working with new people.
Upon entering a new program, learning about new opportunities and working with new people is fairly easy. However, I think it is fairly easy to enter a program knowing exactly what you want to research and who you want to work with. The first year of graduate school, while challenging, is the time to explore your interests. Take advantage of being new to ask questions! While it may feel like people are judging you for "stupid" questions, this is nearly never the case. Most professors I've met have always been more than happy (and frankly, very excited) to talk about their research with students. There are no stupid questions!
2. It's never too early to network
Even if you do not know what you want to do after the Ph.D., making connections is extremely important in life after the Ph.D. If you do not have a website or LinkedIn, make one. No business cards? Print them yourself. Many graduate programs and/or advisors do not emphasize professional development enough, so make sure you are in charge of your growing network. Many universities offer workshops on professional development, including networking skills at conferences, that are essential. For example, I presented my research at the University of Maryland's Graduate Career Pathways conference last year. It was a great opportunity to network and communicate my research with others at Maryland that I do not normally interact with.
For me, graduate school has been an exciting time to explore my interests in a field more deeply. While certainly challenging and stressful, I think these pieces of advice is a great start to beginning the new school year!
I entered college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison thinking I wanted to become a flight surgeon. Then I decided I would become an engineer, followed by my decision to become a music teacher and eventually a nurse. Figuring out what major and career to choose is a difficult decision for most students and I was no exception. I feel like many atmospheric scientists I know have always realized they wanted to be in this field. But what if you don't know?
I was pre-med through most of college, but it was not until I started undergraduate research that I began to realize that other paths may be available. My first research experience was in a psychology lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My job was to watch videos of a dad and pup mice interacting and recording how much time they spent doing certain behaviors--cuddling, running on the wheel, retrieving the pup to the nest, etc. I spent a semester watching ~5-8 hours of these videos a week. I realized psychology was not for me.
However, it's important to note that my undergraduate bachelor degree is in biology, environmental studies, and global health, which is not very close to what I currently study at UMD. In order to start graduate studies, I needed to take more math classes in addition to my degree (Calc 3 and ODE/Linear Algebra). While I do not regret studying different topics as an undergraduate, it was challenging to transition to a very math-heavy discipline. Luckily, I found very supportive friends and mentors that helped me through.
There is no one reason why I chose to become a scientist. Rather, it was a combination of positive childhood experiences, exploring my passions, and working with extraordinary mentors that helped me decide what was right for me. I'm extremely thankful for the opportunities I've had to explore my interests and further study in my field.