How to Succeed as a Graduate Student
by Jenny Gu and Philip E. Bourne
PLoS Comput Biol 3(11): e229. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030229
Choosing to go to graduate school is a major life decision. Whether you have already made that decision or are about to, now it is time to consider how best to be a successful graduate student. Here are some thoughts from someone who holds these memories fresh in her mind (JG) and from someone who has had a whole career to reflect back on the decisions made in graduate school, both good and bad (PEB). These thoughts taken together, from former student and mentor, represent experiences spanning some 25 or more years. For ease, these experiences are presented as ten simple rules, in approximate order of priority as defined by a number of graduate students we have consulted here in the US; but we hope the rules are more globally applicable, even though length, method of evaluation, and institutional structure of graduate education varies widely. These rules are intended as a companion to earlier editorials covering other areas of professional development [1–7].
Rule 1: Let Passion Be the Driving Force of Your Success
As with so many other things in life, your heart and then your head should dictate what thesis project makes sense to embark on. Doing your best work requires that you are passionate about what you are doing. Graduate school is an investment of up to a seven-year commitment, a significant chunk of your life. Use the time wisely. The educational system provides a variety of failsafe mechanisms depending on the part of the world where you study. Laboratory rotations and other forms of apprenticeship should not be overlooked, for they are opportunities to test the waters and measure your passion in a given subject area. It is also a chance to test your aptitude for research. Take advantage of it! Research is very different from simply taking courses. If you do not feel excited about doing research and the project selected, do not do it; reevaluate your career decisions.
Rule 2: Select the Right Mentor, Project, and Laboratory
Finding the right mentor can be hard since it is not always possible to know the kind of mentoring that is going to work best for you until you actually start doing research. Some of us like to work independently, others like significant feedback and supervision. Talk to other students in the laboratory and get their impressions of how the principle investigator’s mentoring works for them. In a large laboratory, chances are you will get less direct mentoring from the principle investigator. In that case, other senior scientists in the laboratory become important. What mentoring are they likely to offer? Judge, as best you can, if the overall environment will work for you. A key element is the standing of your mentor in his or her scientific field. When you graduate, the laboratory you graduate from is going to play a role in determining what opportunities exist for your postdoctoral work, either in academia, industry, or other sectors. Your proposed mentor should be very enthusiastic about the project you discuss. If he or she is not, you have the wrong mentor and/or project. At the same time, beware that such enthusiasm, however senior the mentor, may be misplaced as far as your interests are concerned. Gauge the novelty of the research project and potential for high-quality publications by doing your own background check through reading previously published research and talking to other scientists in related areas. Also consider if the project can be reasonably completed in the allocated time for graduation. To propel your career, you want to come out of a higher degree as a recognized individual having made a significant scientific contribution. Thus, it is absolutely critical that you do take the time to find the project and mentor that is going to fulfill this goal.
Rule 3: Independent Thinking Is a Mark of a True Scientist
Regardless of your initial work habits and how much you depend on your mentor (Rule 2), eventually you will have to be more independent than when you started graduate school. The earlier you start on that path to independence the better. Independence will play a critical part in your career as an innovative scientist. As much as possible define your own research project with a view to make a significant and unique scientific contribution.
Rule 4: Remember, Life Is All about Balance
Take the time to meet your own needs. Graduate school is highly demanding, both mentally and physically. Your health comes first, spend the time being healthy or else you might find yourself spending more time being sick. Hard work should be balanced with other activities that you enjoy and give you a break. These activities can often become important in your future scientific career. Collaborations sometimes start not because of a shared scientific interest initially, but because you share the same hobby or other interest.
Rule 5: Think Ahead and Develop Your Professional Career Early
There are two parts to this. The first part relates to professional development. Being a successful scientist is more involved than just doing good science. You need to be able to write good papers, submit compelling scholarship and grant applications, make powerful presentations, and communicate and collaborate with other researchers. The other Ten Simple Rules editorials are a start here [1–7], but you need to work on developing these skills at the same time as you work on your thesis. The second part involves using these emergent skills to figure out what to do with the higher postgraduate degree. Do not wait until you graduate to take the next step. Have a position and a fellowship, if possible, lined up ahead of time.
Rule 6: Remain Focused on Your Hypothesis While Avoiding Being Held Back
Formulation of the hypothesis is the first thing you’ll learn in Science 101, and yet somehow it seems to get occasionally thrown out the window. When you find yourself lost in the details of your research, take a step back and remind yourself of the big picture. Revaluate your hypothesis from time to time to see if it still makes sense, because you may find yourself needing a new one. Always keep this in mind in discussions with your mentor. As you have these discussions, remember you are cheap labor, and, if you are a good student, a source of success to your mentor. The temptation is that your mentor will want to keep you around as long as possible. Define the scope of your project early with your mentor and agree that this is what you will attempt to complete in order to receive the degree. A career awaits you beyond the laboratory of your graduate student days. Do not prolong moving on to new challenges.
Rule 7: Address Problems Earlier Rather Than Later
If graduate school wasn’t quite what you thought it would be, be it scientifically or otherwise, find out what your options are to address the problem. Discuss these problems with your mentors. A good mentor is there not just to guide you scientifically, but also in your personal development. Remember, they have been there themselves and have likely seen similar issues with earlier students. Take time off to reflect on your future if this is needed. A good mentor will understand that you come first.
Rule 8: Share Your Scientific Success with the World
Being recognized by your peers as someone who does good science is important both within your institution, nationally, and internationally. When opportunities arise to give seminars and presentations to other groups, take them. Before starting with a mentor, come to an agreement as to when and what meetings you can attend locally and globally. Scientific meetings are a fun and fruitful venue for exchange. Be sure to venture beyond the comfort zone of familiar faces, because it is important to meet other colleagues in your field. These people may become your future collaborators, friends, advocates, and employers.
Rule 9: Build Confidence and a Thick Skin
As you pave the road to scientific fame with Rule 8, expect your work to be criticized and scoffed at, for that is part of the scientific process of challenging new ideas. The best way to build self-confidence for these otherwise defensive moments is to be prepared and to present your work clearly with a confident display of your expansive knowledgebase of the relevant related work. Do not be intimidated by big names who question your work; counter knowledge with knowledge. Another reason to have a thick skin is that the path to success will not be without setbacks—setbacks such as experiments that fail, and experiments that succeed but do not yield a useful result causing you to have wasted significant time. Undergraduate training is usually much more structured and does not prepare you for such setbacks. Learn as much as you can from these situations both about the science and yourself and move on.
Rule 10: Help Select and Subsequently Engage Your Thesis Committee
This rule depends somewhat on how your institution is structured. Some institutions do not convene a thesis committee until near the end of your work. For those institutions that require a thesis committee to be convened early, talk with your mentor and be involved in the selection process. The committee is there to work for you as secondary mentors. Consider people whose own research experience will be valuable to you or who have a reputation for ongoing mentoring in all areas of professional development. Make a point of talking to members of the committee from time to time and keep them abreast of what you are doing. On occasion, you and your primary mentor may have disagreements; committee members can be invaluable here.
AcknowledgmentsThanks to Kristine Briedis, Jo-Lan Chung, Ruben Valas, and Song Yang, current and former students in the Bourne Laboratory, and members of the Bioinformatics and Chemistry/Biochemistry Programs at the University of California San Diego, for their insightful comments on these rules. As always, we invite you to comment, either formally through the journal, via blogs and list servers, and to the authors directly.
- Bourne PE (2005) Ten simple rules for getting published. PLoS Comp Biol 1: e57. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0010057.
- Bourne PE, Chalupa LM (2006) Ten simple rules for getting grants. PLoS Comp Biol 2: e12. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0020012.
- Bourne PE, Korngreen A (2006) Ten simple rules for reviewers. PLoS Comp Biol 2: e110. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0020110.
- Bourne PE, Friedberg I (2006) Ten simple rules for selecting a postdoctoral fellowship. PLoS Comp Biol 2: e121. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0020121.
- Vicens Q, Bourne PE (2007) Ten simple rules for a successful collaboration. PLoS Comp Biol 3: e44. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030044.
- Bourne PE (2007) Ten simple rules for making good oral presentations. PLoS Comp Biol 3: e77. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030077.
- Erren TC, Bourne PE (2007) Ten simple rules for a good poster presentation. PLoS Comp Biol 3: e102. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030102.
There are many good resources on the web such as
How to Be a Good Graduate Student by Marie desJardins
How to Prepare and Present a Scientific Talk
Philip E. Bourne
PLoS Comput Biol 3(4): e77. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030077
Rule 1: Talk to the Audience
We do not mean face the audience, although gaining eye contact with as many people as possible when you present is important since it adds a level of intimacy and comfort to the presentation. We mean prepare presentations that address the target audience. Be sure you know who your audience is—what are their backgrounds and knowledge level of the material you are presenting and what they are hoping to get out of the presentation? Off-topic presentations are usually boring and will not endear you to the audience. Deliver what the audience wants to hear.
Rule 2: Less is More
A common mistake of inexperienced presenters is to try to say too much. They feel the need to prove themselves by proving to the audience that they know a lot. As a result, the main message is often lost, and valuable question time is usually curtailed. Your knowledge of the subject is best expressed through a clear and concise presentation that is provocative and leads to a dialog during the question-and-answer session when the audience becomes active participants. At that point, your knowledge of the material will likely become clear. If you do not get any questions, then you have not been following the other rules. Most likely, your presentation was either incomprehensible or trite. A side effect of too much material is that you talk too quickly, another ingredient of a lost message.
Rule 3: Only Talk When You Have Something to Say
Do not be overzealous about what you think you will have available to present when the time comes. Research never goes as fast as you would like. Remember the audience’s time is precious and should not be abused by presentation of uninteresting preliminary material.
Rule 4: Make the Take-Home Message Persistent
A good rule of thumb would seem to be that if you ask a member of the audience a week later about your presentation, they should be able to remember three points. If these are the key points you were trying to get across, you have done a good job. If they can remember any three points, but not the key points, then your emphasis was wrong. It is obvious what it means if they cannot recall three points!
Rule 5: Be Logical
Think of the presentation as a story. There is a logical flow—a clear beginning, middle, and an end. You set the stage (beginning), you tell the story (middle), and you have a big finish (the end) where the take-home message is clearly understood.
Rule 6: Treat the Floor as a Stage
Presentations should be entertaining, but do not overdo it and do know your limits. If you are not humorous by nature, do not try and be humorous. If you are not good at telling anecdotes, do not try and tell anecdotes, and so on. A good entertainer will captivate the audience and increase the likelihood of obeying Rule 4.
Rule 7: Practice and Time Your Presentation
This is particularly important for inexperienced presenters. Even more important, when you give the presentation, stick to what you practice. It is common to deviate, and even worse to start presenting material that you know less about than the audience does. The more you practice, the less likely you will be to go off on tangents. Visual cues help here. The more presentations you give, the better you are going to get. In a scientific environment, take every opportunity to do journal club and become a teaching assistant if it allows you to present. An important talk should not be given for the first time to an audience of peers. You should have delivered it to your research collaborators who will be kinder and gentler but still point out obvious discrepancies. Laboratory group meetings are a fine forum for this.
Rule 8: Use Visuals Sparingly but Effectively
Presenters have different styles of presenting. Some can captivate the audience with no visuals (rare); others require visual cues and in addition, depending on the material, may not be able to present a particular topic well without the appropriate visuals such as graphs and charts. Preparing good visual materials will be the subject of a further Ten Simple Rules. Rule 7 will help you to define the right number of visuals for a particular presentation. A useful rule of thumb for us is if you have more than one visual for each minute you are talking, you have too many and you will run over time. Obviously some visuals are quick, others take time to get the message across; again Rule 7 will help. Avoid reading the visual unless you wish to emphasize the point explicitly, the audience can read, too! The visual should support what you are saying either for emphasis or with data to prove the verbal point. Finally, do not overload the visual. Make the points few and clear.
Rule 9: Review Audio and/or Video of Your Presentations
There is nothing more effective than listening to, or listening to and viewing, a presentation you have made. Violations of the other rules will become obvious. Seeing what is wrong is easy, correcting it the next time around is not. You will likely need to break bad habits that lead to the violation of the other rules. Work hard on breaking bad habits; it is important.
Rule 10: Provide Appropriate Acknowledgments
People love to be acknowledged for their contributions. Having many gratuitous acknowledgements degrades the people who actually contributed. If you defy Rule 7, then you will not be able to acknowledge people and organizations appropriately, as you will run out of time. It is often appropriate to acknowledge people at the beginning or at the point of their contribution so that their contributions are very clear.
As a final word of caution, we have found that even in following the Ten Simple Rules (or perhaps thinking we are following them), the outcome of a presentation is not always guaranteed. Audience–presenter dynamics are hard to predict even though the metric of depth and intensity of questions and off-line followup provide excellent indicators. Sometimes you are sure a presentation will go well, and afterward you feel it did not go well. Other times you dread what the audience will think, and you come away pleased as punch. Such is life. As always, we welcome your comments on these Ten Simple Rules by Reader Response.
The idea for this particular Ten Simple Rules was inspired by a conversation with Fiona Addison.
Also see the following guides:
Ten Secrets to Giving a Good Scientific Talk in Science and Society V1003 by Mark Schoeberl and Brian Toon
How to Give a Sensational Scientific Talk by Janet B. W. Williams, D.S.W.
How to Give a Talk by James Allan
Giving a Job Talk in the Sciences By Richard M. Reis
How to Prepare and Present a Scientific Poster
Thomas C. Erren and Philip E. Bourne
PLoS Comput Biol 3(5): e102. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030102
Posters are a key component of communicating your science and an important element in a successful scientific career. Posters, while delivering the same high-quality science, offer a different medium from either oral presentations  or published papers , and should be treated accordingly. Posters should be considered a snapshot of your work intended to engage colleagues in a dialog about the work, or, if you are not present, to be a summary that will encourage the reader to want to learn more. Many a lifelong collaboration  has begun in front of a poster board. Here are ten simple rules for maximizing the return on the time-consuming process of preparing and presenting an effective poster.
Rule 1: Define the Purpose
The purpose will vary depending on the status and nature of the work being presented, as well as the intent. Some posters are designed to be used again and again; for example, those making conference attendees aware of a shared resource. Others will likely be used once at a conference and then be relegated to the wall in the laboratory. Before you start preparing the poster, ask yourself the following questions: What do you want the person passing by your poster to do? Engage in a discussion about the content? Learn enough to go off and want to try something for themselves? Want to collaborate? All the above, or none of the above but something else? Style your poster accordingly.
Rule 2: Sell Your Work in Ten Seconds
Some conferences will present hundreds of posters; you will need to fight for attention. The first impressions of your poster, and to a lesser extent what you might say when standing in front of it, are crucial. It is analogous to being in an elevator and having a few seconds to peak someone’s interest before they get off. The sad truth is that you have to sell your work. One approach is to pose your work as addressing a decisive question, which you then address as best you can. Once you have posed the question, which may well also be the motivation for the study, the focus of your poster should be on addressing that question in a clear and concise way.
Rule 3: The Title Is Important
The title is a good way to sell your work. It may be the only thing the conference attendee sees before they reach your poster. The title should make them want to come and visit. The title might pose a decisive question, define the scope of the study, or hint at a new finding. Above all, the title should be short and comprehensible to a broad audience. The title is your equivalent of a newspaper headline—short, sharp, and compelling.
Rule 4: Poster Acceptance Means Nothing
Do not take the acceptance of a poster as an endorsement of your work. Conferences need attendees to be financially viable. Many attendees who are there on grants cannot justify attending a conference unless they present. There are a small number of speaking slots compared with attendees. How to solve the dilemma? Enter posters; this way everyone can present. In other words, your poster has not been endorsed, just accepted. To get endorsement from your peers, do good science and present it well on the poster.
Rule 5: Many of the Rules for Writing a Good Paper Apply to Posters, Too
Identify your audience and provide the appropriate scope and depth of content. If the conference includes nonspecialists, cater to them. Just as the abstract of a paper needs to be a succinct summary of the motivation, hypothesis to be tested, major results, and conclusions, so does your poster.
Rule 6: Good Posters Have Unique Features Not Pertinent to Papers
The amount of material presented in a paper far outweighs what is presented on a poster. A poster requires you to distill the work, yet not lose the message or the logical flow. Posters need to be viewed from a distance, but can take advantage of your presence. Posters can be used as a distribution medium for copies of associated papers, supplementary information, and other handouts. Posters allow you to be more speculative. Often only the titles or at most the abstracts of posters can be considered published; that is, widely distributed. Mostly, they may never be seen again. There is the opportunity to say more than you would in the traditional literature, which for all intents and purposes will be part of the immutable record. Take advantage of these unique features.
Rule 7: Layout and Format Are Critical
Pop musician Keith Richards put the matter well in an interview with Der Spiegel : “If you are a painter, then the most important thing is the bare canvas. A good painter will never cover all the space but will always leave some blank. My canvas is silence.” Your canvas as poster presenter is also white space. Guide the passerby’s eyes from one succinct frame to another in a logical fashion from beginning to end. Unlike the literature, which is linear by virtue of one page following another, the reader of a poster is free to wander over the pages as if they are tacked to the poster board in a random order. Guide the reader with arrows, numbering, or whatever else makes sense in getting them to move from one logical step to another. Try to do this guiding in an unusual and eye-catching way. Look for appropriate layouts in the posters of others and adopt some of their approaches. Finally, never use less than a size 24 point font, and make sure the main points can be read at eye level.
Rule 8: Content Is Important, but Keep It Concise
Everything on the poster should help convey the message. The text must conform to the norms of sound scientific reporting: clarity, precision of expression, and economy of words. The latter is particularly important for posters because of their inherent space limitations. Use of first-rate pictorial material to illustrate a poster can sometimes transform what would otherwise be a bewildering mass of complex data into a coherent and convincing story. One carefully produced chart or graph often says more than hundreds of words. Use graphics for “clear portrayal of complexity” , not to impress (and possibly bewilder) viewers with complex artistry. Allow a figure to be viewed in both a superficial and a detailed way. For example, a large table might have bold swaths of color indicating relative contributions from different categories, and the smaller text in the table would provide gritty details for those who want them. Likewise, a graph could provide a bold trend line (with its interpretation clearly and concisely stated), and also have many detailed points with error bars. Have a clear and obvious set of conclusions—after the abstract, this is where the passerby’s eyes will wander. Only then will they go to the results, followed by the methods.
Rule 9: Posters Should Have Your Personality
A poster is a different medium from a paper, which is conventionally dry and impersonal. Think of your poster as an extension of your personality. Use it to draw the passerby to take a closer look or to want to talk to you. Scientific collaboration often starts for reasons other than the shared scientific interest, such as a personal interest. A photo of you on the poster not only helps someone find you at the conference when you are not at the poster, it can also be used to illustrate a hobby or an interest that can open a conversation.
Rule 10: The Impact of a Poster Happens Both During and After the Poster Session
When the considerable effort of making a poster is done, do not blow it on presentation day by failing to have the poster achieve maximum impact. This requires the right presenter–audience interaction. Work to get a crowd by being engaging; one engaged viewer will attract others. Don’t badger people, let them read. Be ready with Rule 2. Work all the audience at once, do not leave visitors waiting for your attention. Make eye contact with every visitor.
Make it easy for a conference attendee to contact you afterward. Have copies of relevant papers on hand as well as copies of the poster on standard-sized paper. For work that is more mature, have the poster online and make the URL available as a handout. Have your e-mail and other demographics clearly displayed. Follow up with people who come to the poster by having a signup sheet.
The visitor is more likely to remember you than the content of your poster. Make yourself easy to remember. As the host of the work presented on the poster, be attentive, open, and curious, and self-confident but never arrogant and aggressive. Leave the visitors space and time—they can “travel” through your poster at their own discretion and pace. If a visitor asks a question, talk simply and openly about the work. This is likely your opportunity to get feedback on the work before it goes to publication. Better to be tripped up in front of your poster than by a reviewer of the manuscript.
Good posters and their presentations can improve your reputation, both within and outside your working group and institution, and may also contribute to a certain scientific freedom. Poster prizes count when peers look at your resume.
These ten rules will hopefully help you in preparing better posters. For a more humorous view on what not to do in preparing a poster, see , and for further information, including the opportunity to practice your German, see .
Thomas Erren’s contributions to this piece are based on  and were stimulated by exchanges with Michael Jacobsen. Thanks also to Steven E. Brenner for useful input.
- Bourne PE (2007) Ten simple rules for making good oral presentations. PLoS Comput Biol 3: e77.. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030077.
- Bourne PE (2005) Ten simple rules for getting published. PLoS Comput Biol 1: e57.. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0010057.
- Vicens Q, Bourne PE (2007) Ten simple rules for a successful collaboration. PLoS Comput Biol 3: e44.. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030044.
- (1998) Interview with Keith Richards. Meine Leinwand ist die Stille. Der Spiegel 45: 167–170. Find this article online
- Tufte ER (2001) The visual display of quantitative information. Cheshire (Connecticut): Graphics Press.
- Wolcott TG (1997) Mortal sins in poster presentations or how to give the poster no one remembers. Newsletter Soc Integr Compar Biol Fall. pp. 10–11. Available: http://www.sicb.org/newsletters/fa97nl/sicb/poster.html. Accessed 23 April 2007.
- Erren TC (2006) Schau mich an! Ein Leitfaden zur Erstellung und Präsentation von Postern in der Medizin und den Naturwissenschaften. München/Wien/New York: W. Zuckschwerdt Verlag.
Why is Networking Important
This is an excerpt from this great guide to networking
Why is Networking Important?
The truth is that the world is made of people. People out of communities are like fish out of water or plants out of soil. Research of all kinds depends critically on intensive and continually evolving communication among people engaged in related projects. Networking cannot substitute for good research, but good research cannot substitute for networking either. You can’t get a job or a grant or any recognition for your accomplishments unless you keep up to date with the people in your community. Establishing professional relationships with particular people and involving yourself in particular professional communities will change you: not only will you internalize a variety of interesting points of view, but you will become more comfortable in your writing and speaking because you will be engaged in an ongoing conversation with people you know. And if no community is waiting for you, you will have to go out and build one — one person at a time. This “overhead” can be a nuisance at first, but none of it is terribly difficult once you get some practice and really convince yourself that you cannot sustain your professional life without devoting some time to it.
How to Find a Postdoctoral Position
Philip E. Bourne and Iddo Friedberg
PLoS Comput Biol 2(11): e121. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0020121
You are a PhD candidate and your thesis defense is already in sight. You have decided you would like to continue with a postdoctoral position rather than moving into industry as the next step in your career (that decision should be the subject of another “Ten Simple Rules”). Further, you already have ideas for the type of research you wish to pursue and perhaps some ideas for specific projects. Here are ten simple rules to help you make the best decisions on a research project and the laboratory in which to carry it out.
Rule 1: Select a Position that Excites You
If you find the position boring, you will not do your best work—believe us, the salary will not be what motivates you, it will be the science. Discuss the position fully with your proposed mentor, review the literature on the proposed project, and discuss it with others to get a balanced view. Try and evaluate what will be published during the process of your research. Being scooped during a postdoc can be a big setback. Just because the mentor is excited about the project does not mean that you will be six months into it.
Rule 2: Select a Laboratory That Suits Your Work and Lifestyle
If at all possible, visit the laboratory before making a decision. Laboratories vary widely in scope and size. Think about how you like to work—as part of a team, individually, with little supervision, with significant supervision (remembering that this is part of your training where you are supposed to be becoming independent), etc. Talk to other graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the laboratory and determine the work style of the laboratory. Also, your best work is going to be done when you are happiest with the rest of your life. Does the location of the laboratory and the surrounding environment satisfy your nonwork interests?
Rule 3: Select a Laboratory and a Project That Develop New Skills
Maximizing your versatility increases your marketability. Balance this against the need to ultimately be recognized for a particular set of contributions. Avoid strictly continuing the work you did in graduate school. A postdoctoral position is an extension of your graduate training; maximize your gain in knowledge and experience. Think very carefully before extending your graduate work into a postdoc in the same laboratory where you are now—to some professionals this raises a red flag when they look at your resume. Almost never does it maximize your gain of knowledge and experience, but that can be offset by rapid and important publications.
Rule 4: Have a Backup Plan
Do not be afraid to take risks, although keep in mind that pursuing a risky project does not mean it should be unrealistic: carefully research and plan your project. Even then, the most researched, well-thought-out, and well-planned project may fizzle; research is like that. Then what? Do you have a backup plan? Consider working on at least two projects. One to which you devote most of your time and energy and the second as a fallback. The second project should be more of the “bread and butter” type, guaranteed to generate good (if not exciting) results no matter what happens. This contradicts Rule 1, but that is allowed for a backup plan. For as we see in Rule 5, you need tangible outcomes.
Rule 5: Choose a Project with Tangible Outcomes That Match Your Career Goals
For a future in academia, the most tangible outcomes are publications, followed by more publications. Does the laboratory you are entering have a track record in producing high-quality publications? Is your future mentor well-respected and recognized by the community? Talk to postdocs who have left the laboratory and find out. If the mentor is young, does s/he have the promise of providing those outcomes? Strive to have at least one quality publication per year.
Rule 6: Negotiate First Authorship before You Start
The average number of authors on a paper has continued to rise over the years: a sign that science continues to become more collaborative. This is good for science, but how does it impact your career prospects? Think of it this way. If you are not the first author on a paper, your contribution is viewed as 1/n where n is the number of authors. Journals such as this one try to document each author’s contributions; this is a relatively new concept, and few people pay any attention to it. Have an understanding with your mentor on your likelihood of first authorship before you start a project. It is best to tackle this problem early during the interview process and to achieve an understanding; this prevents conflicts and disappointments later on. Don’t be shy about speaking frankly on this issue. This is particularly important when you are joining an ongoing study.
Rule 7: The Time in a Postdoctoral Fellowship Should Be Finite
Mentors favor postdocs second only to students. Why? Postdocs are second only to students in providing a talented labor pool for the least possible cost. If you are good, your mentor may want you to postdoc for a long period. Three years in any postdoc is probably enough. Three years often corresponds to the length of a grant that pays the postdoctoral fellowship, so the grant may define the duration. Definitely find out about the source and duration of funding before accepting a position. Be very wary about accepting one-year appointments. Be aware that the length of a postdoc will likely be governed by the prevailing job market. When the job market is good, assistant professorships and suitable positions in industry will mean you can transition early to the next stage of your career. Since the job market even a year out is unpredictable, having at least the option of a three-year postdoc fellowship is desirable.
Rule 8: Evaluate the Growth Path
Many independent researchers continue the research they started during their postdoc well into their first years as assistant professors, and they may continue the same line of work in industry, too. When researching the field you are about to enter, consider how much has been done already, how much you can contribute in your postdoc, and whether you could take it with you after your postdoc. This should be discussed with your mentor as part of an ongoing open dialog, since in the future you may be competing against your mentor. A good mentor will understand, as should you, that your horizon is independence—your own future lab, as a group leader, etc.
Rule 9: Strive to Get Your Own Money
The ease of getting a postdoc is correlated with the amount of independent research monies available. When grants are hard to get, so are postdocs. Entering a position with your own financing gives you a level of independence and an important extra line on your resume. This requires forward thinking, since most sources of funding come from a joint application with the person who will mentor you as a postdoc. Few graduate students think about applying for postdoctoral fellowships in a timely way. Even if you do not apply for funding early, it remains an attractive option, even after your postdoc has started with a different funding source. Choosing one to two potential mentors and writing a grant at least a year before you will graduate is recommended.
Rule 10: Learn to Recognize Opportunities
New areas of science emerge and become hot very quickly. Getting involved in an area early on has advantages, since you will be more easily recognized. Consider a laboratory and mentor that have a track record in pioneering new areas or at least the promise to do so.
The authors would like to thank Mickey Kosloff for helpful discussions.
How to Find a Job
How to Find a Chemistry Job?
1. Many Scientific Societies have job databases:
3. Academic Training Opportunities at UVA
The UVA Teaching Resource Center runs a training program on how to prepare for an academic career, Tomorrow’s Professor Today, that may be interesting.
4. Scientific Job Search Engines
Talk to professors you know in your department and within your field. Ask them if they have any former students in high places at particular places. Could the professor forward your CV to this contact? Often applications are submitted to HR offices of companies so be sure to submit the application in an official manner as well as having your contact forward it along.
6. Helpful advice about job hunting and negotiating
UVA Graduate Career Services
The Graduate Arts & Sciences Career Services at the University of Virginia is a centralized resource for all GSAS students. Our purpose is to assist Master’s and PhD students with decision-making and planning for career pursuits within and beyond academe by providing advising services, workshops and other programs, and referrals to up-to-date electronic and print resources. GSAS Career Services actively seeks to develop new resources that can help graduate students make informed career choices and conduct effective job searches.
For more information, please consider contacting directly,
Associate Director of Graduate Professional Development
Graduate & Postdoctoral Affairs
Office of the Provost
University of Virginia
563 New Cabell Hall
P.O. Box 400882
Charlottesville, Virginia 22904
Fellowships and Awards
Alpha Kappa Alpha provides merit and need based scholarships for graduate study
Fellowship and grant recipients perform research in a wide range of disciplines and work to improve their schools and communities. Their intellect, dedication, imagination, and effort promise to forge new paths in scholarship, improve the quality of life for all, and tackle the educational and social barriers facing women in the United States and around […]
The American Chemical Society Division of Analytical Chemistry Graduate Fellowship Program is designed to encourage basic research in the field of analytical chemistry, to promote the growth of analytical chemistry in academic institutions and industry, and to provide recognition of future leaders in the field of analytical chemistry.
The Inorganic Chemistry Division supports graduate and undergraduate students presenting research at ACS National Meetings.
The Division of Organic Chemistry annually awards fellowships to outstanding third and fourth year graduate students in organic chemistry.
The Anna Louise Hoffman Award recognizes outstanding achievement in chemical research by a woman graduate student.
The Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program within the Policy and Global Affairs Division of the National Academies is designed to engage its Fellows in the analytical process that informs U.S. science and technology policy.
Fellowship for the training of a doctoral candidate in the field of Medical Physics. Medical physics is a creative, expanding and rewarding profession for the young scientist about to choose a career.
The 2019 Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship competition is scheduled to open in September 2015.
Through its Fellowship Programs, the Ford Foundation seeks to increase the diversity of the nation’s college and university faculties by increasing their ethnic and racial diversity, to maximize the educational benefits of diversity, and to increase the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all […]
The National GEM Consortium enables qualified students from underrepresented communities to pursue graduate education in applied science and engineering
Michigan State University’s collection of Graduate scholarships, fellowships and loans
A $5000 award to graduate students.
This award recognizes graduate students who show exemplary promise as future leaders of higher education; who demonstrate a commitment to developing academic and civic responsibility in themselves and others; and whose work reflects a strong emphasis on teaching and learning. The K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Awards provide financial support for graduate students to attend […]
The Link Foundation provides two-year fellowships for graduate energy-related research.
Mesothelioma Help sponsors an annual scholarship essay contest to assist with educational efforts and raise awareness of Mesothelioma. The top award is $2500.
To help students initiate careers in cardiovascular and stroke research by providing research assistance and training.
Available to students pursuing graduate study in Earth or space sciences or related disciplines. Students may apply at any point in their degree program and the program is open to all students enrolled at US universities, although preference may be given to US citizens or permanent residents.
The NASA Graduate Student Researchers Program (GSRP) is an Agency-wide fellowship program (also called GSRP Training Grants in what follows) for graduate study leading to masters or doctoral degrees in the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering related to NASA research and development.
This fellowship supports graduate student researchers pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree related to space technology. Doctoral students must have completed less than three years of work toward the degree. Applicants must be US citizens, nationals or permanent residents.
NDSEG Fellowships are intended for students at or near the beginning of their graduate studies in science or engineering and is for three years.
The National Physical Science Consortium is a partnership between government agencies and laboratories, industry, and higher education. NPSC’s goal is to increase the number of American citizens with graduate degrees in the physical sciences and related engineering fields, emphasizing recruitment of a diverse applicant pool including women and minorities.
The National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) helps ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the United States and reinforces its diversity.
This program is designed to foster the education of highly trained personnel to meet the hiring needs of the United States Departments of Defense and Homeland Security (DoD/DHS) for research and development in areas related to ongoing DoD/DHS sponsored programs in nuclear forensics.
This fellowship program supports graduate students pursuing a degree in nuclear, geochemical and other nuclear forensics related disciplines. Applicants must be US citizens.
The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) provides research experiences that help graduate students develop knowledge and experience beyond the classroom.
Use this website to find programs such as undergraduate summer research opportunities, graduate fellowships, postdoctoral positions, as well as resources and materials pertaining to recruitment, retention, and mentoring.
This fellowship supports up to two years of graduate study for new Americans- naturalized citizen, green card holder or DACA recipient or a child of a naturalized citizens.
Pharmacology/toxicology awards support career-development activities of scientists prepared to engage in research that integrates information on molecular or cellular mechanisms of action with information on the effects of an agent observed in an intact organism, either in experimental animal or clinical studies or both.
The purpose of this individual predoctoral research training fellowship is to provide support for promising doctoral candidates who will be performing dissertation research and training in scientific health-related fields relevant to the missions of the participating NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) during the tenure of the award.
The Science, Mathematics And Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship for Service Program is an opportunity for students pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines to receive a full scholarship and be gainfully employed upon degree completion.
Fellows in the Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship (DOE CSGF) program are using high performance computing to better understand fundamental properties of the world and universe around us, and to solve complex problems in areas of national importance, such as climate change and sustainable energy sources.
Every year the Cellulose and Renewable Materials Division of the ACS in collaboration with the Eastman Chemical Company recognizes graduate student achievement in its field.
Provides fellowships to exceptionally talented individuals studying in the applied physical, biological and engineering sciences.
Offer several different fellowships in science, engineering and medicine. Information on eligibility guidelines and application deadlines is available on specific programs’ Web sites.
The National GEM Consortium’s primary focus is to administer and award full fellowships with paid internships to highly qualified under-represented students who wish to pursue graduate studies in engineering or science.
The Reaxys PhD Prize is awarded for original and innovative research in organic, organometallic and inorganic chemistry, which demonstrates excellence in methodology and approach by a candidate currently studying for a PhD or having completed a PhD after January 1, 2011.
The Rowland Junior Fellows program provides young scientists the opportunity to perform independent experimental research for five years with full institutional support and access to the Institute’s outstanding technical and scientific resources.
The Office of Science is now accepting applications for Graduate Fellowships to begin in the Fall 2012.
UNCF • Merck Graduate Science Research Dissertation Fellowships will help African American graduate students complete coursework, conduct research, and prepare the dissertation required for a doctoral degree in the biomedically relevant life or physical sciences.
UVa’s VPR page provides UVa internal opportunities
Virginia Space Grant Consortium graduate fellowships are available.
The ACS Women Chemists Committee (WCC) and Eli Lilly and Company sponsor a program to provide funding for undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral female chemists to travel to meetings to present the results of their research.