After emails, I begin my experiments which can range from analyzing tadpole swim behavior, to using a cryostat to slicing frog brain tissue, to labeling and imaging cells in different areas in the brain.

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NAME

Erika

JOB TITLE

PhD Student in Cognitive, Linguistics, & Psychological Sciences

LOCATION

Providence, RI

SALARY

$20,000 - $40,000

Education

Brown University
PhD, Cognitive, Linguistics, & Psychological Sciences

Career Bio

The profession

Ability to find creative solutions for a wide range of problems. Ability to interpret data (explain what it means) to others. Good writing skills. Mathematical skills (understanding of statistics). Work well with others to find solutions to problems or answer questions. Come up with intelligent questions about the world around you. Time management skills.

How I got here

Bachelors of Science. Masters of Science can be helpful, but isn’t required.

A typical day

I get to work around 9 am or 10 am, depending on whether I have an early experiment scheduled. I begin my day by responding to important emails. After emails, I begin my experiments which can range from analyzing tadpole swim behavior, to using a cryostat to slicing frog brain tissue, to labeling and imaging cells in different areas in the brain. After finishing the experiment for the day, I am sure to make detailed notes in my lab notebook about the tasks I have completed, things I have changed and new ideas to try in the future. I also spend time converting/backing up my behavior videos and analysis. If I have writing to do (like my thesis, or if I am applying for a grant to get money for research), I spend my afternoons writing or editing work, in between working on other experiments and data analysis. Once a week, my coworkers and I have a lab meeting, which is usually a 1-2 hour meeting where we talk about what we have been working on, discuss recent published work and its impact on our current experiments, and ask for help if we are having any technical issues. About once a week, I also meet with my Advisor to talk about my progress, and to discuss solutions for any problems I encounter. Earlier in my graduate studies, I took classes and my experiments worked around these class times. In the evenings, I would go home and complete the assigned homework for my classes, as well as study and work on any assigned projects. At other points in my studies, I actually taught classes, so my evenings were spent grading assignments and working on lesson plans. As I have finished with taking/teaching classes, I spend most evenings catching up on any writing or analyses that I didn’t finish during the day.

The hardest parts

Figuring out what my data mean and how to explain it to others. Sometimes, it’s easy to explain what it means, and other times it’s a little more confusing. This is why it’s great to be able to share information with collaborators and co-workers, as they may be able to see the meaning when you can’t. Learning to write like a scientist can be difficult at first, but with a practice becomes like second nature. Time management is crucial for this job, because there are so many things you have to juggle, and balancing them has been an ongoing struggle for me. Problem solving can be a really difficult thing in this job, but luckily you have a lot of people who can help you figure it out.

The best parts

It’s a really nice ego boost finding a new and exciting result, especially when you predicted that result before anyone else. It feels like you are contributing something to science and to the world. Working with others is also great for me, as I am a pretty sociable person, and my co-workers are fun. I liked teaching as well, it allowed me to be creative in my teaching, share the excitement of science, and I felt like I was making a difference in the lives of my students. I also loved getting to travel. When you are a scientist, you get to travel to a lot of places around the world to present your research to other researchers. During my graduate career, I’ve traveled to Spain, Hong Kong, as well as several cities across the U.S. Each of these trips was paid for by my University and the conferences themselves. Some labs will even have collaborators in other countries, and will travel to visit them and do research in the field.

Advice for someone thinking about going into the field

Try it out first! Volunteer in several different labs and see what people are doing. This way you can decide whether you like doing science and see yourself doing it for a long time. If you are interested in a career as scientist, you can also see what kind of science you find most interesting and what skills/techniques you want to develop. Volunteering also helps you get to know professors who can write you letters of recommendation for college/graduate school because they know you can do the work! Find a topic/area of science you love and go for it! Learn as much as you can about it. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you from reaching your dreams!

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