Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Reproductive Genomics
The most important skill necessary for pursuing an advanced degree in the sciences is the ability to think both analytically and abstractly. You will have to develop a proficiency in the methods and technology required for your project but more essential is the ability to think creatively and innovatively. In addition to these skills, the ability to express yourself in writing and public speaking is also important. Mentorship can also play a central role in Ph.D. training, so being able to teach others about your area of research, or how to perform certain techniques, is a benefit.
A high school diploma and a Bachelors degree, usually in the field you intend to enter after college. I have a Bachelor of Science in Molecular and Cell Biology. A Masters degree is not necessary, but can be acquired during the course of your Ph.D.
A typical day for a senior Ph.D. student is a day spent in the lab. At the beginning of graduate school, courses and discussions were also part of a typical day, but after a few years, you can devote yourself first and foremost to your project. I study female infertility in mice, so this requires working in our mouse facility, and testing differences between “normal” mice, and infertile mice, which have had one of their genes disrupted. This goal involves hands-on benchwork, and assessing differences in the mice at the level of their DNA, RNA, and proteins. When I’m not working at the bench, I’m usually reading literature to better understand the field, and also to get new ideas for experiments. I do have some additional time that I use to work at our Writing Center, where I advise students on fundamentals of their writing.
Frequent failure, and eventual success. Experiments must be repeated many times over to optimize the conditions, but also to ensure that the results can be reproduced. That said, failure is a common occurrence, and it can be difficult to remain positive and motivated. Perseverance, however, is key. Experiments will eventually work, especially when they are re-approached in different or creative ways. This is where innovative thinking becomes most important, but the process can be challenging. Another struggle is the current state of funding for research, which is necessary to perform our experiments and maintain our mouse colony. Materials are exceptionally expensive, and we often have to be selective about which experiments are of highest priority or greatest potential benefit.
The most enjoyable feature of Ph.D. research is always being right on the edge of discovery. The project you choose will be something no one has ever done before – and that’s a really exciting prospect. Every result you get and every conclusion you draw is likely to be one that truly no one in the world has ever learned or discovered before. In that way, research is possibly one of the most exciting career paths anyone can take. At the conclusion of a study, you can know that what you learned was learned because of your efforts alone, and is a novel contribution to your field and to the world.
Finding a good fit in a mentor is THE most important decision of your Ph.D. experience. It’s tempting to choose a project that sounds most suited to your interests, or skill-set, but I’m convinced you can always learn to love what you’re working on – you can’t, however, always learn to love your mentor. A good mentor will get you excited and motivated about whatever the project may be. Choose an advisor with whom you can communicate well, who gives critical and constructive feedback, and who is appropriate for your life outside of lab (every lab has different expectations and rigors – if you have significant time commitments or interests outside of the lab, it’s a good decision to identify an advisor that is not only accepting, but supportive of those commitments). Find the environment in which you are most comfortable, and the rest will fall into place.
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