PhDogs and their Graduate Students (Part 1)

Buckle up for some #wholesomeAF content. I’m so excited to share the first installment of our series on how dogs can enrich one’s experience in graduate school. Really, none of us deserve how good dogs are, but we try to be worthy of their affection. Read on for three stories of doggos who deserve honorary degrees.

Juniper and Rachel

I got my dog, Juniper, in October of 2015 as a wedding gift from my childhood best friend. I’d been wanting a dog for so long, and he was my best dude immediately. Here is a picture from the road trip my sister and I took with Juniper from Kentucky (where I grew up and got married) to California (where I live and work). He was just a little baby on his first hike at Antelope Island State Park in Utah.

You’ll hear a lot of common themes in the stories we present in this series, and so many of the experiences others shared rang true to me in my relationship with Juniper. He gets me up and outside everyday. He forces me to take care of myself, because I have to take care of him. He makes me laugh a lot.

More than anything though, Juniper was a major help to me after my brother’s death in July 2017. I took Juniper pretty well everywhere with me for over a year. My husband moved two hours away in August that year to start a new and exciting job. I stayed behind to finish out our lease and knock out some lab work before following him to our new location. He took the cats, and I kept the dog. Through the summer and fall, when I was monumentally depressed, Juni nibbled my toes till I got out of bed, and if I was walking the dog anyway, I might as well walk to the office and try to get some work done. I don’t think it’s overstating the facts to say that Juniper helped me stay in school.

I can measure the remainder of my graduate career in weeks now, which is equal parts terrifying and exciting. I cannot think of a better co-pilot to have had along this journey than my very best boy, June.

Mako and Alex

Alex McInturf
pronouns: she/her/hers
Working toward a PhD in Animal Behavior studying the movement ecology of large apex marine predators for use in conservation efforts.

I had always planned on getting a dog once I was accepted to graduate school – it seemed to be the first stable time in my life when I would have few family responsibilities. However, I wasn’t certain if I would be able to balance the workload with the responsibility of an animal, particularly an active one. After my first year of graduate school, I decided that my schedule was such that I could be a responsible dog owner. I couldn’t have made a better decision.

After my first field season, I began searching for puppies on various platforms –, animal shelter websites, and Craigslist. Little did I know that the latter would produce the most wonderful outcome. Only a few days after my return to Davis, I found (and consequently pounced on) a small Russian Spaniel for sale from a family in Sacramento.

I maintain that Mako is now the best thing that has happened to me in my recent past, though I have had a relatively privileged life. Raising him has brought happiness that I hadn’t even realized I lacked. My lifestyle is healthier (my favorite part of my day is walking him at ungodly hours of the morning) and my day-to-day more regimented but balanced. After all, it’s hard to be stressed about a grant or frustrated with paper reviews when you hear little snores at your feet in your office.

Mako has also gained a sizable following on campus. He comes to class, travels in his bike trailer with his long ears flapping, and approaches my adviser, lab-mates, and undergraduates with a bone in his mouth every time they enter my office. I’ve actually found my students to be more willing to engage in dialogue about science and the courses I am teaching if he is around.

In sum, he has made my life in Davis, and my PhD, a wonderful experience.

Tuna and Ryan

Ryan Freedman
pronouns: he/him/his
Studying for a PhD in Ecology working with NOAA on marine conservation and resource management.

Tuna was a rescue that I found while hunting for the Great Danes in the SoCal area. I had been slowly considering dogs but the financial tightness of graduate school deterred me from getting one. But when I met Tuna in the pound, I knew in my gut I had to take him home.

Having a dog was a boon to my mental health and forced me out of the continual mental onslaught of graduate research. It forced me outside, made me take breaks to care for him, and forced a work-life balance I didn’t have prior. Tuna is 120 pounds of love and always is keeping an eye on me while I write my dissertation.

In today’s world where everything seems to be in flux and running past you, having Tuna has been a wonderful constant and kept me going through my degree.

Do you have your own PhDog story? Tag us on social media (@SweetTeaScience) to tell us about them. Or, if you want to share even more, contribute to our PhDog series via this Google Form!


3 thoughts on “PhDogs and their Graduate Students (Part 1)

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