Part 1: How do I get in? Applying to STEM graduate programs

Author’s Note:  I’ve been working on some version of this post for over three years.  During that time, so many folks have provided feedback.  Thanks to Katie Smith, Joanna Solins, Priya Shukla, Jordan Hollersmith, Aviva Rossi, and (as always) Meridith Bartley.  Any omissions of important information are mine, but many of the most valuable bits of knowledge come from these individuals.  

Starting the graduate school application journey can be an intimidating prospect.  Emailing potential mentors, figuring out funding, writing a CV, and the other steps that go into the process are time consuming and challenging, even when you know exactly what to expect.  I’ve seen a lot of discussions on Twitter recently about the hidden curriculum of academia (my husband recommended this book when we were discussing the concept of hidden curriculum). Here is my crack at making this process a little more transparent.  I imagine lots of these thoughts apply broadly, but this post is geared toward applying for graduate school in STEM.  I hope the following guide can ease your passage down the path toward a completed graduate school application.

As a result of trying to cover a lot, I’ve divided this into two parts.  In part 1, I will talk about how to contact folks who could be your adviser during your graduate program, which is the first step to applying to most STEM graduate programs.  In part 2, I will discuss preparing your graduate school application materials and preparing for graduate school interviews.

First things first.  Before you begin the process of applying for graduate school, it’s good to get mentally prepared.  This is going to be a stressful period in your life. It takes a lot of time and brain power to do the research, writing, GRE studying, and interview preparation that comes along with getting into a graduate program.  You’ll be doing all this on top of your current responsibilities as a student or employee. Keep your goals firmly in mind and remember, no matter how much it doesn’t feel like it now, you will be done with this process someday soon!  You have a lot to recommend you, don’t forget that.    

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The Bodega Marine Lab during my graduate school interview.

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Persuasion 101 for Science Communicators

Look out, it’s another hot take!

Many of you probably saw the recent article from Scientific American.  It’s another in a long line of opinion pieces talking about how scientific communicators are probably doing it wrong in one way or another. We will get to my own hot take in a bit, but this article bothered me in particular because it’s thesis statement was, “…are we leading audiences to rely less on data than emotion?” I agree with the author that unscrupulous emotional appeals aren’t the best way to gain the public trust, but the Op-Ed left me with the impression that data driven argumentation is the one good way to do science communication.  That’s a premise I do not support.

I think the real problem is many folks giving advice to scientific communicators have a real misunderstanding about what persuasive communication actually is. If we are seeking to persuade audiences, and as scientific communicators our basic goal should at least be to persuade folks that our work is interesting and worthwhile, we need to understand how persuasion works from a communications perspective.

What I’m not saying in this essay is that using data to drive your scientific communication is wrong.  I think data driven communication efforts can be effective and compelling! I am saying persuasive communication is a flexible tool and we, as a scientific community, are doing ourselves a disservice if we don’t understand all the different ways we can use it.

Like in so many instances, we ignore the wisdom of the Social Sciences at our own peril.

Buckle up buttercup.  Get ready for Persuasion 101 in 500 words**.     

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Persuasive Communication 101

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Managing Your Motivation

Staying motivated in the unstructured work environment of academia can be difficult.  For me, it has always been easy to stay on task during the field season because the summer ticks away regardless of how much I get done.  I have to be organized and get in while the plants are growing and the tides are favorable. As summer gives way to fall, I have often gone through productivity slumps.  This was especially true after I was done with my coursework and, more recently, when I was struggling with some mental health issues. In spite of these challenges, I have been at this graduate school game for (*gulp*) nine years now, and I’ve learned a thing or two about how to bring structure to my days and set myself up for maximum productivity.  In other lucky news, I have tons of smart friends who kindly offered up some of their best advice on a Facebook thread I started. Thanks Tanya, Jeff, Christy, Brendan C, Danielle, Haley, Kevin, Sarah, Brendan H, Anne, Vadim, Ashley, Chhaya, Jamie, Lyndsey, Eddie, Jessica, Caroline, Sacha, Becky, Bjorn, Carlos, Aviva, and Colin!

Here are my top tips for staying focused and productive!

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That time I told the bartender I didn’t want popcorn and he told me I needed popcorn…and he was correct.

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