Searching For a PhD Position, For Real

Wow, it’s been a while since I had so many things going on.

The most interesting things to happen obviously are the PhD-related ones. Earlier this week I went to talk to a PhD student who works at one of the labs I’m interested in. That was very enlightening. She told me a lot not only about the research she’s doing, but how it’s actually like to be doing it. For instance, spending 9 months doing nothing but trying to perfect a protocol, falling asleep sitting at your machinery, or spending most of your time reading papers just trying to keep up with all the new stuff coming out each day.

Yesterday I had what I suppose was an actual interview for a PhD position. It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t really think of it that way, because I couldn’t have kept my resolution of not freaking out. As it was, I just got to about a medium-low level of nervousness only when it was about 20 minutes left until the meeting. However, while I felt reasonably good about my answers to the questions, naturally, after I left, things I could’ve put better flooded my mind. So this is a note to self for next time, even though next meeting might be so different that it will be of no use at all. Still, it’s all I can do to prepare, unless you have other suggestions, please?

  • Think about my current project beforehand, so I can explain not only what I do, but why it’s useful/interesting/exciting – I know all these things, obviously, but in stressful situations they often want to escape my mind.
  • Refresh my memory on the relevant classes I’ve taken. I actually don’t know if that’s what Professors taking on PhD students look for, but I guess, for instance, they wouldn’t want a student who doesn’t know how an action potential is generated doing a PhD in neuroscience, investigating turtle nervous system.
  • Also, I’m not sure, but I feel like it’d be good to relate my current research somehow to the project I would be doing. For instance, if there is a suggestion to make/create some sort of set-up or system to quicken up things in an experiment, I like it because I like making things, which I discovered doing my current project which is basically making chip-like thingies. I know that because I can compare that to my previous project which was testing commercially available stuff and that wasn’t so fun (even though, admittedly, that project had a number of other issues as well).
  • Explain clearly why you like one project better than another. You know, giving actual reasons. Often, the only thing that keeps running through my head as I try to explain is something like ‘Oh, this will make so many pretty pictures!’ and I can’t well say that, can I? Maybe it’s better to repeat the reasons the Professor states on why he’s interested in that particular project – I mean, I don’t like to appear as though I’m just parroting someone, but if their reasons are my reasons as well, what can I do, right?

Still unable to fully comprehend that this PhD position search is actually happening – someone pinch me, or, on second thought, don’t – if I believe that I can awaken at any moment, I won’t be so scared,



3 responses to “Searching For a PhD Position, For Real

  1. Before we get to the PhD business, have the basic questions been answered? There are a bunch of basic questions, but one comes immediately to mind: what do you know, and what do you want to know? (That might actually be more than one question.) By any measure, you are deemed to be fully educated. By now, you should be able to sally forth into the world, naked, alone, and empty handed (or in your petticoat as QE I might famously have said), and not only survive, but prosper; thrive, even. Is that the case? Can you do that? Academia is nice, and I can certainly see the attraction, but why linger? Scientists have already discovered the God Particle. What’s left beside filling in the gaps and mopping up. Are you a filler or a mopper? Are you searching for answers to questions that can be answered? or for answers to questions that can’t be answered? Just curious.

    • Well, for a start they haven’t *really* found the Higgs Boson – they’re just almost 100% sure it exists in a certain range of energies (but yeah, they know it’s there). But my interest doesn’t really lie in fundamental physics anyway, I’m studying life sciences. And while it’s true that fundamental laws that govern life seem to have been discovered, it seems that it’s not enough to be able to understand and successfully treat cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, for instance. Also, the nervous system remains pretty much a mystery. Anything that is left to discover probably isn’t as huge as, say, showing that DNA is a double-helix, but it might have huge impact to humankind in terms of curing diseases and stuff (though if someone finally understands how the human consciousness forms, that would be, well, wow). The fact that this is perhaps not really fundamental science doesn’t lessen its importance, in my opinion. If I do at least a little bit to help there and find out a cool thing or two that no one has found before in the process, I’ll consider myself fulfilled. Also, not the least of the reasons is that research is something I enjoy doing and I don’t really want to do anything else.

      • Bosons and potentials are not really what I was talking about, fundamental physics notwithstanding.

        Life sciences. Hmmm . . .

        Are you musical?

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