The following paragraphs were written by an Biologist postgrad student form UCLA, we consider it as a great load of highly valuable information:
6+ years of gruelling work for almost no pay, watching friends enter law school and med school and finish far before you (making far more money), constant pressure, self doubt—before committing to graduate school, I wish I would have explored other options or at least have talked to many more graduate students to get a sense of what a Ph.D. entails before diving right in.
A post-Ph.D. life can be many things, including but not limited to academia. One faculty member in my department once told me, “A Ph.D. is just a ticket into a club”, and, after being in the club, myriad career options become available. I wish that I had had a better sense of what jobs are out there, what they entail, how much they pay, and what they look for in job candidates. I’ve met many graduate students, for example, that have opted not to pursue a career in academia after realizing that such jobs often require having had several post-doc positions. Furthermore, having an idea of what you would enjoy (or not enjoy!) doing can help you develop your CV in strategic ways. For example, developing varied experience in teaching is useful if you are looking for teaching positions after graduate school.
I switched advisors after my first two years in my Ph.D. program. My advisor was abusive, mentally ill, and venomous. I have several friends who had similar experiences with their advisors. Different folks have different traits that they find useful in their advisors (e.g., hands-on versus hands-off approaches). I wish I had spent more time scrutinizing the character and, most importantly, the record of my first advisor’s previous graduate students. I certainly would have thought twice if I had spoken with some previous graduate students, many of whom had also changed advisors or left with Master’s degrees because of similar difficulties.
There will always be more things that you can work on. Several times in my graduate career, I’ve let myself get carried away, working all of my waking hours and still feeling like I wasn’t working hard enough. I wish I had made more time for myself, limiting stress wherever possible. Keep in mind that graduate school is a sizeable chunk of your life…live it and don’t think of it as a transition period before life can really begin (your work will always be as intense). I began taking yoga the quarter before I took my oral exams, which has been immensely helpful for dealing with stress and anxiety.
There have been times in my graduate career where I couldn’t see the forest through the trees and got so caught up in the minutae of my dissertation that I forgot what I loved about my field when I started graduate school. Side projects have proven immensely helpful for retaining perspective. Think about some interesting questions that you could investigate on the side (review papers, literature projects, etc.), and turn to those when you can’t possibly look at your dissertation research for another second. I’ve turned some of these side projects into publications.
Getting grant funding these days from NSF requires that you have a demonstrated record of so-called “broader impacts.” This means that an integral part of a career in science nowadays is communicating science to a broader audience. If I could do it again, I would have made this a higher priority. Getting into local classrooms to work with students, for example, is easy to do and always gratifying.
I wish I had learned this trick earlier. Sometimes, when graduate school really had me down, I would work only a few hours a day, feeling sorry for myself the rest of the time and feeling guilty for not having worked. Now, I’ve learned that when I’m bored with what I’m doing or feeling low about where research is, I just treat graduate school like a job…working 9-5 and not working after 5. This is a much better strategy than working a little bit spread over the entire day, and doing this can force you to get over the particularly difficult humps faster than sitting around moping all day.
You can’t simultaneously have a dissertation, an outreach program, side projects, a lot of teaching experience, and a personal life at the same time, so don’t be too hard on yourself as you figure out the right balance. Most of what I’ve learned in graduate school has had very little to do with the subject matter I entered to study. It’s been about learning to manage large tasks, confront challenges like self-teaching computer languages, etc. Many of my screw-ups have yielded great lessons for me, so, while I hope this list is useful, don’t be afraid to do things wrong and come out having learned something.