Before we get too far into it, I wanted to say that Cari and I have upped our podcast game! We bit the bullet and bought a new microphone. We hope that you see a noticeable difference in the sound quality! Of course we are still learning but it is our goal to make the best quality for all our listeners. If any of you have any suggestions to improve the quality of our podcast feel free to let us know! We’d love to hear from you.
Anyway, let’s get on with what we talked about. This week we discussed getting into college and grad school in general. I think I’m going to split this post into a couple of sections, because we have a lot to say. If you enjoy reading rather than listening here is the first part of our discussion. Also, I should say that we both have a limited experience since we are both ecologists, but hopefully some of our advice will be applicable to you guys.
If you are currently searching for a graduate program in Ecology, our first suggestion is to sign up for the EcoLog list serve. Ecolog sends out emails adversing jobs, internships, and other opportunities for ecologists at any career level. Definitely check it out.
The process of applying to graduate school is quite a bit like its own research project. So allot enough time to get it done, especially because we all have busy lives. Once you’ve found the labs/programs you’re interested in, contact possible advisors. Send out an email telling them a little about what you do and why you are interested in their lab. Make it unique to that faculty (if you are contacting multiple people in a department they will be talking and it doesn’t look good if you just send a generic email).
Once you have a number of good candidates for advisors, plan a time to visit the schools that you are most interested in. I never visited any of the schools I applied for. I wouldn’t advise this. Even though it worked out for me, and it could work for you, visiting shows your potential advisors that you are interested in their program. It also allows you time to interact with your potential advisors so that you can see if you mesh.
Choosing an advisor that fits your personality is incredibly important. No matter how prestigious your advisor/school is, choosing an advisor that has a personality that does not work well with your own could make your life miserable for years. I’m going to give a little shout out to our advisor, Shannon Pelini right now. She is an incredibly easy to get to know and friendly. This carries over into her relationship with her students and I think this makes her incredibly easy to work with.
Most importantly, she has been one of the greatest supporters throughout my masters work. I had some stressful hiccups at the beginning of my research but she helped me get through those issues. That experience has made me stress to anyone thinking about a graduate program that it is important to ask current graduate students in the lab how their advisor handles issues that may arise during your project, because undoubtably there will be some issue even if it is minor. Your advisor should support you throughout the process. Grad school can be stressful and sometimes you need an advocate.
If you spend your time asking these questions about personality and support, you will be off to a good start in picking an advisor. Also I want to leave you with one last bit of advise. Please try to get some research experience before you start grad school. The only reason I knew that I would enjoy getting a masters was through working in a lab and then building my own project during my undergraduate career. Not only does getting research allow you to decide if you even like research but it will also she the faculty you contact that you are serious about research.
That’s all for part one! Stay tuned for part two if you are more of a reader than a listener. Also let us know if you have any particular questions about grad school. We can try to answer them!