Image of the Week

Image of the Week
With a Galapagos Giant Tortoise on the Island of Isabela

Friday, July 31, 2015

The summer before grad school (and before!) - Pt. I

I don't tend to post very much on this blog, and perhaps I should change that, but I have been just so busy this summer I haven't had any spare moment to dedicate here. However, since I want this to be a complete chronicle of my graduate school experience, including what has led me here, I feel it is kind of important to give you some background of my academic experiences leading up to graduate school. I might have to split this up into more than one post...

Anyways, today was my last day working in the Wade lab. I started working here in the spring semester of my freshman year of undergrad (February 2012) right after sending an (probably very awkward) email to Dr. Juli Wade. Juli works on the neurobiology of zebra finches and anole lizards, and stumbling upon this as a wee little freshman I thought it sounded pretty cool. At that time I just wanted to get some time in a lab to see what research was like, because I was still deciding between going the veterinary or academic route.

But I really couldn't have picked a better place (I'm working on anoles now too!). As I was there more and more it sold me on pursuing a career doing research, and I fell in love with the lab environment. I found that the research interests I began to develop aligned pretty well with those of the Wade lab, which I never would have guessed when I started three years before.

Working here I started out just doing simple grunt work, as any newb should expect, helping care for the birds, cleaning dishes, autoclaving when necessary, etc. This was still extremely exciting, especially for me, coming from a background where I knew nothing about research. As I stuck with the lab I learned to do more and more. I became an integral part of the team, managing our large colony of zebra finches, training new students, helping with PCR and other molecular techniques, sectioning and staining tissue, and more. Over the last year I was there I was in charge of a project recording male birds at different ages across development to see how their song changes after surgical manipulation. This project was a lot of work but also a lot of fun and I might even get an authorship from it. Aside from the techniques I learned so much about what it was like to be a graduate student, and when it came time to choose a graduate school for myself I was offered so much great advice by the students, post-docs, and professors I had worked so closely with. As I left the lab today, I left behind great friends (Shout out to Linda Qi-Beach, Halie Kerver, Jenn Lampen, Briana Brady, Yu Ping Tang, Camilla Peabody, and Juli Wade!) and a great experience, knowing I had made a lasting mark in my time there... and it may have fell apart a week later!

This experience was great for so many reasons. I started working there so early on and I was extremely lucky that the research going on in the lab ended up aligning pretty well with my interests later on. I got so much experience working in the lab that by the time I was done there I could do many techniques as well as or better than many of the graduate students. It was also great because the lab was small and intimate. I got to know everyone very well and they were very open to teaching me new things. I feel this type of one on one attention can be lost in some types of research environments. In turn I also put in the necessary time to learn and do what I was being taught very well. I can't say this type of experience would work for everyone, but I found it an extremely influential part of my experience leading up to graduate school.

So that was a lot more than expected, which I guess makes sense when I am trying to write about the last four years of my life. Here is a lizard tax for good measure:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Decision has Been Made.

And so came that dreaded day, the impending deadline for graduate school decisions...

Meh, it wasn't that bad. These things always seem to have a way of working out, the decision falls into your lap and you realize that it was the obvious choice anyway.

The last few weeks, I talked with family, grad-school-bound friends, graduate students close to me, and some of my most admired professors. They all had great advice to give, and their support was incredibly reassuring. And I found that, when you've got it down to your last concentrated list of schools that fit all of your criteria and goals, when there really is no wrong choice, you just have to go with your gut. What place felt the best?

For me, that was the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO. It was the first interview I went on, back in late January, and I never expected to be as impressed as I was after that weekend. Even though it was the first school I visited and I had no comparison, I left thinking that this option would be a hard one to beat.

I will be studying under Dr. Manuel Leal in the Division of Biological Sciences. Manuel studies a wide range of topics in Anolis of the West Indies. I was drawn to this lab by the range of topics and ideas Manuel and his students are interested in. I found it to be a fun and productive intellectual environment I could see myself fitting right into. Although I don't know where my dissertation is going to take me just yet, I am very interested in how behavior drives divergence and speciation, and I could definitely see myself going in this direction with my research.

I also really got along well with the people at Mizzou. I think this is very important when choosing a place where you are going to spend a large part of your life. The professors, students, and my labmates are just so easy to get along with. The low cost of living and the ample natural beauty of Missouri also helps. I am really excited to start this next chapter of my career and life.

Now it is time to spend the rest of my summer planning my big move - the biggest one I have ever made, at least - and enjoying my last few months in Michigan. And still doing lots of science while I'm at it...stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Choosing a grad school: An adventure in deciding WHERE?!?

I completed my Bachelor’s at Michigan State this past December. Around this time, of course, I was scrambling to submit applications for the next leg of my journey: the Ph.D. Thankfully I have had a great support system, making it a pretty easy process despite having no family that has ever really gone on to grad school before. Before I knew it, I was invited to interviews at the top four schools I applied to.

And this is where I meet you. I have visited three of the four schools on my list, and with every trip my decision gets more and more difficult. I have one more interview at the end of the month that will surely confound my decision even further.

My hard work has put me in a position where I have four really awesome professors to work with at four really awesome schools. Perhaps there is not a wrong decision, but right now it sure feels like I will never be able to choose. There are so many pros and cons to consider. What place has research I will most enjoy doing? Which adviser is going to suit my needs the best? Where will I best be set up for my intended future in academia? Who will I enjoy working with the most? Where will I enjoy living the most? Where will my partner enjoy living the most? Where can he find a job? Where will I find things to do outside of school? Which places just “feels” right?

How am I ever going to make a decision? Stay tuned.