Sunday, November 8, 2015

Pathway to the Doctorate: A Brief Reflection on Grad School

Elizabeth and myself celebrating after the defense.
Last week I took some time to talk about our lab's most recent manuscript about the skin virome. This has been an exciting paper and it gained a lot of traction in the press. This week I want to go back and reflect on another exciting event from the last month, which was my PhD thesis defense at Penn. You can think of this as the "PhD graduation".

I started my graduate training in 2011 at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and time has flown by since. As I started, I had the opportunity to try DNA vaccine research and basic Ebola Virus biology research before joining my thesis lab with Elizabeth Grice. I feel very fortunate to have had the rare experience to start in Elizabeth's lab at the same time she started her faculty position (she had just moved on from her postdoctoral research fellowship). This meant that I got to learn about what it takes to start a lab from scratch, which are lessons that will help me someday if I am lucky enough to start my own lab as well.

Ever since the earlier days, the lab has been
full of great people.
Only a few short years later and it was already time to leave the lab. During that time, I learned so many great skills including a lot about coding and bioinformatics. I came into the lab with nearly no programming or bioinformatics experience, but worked hard to start picking these skills up and got a lot out of it (I mention this to show you can learn to code, even if you have no experience!). I was able to use these skills, along with more classic "bench science" and excellent collaborators to push along some really cool manuscripts.

In the end, one of the big takeaway points from these four years was that grad school can be pretty great. Sometimes grad school is surrounded by a lot of cynicism and negativity, and this is justified in some cases. But I also met some of the best people I have ever had the good fortune to meet. This includes classmates, lab mates, faculty, etc. And yeah, it is tough sometimes and there can be some really terrible situations (there is certainly a spectrum of experiences), but there are also some really great parts. So especially if you are someone thinking about going to Grad school, it can be a rewarding experience with a lot of great people.

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