PhD in Progress Podcast

PhDs No Longer In Progress… but the Show Will Go On

March 24th, 2015

photoWe are happy to announce that Kelly, Nikhil, and me (Jason) have all finished our PhD studies and are now doctors! Within the span of 1 month, the PhD in Progress crew went from 1 PhD alum (Dr. Abigail) to 4. Because this all took place February through March, this past fall and winter were absolute chaos for recording and producing new episodes.

However, the audience support and feedback for the show never waned. With the new wave of accepted grad students (congratulations!) starting this summer/fall, we know there is an increased demand for the show. We will be releasing 3-4 previously recorded episodes in the next few weeks! Topics will include starting a career symposium at your school, postdoctoral positions, and funding your own research ideas.

This brings us to the next question: What is next for the show? We are playing around with ideas but would really love to hear what you all have to say. Should this become a more interview-based show, hearing individuals’ stories across all fields and careers? Is it better to track the career progress and insights of the hosts? Would you prefer we pass the torch to current graduate students? We’re open to it all, so leave your comments below or email us.

And thank you. This project meant a lot to all of us and really provided a platform to help others. Each of us is grateful that our trial run went so well. Now it’s time to make improvements!

See you soon,

Productivity Web Tools for Graduate Students

July 4th, 2014

“Productivity” can be a hairy subject. The goal is to get the best results out of your time investment but not become a fully automated robotic cyborg with the sole mission of completing task after task. With this in mind, we want to introduce a few resources we find useful in our own searches to get the most out of the time we spend working and living.

Why be “more productive”? What are the pitfalls? Doesn’t it seem a little pointless?
I recommend visiting A Year of Productivity, where Chris Bailey chronicles his experiences of living out different methods of being productive. Not everything works but it is interesting reading his thoughts while living in nearly complete isolation for 10 days or drinking only water for a month.

We recommend not trying a full makeover in a short amount of time. This might cause burn out and much discomfort in your personal life. Try a method or a tool for a bit, see how it might fit into your life and your goals, then move on.

Software and Website Tools

  • Papers (34 for students) 

    PapersIconThis was my first PDF management program and I loved it. My friend called “iTunes for academic research”. If your research articles are all over your computer or just lazily thrown into a single folder, Papers can help you organize it by reading the metadata of the PDF files. It can rename your files (e.g. “Smith_2014”) and you can place them into different reading lists.
    The program started off as Mac only and remained the best Mac solution for a while. If there is something much better, let me know!
    The full retail price is €71 but it is 34 for students.  Again, I have not used this program for the last few years but it now available for PC and can be used cross platform with your current iOS devices.


  • Mendeley (free)
    After I switched to my MendeleyIconcurrent Windows PC laptop, I bemoaned the fact that Papers for Windows really was not that great. However, people used Mendeley. I’m happy to say that over the last 2-3 years, Mendeley has become a MUCH better program than it was.
    Mendeley and Papers both fill the same functional role: organize and catalog all of your PDF based resources. Mendeley, however, is free. You can save your library to the cloud and then have your iPad or other computers sync with it. When I travel, now I load up on research papers and just have to bring my iPad.


  • Google Calendar (free)
    GoogleGoogle Calendar is invaluable. There really are way too many uses for it, whether it be tracking your work or coordinating dinner with your family.
    There are a ton of articles out there on taking advantage of Google calendar


  • Mint (free)
    MintPeople who are uneasy or scared about their financial situation are often distracted and cannot do their best work.Are your finances all in a mess? Do you even know how much money you have to your name? No fear, Mint’s web application (which also syncs with your mobile devices) can help set you straight.
    For me, the budgeting tool has been a great asset. By staying on budget, I cut down on the amount of choices I need to make on a daily basis, and direct that brain power towards achieving my goals.One warning: If you’re worried about much of your personal finance information being on one site, you may prefer the numerous other offline products available. I have personally not run into any trouble with but I’m also aware that nothing is ever completely safe on the internet.



Vacation Time!

July 3rd, 2014

Dear Listeners/Readers!arf-captain-america

We are celebrating the birthday of our nation (USA) by taking a week off from the usual Thursday release schedule. This “vacation time” will give us a chance to catch up on our own research and give YOU the opportunity to catch up on the last few episodes.
However, don’t worry! Next week we will be back with Episode 12, which will kick off a 2-part series on productivity.

If you want to help us out, leave a comment on your favorite tool, tip, or strategy for being productive and we’ll try to discuss it in Episode 13! Or e-mail us here.






Enjoy your weekend,

Jason, Nikhil, Abigail, and Kelly


Goals for Networking at a Conference

June 16th, 2014
The following entry is from Jason’s personal site, written as a follow-up to Episode 9 of the PhD in Progress Podcast.
I am not naturally a very outgoing person. However, that does not negate one important thing I learned: it is important to put on a good game face, be social, and talk with as many people as possible (i.e. NETWORK!).Ep009_card

This week I will step out of my comfort zone by attending the American Society of Artificial Internal Organs (ASAIO) conference in Washington D.C. I will not know anybody there and the field of artificial internal organs is brand new to me, as I have no direct experience in it . So why even go? 

  1. Comfort is the enemy of progress. This is a perfect opportunity to push those boundaries and grow. As mentioned before, going to the ASAIO meeting will force me out of my comfort zone. It is easy to go to a meeting with a bunch of your co-workers and close yourself off to new experiences. Instead of doing this, I encourage everyone to keep themselves open to communication.Go to the talks that might not directly relate to your work but sound interesting to you. Ask a “stupid” question. Talk to that person who seems intimidating.
  2. The conference is the perfect venue for learning! What is the current state of various technologies? Where is research and production being performed? Who is on the cutting edge? How can I position myself for entry into the field?
  3. Networking. If you listened to Episode 9 of the PhD in Progress podcast, you understand the importance of networking. Because I’m in the process of career exploration, meeting new people and learning about their career paths is vital. It will help me understand what some companies expect and how I can better augment my skills and experience.

With all of this, it’s also important to set goals and expectations. It would be a huge mistake to wander around for a few days just expecting to get the most out of the experience. So here is what I hope to accomplish at this meeting:

  1. Identify current research. Obviously, I will going to each talk session and poster session in order to learn more about the field. It is entirely possible that my future work will be related to something I hear at the conference.I will learn about 20 technologies in-depth and develop follow-up questions for each.
  2. Introduce myself to everyone. Alright, not every single person, but I should not be sitting quietly by myself for more than a few minutes. This, without a doubt, will be the most beneficial yet draining goal. I want to hear about what people think, what they do, and what their own goals are. By initiating conversation, I’ll create opportunities for learning, teaching, and helping. Plus I might have a few new friends to enjoy a drink with at the end of the night.Besides, interacting with hardly anyone for 3-5 days is never fun. I did that at a meeting in Montreal once. Never again!I will start a conversation within the first 2 minutes of down time.
  3. Investigate the companies/institutions doing the work. At the end of the week, I want to know the major players involved in bioengineering of biological tissues. I should be familiar with the companies, understand their products and/or services, and have the contact information people who work in R&D there. While I am doing this for my own career search, it should be a goal of anyone trying to improve their position within a field of choice.I will be very active at poster sessions and networking events by asking about the research itself, the employees, and the companies.

The key for me is that people universally want to feel valued, helpful, and interesting. Additionally, people do not want to be bored, unimportant, or invisible. By initiating conversation, you give someone the chance to fulfill all of those needs and quench those concerns.

Defense Dreams

May 14th, 2014

My defense is tomorrow afternoon.  I’m still working on my talk, but I enjoy public speaking, and I’m not overly worried about the presentation part of the experience.  It is a strange task to undertake, because on one hand, it’s one of the few opportunities for my family and friends to understand what I’ve been doing for the last six years. On the other hand, it’s my PhD dissertation defense, and my one chance to go in depth into the nitty-gritty details of the project I’ve chosen to talk about.  Reconciling both of these tasks into one talk is difficult, and I have only been to a few defenses where the candidate managed to give a good but in-depth science talk that was understandable to a broad audience. That’s my goal. (I probably should have started crafting the presentation sooner.) The fact is, though, I’ve been to a lot of defenses, and nobody cares whether or not they were memorable talks. Almost nobody is there for the science.  They are interested, but people attend to support their friends, and the presentation is mostly a formality in our department.

This post, though, is less about tomorrow and more about the dream I had last night.  Last night I dreamt about my defense. (Sadly, I didn’t see what I was wearing, so I still have to figure that out.) In my dream, the talk part went great. I was dynamic and clear, and I felt like I did a great job.  Then we got to the questions.

THERE WERE SO MANY QUESTIONS. People were talking on top of each other, so they couldn’t hear my answers.  One of the faculty members from my department was there, and she had an idea that was very clearly the answer to the lingering questions about my project… but I couldn’t hear what she was saying. I answered question after question but they didn’t let up. Finally, I said, “I’ll take one more question, and then if anyone wants to talk about it further we can do so at the party.” I called on a young woman I didn’t know, and she said, “So at the end, what exactly was the overall goal of your project?” This meant that I had failed to communicate the most basic things about my project, even though I thought I had been great.

Next, in my dream, it was time for my acknowledgements. I got ready to thank all the people who helped me get through grad school, when Jason showed up with a microphone and said (in a very showman-like voice), “And now we’re going to interview Abigail for our podcast! How does it feel to have defended your dissertation?” “Jason!” I hissed. “Not right now, in front of all these people who don’t care!” But he was adamant, and I had to rip off the microphone and ignore him.

The dream went on from there: I was an hour late to my own party because I had to re-do my thesis committee meeting for one of my committee members, I lost my husband and my in-laws, some guy named Schmidt was playing loud music and I couldn’t find him to get it turned down, and so on.

I told one my advisors the other day that I am still waiting for a feeling of relief. I didn’t really feel it even when I took my approved dissertation to get bound. Despite being nearly officially “done,” I still have a substantial to-do list that involves a few more experiments, getting out a draft of a manuscript, moving, and more. Maybe I’ll feel relieved after tomorrow, and I am taking a three day weekend to relax with my family. It seems likely, though, that every thing I cross off my list, “Defense” included, will lighten the burden slightly until I finally feel relieved in June, when I get my diploma. The thing is, there is always more to do. For the next few days, I’m going to try to enjoy the present. My subconscious is obviously a little stressed out!

A Response to the “Fear of Becoming ‘Nonacademic'” post

April 17th, 2014

Our friend Fatimah PhD (see: Podcast Episode 2 and sent in a great response to my Fear of Becoming “Nonacademic” post. She says:

The fear of losing your academic identity is one of the biggest challenges of considering a nonacademic career. Who will I become? How will people know how awesome and accomplished I am if I don’t tell them about my degree and research? What else can I lead with when introducing myself?Even for an avid networker like myself [more…] this question tripped me up for some time and still catches me off guard in some situations.

No one is really defined by one thing. I work as a management consultant but I also coach PhDs on professional development and career planning.

One of my colleagues is a tenure track professor and runs a nonprofit organization that promotes the health of girls in urban communities. One of my mentors, a PhD in Engineering, is a CEO of a billion dollar national consulting firm, a published author, and a public speaker. No one is doing just one thing anymore. It’s liberating!

Find the top 2-3 ways you want to be positioned in the world. For example, mine are project manager, practicing academic, and PhD Career Coach. I choose which of these to lead with depending on the environment I am in and who I want to attract to me in my networking. As conversation deepens I talk more about other areas of my profile, as pertinent.

In Episode 3, we will discuss some of our personal “2-3 ways [we] want to be positioned in the world” and what we are doing to get there. What are some of your goals for your next job. Let us know by sending a message to


Would you like to receive semi-regular, non-spammy (yes, that’s a word now) updates via e-mail? Subscribe to our new e-mail list and we’ll make sure you don’t regret it. In fact, you’ll do the opposite of regret it.

Fear of Becoming “Nonacademic”

April 11th, 2014

Nikhil brought up a good point while we were producing our first episode and has reflected it in his biography. When we are asked who we are, we tend to say “I’m a graduate student that studies _______ and hopes to pursue a career in _______. Currently, I’m working on _________ and have found that ________.” See the problem? [more…] We instantly limit ourselves to our education and professional goals.

This is not only a problem for early career academics but it seems to come more natural to them, especially if they have been in school from age 5 through 30. Their whole lives have been spent being a student.

Were you ever asked “Who are you?” when you were in middle school? I’m sure I did not spend much time trying to explain that I was “an eighth-grader who excelled in math and science”. Of course I’d mention school at some level, but at that stage I would have talked about how much I enjoyed my hobbies, why my family was awesome, which books I loved, and what my favorite strategy in Starcraft was.

The big change with us professional students is just that: we have chosen to be professional students. No longer have we only followed the path that we were legally obligated to. Instead we have so much invested in our current situation and often it greatly influences our personal lives. Graduate school, much like any job or field, controls our schedules, duties, and schedules, in the way we socialize and present ourselves.

That said, going into a “nonacademic” after we leave our graduate programs can be a very scary thought exactly because “academic” described a large portion of our lives before that point. Suddenly (if you do not end up in Research and Development) you will feel the need to justify your PhD. Some may think you failed being an academic when in reality you made a choice to go for an alternative. You took charge of your needs and interests and aspirations, so do not feel that you failed yourself.

At the same time, if you DO remain in academia, that’s great! At risk of this podcast and blog appearing anti-academic, we want to help others to identify and pursue the types of careers that utilize their strengths and talents. Do not let others dictate what you do with your life.

Is there merit to this? Are you worried about potentially losing this part of your identity?