PhD in Progress Podcast

PhD 007: “The Dr. Abigail Show”- From Continuing Education to Finishing a PhD Program

May 28th, 2014

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This week we talk to our co-host Dr. Abigail Sporer about what it’s like to continue education after a few years out of academia and how she felt while finishing her PhD dissertation defense.

Thank you to Nick @diacritic for an important topic for our show. He reached out on Twitter, saying “Hey, I’m a listener starting grad school after about fifteen years of industry work. Know any resources for people like me?” If you have any more wisdom for him, please leave a comment below or send us mail

How do you deal with more immature classmates? What helped Dr. Abigail through the dissertation writing process? What does she wish she did differently?
And please, do not get drunk at work.

We’d love to hear from you. Leave us comments in the show notes at or email We’re also on Twitter @PhDPodcast.

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As always, all this information can be found at

PhD 006: Volunteer Work, Public Outreach, and a Targeted Career Search with Kelly LaRue

May 20th, 2014

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This week we have Kelly LaRue in studio to discuss public outreach, a targeted career search, and the importance of finding value outside of your main research.

Kelly is the recipient of the Princeton Graduate Student Recognition Award for her work with Princeton University’s Graduate MolBio Outreach Program.
While performing an amazing level of volunteer work, she has leveraged her experiences into taking action on her professional goals. She has taken an approach to her career search that may help others narrow down their own searches.

The 2 resources mentioned by Kelly:
Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research

EvolDir (i.e. “EVIL DEER”)

Why is Nikhil fidgety?
What is a good name for a courtship song?
What happened to the coffee?
Answers within. Thanks for listening!

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!

PhD 005: 3 Important Points of Advice to New Graduate Students

May 13th, 2014

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This week Jason, Nikhil, and Abigail hope to help newer graduate students by discussing what they WISH they knew earlier in their studies.

Self-management, the production mindset, and failure are the 3 broad topics we dive into for this discussion.

We mention a couple of neuroscience studies-
Chronic partial sleep deprivation:

Sleep and memory – way too much literature, but the wiki is pretty comprehensive

Where does Nikhil find his best ideas?
How can you earn your secret Ph.D.?
And correct, unurgent is not a word. Thank you in advance.


PhD 004: “A Case Study” – Leave of Absence and Self-Education

May 5th, 2014

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This week we talk to Zach about taking a leave of absence, self-education, and preparation for consulting job interviews.

Abigail gets ready to defend, Nikhil finishes up experiments, and Jason is a subpar caterer.

Nikhil interviews Zach. They discuss the reasons Zach took a leave of absence, what he did during that time, and how it prepared him for his next career.

During the interview, Zach mentions two books (“the classics”) he has read during his preparation for a consulting job search:

Competitive Strategy by Michael Porter
Competitve Advantage by Michael Porter


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We’d appreciate all the honest feedback, questions, and comments you’re willing to send our way.

As always, you can find this week’s show notes and all the information I just mentioned at


“Ten Simple Rules for Choosing between Industry and Academia” by David Searls

May 5th, 2014


Throughout your grad school experience, you should constantly evaluate your path and goals. Although this article is a few years old it seems to hold up as it addresses fundamental issues when considering beginning a scientific career in either academia or industry.

In the linked article appearing in PLOS Computational Biology, David Searls outlines the 10 points of assessment vital to a strong career search.

Ten Simple Rules for Choosing between Industry and Academia


PhD 003: Using Grad School Experience In Your Career Search

April 28th, 2014

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This week Jason, Nikhil, and Abigail continue the discussion initiated in Episode 2 by Fatimah Williams Castro, PhD on how we should approach our career searches.

We then make public some “anecdata” while briefly summarizing the steps we are taking to 1) obtain skills inside/outside the lab and 2) initiate our career exploration. How can you “manage up”? Where do you find contacts to pursue job leads? Why would you want a treadmill desk? All this and more in Episode 3!

Thanks to everyone who has sent us feedback already, it’s been great and helpful so far. Extra thanks to our friends at for constantly contributing to a dynamic community.

You can learn more about American Journal Experts (the editing group Abigail works with) at, or the technology consulting group Jason works with at

Send any comments or questions, to or @PhDPodcast on Twitter.

Let us know what else we could do to improve your podcast experience!


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


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PhD 002: Beyond the Tenure Track with Fatimah Williams Castro, Ph.D.

April 13th, 2014

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Thank you for supporting our brand new podcast! We’re constantly trying to improve the quality and content. In this week’s episode, Jason, Nikhil, and Abigail briefly discuss the 61% of PhDs who pursue nonacademic careers as they review the American Institutes for Research article titled “The Nonacademic Careers of STEM PhD Holders” released in April 2014.

Then they interview Dr. Fatimah Williams Castro, the PhD career coach behind about starting your career search outside of the academy. She will be participating in the “Beyond the Professoriate” virtual conference taking place on May 3rd and May 10th 2014. For more information go to [more…] 

You can find the article here:

Next week, we will discuss a few strategies we’re using in our own career searches.

If you want to participate, write down 3 qualities you want in your next job or career move. Send them, along with any other comments or questions, to or @PhDPodcast on Twitter.

Let us know what else we could do to improve your podcast experience!