Pros and Cons of Grad School

I want to take a few moments to go over what I think are the pros and cons of going to grad school. It seems like more and more people are considering grad school these days. I think it is because jobs are getting way too competitive.

Entry level job

People just jump into grad school without weighing their options first. So here is a list of some pros and cons of grad school that you need to consider before applying.

Pros

  1. You will get to focus on an area that interests you. In fact, if you do a PhD, you get to only focus on one thing that interests you!!
  2. You will stand out among your peers after graduation. Jobs will higher you before someone with a bachelors (in most cases).
  3. If you are in research, you will most likely be working on a cool project that not many people even know about.
  4. This may cause a pretty decent advancement in your career.
  5. You have higher earning potential.
  6. After graduation, you’ll be an expert in your field.
  7. You get to meet some amazing and brilliant people
  8. You have access to all of the cool software and hardware that the college provides.
  9. You’re creativity will increase significantly.
  10. You’ll be able to make career changes a lot easier.

Cons

  1. Grad school is expensive.
  2. You will be spending even more time in school with people much younger than you.
  3. Grad School is mentally taxing.
  4. Grad school is extremely difficult.
  5. You will most likely have a loss of income. You are exchanging 2 to 4 years worth of income for this degree.
  6. When you graduate, you may not have as much work experience as someone who has been working
  7. You may be in school for 8 more years.
  8. There’s no guarantee that you will get a good job after graduation.
  9. You may be turned down from jobs because of “over qualification” but, I’ve never met a person that was applying to jobs below their qualification.
  10. You will see friends come and go while you are still working away at school.

These are a few of the most important pros and cons that you need to consider. If you are still on the fence about going, I suggest looking into more blogs about whether it is the right decision for you. A good article to read is “When is Grad School Worth It?”(link here). Also take a look at all of my blog posts about mindfulness as well as education. Those posts can help you determine whether grad school is right for you or not.

10 Facts about Grad School

I thought I would add something fun to my collection of blogs today. There are hundreds of facts that can be posted about grad school, but I want to focus on 10. These are facts that surprised me and were just down right interesting to know. I hope you enjoy the list.

1) About 13.1% of the population has an advanced degree. This includes Master’s, Professional Degrees, and Doctorates.

2) On average, a Doctorate program takes about 8 years to complete. This varies significantly from field to field.

doctorate

3) Doctoral attrition rates in North America are estimated to be about 40-50%. Half of the people that start will not finish.

4) The United States has more doctoral graduates than any other country.

5) Individuals that hold a master’s degree earn about 38% more than those with a bachelor’s degree.

Focused African American teenage chemist working on formula in scientific center

6) One average, only about 1.1% of the world’s 25-64 year olds who have been to university, have a PhD.

7) Walden University has the most graduate students as of 2019-2020 academic year.

8) The most common type of graduate degree is a Master’s.

Person in White Shirt With Brown Wooden Frame

9) There is a Master’s in Imagineering which you can get at Breda University of Applied Sciences, in the Netherlands)

10) There are nearly three times as many men and women becoming attorneys as there were earning a medical degree (MD)

This list was extremely fun to look up and share with you guys and gals. Do you happen to have any interesting facts? They don’t even have to pertain to grad school, I just like reading weird and interesting facts lol. If so, please share them in the comments. I would love to read them. Also, take a look at my other blogs about education (link here). I am sure you will find some other very interesting facts in those articles.

Write Often in Grad School

This is really the first time in my life where I have been eager to write almost every day. I was never a writing. In fact, writing was my least favorite activity, right behind getting my teeth pulled. Grad school changed that completely. I remember the first semester of my PhD research, I was taking the last 2 or 3 classes for my Master’s and I collectively wrote 100 pages worth of content in that semester. That seems like a lot, because it was.

Woman Typing on Laptop

One of the best things that I have learned is to write as much as possible while you are in grad school. This is a skill that you are almost required to have to graduate. Actually, it is a skill you need to graduate because you have to write a dissertation! Starting early in the key, though. Gather the skills that you need to be able to write a mammoth of a research paper early, and I guarantee it will be much easier to do so.

Blog Letters on Brown Wood

This is one of the reasons I blog almost every day. Writing is a skill that gets better the more you do it. Having a blog can serve multiple purposes for you. For me, I get to share inciteful things about surviving grad school with your mental health in check as well as I get to write and hone those skills. Sure, my writing is not the best, but it’s way better than it ever has been! Also, writing 20 pages of materials is a cake-walk compared to what it used to be. That was extremely beneficial in regards to my qualifying exams. One committee member gave me 8 hours to answer 4 questions. I gave him 20 pages of written material in response. It just came so easily. That’s definitely a perk of writing each day.

Photo Of Person Typing On Laptop

If you struggle to write good material (though any material is good material in my eyes) then I suggest writing content each day. It does not matter what it is on, just write. One suggestion, pertaining to mental health, is to journal. This is an amazing way to just put all of your feelings and thoughts on a piece of paper. First, you are helping to elevate mental stress (huge thing in grad school) and also, you are gathering the skills to be a good writing. Both of these actions will come in handy when you are writing your thesis.

Person Writing on White Paper

If journaling is not your thing, start a blog. I wrote about how a blog has significantly helped my mental health (link here). If you don’t want to blog and immediately get into writing your thesis, do that too. There’s a neat little book that you can buy (link here) that has a page for each day of writing your thesis. I may buy one myself here soon because I think I am getting close to the 100 day mark O.o.

Free stock photo of art, artistic, arts and crafts

Regardless of what you do, I say just write. I find that writing is a great way to take all of the buzzing information in my head and lay it all out. There are so many benefits of writing that it would take a whole week to write them all out for you. Writing has become a hobby for me and I hope I continue this journey well into my later years.

How has writing helped you in your life? Let me know in the comments!

Things Not To Tell a Law Student

I am surrounded by law students. My friend’s girlfriend is a law student, same with my other friend’s roommate, my roommate is, and my girlfriend is a lawyer. By default, that makes me a lawyer, right? It is funny because I actually have considered law school, but watching my girlfriend as she went through it really turned me off on that idea. I will stick to what I am good at, playing with chemicals and praying I don’t destroy my lab.

There are a few things that you should never say to a law student or a fresh lawyer, unless you want them to really go off on you. I have learned my lesson and figured it’s best to let you guys know. Some of these will be generic things not to say and other’s will come from the perspective of a PhD student.

  1. You’re not a Doctor
Lawyers Posing for a Photo

Do not say this!!!! I made the mistake of telling my girlfriend that she can not call herself a doctor because it is not a true doctorate. Getting a law degree is 100% a doctorate and they are doctors, though they probably won’t use the label. Just because law student’s don’t follow the same college structure as a PhD, that doesn’t mean it’s not a doctorate.

2. Asking them if they are starting to prepare for the Bar.

Close-up of Hands

Save this one for after they graduate, please. Asking a law student about this while they are still in school will likely cause a panic attack for them. They have enough stress already and the Bar is probably the most stress they will experience, ever. I remember when my girlfriend was studying for it. She spent 12 hours a day, every day, studying for it. This was also during the initial quarantine phase (Tiger king, bread makers, and lots of free time). When law students graduate, ten you can ask them. Some may take some time off, others go right into it. Just don’t ask them when they are still in school.

3. Asking them about legal advice

Businesspeople Talking

Sure, law students really only talk about lawyer stuff, like all of the time. I know more about the court system now then I ever have or ever wanted to lol. Asking them to give advice on some legal troubles you may have or someone you know has will be more detrimental to you and not them. The law students I have in my life love dumping all of their knowledge on the subject, all at once. You may ask for some advice about getting a permit for you house and next thing you know, you’re learning about a Supreme Court decision from 1987.

It’s wild how much they know. Also, they are students, remember! They do not have the license and skills yet to really help with any problems. If you really need advice, I suggest saving up money for a year and go see a really good lawyer. You’ll definitely need that year’s worth of money lol.

4. You’re going to pass

Happy African American remote worker tossing papers in air happy to get rid of boring paperwork while sitting in green park

I wish someone told me this a long time ago. I know this is supposed to help give the law student some confidence, but it doesn’t help. Those tests that they take are long and difficult. That may be their only grade in the class too. Just imagine you studied every day of the semester, was told you were going to pass, then you took one test and failed. That would be devastating, and that is also what many law students experience. This also pertains to the Bar. Imagine studying for 2 months straight, never taking off a weekend, and fail the Bar exam. Now imagine someone assuring you that you will pass. That would hurt a ton, so I would advise just not saying it unless you want one of those 50 pound law books thrown at you lol.

These are a few things that I learned while being surrounded by lawyers and law students. If you know someone that is in law school, I suggest sending them a care package of candy and perhaps their favorite coffee. Also, be supportive but please try not causing them any more stress than they already have. Law school is a hard three years.

Does GPA Matter in Grad School?

Grades

If you are just starting off grad school, this might be one of the questions that you may be asking yourself or others. I guarantee that you will either get a yes or no answer and it will be fairly split among your colleges. I have spent a ton of time in grad school and have asked many individuals if they think GPA is important in there graduate studies. This is my opinion, so many people may have differing opinions, but I don’t think GPA is important.

GPA is important if you in undergrad. You can still have a bad GPA and get an amazing job, but you may need to work a bit harder. In grad school, your main focus is on research. Spending all of your time focusing on classwork takes valuable time away from what they are paying (PhD) you to do. I have heard of stories where advisers have actually told their students that they need to spend less time studying for exams and more time working in the lab. The advise would say that the effort that was put forth to receive an A in a class could have gone to publishing a paper, or running another experiment, Things that are much more important.

One reason why I don’t think GPA matters in grad school is because not a single recruiter that I have talked to has asked me what my graduate GPA is. They only ask about my research, publications (now I have one!!! WOOOOO), as well as my job experience. In grad school, you are less of a student and more of an apprentice. You are learning how to do the work and think like a professional rather than just taking tests and partying every night.

Also, and this comes from talking to many grad students, getting higher than a B is extremely easy. Getting an A can be a bit more work but you will probably never see below a B in your whole time in grad school. They want the students to focus on research and less of the class work. The only time I would really suggest putting a ton of effort into classwork is when it pertains to the project that you are working on. Make sure you master that class and get an A.

Overall, go into grad school with the thought that GPA won’t matter. Pass your classes of course but focus extensively on your research. You can be extremely book smart but a terrible researcher. There are many skills that you need to learn to be a researcher and that is what you should focus on. I will have a blog about those skills soon.

Anyway, let me know if you think GPA is important or not. I would love to know other’s opinions based on their experiences. Also, if you haven’t already, check out my blog about grad school hacks(found here). Have a great day everyone. I’ll see you in the next post.

Publishing Your First Manuscript

Free stock photo of brown, business, crumpled paper ball

I think one of the hardest parts about a PhD is putting forth so much effort into one thing and having someone tell you it is wrong or it is not good enough. Talk about breaking you down and making you feel bad. The PhD process is grueling and no wonder people don’t want to go through it. I know the struggles that PhD students face and they are quite taxing on mental health. One of the things that may cause mental stress is getting a manuscript published.

One of the requirements to graduate at my university is getting a first authored publication. Many of the students in my department will send in their research. I sent in a review paper. Literature reviews are required for dissertations but not necessarily for publication. MY adviser wanted me to get a paper in quickly because my research project takes quite a long time, and data won’t be sufficient until the end of this year. So, we decided that it was best to get a literature review over with and send that in for publication.

Well, after 2 years of working on it, it was accepted to a journal. I am super excited so I wanted to spend some time telling you what it’s like to publish and the process of peer review. If you haven’t checked it out yet, go read my blog about writing a literature review. I’m sure it will help those in the process.

When writing a paper for publication, you need to really pay attention to ever little detail. Make sure grammar is correct, punctuation is appropriate, and that all figures are up to the quality of the publisher. When in doubt, check out the website of the journal you want to send your paper to. They will always have a list of requirements that need to be met for them to send off to be peer reviewed.

Prior to sending your paper anywhere, do some research on journals. The worst thing is to keep picking journals where your paper is out of their scope of work. You don’t want to send a physics paper to an ecology journal. I highly recommend using Journal Finder. It is a free service by Elsevier. Here you can see the most appropriate journals with the highest impact factors. This is how I made the decision on where to send my manuscript.

Send your manuscript and hopefully the editor sends it to be peer reviewed. Honestly, this is a very nerve wracking time because the editor can just flat out reject your work. But, if you are fortunate enough, they will send you an email saying they are sending your paper to peer review. Now it’s time to sit back and relax. The paper is in good hands, I promise you.

The peer review process is awful!!! It is definitely needed but you may get comments back that are just flat out mean. They may tell you that this paper is bad or that everything you did was wrong. They may even suggest that you redo the experiments. My experience was with review papers. The reviewers must have gone through every citation because they had a comment for literately everything. It will take you some time to address all comments, but know you will most likely have help from your adviser, so do not fret. They have done this a million times.

After addressing the comments, you’ll send them back to the editor who will read over them. They may accept or reject your paper right then and there. It can happen but sometimes they will send the paper back to the reviewers to see if they are ok with the responses. If you are luck, like me, you will get even more comments from the reviewers -_-. Have no fear, this means that the reviewers are really taking the time to make sure you have a scientifically sound paper. This is a good thing.

By the time all the peer review is over, it is up to the editor to make the final call. After all, it’s their journal that you are asking to be published in. Hopefully they send you an email, like they did with me, that states that they have accepted your article. It is an amazing feeling knowing that you will have contributed a tiny bit to the academic world. Maybe you might have people even cite your paper. That is a cool thing.

If your paper was rejected. It is not the end of the world. Read all of the comments very carefully and make adjustments where it’s necessary. If you have a good project that is scientifically sound, it will get published with some work. I remember reading a comment on Reddit about how someone always sent their manuscripts to Nature. They were rejected every time after peer review, but that is what the person wanted. They wanted to see how to make their experiments and papers better. The reviewers would give them amazing feedback and they were able to use that to make their paper good enough to get into vey impactful journals. So, getting rejected is a learning experience.

If you have gone through the process of your published manuscript, let me know how it went for you. This was the process for me but everyone has a different story to tell and I would love to read about it.

Dealing With The “Lab Ghosts”

If you do research in a lab, you will be fairly familiar with lab ghosts. Every time an experiment goes wrong, it’s because of the ghost that haunts my building. It’s not because of me and my mistake. No….never! lol. But for those that have ghosts in their lab, here’s a list of how to stop them from causing trouble. If you have goblins or trolls, this guide will not be able to help. That’s a very different problem lol. This guide will only protect you from lab ghosts and nothing else.

  1. Bring in offerings.
Assorted Fruits on Baskets

I often bring in cookies to make sure that my lab equipment works that day. I mean, my graduation depends on my equipment working. The lab ghost of my building often causes things to go terribly wrong unless I bring them something fun and delicious.

2. Bargain with the ghost.

Photo of Two People Shakehands

If you are constantly getting upset over your machines failing, make a bargain with the lab ghost. I find that ghosts really mess things up when you decide to stay and do work at night. Maybe tell the ghost that you will only work early during the day and leave before it gets too late. I had to agree to not work nights in my lab with my ghost. Every once in a while I have to go in late but that was part of the agreement. Haven’t really had a problem since.

3. Scare the ghost away

Get yourself a ghost in a bottle (here‘s a link to some). It is guaranteed to scare away any ghost that tries to mess up your experiments. I have one on my desk after all of my experiments started to fail. Like., I was getting terrible results before I received one of these as a gift. My data has never looked better now that my ghost in a bottle is here to protect me.

4. Sage your office.

Ceramic Plate with White Sage Smudge Stick

You have probably heard about burning sage to cleanse the area of ghost. 100% true. I just use sage scented spray (here). It works just as well, and afterwards, you’ll definitely feel like a ghost has left the area. Spray it near your experiments when you desperately need good results. This will make you happy, your adviser happy, as well as the peer reviewer for your paper happy. Good results make everyone happy, unless they are so perfect that it looks like you made them up. Then no one is happy.

5. Sacrifice an Undergrad’s experiment.

Person Holding Laboratory Flask

This one should be the last thing you do. I understand that undergrads are just not as cool as grad student, but remember you were one prior to grad school. Also, they may have a very good experiment, and losing that to a ghost could be very detrimental to a lot of people. If it comes down to it, sacrifice their experiment. Try and convince the ghost that your experiment is less important and boring. The ghost will start messing with the undergrad’s after this. According to the Law of Haunting, section 34.6.7 paragraph 4 “Ghosts can only haunt one experiment at a time.” You won’t have to worry about failed experiments ever again.

If you truly believe your lab is haunted, follow these guidelines. I promise you that you can convince the ghost to leave you alone. I have had quite a bit of success with these methods and so will you. For other ways to make sure your experiments go well, check out my other blogs (here). I’m sure you’ll be a research master in no time.

Best YouTube Study Music Playlists

I often listen to very calming music to help me focus on work as well as calm the anxiety that I feel from said work. It’s amazing how simple tasks can become so complicated because of anxiety. Study music is my go to method to calm myself and get in a very relaxed state to hopefully complete the task that I am working on. I want to share with you a few channels that I think are definitely worth listening too as well as some music mixes that can help brighten your day and make you extremely productive.

The first one I want to tell you about is Lofi Girl.

This channel is wonderful and defintiely helps to keep my attention. I put this channel on when I write since it’s uplifting and there are no lyrics to any of the songs. If you are like me and just want something that you can listen too in the background, this is the channel for that.

The second channel is the Studio Ghibli Relaxing Jazz playlist on Café Music BGM channel.

I usually play this when I am not really feeling good, mentally. The music is very uplifting and definitely helps with those days where I feel a bit down. I think I will add this playlist to my blog post “My Favorite Things on Days I Feel Sad”. Check that post out here. This playlist is also perfect afternoons when you need something to get you going. After lunch, when I am full and sleepy, I’ll put this on for a bit of an energy boost.

I am a huge Legend of Zelda fan, and if you are familiar with the games, you know they have an absolutley amazing soundtrack. Frequently, especially when it’s raining, I put on “a storm of songs || zelda ost + thunderstorm ambience”. Here’s a link to that playlist.

The combination of music and rain is extremely soothing. This is another one that I will put on when I am writing. Be warned, you may fall asleep to this one lol so I suggest listening to it if you aren’t on a tight schedule.

When I am doing experiments, I have very long periods of just waiting. It’s usually like 30-40 minutes of just waiting, so I sepend that time watching movies or shows. One of the latest movies that I watched wat Interstellar. If you haven’t seen it, please stop everything you are doing and go watch it. It’s absolutely amazing. Anyway, Hans Zimmer does the soundtrack to that movie as well as many others and you can listen to those soundtracks on YouTube. Interstellar’s soundtrack is by far the best and really get’s you motivated to do work. I’ll put this on when doing dilutions or prepping samples. A good channel to listen too is Timeless Music channel and listen to The Hans Zimmer Ultimate Mix (here)

This music will motivate you to do literally anything. As I said earlier, I’ll play this soundtrack to give me some motivation to do dilutions or sample preparation. Honestly, without this, I’d probably get nothing done.

I’ll leave you with one last one. When you are having a tough day, or you just aren’t in a happy mood, the music you need is Disney music. I am not the biggest Disney music fan, but something about Disney music on the piano just puts me in an amazing mood. kno Piano Music channel has a playlist of songs that are all on the piano. I highly suggest checking this out and playing it when you are working/studying/relaxing. Here’s a link to that playlist.

I’ll be listening to this playlist for the rest of the day.

Whatever you do during the day, listening to good music can always make it an awesome day. I hope you check these channels out. They have really helped me focus at work and have been super helpful to help me relax.

Always Take Vacations in Grad School

Selective Focus Photography of Yellow School Bus Die-cast

I’m writing this because I am in desperate need of a vacation, and you probably are too. I am finishing my qualifying exams next week. The exam consisted of writing a proposal, defending the proposal, and taking 5 written exams, one from each committee member. I will have a post on how to pass (hopefully not fail) your qualifying exam very soon. I wrote about preparing for your qualifying exam. Check it out here.

Anyway, let’s get back to why we are here, vacations. Now, school just started for many individuals this week. But for the majority of grad students, this week is just the same as any other week. There is an influx of students but that’s the only difference. Summer is the time to get work done for many grad students. In fact, it could be the only time of the year where you get research done at all (looking at you people who teach each semester). With the constant stress and pressure of having to do a lot of work at once, it can really lead to burnout, or worse…getting kicked out!!!

This is why taking a vacation is so important. This also pertains to those who work for a living too. I’ve been in your shoes and know that about half the day is day dreaming about being somewhere else. So this post is for all of you. Vacations are a time where you can relax and not be bogged down with the stressed of work. We live in a society that thrives off of telling people how busy they are? Why is this a thing? Anyway, this is extremely toxic and can really cause problems mentally. A vacation is a good time to get away from this.

Look into vacation days for grad students. Usually, they allow 5 days of paid vacation each semester, sometimes more. These days are separate from holidays so I would suggest taking time off around holidays so you can spend more time away from work. I tend to go places or take time off around Christmas and at the end of summer. My spring semester tends to be really chill towards the end so I may take a few days off then, but more-so during winter break.

The main reason to take vacations is so you do not burn out. I believe I wrote a very long time ago that attrition rates for PhDs was roughly 50%. Like holy cow. Many of these students leave for various reasons, but a great deal of them leave due to burnout. Here’s a good article to read about burnout and drop outs (here). It’s sad that some professors don’t see that this is a problem. I had one professor tell me that, because they had to work all the time, their student had to as well. This is flat out wrong. One needs time to rest, because if they are constantly working 1) they will not be productive and 2) they will snap.

When you start grad school, remember that it is a very long process. In fact, it can be much longer than your undergrad. I am finishing up year 4 and could potentially go well into year 5 without finishing. 5 years is a long time to just continuously work and be miserable. Plan to go one trip. Go see friends that you haven’t seen in a while. Go to a new country and explore all of the food places there. But most importantly, just go do something that is not work. Life is so much more than spending your day working on something you probably hate. Life is a gift that was given to you and you need to go out and make the most of it. Grad school is a great way to make your life better, but the journey through grad school needs to also be good.

Most of your best ideas that you will have will come when you are not working. In fact, all of the ideas that I have come up with have been while walking, going to Miami to see my girlfriend, or on a boat, fishing. You give your brain to actually focus on problems subconsciously, and you get the best ideas this way. If you are struggling with a problem, I would suggest you go on a miniature trip somewhere and try and forget about school and that problem. I will bet money that some form of solution will arise. Just make sure to write it down when it does pop up lol.

It’s a great time to start planning your next vacation. First, get vaccinated for covid so you don’t risk spreading that to places you go. Next, plan your trip wisely. It’s not a good time to travel to other countries, but going to see your family, that can be an awesome vacation, as well as a cheap one. My next vacation will hopefully be to Canada. I absolutely love going up there during winter and it isn’t that expensive either. Whatever you do, make sure that you commit to it. It is so easy to work all of the time, but that’s not healthy. Live life and I guarantee that you will not regret it.

What to Expect On the First Day of Grad School

Today is the first day of the fall semester which means multiple things. 1) Freshman and sophomores will be lost. 2) There will be a new influx of grad students. I want to focus on the second point lol. For incoming grad students, the first day of your grad school journey can be quite daunting. In fact, the first day for me was one of the scariest. But have no fear, because it really isn’t as bad as you think. Here are a few things to expect on the first day of grad school.

If you are a PhD student, you might be looking for where your adviser’s office is. This is assuming that you haven’t already visited them prior to the first day. This should be the first thing that you do, unless you have class, then go to class. After class, though, go to your adviser and say hello. They will probably show you your new office, introduce you to the other grad students, and get you set up.

If you are a master’s student, you will most likely be just going to class. Depending on the type of master’s you are getting, you might be doing some research as well. In this case, do the same thing as PhD students and go see your adviser. If you are just doing class work, go to class first.

On your first day, there are going to be the most people that you have seen on a campus, ever. This can be pretty overwhelming, but just know that it will thin out soon since people just stop going to class after the first week. You may run into people on the way to class or potentially come close to getting hit by a bus (This happens alot). This may all happen within the first few hours of the day.

People on Sidewalk Selective Focal Photo

I would suggest taking the time after your class to walk around campus. Maybe scope out where your other classes are located so you don’t feel so lost. Take this time to really get to know the campus as well as the dynamics of the campus as well. Find out the most congested areas, find out where there are a ton of obnoxious flier people, and find out cool spots to go to have lunch.

For those of you doing research, the first day is a great time to get to know the other students in your research group as well as taking a peak at the labs you will be working in. Since the majority of the next 3 to 8 years will be in a lab, you might as well get familiar with it. The first day is a great time to just pop in and check out where your lab is located and the stuff inside of it. This will help later when you start to do experiments.

Chemical Engineers in Laboratory

No matter what you do, the first day of grad school is going to be a blur. The amount of information given is quite overwhelming. Fortunately, you can prepare for this. Get a planner and just write everything that you need to know down. Check out my blog about all the must haves when starting or going back to grad school. Congrats once again on starting this journey! It’s a tough one but so worth it.

Is Grad School Hard?

I typed this exact question into google maybe a hundred times prior to accepting my offer from UF. I had come from an engineering background and knew how hard that was, but I always assumed that grad school was way out of my league with difficulty. Boy was I right and wrong at the same time.

If you are just starting or thinking about grad school then you are one to value a higher learning experience. You either want to continue learning more complex problems or maybe you just want to further your career and force your friends to call you Dr. (That’s my plan). Either way, you are starting an amazing journey, that few have done before.

Grad school can best be described by the cartoon below:

Rachel - ppt download

At the beginning, you think you have it all planned out. You start your classes, you get good grades, you move on. Then things get a bit more tricky and more complicated. No matter how much you plan something out, it will always be different. That is especially true in grad school. You may think the project you are working on is easy or the classes seem fair but then things go all over the place and it becomes a bit more difficult. But have no fear, this is how life works and you are resilient.

Grad school is hard but there are far more difficult things in life. You may moan and groan about the difficulties of grad school (being poor, eating ramen for the 10th time this week, lots of work, etc.) but know that those don’t compare to hardships that people actually face in life. I know way too many people that come from pretty tough backgrounds and don’t complain one bit. They have had it so rough but manage to stay kind and keep going. I also know people that complain how hard life is after they just got their second car, paid for by daddy.

In the end, you will face difficulties that will push you to a breaking point. You may not as well. I am finding grad school to be challenging but not enough to where I am miserable. I hope you find it that way as well. The most difficult thing that I face is mental health. This is why I write these blogs, to help you cope with the issues that will arise.

In conclusion, grad school is however hard you make it. It can be quite easy or it could be hell. If you have a good mindset going in, and keep that mindset, you will find much more joy in grad school than you could imagine. On the other hand, if you go in thinking the worst and being negative about things, you will find it quite difficult. Believe in yourself and you will do just fine. If you are having a rough time, check out my other blogs on ways to make it better.

Also, if you need a laugh, check out lovephdmemes on Instagram. Here’s a link.

**If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, I highly recommend that they seek help. Online-Therapy.com or TalkSpace.com are great ways to reach out to a licensed therapist and get the help needed. Therapy has 100% helped me and I know it can help you.

Here Come the Freshman! How to Handle New Students

Whether you want to admit it or not, you are old. Being in grad school, you are probably 23 at the youngest, which is kind of old compared to the 18-19 year old’s that have just taken over your campus. I am 28, so the incoming class are 10 years younger than me. Holy Cow!!!! Since, apparently Covid is over, there are much more students on campus compared to the past three semesters. With the amount of new people, there are bound to be some things that will annoy you. I want to list off a few of those and give ways to put your mind at ease, as well as, enjoy the new transition. If you haven’t read it yet, check out my blog about coming back to campus and how to transition back to an on campus setting after zoom.

With an influx of freshman, you will notice quite a few things.

1) They look tiny. I saw a kid during summer that could have passed as a 12 year old. I honestly think all of these kids are looking younger and younger, but maybe that’s just how it is? This always happens though. The older I get, the more I notice how young the new students are. Trust me when I say, you probably looked just as young. Heck, they look at me and probably think I am old a dirt.

2) They will get in your way, especially during the first few days when they are trying to get used to their new life on campus. This is completely normal. Some of the new students are completely lost. Assuming you did not just start grad school, you probably know the campus inside and out. After a while, things tend to lose their “shimmer” such as the campus. This may be the first time that these students see the campus so they are trying to take it all in. Be nice to them and remember what it was like to be in their shoes.

3)You will start feeling quite nostalgic, thinking about when you first started school and how that was like 5, or for me, 10 years ago. I remember my first day in college. I had no clue where anything was and I didn’t have any friends to help me out. This is probably true for the freshman. You will look at them and be brought back to the first week of school. You may even have feelings that you haven’t felt in a long time. This is natural and wonderful all at the same time. If the feelings are good, try and hold onto them. If the feelings are bad, it’s time to let them go.

4) They will hover over every bench and squat rack in the gym. If you are an avid gym goer, you know this is the worst time of the year. The gyms are packed, the benches have a crowd of 5 freshman at them, and every squat rack has a line. This is frustration at its peak. Time to head over to my blog about exercising at the stadium or exercising outside.

5) They may come up to you and ask you a ton of questions. Remember that you probably did the same thing. They don’t really know too much about the campus and may have questions. This is something I always look forward to because I like helping people out. It makes you feel good. So, be nice and help them out and answer their questions!

6) The one’s in your department will look at you as a god or goddess. All the freshman that come in will likely peak in my office. I am a grad student and am superior lol. As a grad student, you went through all the stuff that they are about to go through and survived! Engineering was so difficult so the freshman really look at you like some form of genius. Bask in it but do not let it inflate your ego.

These are a few things that I notice each year that I spend in grad school. For me, this will be the last incoming freshman class that I will get to experience. If all goes to plan, and I pass my quals (currently taking), then I will be done by next May. For those of you just starting, or maybe a year into the program, be kind to these freshman. One day, you may be the one teaching them or being an adviser to them. You know how hard college is. You know the struggles that you will face in undergrad. These kids may not know those struggles yet, so don’t make it harder for them.

How to Prepare for Your Qualifying Exam

The two words that cause so much anxiety for grad students, “qualifying exam”. This is also known as the entrance exam to candidacy. Basically, it’s an exam, created by a committee of professors, that tests your knowledge and skills. After passing, you become a PhD Candidate! Exciting but also the most stressful few weeks/months of your grad school experience.

See, Master’s students have it easy(I kid, getting a masters is difficult). They just present their thesis at the end of 2 years and that’s it. For PhD students, you have to take the candidacy entrance exam and more than likely present your proposal to your committee too. So if you read my post Oral Qualifying Presentation :Grad School Stress (here), I go in depth in how to prepare for the presentation. That is probably the most stressful portion due to actually getting in front of your committee and presenting your research.

For my qualifying exam, each committee member will submit questions to my adviser along with time requirements. My adviser will then give the questions to me, one exam at a time, not all together. I will then need to finish the exam in the allotted time frame and submit directly to my committee members.

Some exams are closed book. These exams cover classwork that you have done and you have to pass each section in order to go on. I believe other engineering departments do it this way, which I find terrible because you can immediately be kicked out just from not passing one section of an exam. That’s my opinion though.

Now, I want to go over how to prepare for the written part. Most of this can be used for both formats of the exams, testing you knowledge on classwork or my type of exam.

Two Pencils Near Book

Before the Exam

  1. Make sure you know everything that is in your proposal.

This one is super important because the committee uses this to understand what your area of expertise is. Read papers on the different aspects of your research. Learn the methodology of the experiments and be prepared to defend why you did your experiments a certain way.

2. 2 hours before the exam, stop everything and relax

You may want to read more and cram as much into your brain as possible, but you need to rest. By working more, you are just tiring yourself out and you need the mental strength to continue this marathon of an exam. Spend this time doing something you like or watching a movie. If you want to, I say meditate sometime during his time frame. You will be way less stressed and more focused to tackle whatever is thrown at you.If the exam is open book, expect that the exam is going to be harder, not easier.

3. Remind yourself that you belong here and that you are ready.

Self talk is so important. Often, you will have doubts and imposter syndrome will slide in. You will experience imposter syndrome but don’t let it overtake you. You belong in this program and you will be a doctorate one day.

4. Remind yourself that you will pass

Your adviser would not let you do the exam unless the felt that you are ready and that you will pass. Remind yourself of this. It comes back to that stupid imposter syndrome and our anxiety. You will have the “what if thoughts” such as “what if I fail?” or “what if the exam is so hard, I die?”. Replace the negative what ifs with positive ones like, “what if I pass?” or “what if I do so well that they just hand me a Nobel Prize?” Train your brain to think of positive situations, especially when you are in a stressful situation.

Close-up of Hands

During the qualifying exam

  1. Do some breathing exercises after you finish a question or one of the exams

After you finish a question, or one of your committees exam, take a 3 minute break to just focus on the breathe. This will relax you and reduce any anxiety that comes from preparing for the next exam.

2.Try not to drink too much coffee

I think we all know why you shouldn’t drink too much caffeine during an exam. There are actually quite a few reasons not to go overboard. I am not saying to cut caffeine out. That’s a bad idea, especially if you are a coffee drinker. Just don’t overdo it. Drink enough to wake you up and get your brain functions running. It will definitely help. Just make sure it’s in moderation.

3.Tell yourself that you will be fine

You will be fine regardless of the outcome. My friend didn’t pass his qualifying exam and now he’s building satellites and launching them in space. Look at both sides, if you pass, you go on to get your doctorate. If you fail, you get your masters and you can start making a difference in the world sooner. You will be fine in the end, I promise you that. Plus, you are ready for this exam so you’ll pass regardless.

4.Write until your hand falls off.

If you think you answered the question, keep writing. Over answer ever single question that you have. Write until your hand hurts and you form blisters. This will guarantee that you pass! that came directly from my adviser who has been doing this for longer than I’ve been on earth. When in doubt, just keep throwing out information. Committee members want to see that you are willing to go above and beyond and this is one way to show that just that.

People Running Near Seashore at Daytime Photo

After the Qualifying Exam

  1. Relax

Go do something that does not involve reading or writing. Go to the movies or go swim in the ocean. Do anything else and get your mind off of thinking about the exam. You may not feel good about the exam afterwards, and that’s normal. Find things that give you joy. You deserve it.

2. Prepare to hear back from your committee

You may hear back from them right away, or maybe not for a bit. They will tell you if you passed or failed and hopefully it’s a pass. Once you hear back from them and you passed, congrats you can finally put “PhD Candidate” after you name in your emails! If you failed, you have a second shot at passing. If this is the case, start back at the first set of advice, and we will see you relaxing on a beach somewhere in no time.

Good luck to all of those preparing for your qualifying exams. You will do amazing! I have mine next week so I will let you guys know how it goes when I am done.

**If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, I highly recommend that they seek help. Online-Therapy.com or TalkSpace.com are great ways to reach out to a licensed therapist and get the help needed. Therapy has 100% helped me and I know it can help you.

5 Things I Wish I Was Told Before Starting Grad School

You have probably seen quite a few of these articles where they tell you the # number of things that they wish they knew before (blank). This is going to be one of those posts but with information that those blogs don’t really cover. There are so many things I wish I new before coming to grad school that has affected my mental state. I will go into those in a second because they are real and you will face these challenges. If you are thinking of grad school, make sure you are prepared for what will come up. I find that the work is easy but the mental strain is the hardest part. 1 in 3 PhD students will be at risk of developing a mental health issue. That’s nuts!

Helping to prepare students for grad school has been a goal of mine for quite some time. That is why I started this blog. I was not seeing the right information online to help me get through these years. I have had some pretty dark times while on this journey and I don’t want others to go through that. Here are 5 things I wish I was told before I started grad school.

  1. You will experience imposter syndrome

More than likely, you will experience this in grad school. You will feel like a fraud. You may even question how you got into a school as good as the one you are in. Looking around your class, you are bound to compare yourself to others and that leads to a feeling of inadequacy. I am here to tell you that you are exactly where you need to be. Grad school classes can be quite difficult and you may struggle. That is why you are here though! You are a student, not the professor, so you are learning the material and training yourself to one day be an expert. You are also surrounded by very intelligent individuals which is intimidating. Have you ever though that they may be intimidated by you and your accomplishments? You are not a fraud and you most definitely belong in your program. Keep going!

2. No one will really care about your work

This one makes me sad because I want everyone to be as interested in lead pipes as I am. You will find that no one really cares what you are doing other than the people working on the project with you. This is totally and completely normal. You are hear to contribute a tiny sliver of knowledge to the world then move on to bigger and better things. Just keep at what you are doing now and eventually you will work on stuff that is extremely meaningful and exciting, not just to you, but to others as well.

3. You will say goodbye to a ton of friends

Persons Left Hand on Airplane Window

This time in your life is a hard one because people are just starting to branch out and start their own lives. You may have to say goodbye to them. I like to say “see you later” because goodbye implies some form of end, in my mind at least. I have said “see you later” more times than I would like. My friend group has been on the decline since undergrad, but that doesn’t mean that I am super sad about it. The people that mean the most to you will be there and you will have lasting relationships with them no matter where you end up. The friendships that you get in grad school may end though, and frequently. I have had many friends come and go while I slave away at the computer, writing all day. It happens and that’s life, but be prepared to say goodbye.

4. You do not have the metabolism like you did in undergrad.

Assorted Sliced Fruits in White Ceramic Bowl

I am a pretty active guy. On average, I think I burn about 2800 to 3400 calories a day. This is including basal metabolic rate (BMR) of course. But for some reason, I gain weight so easily now. In undergrad, I could eat 2 pizzas and then lose weight lol. It was crazy. You are older now and you may find it harder to lose weight or maintain weight. This is normal. Prioritize exercise and eating right and you will go good to go. That can often be difficult because of how busy you are, though. To combat overeating or to track calories, I have used a Fitbit in the past. Lately, I use my Samsung Galaxy Active Watch 2. Both have been amazing.

5. You are not in undergrad anymore

Person in White Shirt With Brown Wooden Frame

You will have way more responsibilities in grad school. Going to bars every night then waking up at 12 to go to class is harder now. You have things to do such as early morning experiments, grant writing, being a TA, writing blogs, taking care of lab rats, etc. I am not saying you can’t party, what I am saying is partying will change. I was the one to go out on a night right before an exam. Don’t do this! That was my form of partying, though. Now, that has changed. Having friends over, talking about ideas, having a few drinks, then being in bed by 10 is the best partying that I can think of lol. It takes a bit to transition, especially if you are fresh out of undergrad, but you will change. That’s the beauty of life. You will change whether you like it or not.

These are 5 (very harsh) things that I wish I knew prior to grad school. It’s hard for everyone and you are not alone if you struggled with these like I did. That is why I write these posts. Let me know if you have anything else to add to this list in the comments. The grad school experience is difficult and different for everyone so it’s interesting to see what else people deal/dealt with. Thanks for reading!

How to Survive the First Year of Grad School

I am currently in my 4th? 5th year of graduate school, I think. Honestly I have been in school for so long that I really don’t know what year I am in, but that’s fine. Today, we are going to talk about your very first year of grad school. First off, congratulations on getting into a program and taking this wonderful and exciting journey. You will have a ton of questions and I implore you to check out the rest of my blog posts to answer hopefully some of those questions.

The first year is the most exciting and probably the scariest. If you are just doing a masters, you will just focus on school and possibly some research, if that’s the path you want. If you are going into a doctorate program, well then it’s just a year of confusion lol. I kid on the last one, a little, but either way, the first year of any program can be a bit of a tizzy.

Here is a list of things that I believe will help you get through that first year. This list will incorporate stuff for a masters as well as a doctorate. I use many of the suggestions below even today so I know these tend to work.

  1. Meet with your adviser often. I would say at least once a week. If not that then at least twice a month. This is important because they will help you keep on track as well as help you when you hit a snag. This is number 1 because it is the most important thing to do.
  2. Keep to a schedule. You will have classes at different times of day and homework galore. Make sure to try and keep a schedule. Try not to stay up until 3 am every night doing work unless you work best at that hour. Establishing a work time and a play time is essential for your mental wellbeing. I aim for the 8-5 schedule then just do other things afterwards. This allows me to have a life and I am more productive, since I have to be to get work done before 5.
  3. Write every day. It doesn’t matter what it is on, just write. This will help at the end of semesters when you have multiple 10-15 page papers to write as well as when you write your proposal or thesis. I blog and have noticed that it makes me motivated to continue to write, which was great because my dissertation is coming together nicely.
  4. Reach out to fellow classmates and study with them. You will make friends this way, and if you are lucky, you may make friends with the genius of the class that has all of the answers :p. Studying with someone always helps because that other person may be able to help you learn complex material or you may help them learn that material. It’s a win-win.
  5. Exercise each day and don’t get into the eating habits you had as an undergrad. No need to dive further into this one lol.
  6. Go to as many free events as you possibly can. Have fun while you are in grad school. You have worked really hard to get here and you might as well make the most of it. There are a million events happening all of the time on campuses. Go to these events. Here you will meet other people and you may make some really good friends this way.
  7. Stick to a budget. This may be the first time in your life where you see a paycheck that is more than $300. This does not mean you need to go crazy and start buying a ton of things. Figure out what you need, spending wise, and how much you want to save. Your future, not broke, self will thank you.
  8. Remember that you are never alone. You may feel lonely, isolates, removed from the world, but know that you are not alone. This is why the best thing to do is connect with other grad students. They know what you are going through and you might just be their saving grace. This is a very important thing to get you through your first year.

Good luck to all of those that are just starting grad school. I find this experience so much better than undergrad. You will learn so much about yourself and about the world in just a few years. Plus, you will be an expert in something, which is super exiting. If you have any questions about grad school, please reach out to me at benswaringen@yahoo.com. If you are feeling anxious about going back due to covid, check out my last blog here. See you next time!!!

**If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, I highly recommend that they seek help. Online-Therapy.com or TalkSpace.com are great ways to reach out to a licensed therapist and get the help needed. Therapy has 100% helped me and I know it can help you.

Zoom to Classroom: The Great Transition

Every single news outlet has something saying how a different variant of Covid is spreading all over the world. You have some news channels saying that it’s “just like the flu” while others say that you are guaranteed to get really sick and die. Seriously? How am I supposed to function with everyone telling me that I am going to get really sick and cause others to get sick? Unfortunately, this is where we are at currently. On top of knowing that different variants are present, we are being forced to go back to school and have in person classes. Talk about stressful times.

Most universities in the US are going back to in person classes which really has many people concerned. I have been back on campus for a year now but I am still extremely concerned when 50,000 students come back to occupy the halls once again. That is quite a good chunk of people coming from all over Florida as well as the rest of the US. On top of that, Florida is the hotspot for Covid cases. Great! Just writing this blog is making me mad as well as a tad bit more concerned.

If you are feel the same way, well, you are definitely not alone. Most of the grad students that I talk to on a daily basis are just as concerned as I am. We are more concerned to get the virus from an individual that just doesn’t care and goes to bars, concerts, and anywhere else where a ton of people are. I get it, those things are extremely fun and I miss going to them, but I also want to be able to see my parents and family without exposing them to something that could potentially kill them.

Like me, you are probably scouring the internet, looking for some way to prepare for the transition back to in person classes. I hope you are finding some really good information that you can share in the comments. These are a few of the best ways to prepare that I have found. I hope that they help you and bring some peace of mind.

  1. Get Vaccinated

The vaccines on the market have all been thoroughly tested and are safe. Please, if you haven’t been vaccinated, go and get one. They are free. This is the best way to prevent going to the hospital. One thing that I don’t understand is why people would rather go to the hospital than get a vaccine. Have you ever been to the hospital in the US? It’s expensive! So, if you want to spend the rest of your life paying off bills, then go right ahead. However, if you are like me, you’ll see that getting a free vaccine is way better than paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay off a visit that was preventable. Also, the vaccine’s side effect is that it prevents you from going to the hospital. That’s it. There are some cases where there might be a case of some other serious side effect, but those are so rare. Hopefully you have taken statistics and can see that the chances of getting a serious illness from a vaccine is slim to none. Trust the science.

2. Talk to someone about your fears

Woman Wearing Teal Dress Sitting on Chair Talking to Man

Talking with others about your concerns is a great way to easy your worried mind. This is a common fear among grad students and you may find peace in knowing you are not alone. Virtually every grad student that I have talked to has looked for many ways to prepare for this transition. They have talked to their advisers and brought up their concerns. By talking to other people, you may find that there are options that you can take to reduce exposure to Covid. Also, with enough people, you can bring up your concern to the school and they may change in person classes to online for grad students. You never know until you try.

3. Move to the front of the classroom

Brown and Black Wooden Chairs Inside Room

This is one that many people don’t really think of. Where is the least populated area in a classroom? The front row. No one wants to sit right in front of the professor because they think they will get called on constantly, and that’s super anxiety inducing. By sitting in the front row, you will be away from everyone else and have less of a chance of getting Covid. This is what I will be doing. Also, it forces you to pay attention, so you will definitely do better in these classes. There was actually a study done on seat location and performance. Read it here.

4. Learn to meditate to ease your mind

Woman Meditating in the Outdoors

I practically right every article with meditation in mind. This is by far the best reducer of stress and anxiety that I have found. Covid brings a ton of uncertainty which brings anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, so you need a way to cope. Meditation will allow you to relax and almost troubleshoot your mind. Think of anxiety as a virus in your computer. You need a way to eliminate that virus without paying $100 for virus removal software lol. Mediation is what allows you to go into safe mode, find the virus (anxiety) and eliminate it. I hope this makes sense. I am an environmental engineer, not a computer science major lol. If you haven’t read my blogs about mediation, you can find them here. Please check them out.

5. Wear your mask

White Ceramic Sculpture With Black Face Mask

Other than getting the vaccine, wear your mask!!! These two simple things will prevent you from getting Covid, or seriously reduce the chance of getting it. Listen to the medical experts and stop listening to some person on YouTube that “Did their Research.” No, they did not. There research was reading blog posts from anti-vaxxers that have no clue how to do research. You are an intellegent person and know what good science is. They don’t. If you happen to meet one of these people, ask them if you can see their lab where they test their hypotheses. They probably won’t even know what the word “hypothesis” is. Don’t listen to them. Wear your mask.

6. Exercise outside

Woman Running On Pathway

Gyms will be packed in the fall. New freshman love to congregate in large groups around the machines which will mean that a ton of people may be exposed to Covid. If you are concerned, exercise outside. I have great exercises that you can do that are just as good as going to the gym. Check them out here. Also, if you have an office, spend some time each day and maybe do some yoga. Get your office mates to join you as well. If you don’t have an office, exercise outside is a great alternative. This will keep you far away from crowds as well as increase your mental health. Your mental health is as important, if not more important, than your physical health. Studies have shown that spending time outside increases mental health. Strengthening physical and mental health are essential to getting through this pandemic.

7. Be Smart

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If you feel unsafe in any setting, get out of there. Some things may make you feel extremely uncomfortable such as lab meetings, grad school events, etc. If you feel very uncomfortable, please don’t feel like you have to go. For lab meetings, reach out to your adviser. They will understand and probably will make the meeting online anyway. I don’t know a single professor that isn’t concerned about Covid. If you are going back to the lab, be smart by cleaning everything. Wear a mask if you are with someone else. We have been doing this for over a year now so we are all aware of the procedures.

This will be quite the experience for all of us, especially those in states where Covid cases are through the roof **cough, cough, Florida**. We need to work together and do our part to reduce any chance of getting this persistent virus. If you are concerned with going back, you are not alone. ‘ve been back for a year now and I am deeply concerned. But, I do everything that I possibly can to reduce the chance I get sick. I wear a mask, I clean, and most importantly, I practice mindfulness to mentally prepare. Get vaccinated first. Trust me, there’s plenty of evidence that shows the vaccines are safe. Don’t listen to anecdotal evidence because that’s not science based. Trust the experts. Practice mindfulness and mediation to strengthen your mental health and I guarantee things will be fine.

If you happen to get sick, stay away from people. Let your adviser know so they can take the appropriate measures that your college has laid out. Get plenty of rest, and if you feel good enough as well as lost your sense of taste, try a new food that you find disgusting lol. If I lose my taste, I might try mayonnaise…well maybe not. If you have made it this far on my blog, please share with us how you are preparing for this upcoming semester. I would love to know and I know a thousand grad students would also love to know as well. Stay safe friends! And remember, This too shall pass.

**If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, I highly recommend that they seek help. Online-Therapy.com or TalkSpace.com are great ways to reach out to a licensed therapist and get the help needed. Therapy has 100% helped me and I know it can help you.

Habits of a Successful Graduate Student

Surviving grad school can be a tricky thing to do. You will be faced with a significant amount of road blocks in the 2-8 years that you are in school for. Some of these roadblocks are easy to traverse around while others may be a bit more difficult. But, with a few good habits, you can train yourself to take these head on and be quite successful, or at least survive. Here are 8 Habits that I have found quite useful to have when in grad school.

  1. Stay consistent. Stick to a schedule and try and keep that such as getting to the lab every day at 9 am and staying until 5 pm. By having a routine and sticking with it, you will find getting things done way easier. I stick to being in the lab from 8 am to 6 pm. This gives me enough time to get stuff done and doesn’t have me doing extra work in the evening.
  2. Make time for joy. Remember that life is so much more than your work. Why people say differently is so mind boggling. What do you enjoy doing outside of work? Figure that out and do it after your work day is up. Or, doing it during the work day when your experience are running lol. A grad program can be long but that doesn’t mean that your life stops. Finding joy in your life with increase productivity, I guarantee that,
  3. Exercise. I have a ton of blogs on exercising and how it helps. Stay consistent and exercise often. You will be happier, more energetic, and a much better grad student.
  4. Sleep at a reasonable time. Sleep is as important, if not more, than anything on this list. There are many effects that can occur if you do not sleep enough. Read more about it here.
  5. Learn to motivate yourself and don’t wait to be motivated. There is a great video by Therapy in a Nutshell about motivation. I suggest watching it. Here it is.
  6. Make your bed. You have probably seen this all over the internet. It’s true, making your bed is a great habit to have. Here is a great video to watch that is also extremely motivating. I hope it helps.
  7. Stay off social media. Social media is such a distraction, especially when you don’t want to do work. By learning to stay off of it, you will be more productive, and, to be honest, happier. You can get way more done in a shorter amount of time so you can leave and go do things that bring you joy. This is a habit that I am currently trying to get. It is hard but worth it.
  8. Meditate. Mental health is as important or even more important than physical health. Making this a habit can be the difference between finishing your doctorate/ masters or not. Trust me when I say, meditation is a life saver. Read about how to start here.

These are a few habits that I think will help you finish this journey. Grad school is tough, but with help, you can survive and thrive. I hope you already have some of these habits down or you are willing to try and create these habits. I know they will help you significantly. If you are having trouble getting motivated, I highly suggest taking a look at some of the courses at INeedmotivation.com. Here’s a link to those courses.

Oral Qualifying Presentation: Grad School Stress

Today, I had my proposal presentation. Forty minutes of presenting, followed by an hour and a half of questions from my committee members. I am honestly surprised that I even slept last night due to the crippling anxiety from the past week. This was stressful and may be one of the most stressful things you will face in grad school. I have heard and read horror stories about this presentation as well as the following exam that my committee members will craft up. But you know what, I am ready and I expected this stress. If you are a grad student, here is some advice that will help you: 1) reduce anxiety and stress and 2) allow you to own your quals.

  1. Make sure to get to know your committee members early on. I am fortunate enough to work with all of them and see them quite often. If you have committee members that you don’t know well, familiarize yourself with what they do and maybe even reach out to them.
  2. Prepare your proposal and send it to your adviser. DO this early on so you can make corrections prior to your committee presentation. I made sure to have my proposal ready for my committee members to read over, and honestly, they didn’t have too many questions or concerns about it. I was ready and you can be as well.
  3. Follow my sets on how to make a presentation found here. Making an amazing presentation will score you more points with your committee. They have to spend a decent amount of time watching your presentation and the last thing you want is for them to fall asleep lol.
  4. Do not drink too much caffeine prior to the presentation or you’ll either talk too fast or just have to use the bathroom the whole time. This is a terrible idea. But if you must have caffeine, stick to coffee. I have a great post about coffee, here.
  5. Meditate prior to presenting. Schedule your presentation in the morning to early afternoon so you can relax and meditate prior to the meeting. Your stress level will decrease significantly and you will have clarity. The last thing you want is brain fog. Check out my blog about getting started with meditation as well as my blog about how to cope with stress.
  6. Make sure your cat is in a different room! Sirius woke up and decided that the best time to make an appearance to my committee was during my presentation. It was funny.
  7. Relax and trust yourself. You are the expert and your committee is there to help you, not hurt your chance of passing. They will ask you questions that might not make sense to you or something you are not too familiar with. This is totally ok because they want to know the extent of your knowledge and steer you in the right direction. Present what you have and own it. Every graph, every statement, every bit of information, be confident with. They will admire that.

The pass rate for qualifying exams are fairly close to 100% if you are prepared. Your adviser will not allow you to present until you are ready. Some colleges force you to do other exams. I am not familiar with those so I am going off of my experience. You are worthy of a PhD, and if you don’t pass, at least you get a masters and you don’t have to worry about the headache of a PhD ever again. You can only win. I believe in you and so does everyone else. You got this.

Having a Part-Time Job in Grad School:6 Jobs for Busy Grad Students

You started grad school and realized that you are poor, but you have the hopes of not being poor one day! Your stipend is the only income that you will unless you work another job. Now, I want to say that school is your main priority. Please keep this in mind when getting a job on the side. Also, some grad program prohibit having a job on the side. If this is the case then this blog won’t really help you too much, but I will try and include something for you. Here’s a list of 6 jobs that I believe are perfect to have in grad school, if you are able to find the time and energy.

1.Waiting tables or bartending. This is a great job to have that will get you quite a ton of money on the side, especially in a college town. You get to meet quite a few people and working in a restaurant is definitely an interesting experience, one that everyone needs to do at least once in their life. This job can be extremely part-time so you can spend your day working on your studies.

Person Holding Pastry Dishes on White Ceramic Plates

2. Tutoring. This is a perfect job because you know the material and can really tutor any subject. Tutoring is also a great way to hone your teaching skills in case you need that for your career or if you just so happen to be teaching a course that semester to get a stipend.

Serious female teacher wearing old fashioned dress and eyeglasses standing with book while pointing at chalkboard with schemes and looking at camera

3. Grade Papers. I get emails every semester of professors looking for graders for their classes. They usually pay a decent amount and you only have to put in about 10 hours a week, max. One professor was advertising 10 hours at a rate of $15 per hour. $150 a week or and extra $600 a month is rent money right there. You can also do this work any time of the day. Say you are waiting on lab results, grade some papers instead of just sitting, scrolling on Reddit. Get paid and feel more relieved that you have enough money to eat this month.

Student with documents and laptop happy about getting into university

4. Work as a Personal Trainer. I added this one because this is a side gig that you can do and you do not have to tell your adviser that you are doing it. One hour a day, 3 times a week and you can make about $60 extra. $20 a session per person is not bad at all and people are willing to pay that. All it takes is getting a certification and then insurance. Afterwards, you are good to go. Just find a client by posting fliers around campus and the clients will come.

Woman Doing Exercise

5. Teaching Assistant. For my program, to be a TA, you must be a masters student. They do not allow PhD students to do this since we already work for our funding. This is a great opportunity to gain experience in the classroom as well as meet people. Often times, being a TA will pay for your tuition as well as give you a bit of a stipend too. Grad school is super expensive so working for free education is ideal.

Cheerful young female home tutor with sketchpad in hands

6. Blog. I highly recommend blogging your journey through grad school. First off, writing is essential to be a good/decent grad student. By blogging, you will be writing each day which will make your thesis writing a piece of cake. You can make some money by ads and affiliated marketing. You won’t see a ton of money at first, but by the end of your first year, you may have another couple of dollars in the bank. Plus, blogging gives you freedom to express yourself and that’s what college is here for, right?

Person Holding Turned-on Silver Laptop Computer

I hope this list was inciteful. I recommend trying to find an easy way of making money that doesn’t rob you of the grad school experience. Let me know if you have a part-time job and what it is. Until next time, peace!

Top 7 Phone Apps That All Grad Students Need Right Now

We are a society that is obsessed with our phones. Everyday I walk across campus to my office and every single person I see is on their phone, doing something that seems to be the most important thing in their lives. (Probably just texting someone or scrolling through TikTok) It is almost sad to see but that is life now. So, if you can’t fight it, join it, right? Here is a list of 7 phone apps that have helped me through grad school These are apps that I will probably delete after graduation, but some I will probably keep on for as long as I have a smart phone. I recommend getting google rewards first. Many of these apps have premium versions that you can pay for by taking quick surveys on Rewards. That is how I pay for most of the premium services on my phone. This This post will have pictures too!!! HURRAYYY. I am learning to make blogs better 🙂

  1. Headspace
Headspace: Meditation & Sleep - Apps on Google Play

This is a mediation app that has helped so much. I have blogged about it before and I will blog about it again lol. Trust me when I say, this is the best mediation app that is out there. You do have to pay for most of the features but it is discounted if you are a student. I believe it was around $5-$6 a year for students. Take advantage of this please.

2. Audible

Amazon.com: Audible for Fire TV: Appstore for Android

You will have a ton of time where you are waiting on experiments to finish up, data to be ran through different simulations, or even time where you should be writing but instead you would rather do anything else in the world. This is a good time to pop in your headphones and listen to a good book. I wrote about my favorite audible books here. It is $14.99 a month with membership and you get one book. I suggest going for longer books because you will definitely get your money’s worth.

3. MyRadar

How many times have you been stuck inside because of rain? Here in Florida, it happens daily so I need a good weather app to tell me when I can leave my office and not get drenched. This is my favorite weather app of all time. It has everything that you wanted and more. I use it to see when it will be the hottest during the day so I can stay inside and I also use it to see where hurricanes are moving towards so I don’t die lol.

4.Spotify with Hulu

As a student, you get many discounts and perks. One that you definitely need to jump on is the Spotify discount. I believe I pay $6 a month and I get Spotify premium as well as Hulu. You get two amazing services for really cheap and it’s totally worth it. I listen to Spotify at the gym and watch Hulu during the 30 minute time frame where my experiments are going on. This is a great deal for sure and I am glad I got it.

5.ColorNote or some other notepad app

Get yourself a note pad app. I use ColorNote because it got the best reviews, but honestly, any of them will be fine. You will have thoughts that just pop in your head all of a sudden that can help your research or maybe you just need to write something down. Do it in the note pad app. It saved my butt so many times. I walk a ton and on the walks ideas tend to just pop in my head. The app is filled with these ideas because I just write them down.

6. Alarm Clock

PSA: Oreo is causing Google Alarm Clock app to fail for some - GSMArena.com  news

This one is self explanatory. Having a good alarm clock can save your butt. I also have an Echo Dot that I tell to wake me up but having an alarm on my phone is just as helpful.

7.YouTube Vanced

I hate ads when I am watching YouTube videos. This is why I downloaded YouTube Vanced. Trust me when I say, this is the best app on this list. Ads are gone and you can listen to videos in the background. If you have unlimited internet on your phone, you can watch videos anywhere without worrying about ads. Check this one out for sure.

I hope you consider getting some or all of these apps for your phone. They truly make my life easier and I know that they will make yours easier too. If you happen to have any more suggestions, please comment them. In a few weeks, I am going to update all of my blog posts to include stuff that people have commented. I hope your day is awesome and I hope your week is even better. See you in the next one.

Giving Presentations in Grad School

Some say that the scariest thing you will do in life is give presentations. Something about standing in front of a ton of people and talking scares the pants off of most people. I remember talking to a few of my classmates and they brought up that Speech class was one of the only classes they needed to do to graduate, and they were putting it off until the last semester because it scared them. I, fortunately, love giving presentations. i love talking about a subject that I am passionate about to a ton of people. Yes, I feel nervous and scared, but the feeling after giving the presentation is totally worth it. You feel a weight lifted off of your shoulders, and you are almost weightless. Such an amazing feeling.

I have always been very comfortable standing in front of people and talking to them. Ironically, the most anxiety inducing thing that I refuse to do is talk to someone I don’t know on the phone. This is a common fear that I am slowly working on.

When you are in grad school, you will give a ton of presentations. Some on subjects you like, others on things you are not familiar with or just don’t care about. The biggest presentation and probably the scariest one, other than the qualifying exam presentation, is your thesis defense. This is the culmination of all of your hard work given as a presentation to people that are the best in their fields. It’s tough, but most people pass so your chances of graduating are fairly high.

I get it, giving presentations are hard, but they don’t need to be with some tips and tricks. I use these tips every time that I present, no matter how long.

  1. Create a PowerPoint presentation and practice it way beforehand. This means creating it days before, possible weeks before, and just getting so familiar with the slides that you don’t even need to look at them to know what it includes.
  2. Write notes. When you aren’t quite in the “groove” while presenting, take a look at your notes. They will help you stay on track and make you very organized and not all over the place.
  3. Make eye contact, if you are comfortable, if not, look at someone’s forehead. I like making eye contact to make sure my audience did not fall asleep. Other people prefer looking at the back of the room or someone’s forehead. That’s fine too as long as you are scanning the room. Do not just stare at one person the entire time. That’s just weird.
  4. Bring humor into the presentation. Tell a joke or bring up something funny. It will keep the audience engaged and make you more comfortable. No one wants to watch a boring presentation anyway. Have fun with it.
  5. Breathe! Deep breathes beforehand will calm your nerves and help you not sound nervous.
  6. Practice in front of friends first. You will get used to presenting in front of multiple people and you will feel comfortable. Use the feeling of comfort and try and feel that before giving the actual presentation.
  7. Bring water. When you are talking, you may lose track of where you are, on the PowerPoint as well as your notes. This is a good time to drink water because you can stall for time to get back into your groove. Also, it is good to stay hydrated.
  8. Lastly, have fun with it. It is a scary moment but a vital one. If you don’t have fun, you’ll associate all presentations with bad experiences. You do not want to do this. Have fun, learn a lot, and just be yourself. The presentation will be amazing because you are amazing.

I hope this list helps a bit. I have my qualifying presentation next week so I will be using my own advice fairly soon. I hope you have an amazing day/week/month and I will see you guys in the next blog.

You Are Good Enough

Often, in grad school, you will feel inadequate. You will feel like a failure, like someone that doesn’t deserve the degree you’re going to get. This is normal. We all feel this way and that is the wonderful part of growing as an individual and becoming a researcher. You will learn that there is so much more to life than we know and it will make us feel a bit weird inside.

Feeling like you are not good enough is something that you will have to fight. I just want to let you know that you are not just good enough, but wayyyyy better than “enough”. You will face some very difficult uncertainties in the years that follow which will cause self doubt but know that no matter what anyone says, you are enough!!!

People will tell you “no”, Experiments will tell you “no”. Advisers will tell you “no”. Things in life will not go the way you wanted but that does not mean you are less than perfect. You are perfect and beautiful and smart and you will overcome whatever you face in graduate school. You make so many people proud and that is good enough to keep you going.

I often feel that I am not good enough but then realize that I am in a difficult major, with the brightest people around me, learning stuff that people spend their whole lives studying. This is so cool and of course I may feel lost but that moment is when the adventure starts getting good.

I often just pretend that I am in the Lord of the Rings. They had is quite difficult and often felt like they were not good enough for the job of taking the ring to Mordor, but they did. Grad school is that journey for you. Sure, you will face a ton of monsters along the way. Sure, you may get chewed up and spit out, but you will prevail and the end will be so amazing.

You can do it. You are good enough. And you will PREVAIL.

**If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, I highly recommend that they seek help. Online-Therapy.com or TalkSpace.com are great ways to reach out to a licensed therapist and get the help needed. Therapy has 100% helped me and I know it can help you.

Graduate School Hacks

I am going to just have fun with this blog and see where it goes. These are a few ” grad school hacks” that I do which has made my PhD much more fun.

  1. Interreact with as many professors as possible. Get to know them on a personal level. Professors are great resources to have and it’s so nice to be able to talk with them like they are friends. Plus, some professors have really expensive lab equipment that you can use!!
  2. Drink coffee. Do not drink energy drinks because it is extremely hard to do work when you are bouncing off of the walls. Coffee will give you a great boost in the morning and help you focus. Just be careful not to overdo it or you will be jittery all day. Check out my favorite coffee here.
  3. Drink water, and drink it often. This “hack” is to keep you hydrated and healthy. Frankly, this is not a hack at all but a recommendation. Drinking water is essential to your health and a healthy student is more productive than a sickly one.
  4. Meal plan and cook at home. We do not make that much money and going out to eat is expensive. You will have time to cook food. I promise that you won’t be busy 20 hours a day. If you are, then you need to learn to say no or get out of school completely lol. That’s ridiculous. Meal planning will help you stay within a budget as well as keep you health, that’s assuming you don’t bring pizza everyday for lunch.
  5. Focus on learning the material rather than a grade. Grades do not matter in grad school as long as you receive a B and that is fairly easy to do. Focus more of understanding the material rather than getting an A on the exam. There have been several times where I have received an A but could not recall the information from the class. That information was essential to my research, also :(. That class was statistics, by the way.
  6. Get a planner and actually use it. Stay on schedule! You will forget to do stuff. It happens…we are only human. I have a to do list that I use each day. There have been so many times where I forgot what I had to do that day because I did not write it down. Seriously, this hack is important. This is my favorite planner.
  7. Workout. Studies have shown that exercise increases brain function and you just feel great. Type in to Google Scholars “Effects of exercise on the brain”. Just do it.
  8. Write. Each. Day. This is not a hack, but for some reason, people tend to want to think it is. I created this blog to help hone my writing skills as well as share information that I have learned over the years in school. I write each and every day. It honestly sucks at first. I won’t lie. After about a month of writing, you will see that 500 words is a piece of cake (Publix Ice Cream cake to be exact. YUM). Aim to write 500 words each day and see how easy it becomes. Also, if you write a bit of your thesis each day, you’ll have it mostly finished way before you defend. It’s a win-win.
  9. Take advantage of discounts and free things that are given to students. This includes food, clothes, trips to places, fitness classes, anything really. Take advantage of it now while you are a student.
  10. Lastly, find happiness in what you do. You will have days where nothing goes right. Experiments fail, your adviser yelled at you (if this happens then you may want to get a new one), maybe you left your lunch at home and have to live off of Panda Express from the student union. Bad days will happen but DO NOT let one bad incident turn a good day into a bad one. You will make mistakes. You will “fail”…I hate that word and you can read why, here, but you know what? You will thrive! You just need to find something good each day. It can be a small thing like getting pizza or seeing a friend. If you can find a bit of happiness each day, it will make grad school so much fun.

I hope you made it to the end without falling asleep. I actually fell asleep around #6 so… Anyway, I hope this list helps you on your journey through grad school. These are things that have really helped me all throughout the 5 long years I have been here. If you have questions, do not hesitate to reach out to me. I know many people are thinking about going back to school but may be a bit uncertain of what to expect. I am here to help any way I can. Let me know if you have any more “hacks” that I did not touch upon. Also, I hope you have a wonderful day doing whatever you do!

Must Haves When Going Back to Grad School, or School in General

It is Summer B semester currently and the freshman are back in full force. This will be the first time that colleges will have people back in full, at least here in Florida at least, and that might be scary for a few people. I honestly don’t want people to come back because the gym gets overcrowded. For those coming back to campus, whether it’s for grad school or undergrad, I wanted to put a list with links to stuff that I find very helpful. This will be a short list because I don’t want to be one of those bloggers that post something like “33 must have items to survive grad school” or something like that. I’ll keep the list fairly short but these are all things that I have found to be the most helpful.

  1. A portable monitor to connect to your laptop https://amzn.to/3ADsbLL

So I bought one of these additional monitors that connects to my laptop so I can work literally from anywhere and have two screens. This was a game changer. I use it all of the time when I am out of the office. It’s super helpful for presentations, writing, having multiple tabs open at once on different screens, etc. There are cheaper ones but this is the one I got.

2. Good pens. https://amzn.to/3dTSy6q

Ok these pens may be cheap on Amazon but they are by far the best pens that I have ever received, and they are cats. They write so well and they give you a ton so you can share with your friends…if that’s what you want to do lol.

3. A “to-do” list/Planner https://amzn.to/3ys69to

This is all you need right here. Something super easy and simple. You can go out and buy a fancy one but I like simplistic planners. I personally bought this one ad use it every day since I forget to do stuff constantly.

4. A good water bottle https://amzn.to/36jUjFL

This is a must have, especially on campus when you are running from class to class. I was buying water bottles from the vending machines and wasting so much money and plastic. I bought a water bottle, the space one to be exact, and have been quite happy with it. It is a bit difficult to clean so you may want to shop around for an easier one to clean.

5. Last, a Watch or Fitbit https://amzn.to/3dW2pse , https://amzn.to/3hkOwGa

Ok I apologize for this one. These are quite expensive so they really don’t follow my grad school on a budget lifestyle so you may need to wait until there is some money to use to get one. I received the Active 2 for Christmas and it is probably the most important thing I have on me, other than my phone. Since I am a personal trainer, this has been extremely helpful. If you are trying to lose weight, I would say the Fitbit is the way to go.

I hope this list was interesting for you. These are just essential items that I have that have helped me survive this long in grad school. What things should be added to this list that has helped you? I would love to know.

Audible Books You Must Listen To

Link to start Audible Premium

I am not the biggest fan of reading. In fact, I can probably count on one hand the amount of books I have read in the past 10 years. I know, I know, it is quite sad but I lack the ability to sit still for more than five minutes, so reading is difficult. I do, however, listen to Audible books.

As a grad student, my schedule is often quite all-over-the-place. I try and keep a consistent schedule but that never works out since my life often revolves around timed experiments, meeting, running to and from labs, as well as trying to find time for food. I do have a good chunk of free time most days where I am waiting on something so I tend to either try and read journal articles, or listen to books. I frequently walk pretty long distances, so to pass the time, I listen to books as well. Sometimes I go on extra long walks just to finish a chapter or find out what happens next.

Here’s a list of my favorite books that I have listened to. They aren’t in any specific order but I will tell you my favorite afterwards.

  1. All of the Harry Potter novels https://amzn.to/3hP8yri
  2. The Shining https://amzn.to/3htEpiv
  3. Red Rising https://amzn.to/3hw4X2L
  4. The Martian https://amzn.to/3k5QV9q
  5. Ready Player One https://amzn.to/3APsaEB
  6. Ready Player Two https://amzn.to/3xBtOb0
  7. 11-22-63 https://amzn.to/3e5k9Bv

So my all time favorite book to have listened to is a tie between Ready Player One and Ready Player Two. Will Wheaton narrates both book and HOLY COW it is amazing. The story is just so fun and it really makes you wonder if something similar to what is going on will happen in the future. I highly recommend listening to these rather than reading them. It is a whole different experience.

The Harry Potter books are also amazing to listen to. They are narrated by Jim Dale, who does a fantastic job at it. For days where you are driving long distances, I suggest Harry Potter to keep you company lol.

Let me know in the comments what books you have listened to and what your favorites are. I am always looking for more to get. Peace!!

What I do

So I have been working on an EPA funded project that deals with lead contamination in environmental settings, particularly potable water sources. The ultimate goal is to build upon a modelling system that predicts how sick a child will get from lead exposure in household settings. Our team deals with the lead that comes from lead service lines, copper fittings, and solder. We analyze the amount of lead that comes out of lead pipes by subjecting the pipes to different water characteristics such as changes in pH, alkalinity, dissolved organic compounds, dissolved inorganic carbon, and phosphate. The pipes that we used contain a mineral compound on the inside of the pipe called “scales”. these scales are minerals that have been created to protect the pipe from corrosion. We want to know how they react under different water conditions. 


The other part of our project deals with identifying sources of lead in the environment through the use of lead isotope ratio analysis. This basically gives a fingerprint to lead sources by looking at their isotopic composition. Then we take blood samples from individuals exposed to areas with high concentrations of lead and see if the isotopic composition of the lead in their blood matches that from an environmental setting. 


It’s freaking cool science. Plus, I get to work with some state-of-the-art, and quite expensive, equipment. I would love to go more into the data I have collected once I get it published. Hopefully people read this blog and ask questions. I love being able to teach people the stuff I do and also gain feedback. It allows me to grow and thrive in the scientific world.