Have you ever wondered if a journal has open peer review? Or if a journal allows co-reviewing by students and post-docs? It can seem as if this information is impossible to find. Transpose is a new database aimed at making journal editorial policies more transparent and accessible.
So… you worked hard on your paper. You ran the experiments and wrote up the results. You got the cover letter just right, and you made sure to polish the title, the abstract, and the figures . Finally, you submitted your work to a journal, and a few days later you received an email letting you know that the editors have sent your work out for peer review!
And now … you wait.
By Ben Tolkin
“Manuscripts may have a rigidly defined structure, but there’s still room to tell a compelling story — one that clearly communicates the science and is a pleasure to read.”
A recent post by Nature offers advice from six experts on publishing a first-class paper.
A recent investigation finds that an alarming number of “academic” journals offered a completely fake scientist a position on their editorial boards. Read the article, published in Nature, in which the authors describe their sting and give further information on avoiding predatory journals.
Finding time to write can be difficult. As a young scientist, one can be constantly bombarded with experiments, classes, meetings… The list goes on and on. It can seem as if writing gets pushed further and further back in the “To Do List”. Developing a strategy early in one’s career to stay on top of writing projects can be extremely important. One thought is to try “the 1-hour workday”:
In a presentation to a group of executive job seekers in transition, a recruiter made the point that after years of reviewing C-level résumés, she had noticed a commonality: None of these top professionals had escaped having some setbacks, rejections, or missed opportunities. This information surprised the audience of recent layoff victims, who realized that they were in good company when it came to career misfortune. The recruiter was right: Failures and regrets need not derail your career, and, in fact, can propel it forward if handled wisely.
To find out how successful people dealt with situations when they didn’t get what they wanted, I interviewed a range of accomplished consultants, coaches, and other business professionals, asking them: “What rejection did you experience that turned out for the best?”
When thinking back on jobs they weren’t offered or turned down, graduate schools that didn’t admit them, or promotions that went to someone else, all respondents agreed that they were better off in the long run. Although most were initially disappointed, gaining perspective over time helped them realize that those early frustrations afforded them the chance to try something different and to gain valuable insights.
One of my interviewees, self-reinvention thought leader Dorie Clark, explained that she was turned down by every doctoral program that she applied to. “I ultimately discovered that the minutiae of what a dissertation demands would have killed me,” Clark said.
Gina Warner, CEO of the National AfterSchool Association, told me: “I didn’t pass my bar exam the first time, which meant I couldn’t accept the position I’d been offered at the district attorney’s office. But it did mean I could volunteer on a U.S. Senate campaign, and when that candidate won I got hired to work for her, a much better opportunity for me.”
Executive coach Nihar Chhaya was rejected by all of the top consulting firms he interviewed with when he was an MBA student at Wharton. “I took it pretty hard,” he admitted. “When you’re in the most competitive school, where everyone is asking who got what, you don’t want to graduate without a job after investing all that work and money in a program you thought would make you set for the future.” But in time, Chhaya realized that he had actually “dodged a bullet”: “I hustled and absorbed everything I could in my position at the Corporate Executive Board, realized that coaching and leadership assessment was my passion, and moved to build a career there.”
These individual ”aha” moments contain some universal truths that professionals at any level can benefit from. Here are three strategies for recovering and thriving when a career goal you once coveted slips away.
Acknowledge the Emotional Pain
“Rejection often triggers painful emotional doubts about our own competence and self-worth, so we either try to avoid it or pretend that it doesn’t matter,” writes consultant Ron Ashkenas in his HBR article “Rejection Is Critical for Success.” But it’s important not to dismiss how you are feeling. Being rejected hurts, and the physiological response it creates in our bodies and minds is akin to physical pain. The reason a negative reaction or rejection causes such strong emotions traces back to our primitive history, when having to leave the tribe after a rebuttal might have resulted in physical danger or even death. If rejection didn’t hurt, our ancestors might have put themselves in harm’s way by storming off into the path of a wild animal or an armed enemy. When you recognize that the emotions you feel are both primal and normal, it can help you move past the ache faster.
Ask Yourself, “Was it me, was it them, or was it us?”
When Chhaya was passed over as a consultant, his first response was to seek an explanation. Why did his classmates get hired and he didn’t? Was it something he did wrong or failed to do? Or was it that the interviewer couldn’t see his potential and the value he brought to the table? The reality is that when you aren’t chosen for an opportunity, the reason often is a problem with fit — such as a values mismatch between you and the other party — rather than something that you (or someone else) did wrong.
Chhaya eventually came to realize that his real interest lay in coaching. “I don’t think I would be where I am today if I had gotten the acceptance back then, because it never would have made me want to push for my own passion versus compete with what I think I ‘should’ have done relative to my classmates,” he said. There’s an added benefit to this shift in thinking: Recent studies confirm that when people attribute setbacks to lack of fit instead of blaming themselves or another person involved, they’re less likely to give up and more motivated to improve.
Embrace Your Strengths
Following Dorie Clark’s rejection from PhD programs, she started writing and consulting, areas of strength and interest for her. Today she is the author of three best-selling books, writes for major publications, and has a thriving consulting business. Recognizing that a PhD wasn’t the only chance for success, Clark let go of her first dream in order to spot the next one, so she could maximize her talents without regret. If you look back for too long, rather than soldiering on in a direction where your talents can shine, you risk the possibility of neglecting fresh opportunities. Consider Gina Warner’s decision to volunteer for a U.S. Senate campaign instead of dwelling on not passing the bar exam. Making a conscious effort to look forward rather than back can lead to personal growth and the discovery of creative options.
Being able to identify the silver lining in a perceived failure or missed opportunity can help you move on to bigger and better things — while maintaining your self-confidence in the process. As Wharton professor Adam Grant puts it: “We are more than the bullet points on our résumés. We are better than the sentences we string together into a word salad under the magnifying glass of an interview. No one is rejecting us. They are rejecting a sample of our work, sometimes only after seeing it through a foggy lens.”
Katherine Bassil discusses the importance of learning to recognize failure as a door to success.
“Dear Katherine Bassil,
The Selection Committee wants to thank you for taking the time to participate in the Recruitment Day.
We are sorry to inform you that you have not been selected for the PhD position…
While you were not selected for this position, the selection committee did…”
The rest was not important. The only words in my head were “failure,” “not good enough,” “someone was better than you,” “you are not qualified for the job.” I burst into tears.
Following my undergraduate studies in Lebanon, I moved to the Netherlands to pursue a master’s degree in neuroscience. This opened up several opportunities for me, such as an internship at one of the best research institutes in the world — the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. My confidence levels were high after the internship; I could envisage my future, successful academic career so clearly that it felt like it was almost in the palm of my hand.
Then the time came to apply for a PhD position. Perhaps I was too confident at the time, but I was sure that I would nail all my interviews. In June, I received my first rejection letter. I was in shock. I was certain that I had presented myself as a dedicated, passionate student eager to learn and pursue her doctoral studies. Was it not enough? Did I completely misjudge the room? Was I overconfident? Was I even fit to be a PhD candidate? These questions washed over me, and I couldn’t shake the negative thoughts away. My self-esteem was shattered, and I lost all belief in my abilities.
Since that first rejection, what I have come to learn the hard way has changed my whole perception of failure. Instead of looking at rejection as a step backwards in my academic career, I’ve started to consider it as a step forward. I now see my ‘failure’ as a door to success, and not a wall standing in my way.
Rejection itself isn’t a problem; the issue is that we never talk about it. A typical academic CV is composed of all our achievements and successes. We never mention the PhD applications that got rejected, the papers that were turned down several times, the list of courses we did not pass.
From the outside, it seems like rejection never happens in academia. You never walk into someone’s office and see rejection and failures mounted on the wall. But what is success without failure? What would have happened if Albert Einstein had given up after his first rejection?
Rejection in academia doesn’t come once but several times throughout a career, and it occurs in all shapes and forms. It could come in response to journal submissions, or to applications for PhD positions, grants, tenure-track jobs or even senior and management roles.
Unfortunately, we are never handed a manual on how to process rejection and how to secure future opportunities. Instead, the scientific community rarely discusses it. We each have to learn how to grow resilient, often without enough support.
It is inspiring to see that many are starting to do so. Johannes Haushofer, a psychologist at Princeton University, New Jersey, wrote a “CV of failures” — a document that includes a detailed list of his rejections. Veronika Cheplygina, a biomedical engineer at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, started a series on her blog titled “How I Fail,” where she interviews both junior and senior academics about their failures.
Science is also about success, of course, and it’s important to recognize this as well as failure and rejection. A few weeks after I received that letter, I was contacted independently by two principal investigators for an open position in their labs at the same institution that had first rejected me. In October, I started a position in a lab where I am now pursuing my PhD. I know now that this failure was not my first, and it will not be my last.
If you were to ask me what I thought of failure today, what would my answer be? Keep it coming.
This is an article from the Nature Careers Community, a place for Nature readers to share their professional experiences and advice. Guest posts are encouraged. You can get in touch with the editor at email@example.com.
by Pearl Stewart
Research published this month found that as women students remain underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, they are being subjected to an unwelcoming, “chilly” atmosphere in these male‐dominated fields.
In an article titled “Identity, Campus Climate, and Burnout Among Undergraduate Women in STEM Fields,” Purdue University professor Dr. Eric Deemer and Ph.D. student Laura Jensen wrote that respondents often described an unpleasant campus climate “associated with increased emotional exhaustion and cynicism, although not decreased academic efficacy.”
“My goal behind conducting this study was to look at environmental factors that impact women’s retention in STEM,” Jensen wrote in an e-mail to Diverse. Deemer remarked that Jensen “did most of the work. It was really her study.”
Dr. Eric Deemer
Jensen said her goal in developing the study, published in The Career Development Quarterly, was to examine environmental factors affecting female students in STEM. “Often it feels easier to look at internal factors for why women are not pursuing or [are] leaving STEM fields,” she said, “but I think that ignores just how big of an impact our institutions have on students.”
The researchers surveyed 363 female undergraduate STEM students to examine the potential moderating effect of chilly climate on woman–scientist identity interference and academic burnout. Deemer, an associate professor of counseling psychology, told Diverse that the term “woman – scientist identity interference” refers to the extent to which identity as a woman and identity as a scientist are incongruent.
“We found that woman-science identity interference was correlated with emotional exhaustion and cynicism and negatively correlated with academic efficacy,” Deemer said. “In other words, it increased the bad stuff and decreased the good stuff.”
Some highlights of the study:
- As women experienced incongruence between their identities as women and as scientists, they felt more emotionally drained, more skeptical of the importance of their work, and less competent as students.
- Results highlight the importance of improving the campus climate for female scientists, as well as the need to assist female scientists in identity development.
- Future studies can assess perceptions of STEM climate from the perspective of students of different racial identities “because perceptions of predominantly White women do not represent the experiences of all women.”
The authors noted other limitations of the study, including the impact on first-generation college students. “Similarly, data included all students who identified as “female” in one gender category. The experiences of trans women may differ from cisgender women, and students who identify as transgender may experience a more unwelcoming climate in STEM.”
The study stated that educators “can use the results to create academic environments that minimize gender bias and promote attitudes that encourage the entry of women into STEM fields.”
It also noted that results of the research can be used to assist counselors in helping STEM students challenge stereotypes and other challenges as they navigate hostile academic and work environments.
“Awareness is the first step to addressing the chilly climate for women students,” Jensen said. “We won’t be able to retain women until we make a more welcoming environment for them.”
By Academic Positions
Certain professional skills including communication, leadership, teamwork, and project management are valued by employers across a wide range of sectors. While many institutions offer professional development workshops specifically aimed at helping graduate students develop these skills, you can also learn them through the course of your degree. Here are some of the major skill groups and how to work on them.
- Present at conferences– Conferences are a great way to hone your presentation skills and practice answering questions on the spot. Poster presentations also help you practice your oral communication skills on a one-on-one level.
- Join an outreach group– Most of the communications skills you develop in grad school are aimed at communicating with an academic audience, but working in scientific outreach gives you the opportunity to learn how to talk to a non-technical audience. Knowing how to explain complex concepts in a simple way is a valuable skill.
- Present a seminar paper– If you are in a PhD program with coursework, you will likely have to present a paper in your seminars each semester. Unlike when you present at a conference, a seminar paper doesn’t usually have accompanying visuals so your writing must be very clear.
- Take a writing course– Many universities offer writing courses specifically for graduate students which can benefit those whose program doesn’t have a strong writing component.
- Write a research proposal or grant application– Not only will this be good practice for a future career in academia, it also teaches you to write in a very specific way. A research proposal or grant application is different from a paper. You have to include an overview of the topic and connect your research to broader problems in the discipline while keeping in mind that the reader is not always an expert in the topic.
- Publish a paper- In some fields you are expected to have multiple publications by the end of your PhD while in others even one publication will help you stand out on the job market. In either case, the peer review and revision process will improve your writing immensely.
- Teach- Don’t underestimate how much teaching will improve your oral and written communication skills. Engaging teachers are able to communicate information in new, creative ways. If there is no formal teaching component to your degree, ask if you can be a teaching assistant for your supervisor or another professor in the department.
- Write your own syllabus– It’s good practice to make your own syllabus for the courses or sections that you teach. Not only will it make your expectations clearer for your students, it will also help you on the job market. Sample syllabi are often required when applying for faculty positions.
- Take a pedagogy class- Some departments have mandatory classes about teaching theory and strategies. If your institution doesn’t offer any courses or workshops, you can read about pedagogy or talk to professors in your department known for their stellar teaching.
- Develop a teaching philosophy– As you learn more about teaching, start to develop your own teaching philosophy. Consider how you teach (strategies, techniques etc.) and why you teach this way. This will make you a more confident teacher and give you a leg up on job applications, which often require a teaching philosophy statement.
- Grade- Grading is an often bemoaned part of teaching, but it is also a useful transferable skill. Developing a grading rubric helps you figure out what your standards for excellent work are and apply them.
- Give feedback– Whether it’s written on a paper or discussed in person during office hours, learn to communicate feedback in a way that presents clear steps for improvement.
- Find a mentor– Having a mentor of your own gives you an insight into the mentee perspective, not to mention a great role model for when you become a mentor yourself. Your mentor can also help you improve various academic skills such as teaching and academic writing.
Leadership and Management
- Join a team– As much of academic work is done individually, make an effort to take part in a collaborative project that will give you experience with team dynamics. Better yet, incorporate group work and group projects into your teaching. Knowing how to manage group activities, establish expectations, resolve conflicts and assess performance are important managerial skills.
- Departmental leadership– There are few opportunities to develop leadership skill in grad school, but one of the easiest ways is to join your department’s graduate student association. Another is to join a conference organizing committee.
- Project management– The entire PhD process is an exercise in project management. You are learning how to develop a project, plan it out, and work through setbacks. If your research is collaborative there’s the added element of delegation and accountability.
- Conflict resolution– No one really likes to deal with conflict, especially at work. Many graduate student professional development programs offer workshops on conflict resolution where you can learn diffusion techniques. If your university doesn’t offer workshops, you can learn about conflict resolution from your supervisor or mentor.
- Become a mentor– Being a mentor helps you learn how to motivate and inspire someone, which are important leadership skills.
- Ethics- If you teach or do experiments involving people or animals, you will have to undergo some type of ethics training.
- Promote inclusion and diversity– A good teacher/supervisor understands that their students’ experiences and perspectives might be different from their own. Educate yourself about the issues that underrepresented groups in academia face and learn how you can help mitigate them. Seek our resources to promote diversity in your teaching
- Get a mentor- A mentor can help you achieve your professional and personal goals. As someone in a more senior position, they can share valuable insider knowledge and insights with you about the profession. Your mentor can also facilitate important networking opportunities.
- Network– Many PhD students make the mistake of thinking that networking is only necessary in the business world, but connections can be incredibly beneficial in the academic world as well. Your network could be future colleagues, supervisors, or collaborators. Conferences, guest lectures, and informational interviews are easy ways for PhD students to start networking.
- Build your personal brand– Social media accounts help you increase your online presence and get your name out there. As a PhD student, you should set up professional accounts on ResearchGate, Academia.edu, and LinkedIn. Twitter is also a very useful social media platform for academics.
Developing these skill will give you the tools to find meaningful work after graduation.
By Katie LanginJun. 13, 2019 , 3:55 PM
“I’m living a double life.”
That’s what Sandra (a pseudonym), a transgender woman and professor of chemistry, told researchers when she was asked to describe how she navigates her personal and professional identity. “Many of my colleagues have never even seen me presenting as a woman,” she added.
Sandra is one of 55 STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workers—including faculty members, students, and staff—who were interviewed for a study about what it’s like to identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) in STEM. Since the study was published last month in the Journal of Homosexuality, the authors have received a slew of responses along the lines of, “Thank you for doing the work, because now I know I’m not alone,” says Allison Mattheis, an associate professor of education at California State University (CSU) in Los Angeles and the lead author of the study.
This Pride Month, Science Careers spoke with Mattheis and her co-authors—Daniel Cruz-Ramírez de Arellano, a senior instructor of chemistry at the University of South Florida in Tampa, and Jeremy Yoder, an assistant professor of biology at CSU in Northridge—about their study and what can be done to better support LGBTQ workers in STEM. This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: What challenges do LGBTQ people in STEM face?
Daniel Cruz-Ramírez de Arellano: In the STEM workplace, there has been this expectation that you should not bring in aspects of your personal life—that it has to be exclusively about the work and about the project you’re working on and nothing else. It’s exhausting for some people to have to separate their work and personal identities in such a way. What we found with our interviews is that if people could bring their whole selves to the workplace, without any sort of reservation, not only were they happier, but they did better work.
Jeremy Yoder: To highlight one example, one gay male astrophysicist said that the reason he was not particularly open about his gay identity at work was because everybody was trying to give the impression that they didn’t have a life outside of work; they thought that talking about their personal life would make them seem less competitive for postdocs and faculty positions. So that sort of work culture effectively put him in the closet, even if he wasn’t explicitly concealing anything.
Cruz-Ramírez de Arellano: We also had participants saying, “If I’m the best in my field, it won’t matter that I’m also gay.” It feels like you have to be the absolute best to counteract the fact that you’re gay. That resonated with me because I went through a stage like that.
Allison Mattheis: Support from departments and advisers is also a major factor. For example, I interviewed two trans students in math who had completely opposite experiences. When one student started to transition, they emailed their adviser and the next week, when they showed up on campus, everyone was using the correct pronouns; there were gender inclusive bathrooms on the same floor. So, the burden wasn’t on the trans person to figure everything out themselves.
But, for the other person it was a struggle. They had to go around and explain their identity to every single person as they started to transition. They didn’t have any senior faculty stand up for them. They once told an adviser that, when teaching in a lecture hall with 500 students, they were laughed at after someone misgendered them. Their adviser gave them a response along the lines of, “I’m here to talk about math. And maybe you’re just not cut out for this because you’re not able to focus on math”—just really cruel things.
That to me was a real example of how someone can be encouraged if they’re provided with some basic support and advocacy—and how hopeless people can feel if they don’t get that because it’s so exhausting trying to get a Ph.D. while also defending your identity for years.
Q: You’re all faculty members who identify as LGBTQ. Is it important for you to be “out” at work and with your students?
Cruz-Ramírez de Arellano: Yes. I’ve decided that being visible is really important to me, particularly after analyzing all of the interview data. So many people said that they’d never seen an out person in their field who was in a more senior position than them.
When I teach, I come out in the first 15 minutes of my first class. I have this slide where I speak about things that I like, for example video games or TV shows. And then I also have a picture of my boyfriend and me, and I say, “This is my boyfriend. His name’s Aaron. We’ve been together for 2 years. And now let’s talk about the syllabus.” I don’t linger on it; I don’t spend 20 minutes talking about how gay I am and how many drag queens I know. But I make it a point to come out explicitly because I might very well be the first gay scientist a lot of my students get to know.
Yoder: I don’t explicitly come out in class. But I have tried to be really deliberate about making sure I introduce myself with my pronouns, which is something that I should be doing regardless of my sexual orientation and gender identity. It signals that I’m someone who is thinking about diversity in the classroom.
I also sometimes wear things that signal my identity. Today, for example, I’m wearing a shirt I got at yesterday’s Pride run. And for years, I wore one of those little silicone rainbow wristbands everywhere, which is not the same as coming out exactly, but it is a signal that registers to people who are looking for it, which is almost as good.
Mattheis: I generally do come out to all my students at the beginning of class, but I have a really different context than Daniel and Jeremy. I teach graduate students who are already working in education or who want to work in education, so they generally are already aware of diversity issues. But because I work at a campus that’s 90% students of color, I always feel like my racial identity is one that I need to address first. If I don’t make it clear that I’m aware of the fact that I’m a white woman and that that really impacts my experience, I’m not going to be able to be a mentor to my queer students—who are mostly people of color—because their race is such a salient part of their identity and something that impacts them every day walking down the street.
Q: How can faculty members become effective allies, even if they’re not LGBTQ themselves?
Yoder: A really straightforward option that’s available on many, many campuses is “Safe Zone” training. That’s something that faculty can take themselves. If they want to go the extra mile, they might also consider making sure that it’s available and encouraged for all members of the lab. For instance, they could tell postdocs and graduate students that they can do the training on the clock—that it’s important for the work in the lab.
Cruz-Ramírez de Arellano: Afterward, you get a little Safe Zone sticker that you can put on your office door, which communicates to the campus community that you have gone through the training and that you are an ally. You can also put diversity statements on your website and in your syllabi, and list your pronouns in your email signature. That makes people feel like they are being included and addressed.
Mattheis: I think it’s also important for professors to model that they are humans. There’s this extreme perfectionism that’s prevalent in STEM, and it’s really hard for young folks. Sharing things that you’ve struggled with or messed up with—those are the things that make students think professors are accessible. And once you’re accessible about some aspect of your identity, students will come with questions about a lot of other things.
The other thing I would say is, don’t just say, “Oh, I found a queer student; let me point them to the one queer person I know across campus.” That’s really awkward. The student needs to have an advocate who also is aligned with their other interests. It’s important to demonstrate that you can be an ally to students who don’t share the same identities as you and that you’re willing to learn from them.
Mental health disorders and depression are far more likely for grad students than they are for the average American
By Prateek Puri on January 31, 2019
A recent Harvard study concluded that graduate students are over three times more likely than the average American to experience mental health disorders and depression. The study, which surveyed over 500 economics students from eight elite universities, also concluded that one in 10 students experienced suicidal thoughts over a two-week period, a result consistent with other recent reports. While these findings are alarming to some, as a current graduate student myself, I regard them as hardly surprising. But to understand the struggles graduate students face, you have to understand the structure of graduate school itself.
Most people probably lump doctoral students into the same category as undergrads or students in professional schools such as law or medicine. The reality is their lifestyle and the nature of their work are fundamentally different. In the STEM fields where I have personal experience, as well as many other fields, graduate students are really hardly students at all. For most of their programs, which last over six years on average, they aren’t preparing for written exams, taking courses or doing any of the tasks usually associated with student life. Instead they are dedicating often over 60 hours a week towards performing cutting edge research and writing journal articles that will be used to garner millions of dollars in university research funding.
While graduate students are compensated for their work by a supervising professor, their salaries substantially lag what the open job market would offer to people with their qualifications, which often include both master’s and bachelor’s degrees. For example, graduate student salaries are typically around $30,000 a year for those in STEM—and can besubstantially lower for those in other fields.
Further, unlike many professional school students, doctoral students do not leave their program with job security or even optimistic financial prospects. In fact, according to a study in 2016, nearly 40 percent of doctoral students do not have a job lined up at the time of graduation. Even for those who do snag a job, mid-career salaries can be significantly less than those for individuals who graduated from other professional programs.
So if doctoral students are underpaid and overworked, why do over100,000 students—more than the number for dentistry, medical and law schools combined—complete these programs every year?
There are many answers to this question, and they vary from department to department, individual to individual. For some, graduate school is a convenient next step, a way to inch towards adulthood while keeping your career options open and remaining in a familiar university environment. For others, graduate school offers something they simply cannot get elsewhere. These students enter graduate school because they are extremely passionate about their field—passionate enough that they are willing to dedicate over six years to studying off-the-wall research ideas in excruciating detail.
Universities, with a commitment to intellectual freedom, are one of the few environments capable of providing the funding and resources necessary for this type of work. So, we put up with the hours, put up with the pay, and put up with the dwindling career prospects in the hope that we can pursue research we are passionate about—and then we cross our fingers and hope the rest will work out.
Unfortunately, as the study pointed out, it often does not work out. Mistaking casual interest for passion, many students realize halfway through their degree that they aren’t as enthusiastic as they thought about their research. Still several years away from graduating, they have to deliberate between grinding through the remainder of their program or exiting early and entering the job market in an awkward position: underqualified compared to other doctoral graduates and inexperienced compared to others who joined the workforce directly after college.
Even those who are interested in their work have to grapple with seemingly infinitely postponed graduation dates. Unlike other programs, there is no “units threshold” you have to meet in order to graduate—instead your graduation date is overwhelmingly determined by the amount of novel research you perform. No matter how hard you may work, no results will likely mean no degree. Even the best researchers can see years slip by without any significant results as a result of factors completely out of their hands such as faulty equipment, dwindling research budgets or pursuing research ideas that simply just don’t work.
Even for students who are lucky enough to produce results, frustratingly, individual professors have their own standards for what constitutes “enough research” to graduate. Is it four first-author research articles? What about one review paper and a few conference presentations? The answers you hear will vary widely, and ultimately, a student’s supervising professor usually has sole power in determining when a student graduates. At best, this creates a confusing system where students perform substantially different amounts of work for the same degree. At worst, it fosters a perverse power dynamic where students feel powerless to speak out against professors who create toxic working conditions, even resulting in cases of sexual exploitation.
Then there’s always the existential, “what even is my purpose?” mental black hole that many graduate students fall into. Yes, research has historically produced innovations that have revolutionized society. But for every breakthrough there are many other results without any clear social application, and given the slow, painstaking process of research, you may not be able to tell which is which for decades. As a student, it’s can be easy to doubt whether you’re pursuing work that will ever be useful, producing a sense of meaninglessness for some that can facilitate depression.
Clearly, if nearly 10 percent of the graduate population is experiencing suicidal thoughts, something is not working right in the system. Still, progress on these issues has been slow, largely because the people who are most affected—graduate students– are often the ones with the least agency to spur change. As a student, by the time you’ve seen the cracks in the academic infrastructure, you’ll likely only have a few more years until graduation. Do you really want to dedicate time towards fixing a system you’re leaving soon when you could be performing career-vaulting research instead? Are you willing to risk upsetting professors whose recommendation letters will dictate your employment prospects? For many, the answer is no.
Granted, the issues surrounding graduate student mental health are much easier to describe than to solve. But if academia is good at anything, it’s tackling complex, multifaceted problems exactly like these, and there are number of starting points for both students and administrators to push forward. For example, universities could require multiple advisors within a student’s field to evaluate degree timelines, preventing labor exploitation by a single professor with vested interests in prolonging graduation dates.
Departments could also streamline their graduation criteria to reduce disparities in student workload amongst different research groups and to increase transparency of degree requirements. Further, administrators could increase funding for popular student mental health services and subsidized housing that help graduate students offset cost-of-living expenses. Some universities have already adopted these policies in earnest and others only in name, but the point is academic institutions need to be making a concerted effort to improve the graduate student experience. For all the research they have done, graduate students deserve to start seeing some results.
Written by Alison Doyle
A curriculum vitae (CV) written for academia should highlight research and teaching experience, publications, grants and fellowships, professional associations and licenses, awards, and any other details in your experience that show you’re the best candidate for a faculty or research position advertised by a college or university.
Tips for Writing an Academic CV
Think about length. Unlike resumes (and even some other CVs), academic CVs can be any length. This is because you need to include all of your relevant publications, conferences, fellowships, etc. Of course, if you are applying to a particular job, check to see if the job listing includes any information on a page limit for your CV.
Think about structure. More important than length is structure. When writing your CV, place the most important information at the top. Often, this will include your education, employment history, and publications. Within each section, list your experiences in reverse chronological order.
Consider your audience. Like a resume, be sure to tailor your CV to your audience. For example, think carefully about the university or department you are applying to work at. Has this department traditionally valued publication over teaching when it makes tenure and promotion decisions? If so, you should describe your publications before listing your teaching experience.
If, however, you are applying to, say, a community college that prides itself on the quality of its instruction, your teaching accomplishments should have pride of place. In this case, the teaching section (in reverse chronological order) should proceed your publications section.
Talk to someone in your field. Ask someone in your field for feedback on how to structure your CV. Every academic department expects slightly different things from a CV. Talk to successful people in your field or department, and ask if anyone is willing to share a sample CV with you. This will help you craft a CV that will impress people in your field.
Make it easy to read. Keep your CV uncluttered by including ample margins (about 1 inch on all sides) and space between each section. You might also include bullet points in some sections (such as when listing the courses you taught at each university) to make your CV easy to read. Also be sure to use an easy-to-read font, such as Times New Roman, in a font size of about 12-pt.
By making your CV clear and easy to follow, you increase the chances that an employer will look at it carefully.
Be consistent. Be consistent with whatever format you choose. For example, if you bold one section title, bold all section titles. Consistency will make it easy for people to read and follow along with your CV.
Carefully edit. You want your CV to show that you are professional and polished. Therefore, your document should be error free. Read through your CV and proofread it for any spelling or grammar errors. Ask a friend or family member to look it over as well.
Academic Curriculum Vitae Format
This CV format will give you a sense of what you might include in your academic CV. When writing your own curriculum vitae, tailor your sections (and the order of those sections) to your field, and to the job that you want. Some of these sections might not be applicable to your field, so remove any that don’t make sense for you.
State Zip Code
This is an optional section. In it, include a brief list of the highlights of your candidacy.
List your academic background, including undergraduate and graduate institutions attended. For each degree, list the institution, location, degree, and date of graduation. If applicable, include your dissertation or thesis title, and your advisors.
List your employment history in reverse chronological order, including position details and dates. You might break this into multiple sections based on your field. For example, you might have a section called “Teaching Experience” and another section called “Administrative Experience.”
List your postdoctoral, research, and/or clinical experiences, if applicable.
FELLOWSHIPS / GRANTS
List internships and fellowships, including organization, title, and dates. Also include any grants you have been given. Depending on your field, you might include the amount of money awarded for each grant.
HONORS / AWARDS
Include any awards you have received that are related to your work.
CONFERENCES / TALKS
List any presentations (including poster presentations) or invited talks that you have given. Also list any conferences or panels that you have organized.
Include any service you have done for your department, such as serving as an advisor to students, acting as chair of a department, or providing any other administrative assistance.
LICENSES / CERTIFICATION
List type of license, certification, or accreditation, and date received.
PUBLICATIONS / BOOKS
Include any publications, including books, book chapters, articles, book reviews, and more. Include all of the information about each publication, including the title, journal title, date of publication, and (if applicable) page numbers.
List any professional organizations that you belong to. Mention if you hold a position on the board of any organization.
SKILLS / INTERESTS
This is an optional section that you can use to show a bit more about who you are. Only include relevant skills and interests. For example, you might mention if you speak a foreign language, or have experience with web design.
Depending on your field, you might include a list of your references at the end of your CV.
Written by Katie Langin
Earning a Ph.D. takes years and poses many challenges, so it’s important to choose the person who will shepherd you through the process—your Ph.D. adviser—wisely. There’s no single formula for choosing the right Ph.D. adviser; the factors will vary for each student. But the latest research on the topic points to things to look for when making a decision, as well as pitfalls to avoid.
When it comes to student satisfaction, the single most important element is adviser supportiveness, according to a study published this week in Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. Getting a Ph.D. is “a very stressful, long process,” says Gerard Dericks, a senior lecturer at Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom and the lead author of the study. “You’ll have setbacks. You’ll get discouraged. You’ll have doubts about yourself—about your research ideas, about many things.” So, it’s important to have an adviser who “believes in you and is willing to give you that extra support that you need in those trying times,” he says.
Dericks and his colleagues homed in on the importance of adviser supportiveness by surveying 409 Ph.D. students—85% of whom were in the sciences and engineering—at 63 universities in 20 countries. The United States, Australia, and countries in Europe yielded the most survey responses. The team measured student satisfaction by asking the survey participants to rate the degree to which words such as “good,” “happy,” “terrible,” and “disappointing” described their overall Ph.D. experience. Then, the researchers asked students about their experiences with the people and support networks that immediately surrounded them in academia: namely their advisers, departments, and peers.
Adviser supportiveness—whether an adviser was caring, considerate, encouraging, and sympathetic—was the most important factor for student satisfaction. According to the researchers’ findings, switching from an adviser who was strongly unsupportive to one that was highly supportive would be expected to increase the Ph.D. satisfaction score—on a scale of one to six—by nearly two points. None of the other factors considered—including age, gender, years of study, country, and department and peer qualities—had such a strong effect.
It’s also important to figure out whether your working style is compatible with your prospective adviser’s style, says Anna Sverdlik, a psychology postdoc at the University of Quebec in Montreal, Canada, who studies conditions that promote the success and well-being of Ph.D. students, and co-authored a review article on the topic published in September 2018. What works for individuals varies: Many students don’t want someone constantly looking over their shoulder, but for some it can be helpful to have an adviser who keeps tabs on them more regularly to set deadlines and ensure that they’re making progress, she says.
Either way, it’s best not to have an overly hands-on adviser because that can handicap your future career, says Sotaro Shibayama, an economist and senior lecturer at Lund University in Sweden and the author of a new study of how advising style influences Ph.D. students’ long-term success, published in this month’s issue of Research Policy. Shibayama tracked 791 life scientists who earned a Ph.D. in Japan between 2000 and 2010, counting the papers they published in graduate school and up to 9 years after graduation. He found that when advisers were largely responsible for dictating the design of their students’ research projects, students initially benefited because they published more papers during graduate school than peers who were given more autonomy. But after graduation, researchers who were advised by professors who weren’t so hands-on went on to be more productive.
The study underscores a fundamental disconnect between the interests of advisers and advisees, Shibayama says. Advisers may want to publish as many papers as possible so that they can win more grants and move their research programs forward. But advisees are best served if they are given the space to make mistakes and develop into capable, independent scientists—a process that can take time, and that is more likely to pay off after a student has left an adviser’s lab.
In some labs, graduate students are “treated like labor—like robots in a factory—rather than independent scientists,” he says. “They are just told to do some experiment and they have to stay in the lab day and night, 24/7.” That’s not fun, he says, and the lack of autonomy doesn’t help them learn what it takes to be a successful scientist. Shibayama recommends that prospective Ph.D. students look for advisers who let their students play a role in study design. “Students have to find someone who goes beyond their own interest,” he says. “Some professors are interested in producing good students, so choose those supervisors.”
Sverdlik adds that it’s best to find an adviser who is willing to devote time to nurturing your development during critical phases of graduate school—during the transition from coursework to research, for instance—and who otherwise will give you room to grow on your own. “What we found in the literature is that when your supervisor just monitors your progress, and is willing to make time for you when you really need help, that is really all that is needed for students to succeed.”
To figure out what a professor’s approach to advising is, Sverdlik encourages students to ask a lot of questions of prospective advisers and their advisees when they’re interviewing. For example: “How do they work? Do they check up on you a couple times a week, or do they give you a task and they’re OK not hearing from you until you complete it?” Prospective students will differ in their specific preferences, but overall, it’s probably best to find a balance and avoid overly hands-on and overly hands-off advisers.
When looking for an adviser, prospective students often seek out well-known researchers who are highly cited and respected in their fields. Dericks and his team didn’t find any evidence that showed that’s an effective strategy, though: After taking adviser supportiveness into consideration, students’ satisfaction levels weren’t correlated with their perceptions of their Ph.D. advisers’ intelligence, knowledge, intellect, and scholarly abilities. It’s critical to find “someone you can relate to, who is going to be supportive in a personal way,” Dericks says. “That’s more important than somebody who might have a famous name or someone who’s particularly skilled.”
That said, prestige can be a relevant consideration. The reality is that, in the long term, a reference letter from a well-known professor—and a degree from a top-notch university—can give Ph.D. holders a boost when they’re searching for a job. According to a 2015 study, 25% of U.S. institutions produce roughly three-quarters of all tenure-track faculty members in the three disciplines the team examined: computer science, business, and history. The researchers—led by Aaron Clauset, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Colorado in Boulder—didn’t have any data on the quality of scholars who were awarded faculty positions. But given how much faculty-member production differed between universities, they suspected that faculty positions weren’t given out on merit alone. The reputation or some other characteristic of an institution, they concluded, probably played a role.
So, a prestigious academic pedigree may help you get where you want to go after graduation. But if that’s the only thing you take into consideration, you could wind up having a terrible experience in graduate school. “A bad or even just mediocre adviser can make your time as a doctoral student miserable or simply not pleasant, which could undermine the excitement that got you interested in research to begin with,” Clauset notes. When his students come to him looking for advice about who they should work with next, he tells them not to weigh prestige too heavily. “It’s far more important … to have an adviser who supports your career goals and development, and who has your interests at heart, than it is to have a degree from an elite program.”