The mentoring committee seeks to support women in STEM through peer mentoring, faculty mentoring, and undergraduate mentoring.
We support peer mentoring through initiatives such as GWIS Ambassadors program, where graduate women in STEM act as liaisons between peers and the University system to provide resources to resolve conflicts within STEM colleges, and through social events which provide safe spaces and opportunities for informal personal and professional mentorship.
We host regular faculty luncheons 1-2 times per semester, where graduate women meet with female faculty members and develop mentoring relationships in an informal setting.
We host undergraduate mentoring dinners 2-3 times per semester where graduate women are given the opportunity to share their experiences applying to graduate school with undergraduate women interested in pursuing an advanced degree.
Spring 2020 Events:
We reached out to undergraduate groups on campus and GWIS members answered some of their questions below- thanks to everyone who participated!
How did you pick the grad school(s) you ended up attending? What do you think are the most important factors to think about?
- “I chose the grad school I ended up attending based on the professors whose research I was interested in and in the tuition waiver + other benefits that the school provided. I didn’t have much savings of my own (converted from my native country’s currency to USD), so choosing a school that gave a tuition waiver was an important constraint for me. Additionally, I wanted to go to school in a geographical area where there is an industry associated with my field of study.”
- “The most important factor was the fit with my PI. Not just in terms of research, but also in that I felt that we would be able to work well together for a long period of time. Make sure you talk to the students of potential PIs (you can ask them to provide you with email addresses of current/former students and set up skype meetings) to find out their working style. It is also important to understand the PIs idea of the purpose of grad school to make sure their ideas match your goals. My PI was clear that grad school was intended to help me train for the career that I want. Some PIs will want their students to all end up professors at R1 universities, others may not care as much. It is important that you have similar goals for grad school.”
- “The main reasons I picked UMass were because 1) I had confirmed funding, 2) I had really enjoyed the vibe and the other students when I visited (I really couldn’t say that about other schools I visited), 3) the responsiveness of professors when I visited. The people really make a big difference. Your peers are one of your strongest support systems.”
- “I chose UMass because there were faculty that I could envision doing my research with for my thesis.”
- “Location, professor”
- “Couple things are important in selecting school :
2. Funding opportunities/stipend
3. opportunities according to you interest
4. People (do you like them/interacting with them)
5. Area (do you see yourself staying in that area for long time)
6. Also, where people end up after”
- “Location (close-ish to family) => five years is a long time, and the connections you make during grad school for post-grad work are likely to be location-dependent.”
- “I trusted the gut feeling I had about which school I would be happiest at and I was right. Our brains take in a process a lot of information subconsciously. Sometimes thinking of pros and cons can confuse how we deeply feel about a place.”
- “I knew the field of specialization I was interested in beforehand, and applied to the ones I knew were well ranked in that field. I split up my application into safe/medium/ambitious universities, so I would have backup to some places in case I didn’t get in to the ones that were too ambitious. This was done based on multiple factors – ranking, acceptance rate, previously accepted applications, etc.”
- “I looked for research that I thought was interesting, but more importantly I was determined to find a great advisor. I chose UMass Amherst because I knew I wanted to work for a woman that fostered an inclusive, collaborative group that was dedicated to “good science.” It really helped me decide when I talked to other members in the group during recruiting to get a sense of how the advisor runs a lab.”
- “Your advisor relationship is #1. If you get along with your potential advisor, and if you can see that the lab group functions well together and that other students in the lab are happy, those are all good signs. The most important thing is to have a good working environment so you can be a productive student. “
- “The biggest factors for me were the funding available as well as the research that was available. Knowing that you will be excited for the project you’re working on is probably the biggest thing; but within STEM it’s great to know if you’ll be able to have funding through your graduate program too.”
- “I spent a lot of time searching the faculty lists at various institutions. I also signed up to receive emails from list servs specific to my focus (conservation, so ECOLOG for example) which frequently posts about graduate opportunities/jobs. I knew the specific set of skills that I did have already (molecular biology skills) so I looked for faculty members that had labs in conservation and ecology that also used molecular biology skills, as well as other labs that I just thought were interesting. I also was looking at certain regions that I would prefer to live in (although that didn’t end up being a deciding factor in the end, but I think it IS really important).
The most important things to me were finding an advisor who did interesting work and would be a good mentor for me (which I assessed through emails and skype calls with them), AND which labs had funding for me to be paid as a graduate student.”
The GRE: when do you think it is best to take the test and how did you prepare? What worked for you and what didn’t?
- “I chose to appear for the GRE at a whim, as I had never thought of leaving my native country. I would definitely suggest putting in more effort than that. For the exam per se I had 2 months to prepare. I decided to give the exam in July end, and gave the exam in September. I split my time between regular school and prep for GRE. I gave a lot of mock exams from the first week of preparation. I practiced the questions with a timer and tried to keep everything within a short/ideal time frame. I also took two types (administered by different companies) of full length GRE tests in the beginning to get an estimated score, along with the average time I spent on certain question types. I worked with a friend , and we were exam preparation buddies. The first few weeks we tried to work on the types of questions where we were weak from the first test. Later on we focused on strengthening what we were good at already. For the AWA section we used to swap our essays for evaluation, and used a timer to write it.”
- “Before starting studying, it really helped me to take the sample tests that they have on the GRE website. I took it as if it was a real exam, not referring to notes, and going through as much of it as I could in a set amount of time. This helped me to figure out which sections I needed to study for the most. One difficulty I had was focusing on studying things that I didn’t need to as much. Trying to identify where you might struggle on the actual test will help you to best use your studying time to try and better your performance on those sections.”
- “If you know that you want to go to graduate school, I recommend taking it as soon after undergrad as possible. I ended up staying for a few weeks after graduation at my apartment in my college town, working my serving job and studying for it. I have friends who have entirely dismissed graduate school because the GRE becomes an obstacle a few years out. For a lot of programs, it seemed like a formality, so my mentality was to just work really hard once and take it one time. The GRE also only lasts for 5 years, so it have me a hard end date to apply.”
- “I prepared over the summer between my junior and senior years of college. I used a book for self-guided preparation (I think Kaplan but use what you are comfortable with) and took practice tests. I focused on the sections that I needed the most help with and used that as my study approach.”
- “I think it’s best to take it a couple of times. I took a lot of practice exams. Once you take it, your score will not go up that much, is what I noticed. Especially since a lot of schools are not putting a lot of weight into the GRE (which is a great idea in my opinion, the GRE is not very predictive of success in graduate school), I don’t think it’s worth paying for classes or anything. Definitely study, take a few practice ones, and take the real one 2-3 times.”
- “From this year or so GRE are getting removed. So i would suggest check the schools you want to go to and if they even have GRE required. Some places it is optional but if that is the case i suggest to give subject GRE rather than general.
Check the dates general GRE is available lot more dates vs subject once. Start preparing around start of year so you can give few months and give the test in summer and still have time to give again if you want.
Taking 1/2 courses just to learn testing tips might be good. Other than that material is quite easy to access online and /or you can buy some online courses (they are expensive though). Ask your friends for their material.”
- “Summer. Buy a study book and go through it.”
- “I took it once without studying see how I would do and where I was weakest. The second time I got a GRE prep book and worked problems every day for a month before taking it.”
- “I took the GRE about 3-4 months before I had to give in my first application. This way, you can take it again if you need, and if it works out the first time, you can use the next few months only to prepare your application.”
- “I took it a few times and started studying two years before I planned on going to grad school. I took the exam the year before I applied and gave myself time to retake as I’m not the best at standardized tests.”
- “I took the GRE a few years after I finished my undergrad, and my scores suffered. I was working abroad and studied only a few hours a week from old GRE practice books for about 6-8 weeks before I took the test. Overall I did fine. I would have scored better if I had taken it soon after or during undergrad, but at the time I didn’t want to go to grad school.”
- “I took the test my second semester of senior year (I started grad school right after undergrad). It definitely took about a month of studying for about an hour or two every day for me to get a good score. My advice is to learn the exam, not the material; being an engineer I wanted to just brute force the math and figure it out that way, but it is way too time-consuming. Learn how the test tries to guide you the wrong way and learn the way around that!”
- “For most schools, GRE scores mattered only slightly. There was one school I applied to where the advisor said she would take me regardless, but that I only qualified for certain institutional fellowships if I had higher scores. I took it well before I went to grad school (probably 4 years before applying) and I studied for about 3 months part-time through an online study tool. I found the quantitative part really challenging and think that this mode of learning wasn’t as good for me, it would have been better to have in-person lessons for that part alone.”
How did you pick people to write good letters of recommendation for you?
- “I had three sets of referees. The first were the ones I had worked with a few professors for research projects and had publications with the underway, so they were obvious picks. The second were some professors with whom I had formed an academic association with, in the form of seeking mentor-ship, asking questions in class and outside. The last set of referees whom I cycled between for applications where the first and second set didn’t have time to write in, they were professors in whose classes I had done well and they knew me by face.”
- “I chose people who knew my work well, and who could write to different aspects of my work: for each letter, you should try and make them provide as much information as possible (i.e. avoiding repetition between letters from different people). So I chose people who I worked with on different projects, and provided them with a CV, along with reminders of the work we had done together and how that spoke to my strengths.”
- “I chose folks with whom I had a strong positive relationship. My department also had a form to fill out for letters of recommendation. I was asked to provide some examples of how I had worked with that professor and the types of contributions I made or skills I showed to them. I used this idea for professional references too. If I couldn’t come up with examples of skills I had exemplified while working with them, I didn’t ask.”
- “I chose professors that I had a good relationship with and who’s classes I had taken. One professor I chose, we did not necessarily have a special relationship but I had taken several of her classes. The reason I chose her as one of my recommendation letter writers was because I took a seminar course with her where I did a presentation and wrote a term paper that I felt demonstrated my strengths. I think it is more important for you to choose writers who really know your potential as an independent thinker as this is what will be required of you as a graduate student.”
- “Professors in my Master’s program wrote mine, but if you have work experience, bosses can also weigh in. It’s good to have someone outside academia write one if possible so they can speak to your other strengths (punctuality, general personality traits)”
- “They SHOULD be someone who really knows you, as a person and who can comment on your abilities. Try to pick people who have directly worked with you and they will be able to really write a genuine recommendation for you.
- “Professors I worked for, who were my advisors, and/or taught classes I did well in”
- “People I have worked closely with – who can account for my working style/knowledge.”
- “That’s tough. I can’t stress enough how important it is to forge a few great relationships with mentors, whether college professors or bosses before applying. The letters of recommendation are important. It’s a great idea to email any professors that you might want to ask for a letter from just to meet with them and discuss your ideas about attending graduate school. Feel them out. If the meeting goes well, you could ask them in person to write you a letter of recommendation or you can follow up with an email thanking them for meeting with you and ask them for a letter of recommendation. I think it’s important to meet with them in person though.”
- “It’s so important to maintain relationships with mentors during and after undergrad! I struggled to get letters because I worked for 5 years after undergrad and never thought I wanted to go to grad school, so I didn’t maintain my undergrad contacts as well. Even just sending an update email once a year goes a long way!”
- “I had great relationships with different professors during my undergrad; so they were the best choice. Choose people who are close to you and know who you are as a person rather than just being able to attest to your academics. Any professors who you’ve done research with is a great option too.”
- “I asked for letters from my current coworkers (my boss, and her boss who I also had a lot of contact with) because they knew my work ethic well and were related to my field of interest. I also had a letter from my undergraduate research advisor. I chose people who were most familiar with my skills and work ethic.”
How much did it cost for you to apply to grad school?
- “I applied to only 4 schools as that was the only money I had. I spent a total of 1000$ including the fees for GRE, TOFEL, application fees, and original transcript fees.”
- “I can’t remember the exact application fees (ranged from 50-100$ per school I believe), but I do remember that I did not initially account for the cost of sending transcripts and GRE test scores. For transcripts at my institution, it cost 15$ per copy of transcript sent, which can add up.”
- “Roughly about $500 for applications, plus the cost of the GRE. And then sending transcripts was another added cost, but that varies by school”
- “The GRE is about $100 per exam if I remember. Transcripts can cost up to $35 per school. Many grad schools accept unofficial transcripts though.”
- “on average it is about 100 $ per application per program (extra cost for other programs in the same school sometimes ) Because of this try to limit your # of schools… Ask yourself if this is the only school you get in would you go. If yes only then it makes sense to have on your list.”
- “About $100 per application. Some were free if you applied directly to their program.”
- “About $100 on average per application, so around $500-$600”
- “$80 for the application fee, along with the costs to take the GRE a few times.”
- “Overall I applied to around 8 different schools and including the GRE fee it cost about $500. But that’s not including some visits I did but if I had to guess it would be closer to $700 altogether.”
- “GRE testing/lessons cost a few hundred dollars. The actual application to grad school for I think 5 universities, cost me roughly $600”
What is your advice on writing good personal statements/statements of purpose?
- “Be honest, be specific, and show how the grad program falls into your long term scheme/goals as an important learning pit-stop. Highlight specific professors you want to work with, and the specific skill sets you bring to the table…”
- “Describe both what you can contribute to a program and what you intend to get out of it. If you are interested in working with specific professors, list them, and explain why. Tie in previous professional experience and have a clear link between that, your professional goals, and the program. Talk about long term goals (for example as an engineer, do you intend to get certified, or go for a Ph.D.?)”
- “I think that it is advantageous to discuss what you would like to research in graduate school and why. This will give the reviewers a sense of your ambition, pragmatism, and independence. On the same note, do not write about projects that are far-fetched or that the program you are applying to does not have the facilities appropriate for that research question. Further, whatever you write in your personal statement does NOT need to match what you end up doing in graduate school. This is more of an exercise for both you and the reviewers to see your interests and potential.”
- “Make sure you cater each statement to each program you are applying to. Really change each one and tailor it. This is what I feel Ph.D. programs care about the most.”
- “Be honest. They are not looking for very sophisticated material and content but for your genuine story. So try to really make it clear that why you want to do what you are applying for. Make sure you write the drafts, then edit/have a lot of people proofread (some that really know you and some not so much)”
- “Be yourself. Give yourself plenty of time. Assume it will take twice as long to write as you think it will. Proofread and draft a lot.”
- “Be true to yourself and be who you are.”
- “Focus more on what interests you, and do your research for every school you want to apply to. Showcase what interests you about the school – to show that you have in fact looked up why you are compatible with it and you are not just applying randomly to places. Also, make it more personal than entirely dictating the work you do. Keep it short – the longer it is, the easier they will lose interest.”
- “Make it personal. Tell your story. Don’t be generic, the director and professors want to know you. Have a few people that you trust give you feedback on your statements to make sure it’s professional.”
- “Writing from your own life and work experiences is best. This shows your true motivations and passions for wanting to pursue a graduate degree.”
- “Be genuine. You shouldn’t want to get into a school just because of the reputation of the school you should want to do the research you’ll be doing. Understanding where you’re coming from and having a vision for your future is a good start as well; although a lot of schools ask different questions!”
- “You have to find your story and think really clearly about why you got into your field and also why specifically you want to go to graduate school. For me, my experiences with a personal disability as well as experiences traveling motivated me to get into research broadly, and in my specific field. My motivation for graduate school was realizing through working at a job that I needed tools to really ask good research questions and carry out my own studies.”
What does a healthy work-life balance look like in grad school for you? How do you maintain work-life balance? How do you avoid burnout?
- “TBH I am possible the standing example of what not to do in a PhD program every step of the way. What I would say is that a work-life balance is a great indicator of whether or not you are in an environment of sustainable growth. I did not have any, and the peers in the lab I was in had very little as well. The result is glaringly obvious.”
- “Pick a couple of things that you really enjoy, and make sure you make time to do them regularly. You won’t have time to have a bunch of hobbies, but have two to three things that allow you to escape and take a little time to do one per day (go to the gym, read a pleasure book, rock climb, etc.). Make time to see family and friends, they’re the people who keep you on track.”
- “It is very hard to maintain a balance. However, I have made it a priority to have days off where I do not look at emails. This has helped quite a bit.”
- “Totally depends on you. You need to set that boundary from the start.”
- “Have at least one hobby or passion you cultivate consistently. Don’t work weekends unless it’s essential, and only occasionally. Take vacations. Visit family and friends.”
- “I have realized that I need several things in order to be happy, exercise, time in nature, time to express my creativity, and reading books. I have figured out how to incorporate those things most effectively into my life in ways that I stick to. For example, I listen to audiobooks while performing experiments. I bring dinner to work so I can eat dinner before going to the gym because I know if I go home I won’t want to leave for the gym. I make taking time off to explore nature on the weekends a priority. I have one night a week where I go to a friends place and we make art together. All of these things came after I suffered burnout, so maybe you can avoid it by realizing what you need to feel grounded earlier and making that priority. Also I read that the three things that contribute to burnout are loss of autonomy, loss of a sense of community, and loss of feeling like you are learning. So maybe try to make sure you aren’t feeling any of those.”
- “Getting a few good hours of sleep trumps any other activity. The better your sleep schedule is, the more productive you can be.”
- “I only work on weekdays. I commit to taking time off on the weekends for personal time. I always keep a schedule to make sure I’m not wasting time during the week when I should be making progress. Time management is a skill that will greatly benefit you in grad school and it’s a skill worth improving if you want to have a good work-life balance.”
- “Prioritize things that make you happy. For me, it’s cooking dinner, gardening, and working out. Even if it’s just one thing you do a day to make you happy, do it and don’t look back.”
- “Taking three classes and being an RA, work-life balance looks like making it to bed on time! It can be difficult to maintain the balance but you have to learn to put your foot down when it comes to your research! The best thing is to just recognize when you need a break and learn to tell your PI that you need one. They should understand; they’re people too!”
- “It’s honestly really hard. The culture in my lab is that you should be working between 40-60 hours per week (on class/TA/RA/thesis work) and I have definitely gotten burnt out. The best tips I have are to put boundaries on your time, and block out daily chunks of time for 2-3 hours to work on your most challenging task to really move your research forward, and protect that time like it’s a meeting. Excercise is really important and can easily fall by the wayside, so I hike solo and with friends a lot, as well as find 30 minute workout videos and go to the campus gym. Maintaining one or two hobbies consistently also really helps.”
How are you paying for grad school tuition costs?
- “I am not, I have a waiver.”
- “I have some savings from summer jobs that I used to pay the school fees that are not covered by my contract.”
- “A combination of savings from working before going to grad school and taking out loans.”
- “I am on a stipend which pays for most of my tuition and gives me a salary. It is not much but enough to make due. The remainder of costs I pay with payment plans. The first year I took a small loan but not nearly as large as what I had to take out for undergraduate studies. Make sure that if you are applying for a doctorate program that a stipend is in place. If you are applying for a master’s degree inquire to the possibilities of TA positions to help allay the costs.”
- “For PhD, you receive a stipend. No tuition costs. The stipend is small, but definitely manageable. I lived alone, so all my stipend went to rent/bills. My parents helped me pay for the other stuff.”
- “If you are going for PhD, that is usually covered and you get stipend so you do not need to worry about paying.
For masters you will need to have some side income. Many people do part time so they can work part time and do the courses on their own time. Or look for some scholarships that pay (not very easy). Some people also take loans.
I personally was able to work full time with my masters and that just made it very easy to pay.”
- “I am paid to go to grad school.”
- “Don’t go to graduate school unless it’s being payed for by a fellowship, RAship, or GAship.”
- “MANY PhD programs actually pay you. I get paid $33,000 a year to attend graduate school which is more than enough to live on here in MA. I also applied for a few fellowships once I was accepted to graduate school which has given me freedom in doing research that I’m interested in doing. THE NSF-GRFP is a really competitive, but prestigious fellowship that college seniors can apply for before graduate school. Even if you don’t receive it, you can apply again your first year as a graduate student and the experience teaches you a lot.”
- “I was a TA and TO (teaching associate = I taught an undergrad class) during my first year. In my 2nd and 3rd years I got put on a traineeship (= I got paid just to do my research). During my 3rd year I wrote a fellowship application which got funded, so now I still get paid just to do my research which is great!”
- “I’m not paying, actually! (Thank you, UMass!) Being an RA pays me to be able to have an apartment and other living costs too.”
- “My tuition costs are waived and I have a stipend and health insurance for myself and family because I am a teaching assistant or research assistant every semester.”
How hard/easy is it to afford to live while in grad school (rent, car, other bills, food, fun, etc)?
- “UMass as a school is extremely generous. Living well is not difficult for me at all. I don’t own a car and mostly cook my meals at home. I haven’t travelled to my native country in three years, and I do not take frequent trips out of the New England area.”
- “At UMass at least, I can live comfortably. Depending on where you live (rent costs, need for car) you won’t be able to live totally comfortably, but I’m still able to eat out every week or two, and there are lots of ways to have fun for free, especially in college towns which have lots of free (or cheap) events.”
- “It’s doable but you won’t be living in luxury. You have to make decisions in the short term about what is important to you. But most of my friends have been able to budget to do things they really like (ski passes, vacations, etc.). In my last semester, I picked up a couple of baby sitting jobs to help. Your fellow grad students are also great resources for cheap activities and discounts.”
- “It was not easy at first but now I work on a budget and try to stick to it. Having a roommate helps a lot. I lived without a roommate at first and it was challenging but doable. Once my friend moved in with me it was helpful financially.”
- “If you rely solely on the PhD stipend, you will need to live with a roommate. The rest of the stipend will go mostly to bills, but there is a small buffer of money that can be used for fun things. If you live with 2 or more roommates or live a bit further from campus, rent can be even cheaper, so you will more money leftover.”
- “Most school have stipend according to the area so you can definitely get by easily for PhD’s but for masters you will need to find some source of income because a lot of school do no have stipend or paid research options. But their are on campus and around jobs that will help.”
- “It’s comfortable as long as you don’t do frivolous things such as eating out, traveling a lot, getting a new car, etc.”
- “If you get financial aid, it should be easy. But some schools do not provide it – you could still afford to live easily if you take up a part time job.”
- “It is worth researching PhD programs that pay the students and applying for those programs. At $33,000 a year salary I don’t have any trouble paying rent and bills. I am frugal, but I still have money to do fun things.”
- “I can pay my bills but I’m not saving any money.”
- “It can be difficult if you don’t budget. Especially with student loans from undergrad; I keep to a really strict budget and don’t do too much frivolous spending!”
- “It really depends. I have a partner who works in industry so I have a dual income which really helps along with my stipend. We do stick to a budget, and only have one car for the two of us to save money where we can. But in general, for me it has not been a problem to have what the essentials and go out to dinner/drinks a few times per month.”
What is your advice in applying and getting grant money while in grad school?
- “Reach out to professors early (I did about a year in advance, and some thought that was too early). Do your research about them and their work and be prepared to talk about their work and your ability to contribute to it in your opening email. Stay in touch with folks you are particularly interested in. Set up phone calls, in person meetings, or skype calls. Maintain your interest. I did this with a professor who didn’t have student funding when I initially reached out. She ended up reaching out to me later when a funding opportunity became available because of the line of contact I had established.”
- “Try to work with a faculty member who has a history of good funding. This will increase your chances of getting funded independently. Additionally, define who you are as an academic and look for grants that will support your area of expertise. Even small grants are really profound on your CV.”
- “Apply to as many as you can. Chances are you will get 1 or 2 out of so many that you apply and that will cover you. you could apply in advance before accepting a school or getting accepted. Put that in your application if you get it or have applied. That is nice thing to show.”
- “Seek help from any resources you can. Office of Professional Development, writing centers, career centers all want you to succeed so have them help you write your applications for grants. They have extensive experience and it’s all free to you.”
- “Write a lot of applications and keeping building upon them. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get awarded the first, second, third time, etc. Seek feedback from peers and others, especially from people outside of your field.”
- “Apply for the NSF GRFP before or during your first semester of graduate school, but really like start on this the spring before you start grad school. You can only apply for it once and it’s really the luck of the draw but super competitive.
Apply for small grant often- these are really helpful for covering research costs and you can often find small grants specific to your field that aren’t as competitive.
Ask your lab mates what grants they’ve applied for/recieved”
- “Check out NSF GRFP and NASA FINESST, and don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work out!”
What do you think are the pros and cons of going to grad school right after undergrad? What about waiting for a couple of years?
- “I walked in from undergrad directly into a PhD program. I regret doing it. I was transitioning from my native country to America, its messed up academic system , and in a town with no one I knew. I struggled to read between the lines of what people said, I struggled to read into people’s intent vs their actions, and I failed to form allies/mentors early on. I am right now in a working environment, and the one thing I have learnt from it is to form allies and mentors in a new environment in addition to identifying BS before committing to it.”
- “I’m personally an advocate for waiting a couple of years. The real world is very different from school, and you learn A LOT about yourself, goals, and interests when you’re in it. I know a lot of people who have bachelors and masters degrees in very different fields because they took the time to learn about themselves in the real world. If you really know what you want to do, go for it right out of undergrad. But I’d say, if you aren’t totally sure, don’t rush it.”
- “I went straight from my BS to my PhD. The first year was really difficult but I am fortunate that my program was really supportive.”
- “Pros: easy to stay in school-mindset, no break in education. Cons: you will leave school with no work experience per se, can be hard to transition after. It’s best to work a couple years after undergrad in the field you want to go into. If you want to get a PhD, I highly recommend NOT going to a Master’s program first. It’s expensive and a waste (since you will get a Master’s along the way any way). After undergrad, work a couple years in the field and go straight into a PhD. PD professors also like seeing this instead of a Masters, because they know if you did a Master’s it was likely because you did not get into a PhD program.”
- “I personally, like the idea of waiting for sometime because it does let you know about what you really like, some experience and you can earn in between. You are mature as well.”
- “Right out of undergrad: Pro: you’re used to living on a budget and studying. Neg: You may not have a sense of what you want to do with your degree. Waiting a few years = the opposite of right out of undergrad”
- “Going straight from undergrad students really struggle because they are coming in burnt out from undergrad. If you take a few years off you have time to cultivate hobbies and an exercise regime that will support you in graduate school. Also, the maturity and experience you gain will help you finish faster.”
- “Waiting for a couple of years would give you some work experience to compare with the academia. It would be easier to get interviews for internships, perhaps. But joining straight after keeps the momentum of studying – it will be easier to cope with the academic schedule(or the lack of it)”
- “I personally waited a few years. It meant that I have a different experience and level of maturity than some of the students that entered graduate school right after college which I used to my advantage. For example, I felt very comfortable in meetings with professors asking questions about their research and advocating for myself. The con of waiting a few years was that my classes were a little more challenging as I was rusty not having taking classes in a few years. I made good friends in my classes and we all were able to get through them together though and I forged some really great friendships.”
- “Working for 5 years after undergrad made me super motivated to go to grad school. I was way more focused than my peers who were in grad school straight from undergrad.”
- “There is a statistic I remember from undergrad something like 82% of undergrads who say they want to do grad school don’t when they wait. Once you get out of the whole ‘school’ mode it can be really difficult to get back into it. Although, I imagine waiting a couple years would give you great insight into industry and you would know if you want to go back to school.”
- “I strongly suggest people wait a few years. Almost everyone I know in graduate school has done this. The main reason for this is getting a MUCH better understanding of how you work/can be productive, scheduling, balancing other important areas of your life, and most importantly really understanding why you want to be in graduate school.”
What are you hoping to get out of grad school?
- “A good PhD, a few publications, lots of friends and collaborators.”
- “I want to get the training and expertise I need to conduct good research that has practical, applied value.”
- “My major reason for going to grad school is skill development. I got an undergrad degree in a different field from my masters, and I didn’t have the skill set to get the types of jobs I wanted. So I came here to acquire the skills (programming, modeling, etc.) to get where I wanted to professionally.”
- “I wanted to learn how to be an independent researcher.”
- “Translatable education, data skills, critical thinking development.”
- “The training to think differently compared to people who have not gone through that.”
- “Research experience”
- “A great relationship with my advisor, my lab mates, and other professors that will help me to find the perfect job once I’m done.”
- “Critical thinking skills, research methods skills, practical lab bench skills, writing skills, and a PhD!”
- “Research opportunities, mostly. As well as switching up my major a little bit to get into the field I found I love more.”
- “Specific skillsets that I will use in future jobs, networking and mentoring opportunities, fun :), a better understanding of my field, and the ability to confidently come up with interesting research questions and completely design all aspects of my own studies, or at least know who to ask when I can’t do it all on my own”
If you were to go back and start over, is there anything you wish you could do differently? Or information that you wish you’d known when you applied?
- “I wish I had the advantage the local students had: of visiting a school. I committed to the school without visiting it. Without having a face to face conversation with the prospective professors I was interested in, and a conversation with their students. I also wish I had interviewed more ex-students (students who left the professor’s lab mid-program) and alumni of the professor’s lab I was interested to work with. The research papers and the books professors write provide only a distorted vision of who they are. Additionally, and critically, not every good academic is a good mentor. I did not know this as well as I know it now. I feel like I have wasted my past few years here in Amherst, and that regret would take eons to wash away. I wouldn’t wish for any other student to feel that.”
- “I went to a seminar hosted by the Office of Professional Development about how to interact with your adviser. This was at the very beginning of my studies. I wish that I had taken more time to revisit those notes and reflect on how to improve my relationship with my adviser throughout my time at school. Not to say we have a negative relationship at all, but it can be a different experience than managers at firms or in other fields.”
- “I would talk to faculty that you are interested in work with during the application process. Sometimes the faculty you want to work with does not have room in their lab or cannot fund an additional student. Just see if they have room for a rotation or would be interested. Additionally, be sure of what you want to do and what your end goal after graduate school is. Graduate school is not an extension of college it is totally different. Make sure that you are 100% dedicated prior to taking the leap! Good luck!”
- “I would have worked for a couple years after undergrad instead of getting a Masters. I would have been more clear about my research interests when I applied.”
- “I wish I had know that the majority of graduate students suffer from anxiety/depression/suicidal thoughts during graduate school. I didn’t realize that the hardest part of graduate school would not be intellectual but emotional.”
- “I wish I would have better kept in touch with undergrad professors so it was easier to ask for letters of recommendation. I really can’t stress enough how important those letters are and it doesn’t take much effort to meet with professors and discuss graduate school options, paths, careers, etc. They enjoy those types of meetings so you should feel encouraged to seek out meetings with them to maintain relationships that will benefit you greatly in applying for graduate school and for fellowships.”
- “Maintain those mentor contacts from undergrad!”
- “I think I would have paid more attention to the research schools do than the name. You want to make sure that you’re going to like the research! It’s also a great idea to just email the current graduate students of the professor you want to work for; they definitely won’t mind and will gladly answer any questions about life at that institution.”
- “I knew I would have support for my stipend through teaching assistantships, but I did NOT know that my advisor didn’t have funds at the time for research costs (lab supplies, etc) and I wish I had known that. My first year was challenging because I was looking for money, and coming up with my own research questions as a beginning master’s student. Things worked out, but I had a lot of stress surrounding this for a while. Also, summer funding is not guaranteed.
Be really clear with potential advisors about what their expectations are for level of independence in your work. I know a lot of people who came on with their advisors telling them exactly what they were working on, and then some of us (like me) really had to independently come up with research questions. Neither of these is wrong, but it depends what you want in graduate school and it’s stressful when it’s unclear. “
Recap of Fall 2019 Events:
Last semester, the mentoring committee organized and partook in several different events on and off-campus. Here are some highlights and photos! If you are interested in similar events, have ideas for new events, or would like a leadership role in GWIS, come join one of our mentoring committee meetings or apply to one of our leadership positions!
Graduate Student Family Halloween Event:
GWIS members gave workshops on simulating oil spills and making lava lamps for children of graduate student families. We partnered with GSS and had a great turnout!
Graduate Student/Faculty/Post-Doc Luncheon:
We invited STEM faculty, post-docs and graduate students to informally gather for lunch and discuss our experiences in STEM and skills that we had to offer others and were looking to gain.
Pioneer Valley Women in STEM (PWIS) Mentoring Event:
GWIS mentoring committee members attended a PWIS meeting where Professor Becky Wai-Ling Packard hosted a workshop on mentoring where she shared some of her research and coordinated fun networking activities amongst STEM members throughout the Pioneer Valley.
Members of GWIS joined for a night of dinner and crafts to celebrate the end of the semester!