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Strategies to take your research to market impact

In May 2020, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs and UW CoMotion co-hosted a virtual professional development event focused on helping postdocs explore ways to commercialize your research products (check out the full recording). Four scientists in various entrepreneurial stages shared their insights on how to effectively take their research from discovery to market. 

Briefly, there are four major paths of research distribution: license innovation to an existing company or a new start-up, building an internal business at UW, and open distribution. Prior to making any decisions, consider the implications of each path, including risk, personal commitment, types of financial return, degree of control, and your ability to achieve success and independence. UW CoMotion provides guidance on innovation training, IP advising, protection & licensing, start-ups & incubator, funding & partnerships. You can always schedule an appointment to discuss which path works best for you.
Here, we summarize three strategies to assist you as you consider commercializing your research efforts.

Assess your interest and values. Are you interested in teamwork, creating a business model, or understanding the market demand of a certain product? Do you value the market impact of your research product and have a desire to start a business? Starting a company involves more than one person – you will need to collaborate and share similar values and goals with your partner (or partners). The ultimate goal of commercialization is to turn your research into a product with market value and make a difference! Spend time discussing common values, goals, and expectations. Remember, there’s no single path to success. Your goal is to create a product that has an impact – commit to a plan, but be willing to modify your path as you move through different stages of product and company development. Check out the 10 simple rules to commercialize scientific research.

Identify your support network. At the OPA, we strongly encourage you to build a mentoring team, regardless of your career aspirations. You need a support network of people who can assist you in different ways. This is particularly important on the pathway to commercialization, as you will end up needing to learn from experts in the business, legal, and industrial sectors. If your mentors are all from your academic life, you might consider branching out. Both Life Science Washington and UW CoMotion offer mentoring programs.

Time management and planning. Starting a business will feel daunting, and you will find yourself juggling among many unfamiliar responsibilities. Time management and planning are critical to making sure you are on track. There are time-sensitive steps (e.g., finding co-founders) that you need to accomplish as early as possible. You will likely need to acquaint yourself with new knowledge outside of your specific area of expertise, and you’ll need to build a collaborative team to accomplish your goals. These all demand your time and effort, which will feel increasingly constrained as you move your product and ideas from the bench to business. Check out tips on time management for start-up founders.

Last but not least, engaging in the entrepreneurial process has many benefits to your career development. For example, you will learn how to do translational research, tell a story about your research, and communicate to a diverse audience. You will also have the opportunity to expand your network as you explore the potential market impact of your research. It’s an exciting opportunity to fully apply all of the skills you developed during your graduate and postdoctoral research. 

Take care of yourself during stressful times

Even in the best of times, completing your postdoc fellowship can be stressful. And, we can all agree that with the uncertainty around COVID-19, our collective stress level has increased. Beyond the normal worries (e.g., will my experiments work, will I be scooped, will I find a job after my postdoc, etc.), we are now concerned about how changes to campus operations may impact our research progress. Further, we are uncertain of the consequences that coronavirus may have on us at a personal level, as well as our family and loved ones. Simply put, these can make us feel more mentally stressed.

The growing mental health concerns in the graduate student population have received increasing attention in the past few years (see Nature, 2019, PhDs: the tortuous truth; Nature Biotechnology, 2018, Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education; and CBE-Life Sciences Education, 2019, Burnout and Mental Health Problems in Biomedical Doctoral Students, among others). And, just because you’re no longer a graduate student, it doesn’t mean that all of the mental health concerns go away once you transition to your postdoc position (see Science, 2014, The stressed-out postdoc). 

It’s important to remember that it’s normal not to feel 100% all the time. However, when the burdens of anxiety, depression, imposter syndrome, perfectionism, and harassment become overwhelming, it’s OK to seek help. 
UW recently re-designed our Health & Well-being website to provide a one-stop-shop for all relevant resources you might find helpful for your needs. For example, consult with the Counseling Center and they will provide you with referrals if you require long-term counseling. There are also resources to support your well-being and safety on campus. If you want to discuss events in your life or research group, reach out to the Office of the Ombud or our office, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPA). When in doubt, simply contact the SafeCampus 24/7 helpline (206- 685-SAFE), and trained professionals are ready to support you. 

There are also a number of online resources and support groups that you can explore to find the community that best suits your needs.

We all are responsible for supporting each other. We encourage all of you to be open about how common it is to experience issues related to mental health and to normalize and destigmatize the seeking of mental health care. Let’s support each other as you consider different career paths. Try reaching out to people who you think might be struggling and share some wellness tips with them, such as getting more sleep, doing exercise, cultivating a sense of purpose, and finding one’s community. For more tips, please read The Conversation (Meghan Duffy, 2018). With the support of the UW community, we will get through these trying times. 

Mastering Out — How and When?

“Mastering Out….What’s the best way to do this? Who do you tell first? Your advisor? An administrator in the program? When is the right time?” –Anonymous

The following people and online forums were invaluable in writing this blog post:
Elba Moise, Ph.D. candidate, College of Education
Jaye Sablan, assistant director, Core Programs
Rebecca Aanerud, former dean, the Graduate School
Reddit/r/GradSchool // GradCafe // YCombinator

Hi, there!

Thank you so much for writing in. I know this is a big decision that likely carries a lot of emotional weight. I hope this post will help you think through your options and make a decision that is best for you.

It seems there are two parts to your question: How do I know if I should master out? And, if I decide to master out, how should I go about it?

Let’s tackle the first part — when is the right time — first.

The truth is that there are no right or wrong reasons, or right or wrong times, to master out. But there are resources and strategies to help you figure out your motivations for mastering out, and whether you want to act on them.

1. Consider whether your frustrations with graduate school are temporary or fixable. Is your interest in mastering out due to frustrations about something that you might be able to change — for example, the projects you’re working on or the classes you’re If so, consider approaching your advisor to discuss some of these issues. If you think it might be a difficult conversation, the Office of the Ombud is a great place to help you prepare.

Making healthy changes for yourself in your program before deciding to master out will help you feel more confident down the road that you made a thoughtful decision. If possible, you might consider taking a leave of absence so you can take time away from graduate school to reflect.

2. Chat with trusted people in your circle (friends, family, mentors) about why you are considering mastering out. Reach out to individuals whom you know will listen without judgement and support decisions that work best for you and your needs. You might find it helpful to process this decision with a counselor in the Counseling Center, and/or a career coach in the Career & Internship Center (Jon Olivera has expertise specifically in grad student development). 

3. Read blogs and articles written by people who made the decision to leave their doctoral programs. See if their experiences resonate with you. In our own research, we found this post and this one (and many others) to be helpful. Hearing from these folks may help you think through your own motivations. One insightful post is even written by a UW alumni!

You might also consider the book Work Your Career: Get What You Want from your Social Sciences or Humanities Ph.D. by Loleen Berdahl and Jonathan Malloy. It presents information for making informed decisions about graduate education, including leaving graduate school prior to the Ph.D.

4. Reflect on your own definition of success. Is it a job title, a salary, the impact of your work, having work/life balance? Will getting a Ph.D. set you up for success in the ways YOU define it? Success can mean staying in your program despite challenges, and it can also mean knowing when it’s no longer the right path for you.

Remember: Getting varied perspectives on the pros and cons of this decision for your health and wellbeing, for your career, and other factors is important — but try not to let too much input cloud your own voice.

Say you’ve made up your mind to leave with your master’s. What should you do?

Check the Master’s Degree Requirements and dates and deadlines for submitting paperwork for the Graduate School to make sure you are on track to obtain your master’s. You also need to connect with your Graduate Program Advisor to discuss the details of your program requirements. If you have further questions about the requirements, please contact the Graduate Enrollment Management Services.

Who to approach first – your advisor or an administrator – depends on you, your situation and reasons for mastering out. If you think you may be met with pushback from your advisor, it might be helpful to speak with an administrator inside or outside your department and have a set plan for mastering out before approaching your advisor. That way it is not so much of a question – “Should I master out?” – as a statement, “I’m mastering out for these reasons and here is what I need.”

Start applying for jobs. This is an opportunity for you to explore workplaces where you can try new things and apply the skills you’ve built in your program. This blog details how a former graduate student (and UW alumni) used informational interviews to explore career options before mastering out – and may be a source of inspiration for your own job search. Handshake is a great resource for finding jobs and internships.

Please know that there is no shame in leaving a program with a master’s degree. This is your decision to make and you have every right to make it. Remember to take your time, show yourself compassion, and to trust your instincts.

Wishing you the best,

The Grad School Guide

Setting Boundaries for Yourself

These last few weeks of the quarter are truly a busy time. Many of you are completing final projects while also navigating job searches. Others are completing degree requirements in anticipation of graduating next year, or within the next several years. No matter where you’re at in your educational or career trajectory, below are some tips to help you push through this last leg of the academic year.

Protect your time. Graduate school can often make you feel like you have no control over your schedule, but this is simply not true. Yes, you are busy, and it’s still possible to manage your time. Block out times in your weekly calendar where you have no flexibility — e.g. courses, appointments, hard deadlines, family time. Reschedule meetings that can wait until after you complete the quarter. Hold small chunks of time during the day, or a larger chunk of time twice a week (or a duration that works for you), for self-care activities that re-energize and nourish you.

Set boundaries. During crunch time, it’s important to say no to doing things that take time away from completing your short-term goals this quarter. Often times in graduate school, exciting or interesting work or research project opportunities may come up that pique your interest. Just ask yourself: are these new projects a distraction from what actually needs to get done? Remember that it’s perfectly okay to say no to requests of your time, as only you know your needs and schedule. 

Connect with support. When the pressure is on, it’s important to stay connected with individuals that support us and have our best interests in mind. Having trouble staying motivated on a final paper? Organize an impromptu writing accountability group with peers at a café, or make it a potluck at home after you’re done writing for a few hours. Needing feedback on your work? Check in with your advisor or mentor to make sure you are on the right track. Feeling anxious or stressed out? Reach out to a friend, a loved one or a community member who can lend an empathic ear and help you stay present.

We hope these tips resonate with you, and good luck with the rest of spring quarter!


Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School

Reaching Out for Support

We know that you’re working hard to meet deadlines, achieve milestones, and fulfill commitments within and beyond your graduate program. During these last few weeks of the quarter, we encourage you to tap into support resources that match your needs. Your success is not only about your ability to complete your grad program requirements for the quarter, it is also about being able to get support for yourself as a whole person.

Peer support. Consider scheduling a writing group session for a few hours in the upcoming weeks. Peers need not be in your grad program. The goal is to schedule structured time dedicated to completing final projects. Just sitting next to one another can break the isolation of graduate study, and you can hold one another accountable to meeting your writing goals. Depending on the environment that works best for all of you, meet at a café, find a spot in your campus library, or make it a potluck/work group so you can enjoy good food at the same time.

Campus and community support. Let’s be real! Graduate school is stressful — with some weeks feeling more challenging than others. If you’ve been experiencing anxiety or depression for more than a few days, we encourage you to reach out to counseling services on your campus (Bothell, Seattle, Tacoma). Each counseling center can refer you to low cost community-based mental health resources in your city or area. If you need to talk to someone in more immediately, consider calling your county’s free 24-hour crisis line: King County, Pierce County, Snohomish County. If you’re having a hard time taking any of these steps, consider asking a trusted peer, friend or staff to sit with you while you contact support resources. There’s no shame in asking for professional mental health support.

Faculty support. Email your professor, drop in during their office hours or schedule a short online meeting if you have follow up questions about final projects or tasks that are due. Life also happens, and you may need more time to complete your final project. Be proactive and contact your professor as soon as possible to see if you can get an extension. Be clear about why you need an extension and include a realistic timeline for turning in your project. More often than not, professors are accommodating. Just remember to be proactive.

Self-care. There’s always time for self-care, and there’s never a better time to practice self-care than during crunch time near the end of a quarter. Hold off on making any new commitments, and reschedule times for meetings and projects that can be put on pause for the next couple of weeks. Consider marking out time in your daily schedule to get up from your workstation to stretch, drink water or catch up on the phone with friends and loved ones. We all think better when we get enough sleep, so set limits for yourself while you’re working (use a timer if needed), so you can get ready for bed at a reasonable time.

We hope these tips are helpful, and let us know what has worked for you!


Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School

Writing Resources & Techniques for Grad Students

Recently we’ve received several letters from students struggling with writing. Students tell us they struggle with focusing on competing projects, managing nebulous deadlines and distilling complicated ideas to in a clear and concise way.

As Your Grad School Guide, I know can be difficult to find motivation and avoid procrastination when faced with such writing projects.

Whether you’re developing a thesis or dissertation, or writing essays for a class, there are a number of resources at the UW for support. Here are some ideas of services to access on campus, and tips for developing as a more productive and effective writer.

Campus-based resources:

Looking for ways to beat procrastination or improve your writing on your own? Here are a few ideas:

  • The Pomodoro method. Work in 25 minute increments with short breaks in between sessions. This can help you avoid distractions and get down to business. This technique can help academics make the most of their limited writing time.
  • Develop a strategic writing plan. Ph.D. student Nue Lee details in this blog post how she plans for effective writing sessions. Lee’s plans include daily writing and scheduling blocks of time for writing in her calendar. Your strategic writing plan may differ based on your schedule and needs.
  • Consult a style guide. William Zinsser’s On Writing Well may be a good place to start for insight or inspiration.

What if you’ve tried any combination of these resources and techniques, and nothing has helped. What should you do?

  • Reflect on the things that you’ve tried so far. Did one or two of them help you manage distractions or write more effectively, even a little bit? Of the things that helped a little, what did they have in common?
  • Try dictating your ideas to a trusted friend or a recording device before even bringing pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. It may help take some of the anxiety out of the process and allow you to get your ideas out.
  • In some cases, difficulty with productivity in writing and research may be related to other factors, including anxiety or worry. If you think this applies to you, please seek support from a writing tutor, academic advisor or counselor at the Counseling Center.

Any questions? Feel free to shoot me an email.

Happy Writing,

Your Grad School Guide

Ask Your Grad School Guide is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If your Guide doesn’t know the answer, you Guide seeks out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: your Guide is not a medical doctor, therapist, lawyer or academic advisor, and all advice offered here is for informational purposes only.) Ask your Guide a question >

Finding Mentors to Support Your Success

In honor of National Mentoring Month, our newsletter focuses on what it takes to build a strong mentoring team for yourself. Having a support system is vital to your success in graduate school.

Advisor versus mentor. Generally speaking, an academic or career advisor is assigned to you, directs you to fulfill course or career development requirements, points you to texts or job resources in your field and helps you identify baseline milestones that you must meet in order to graduate with your degree or enter the job market. A mentor is invested in learning about your motivations and passions as a graduate student, shares insights about the norms and challenges of graduate school and encourages you to define what success means to you. Importantly, a mentor will lend an empathic ear to you: not only as a student, but as a whole person. Can a faculty or staff advisor also be your mentor? Yes. Is this always the case? No. This is why it’s important to deepen your bench of people who are in your corner.

Types of mentors. A mentor is that someone in your life who asks you good questions or inspires you to be your best self just because of how they live in the world. It may not matter if you have very different lives or careers. If you connect with that person, and something in your interactions helps you shine more brightly, then awesome — count them in your circle. Mentors can serve as consultants, coaches, guides, sponsors or thought partners (and more). Peers, staff and faculty in and beyond your university, professionals in your field, and members of your cultural and spiritual communities are all potential mentors. And identifying mentors who will complement your needs requires some initial self-reflection. It’s helpful to assess what you need from a potential mentor before requesting their guidance. Be as specific as possible, and think about where your own gaps might be. Is it in research mentorship, career direction, personal goals or worldview alignment? We also recommend building a mentoring team because it is difficult, if not impossible, for one person to have all the qualities you need in a mentor.

Frequency of mentoring. Depending on your mentor, as well as your goals and interests as a graduate student, the frequency of your mentoring meetings will vary. The scale of mentoring will also vary over time, as you complete small and large milestones, and even dependent on the kind of week you’re having. You may need to check in with your mentor quickly in the hallway, Skype for an hour once a month, or schedule 30 minute check-ins once a week over coffee. Sometimes, a mentor on your team may be your go-to person when you really need to talk through something; a person whom you call when you need them rather than following a standard meeting schedule. When your time is really constrained, it’s important to make the most of your mentoring relationships. Check out these tips on micro-mentoring (geared toward the workplace but still relevant).

Finally, it’s helpful to understand that a mentoring relationship is a reciprocal relationship — a “two-way street” where you are also making important contributions and being accountable to your success in graduate school. Interested in learning how to do and be your best as a mentee? Check out this resource.

Do these tips make you think of someone who’s already on your mentoring team? Has this particular someone made a difference in your life? In the spirit of National Mentoring Month, take a minute and send them a thank you note or text. Sometimes people don’t know the positive impact they have on others, so expressing gratitude is a great way way to acknowledge their importance in your life. In the same spirit, we proudly announce that the 2019 Postdoc Mentoring Award nomination process has started! Submit a nomination by Thursday, February 28 for an outstanding postdoc whom you consider your mentor.

As always, we hope these strategies are helpful to you, and please let us know what works!


Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School

Heading for the Finish Line

Whether you are enrolled in your very first quarter, or entering your third or more year of graduate study at the UW, the fall is always a busy time for meeting project deadlines, fulfilling work obligations, and taking care of family and community. We know you are looking forward to a well-deserved break. As you work through this week and the next, consider trying out the following strategies in order to help you finish the quarter on the right foot.

Protect your time. One way to stay on track during these last few weeks is to set boundaries with how you spend your time. Block out time slots you know you have to honor, such as hard deadlines for school, work, and family. Hold off on scheduling meetings and appointments that can realistically be postponed for a few weeks or more. Prioritize time in your daily schedule for short breaks away from your work space, to get some water, and for wellness and stress management activities that meet your particular needs.

Reach out for support. Every now and then life totally happens and we fall behind on papers and projects. Rather than spend time worrying about the possible outcomes of not turning in a final project, we encourage you to be proactive by asking your professor for an extension. You can do this by drafting an email to your professor. Briefly state why you are behind (e.g. family emergency, personal illness, need more guidance on understanding key concepts). Include any questions you may still have about the project. Finally, include a concrete plan for turning in your project in a reasonable amount of time. Have a peer proofread it before you click the send button. You could also have an in-person conversation with your professor during their office hours: just bring a draft of your project completion plan to help guide your conversation. More often than not, you will find that your professor is understanding and will work with you.

Reward yourself with self-care. It can all feel like one big blur after you’ve completed all your work for the quarter. We truly hope you dedicate time during the break to participate in activities that support you in feeling relaxed, rejuvenated and centered. This can include reading a non-academic book, cooking for yourself or loved ones, hiking or zumba, or catching up on episodes of your favorite tv show. You’ve earned the time to just be!

We hope these tips resonate with you, and have a wonderful break!


Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School

Find tax help as a grad student

This Guru post has been updated from a previous inquiry. Happy filing!

Filing taxes seems more complicated than it should be, and there seems to be no help from the university, despite the fact that many graduate students have very similar tax situations. What’s the best way to file to maximize our return (where do we put student fees and union dues and all of the other things that we can claim to reduce our tax liability)? Are there good tax help resources available?  —Anonymous

Why are taxes so complicated? Albert Einstein once said, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” Anyway, yes, the UW does provide tax help! Student Fiscal Services is holding student tax workshops specifically for graduate students Friday, March 23, 1:30—2:30 p.m. and Thursday, April 5, 1:30–2:30 p.m. Additional workshops are offered for U.S. Residents and Non-U.S. Residents. All workshops are held at UW Seattle, Odegaard 220.

Also, the Seattle Public Library offers one-on-one tax help at various branches. United Way offers free help at a few additional sites, including at the UW, where they’ve partnered with your peers in the MS Tax Program. No appointment necessary: drop by Mackenzie Hall Room 132 on Mondays and Wednesdays, 4—7 p.m., and Fridays noon–3 p.m. The Guru has used this service, and can attest that it’s very helpful. (You must have made less than $66,000 in 2017 to be eligible for their free help. Probably not a problem for grad students?) Good luck!

“Taxation with representation ain’t so hot either.” —Gerald Barzan, humorist

Ask the Grad School Guru is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If the guru doesn’t know the answer, the guru will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: The guru is not a medical doctor, therapist, lawyer or academic advisor, and all advice offered here is for informational purposes only.) Submit a question for the column →

What to do if you experience sexual harassment or assault

This article was written in consultation with Valery Richardson, interim Title IX coordinator, Compliance Services. 

We hope that you will never face sexual harassment or assault here on campus, but we understand the reality that you may. This week, the Guru will walk you through the steps you can take, and resources that are available to you at the UW, if you are a victim of sexual misconduct.   

Sexual harassment — including sexual violence or sexual assault — is prohibited by Title IX. The best source for UW information can be found on two websites: the Sexual Assault Resources website and the Title IX website.   

For email or phone support, SafeCampus is staffed 24–7 and is a good place to start if you have personally experienced harassment or assault or receive information that someone else experienced harassment or assault. SafeCampus can provide immediate safety planning, provide important information about your rights and resources, and connect you with a confidential advocate who can help you consider all of your options and how to make a plan for your situation.

For victims of sexual assault, SafeCampus loosely breaks down your options into steps — which you could choose to initiate in any order that makes sense to you.  

Anyone who has experienced harassment, assault, or another form of sexual misconduct is encouraged to contact an advocateAdvocates will confidentially provide support, information and resources. An advocate will allow you to share your experience in as much or as little detail as you would like, discuss your options for medical and mental health care, and help you make a plan for your safety and for reducing the impact of this experience at the UW. Meeting with an advocate does not trigger an investigation by the UW or the police.  

If you have been sexually assaulted, seeking medical care can help to treat or prevent illness and injury. It’s also important for preserving evidence. You may also seek a disability accommodation if you are experiencing the impacts of a medical condition.  

You have the right to report sexual misconduct to the University, to the police, to both or not at all. If you choose to report an instance of sexual harassment, sexual assault or sexual violence to the UW, the University will conduct a prompt, fair and impartial investigation to determine whether a University policy or code — such as the Student Conduct Code or Executive Order No. 31 — has been violated.  

If you choose to file a police report, you have the right to have a support person or advocate with you. You may choose to file a report without pursuing an investigation or prosecution. For more information about criminal and civil proceedings that can result from a sexual assault report, please see the Sexual Assault Resources website 

If a friend has experienced sexual misconduct, there are ways you can provide support. Remember to be a good listener, avoid passing judgment, and provide your friend with options and resources for healing, emotional processing, and for learning the steps to file a complaint.  

If you wish to take action to reduce sexual violence on campus, you can learn about bystander awareness and join a group of Peer Health Educators through SafeCampus.