If you are a new graduate student in the sciences, you will rotate through several labs during your first year at the University of Washington. Your challenge is to find the right lab for you — one that best matches your intellectual interests and that helps prepare you for your career.
How to get started in a lab
- Sample a range of lab environments and cultures. Find a lab that will help you develop as a researcher.
Find out what the ground rules and expectations are.
- How many hours are you expected to be in the lab? (Remember that research is not a 9 to 5 job; you should look forward to hanging out in the lab—but also make sure you know specific expectations for your time).
- What’s the definition of “progress” in lab work? What’s the definition of progress in graduate work in your discipline?
Look for opportunities that will benefit your career.
- Will you have an opportunity to publish?
- Will you get credit—as an author, co-author—for the work you do in the lab? Will your intellectual work really be your own? Seek a lab that gives ownership of your ideas to you.
- Will you have a chance to push beyond the boundaries of particular grants?
- Will you be able to collaborate with other labs?
- The best lab is not necessarily the one that pays the most.
- Success is not always about being comfortable— so look for a lab where you will be pushed a bit.
How to evaluate labs
Both established and new labs have great merit.
- In an established lab, find out: What’s the lab’s track record? Where have people ended up working after their lab experience?
- Recognize that some younger faculty—who do not have well established labs and therefore do not have the same track record as established labs—often bring the newest ideas to the discipline and are often willing to spend time with graduate students. Such labs might be a better place to try new things.
- Where do people in the lab publish? In top-tier journals?
- Ask other students about the labs.
- Trust your instincts.
Be clear about your own expectations for mentorship in a lab.
- How often would you like to meet with faculty mentors? (Make sure that the time you request is for the most pressing matters; don’t waste time on minor details that you can find out elsewhere).
- Can you get on the mentor’s calendar? (Ask other graduate students in the lab about the nature and extent of mentorship).
Make good use of your lab work: Publish early and publish often.
- Publications are the currency of success.
- Publications are a guaranteed path to a relatively carefree thesis preparation.
How to succeed in a lab
- Participation is the key to any successful lab. A successful lab draws on a variety of skills, so contribute.
- Recognize that a good lab is one with mutual mentorship; that means you need to contribute, too. As a first-year student, you may well have expertise that others in the lab don’t have. Be a good citizen; contribute the work. Recognize that you have the potential to be a valuable contributor from the very first day you walk in the door.
- Learn from others and support others in the lab. Recognize the expertise of all of your lab colleagues (faculty, visiting scientists, postdocs, graduate students, undergraduates, and even high school students).
- During your first year, complete at least one research paper.
by Tom Daniel, professor, Biology
Some of your most important and impression-forming interactions with your classmates and professors occur in graduate seminars. Your stellar performance in graduate seminars is paramount to your success in the graduate program. Graduate seminars are the building blocks for your knowledge in the field and in graduate school.
How to succeed in a graduate seminar
Prepare for class
Do the reading. All of it. But don’t stop there. Annotate your reading. Ask questions of the text in the margins. Maybe even type up your notes. Always consider what’s at stake in the reading, how the reading informs your understanding of the class themes, other course materials, the methods, the content. How does the reading relate to your own burgeoning research questions?
Come to class with questions and discussion points. If you are reticent about speaking in class, recruit a friend to chat about your ideas for five minutes the day before class. Do not, however, memorize one point in the reading so that you make your one perfunctory comment in class. Everyone is on to that game!
Do your part to help foster community. This means: Listen. Participate fully. Be respectful.
Showcase your intellectual curiosity by engaging with all types of ideas, not just the ones in your designated area of study.
When you speak, remember to look at your classmates, not exclusively at the professor.
Use your breadth of knowledge — connect the readings to other readings in your class and other out-of-class readings. Feel free to apply the readings or theme of the day to your project, but don’t be so focused on utilitarian knowledge that you fail to engage fully with all of the issues at hand.
Do not fall into the trap of wholesale skewering the reading of the week. This is intellectually lazy. The work must have some redeeming value if the professor has chosen to assign it. Even if you want to make a serious critique of the reading you should attempt to articulate its contributions/interventions as well as limitations.
Turn in all writing assignments on time. Do not save your seminar papers for the last week of class. Begin generating ideas the first week of class. Talk about your ideas with your classmates and your professor. If the professor has not given you a series of deadlines, create deadlines for yourself (i.e., identify paper topic in the third week of class, generate working bibliography in the fourth week of class, create abstract in the fifth week, write your first draft in the sixth week, etc.).
Graduate seminars are your first practice attempts at being a scholar. It should be fun to engage with ideas. Be prepared to spar respectfully — and always be prepared!
by Ralina Joseph, professor, Communication
No matter what career you plan to pursue after earning your graduate degree, being proactive in the career development process and using your time strategically while enrolled in graduate school will enhance your career success. Getting an early start with the steps outlined below can prove instrumental to success, and can make the difference between falling into a job because it’s available—and finding an intentional match that meets your professional desires.
Orientation (beginning of your program)
Orient yourself to the career and professional development resources offered by:
- Your department
- Career Center
- Alumni Association
- Graduate School
- Counseling Center
- Library system
- Many other centers, offices, and programs
Self assessment (beginning of your program and beyond)
Learn more about who you are and what you want out of life. It’s important to know your:
- Work & life values
- Decision-making style
- Sources of motivation
- Geographic preferences
Career exploration (beginning and middle of your program)
Learn more about the career paths you are considering. Be sure to explore:
- Different employment sectors that offer careers that interest you (academia, corporate, non-profit, government, self-employment, etc.)
- A variety of job titles and responsibilities
- Salary and job outlook information
Try exploring careers using three methods
- Reading about careers
- Talking to people in careers that interest you (informational interviews)
- Experiencing careers (volunteering, internships, etc.)
Focus on the essentials (middle of your program)
Get serious about making yourself marketable for career paths of interest. Secure the necessary:
Job market preparation (middle and end of your program)
Start preparing yourself for the job market. Do what it takes to feel confident about your:
- Job search plan
- Cover letter
- Interviewing skills
- Résumé or curriculum vitae (CV)
- Negotiating skills
Job search preliminaries (9–12 months prior to degree completion)
Look for employment using a variety of strategies.
- Asking professors, classmates, alumni, colleagues, and contacts for referrals
- Connecting with and joining professional organizations
- Applying to campus, general, and niche job boards
- Attending career fairs and similar events
Transition to a job/start a career (end of your program)
Prepare to exit the university and start another adventure.
- Thank those who helped you in your academic success and your job search
- Read books, attend workshops, and participate in groups related to the transition process
- Start your new job
- Reflect on your job responsibilities, work environment, standard of living, relationships, mental and physical health, and leisure activities
http://web.mit.edu/career/www/graduate/timelines.html http://cardinalcareers.stanford.edu/communities/graduate/ guides.html
by Briana K. Randall, associate director, UW Career Center
Planning for the right type of job
Start early. Finding time to devote to your career planning is not easy. But early exploration and preparation are crucial for later success.
Think broadly. Explore different ways to use your graduate degree. In addition to teaching and research inside and outside of the academy, consider jobs in government, the non-profit sector, and industry. Informational interviews with people in different jobs and working in different kinds of institutions can help you make the career decisions that are best for you. Following the business press (e.g., The Wall Street Journal) or trade publications specific to your discipline can help you learn about many issues relevant to your chosen field and what trends are shaping that field.
Understand what you want. The best job is one that is right for you. Know what you want out of your career — in academia or elsewhere. Have a career vision and link your goals to the preparation that you will need for being a standout candidate. Having a career plan will help you think about which publications, presentations, and activities you can do to show that you are right for the type of job that you want.
Position yourself for the market. Focus on cultivating professional relationships with your committee members, demonstrating professionalism to them, and doing quality work—regardless of the type of job you want to secure. After all, your committee members and references are asked to comment on multiple facets of you as an applicant, not just your writing, research, teaching, or organizational skills.
Planning for an academic job
The above principles apply especially to academic jobs, the preparation for which involves very long cycles. Decisions about research presentations and publications need to be made years before you go on the market. For example, in order to give a presentation on your dissertation research before you go on the market, you will need to have a paper ready for submission often a full year before job application deadlines. To have an article listed on your vita for the academic job market as “in press,” it should be under review by the January before you go on the market at the very latest. Cultivating a professional reputation in the field, in advance, will help you significantly when you go on the market.
Successful academic searches
Match skills and interests to the position. Early planning will help you get your ideal job. Interested in research-oriented positions? Having a publication record of your own and collaborating with faculty will help you here. Demonstrate distinction in teaching as well as research on your vita. Want to stay open to industry? Working on consulting projects during graduate school will help you build a portfolio of projects and skills that translate easily outside of the academy.
Communicate clearly and effectively. Each advertised academic job can yield more than 100 applications. Help the search committee understand what you might bring to the department, what makes your work interesting, and how you fit the advertised position—don’t make busy people hunt for buried information. Compelling cover letters are crucial! Work with your advisers on the best way to communicate your skills, achievements, and interests in your application materials. Pay particular attention to grammar, style, and formatting in all materials as your attention to details reflects upon your ability to be a professional scholar.
Help your letter writers help you. By communicating your interests clearly, providing copies of materials, and allow- ing ample time, you can help your letter writers write better, more detailed recommendations for you. Remember, we’re all busy—make sure you help your letter writers understand your deadlines and give them ample time to do a good job. Be sure to ask your chair for personal introductions to people at the schools where you are applying.
Remember: It’s about the fit
Hopefully your job search will be successful the first time out. If it isn’t—don’t despair! Use the time to push yourself back into your work and into the preparation for the next cycle of applications. Remember, this is a process that matches your skills and interests with the needs of an organization or department—it might take a while to find the perfect job match for you.
by Gina Neff, associate professor, Communication
What is the IRB?
The IRB is a committee of scientists, non-scientists and community members. At the UW and other universities, the IRB reviews research proposals to protect the rights and welfare of human research subjects who participate in research activities conducted under the auspices of the University.
When is IRB review required?
If the proposed study meets the federal definition of research…
“A systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.”
If the proposed study involves “human subjects,” defined as “a living individual about whom an investigator (whether professional or student) conducting research obtains: 1) data through intervention or interaction with the individual; or 2) identifiable private information.”
Why is IRB review necessary?
IRB reviews help ensure the safety and protection of research subjects, as well as the ethical conduct of research that involves human subjects.
The IRB review must determine that all of the following requirements are satisfied.
- Risks to subjects are minimized.
- Risks to subjects are reasonable in relation to anticipated benefits.
- Selection of subjects is equitable.
- Informed consent will be sought from each prospective subject or the subject’s legally authorized representative.
- Informed consent will be appropriately documented, in accordance with, and to the extent required by HSS regulation 46.117.
- The research plan makes adequate provision for the monitoring of data collected to ensure the safety of subjects.
- There are adequate provisions to protect the privacy of subjects and to maintain the confidentiality of data. When some or all of the subjects are likely to be vulnerable to coercion or undue influence, such as children, prisoners, pregnant women, mentally disabled persons or economically disadvantaged persons, additional safeguards have been included in the study to protect the rights and welfare of these subjects.
How does the IRB evaluate research proposals?
The IRB reviews and responds to proposals at three levels, depending on the type of research proposed.
Exempt: Six categories of research involving human subjects qualify for exemption from federal regulations governing the protection of human subjects. A determination of eligibility for exemption must be made by the IRB or its designee. Exempt research must also comply with state laws, UW policy, and conform to sound research ethics/principles.
Expedited (minimal risk): An “expedited” review procedure can be used when research has been determined to be of “minimal risk” to subjects (i.e., “poses no more risk to subjects than would be encountered by the average person in his/her daily activities”) and involves only the procedures listed in the federally described categories of expedited review. All federal, state and local regulations must be taken into consideration. The standard requirements for informed consent (or its waiver or alteration) apply.
Expedited reviews may be carried out by the IRB chair, an IRB co-chair, or by one or more experienced reviewers designated by the chair from among members of the IRB.
Full IRB review: Research that does not qualify as exempt or for expedited review must undergo a full review by a quorum of IRB members. The application process is the same as for expedited review; however, it is recommended that researchers allow two to four months from the time of submission until approval. Researchers should also be aware that the initial full review process frequently does not result in an outright approval of the research; minor or major revisions and written clarifications are often requested.
How can I get help?
The Human Subjects Division (HSD) website is designed to help you decide whether or not you need review and has detailed instructions on how to apply.
If you have questions or need additional assistance, you can contact HSD directly.
This Mentor Memo was developed in collaboration with the Human Subjects Division.
At some point in your graduate career, you will have the opportunity to mingle with others informally at conferences, departmental colloquia, social hours, and other events — it’s inevitable. If you find these situations uncomfortable, you’re not alone. Read on to learn how to “work a room” with confidence, poise and style. The result could be identifying contacts and information that can help you reach your goals.
Attend as many receptions and networking events as possible so you can practice working a room before it really counts. Make or order some business cards to distribute at the event. Prior to an event, collect information about it and the venue. Brush up on your current events so you sound intelligent and well-rounded; web surfing can be an easy way to do this. Prepare a short personal script so you can confidently introduce yourself — without sounding “scripted.” Consider writing a 10-second and a 60-second summary of your teaching and/or research so that you can speak about it confidently and consistently.
Dress appropriately for the occasion. If you’re not sure what to wear, ask a colleague or check the event website for attire instructions and photos from previous events — or, err on the side of safety by dressing up more rather than less. Try to limit how much stuff you bring. For example, you don’t want your backpack to fall off your shoulder and spill wine all over somebody. Write and display your name tag clearly.
Managing the munchies
Remember, your main goal is to make contacts. Don’t camp out at the refreshment or beverage table. Think small — stick with small foods that are easy to eat, limit your plate to a small amount of food, take small bites and drink alcohol in moderation. Try to leave your right hand free and dry so you can shake hands; you might even consider keeping a napkin in your pocket so you can periodically clean and dry your hands.
If you don’t want to look like a loner, make eye contact with somebody in a group that includes a familiar face or a group with a physical gap. Approach the group and then, as appropriate, shake hands firmly, introduce yourself in one to two sentences at most, and start short conversations about non-controversial topics. If it becomes clear a group doesn’t want to include you, don’t take it personally. Find another group, start your own by finding other individuals who are wandering aimlessly, or make conversation with somebody at the refreshment table. Remember that a positive, confident attitude goes a long way in social situations!
Keeping it going
After introductions and “small talk,” what next? Discuss commonalities you share with other group members. Perhaps you belong to the same organization, went to the same school and so on. Ask others to talk about their research, job, career path, or workplace; most people enjoy talking about themselves. Once a connection has been developed, you can ask for academic advice, career tips or referrals to other contacts. It’s best not to ask directly for jobs because doing so tends to make others uncomfortable. Focus on the conversation, but don’t monopolize it, one-up people or invade others’ personal space. Be sure to welcome and introduce others who approach your group.
When you’re ready to exit a group, ask for business cards and distribute yours, as appropriate. Express appreciation for the conversation, and excuse yourself. Visit the refreshment table, approach another group, or call it a night.
Bringing it home
The event is not over when it’s over! After the event while the experience is still fresh in your mind, jot down informal notes about the people you met so you’ll remember their names, titles, and stories. Follow through with any promises you made to those with whom you interacted. If appropriate, send a thank-you note to the event host.
Be sure to silence your cell phone. Take some breath mints. If you make a mistake, don’t get rattled; laugh about it, learn from the situation and move on. Most importantly — be friendly, sincere, genuine, confident and interested in others.
Ryan, R. (2005). Soaring on your strengths. Toronto: Penguin.
Thompson, K., & Wein, T. I. (2005). Speak up, shake hands, and smile. The Chronicle of Higher Education. http://chronicle.com/jobs/2005/09/2005093001c.htm
Zupek, R. (2007). The worst way to shake hands. http://edition.cnn.com/2007/LIVING/worklife/11/05/cb.hand.shake/index.html
by Briana K. Randall, associate director, UW Career Center
Academic conferences allow you to:
- Start developing your research agenda. Get useful feedback on your research as you convert conference papers into journal articles.
- Gain visibility with future colleagues, employers, and future collaborators.
- Start networking and meet people (other graduate students, future colleagues and mentors, researchers you admire).
- Interview for jobs.
Most UW departments are well-represented at key national academic conferences.
Many professional associations have divisions that may reflect your department’s areas of expertise. Graduate students also find it useful to present their research at topic-specific conferences. Check with faculty to see which organizations hold conferences where it would be appropriate for your research to be presented.
When and how?
Deadlines for conferences are usually noted on academic organizations’ websites. When considering how to submit your research, be sure to check submission requirements. Some conferences require full papers, while others will consider only abstracts. Be sure to adhere to these details and all deadlines, and be sure to submit your work to a relevant division! (What constitutes “relevant?” Check abstracts and programs from previous years’ conferences.)
At the conference…
Some departments provide funds that allow you to travel to conferences to present your research. In addition to talking about your research in a variety of ways, take advantage of being at the conference to learn about the field, meet other people, and participate.
Presenting your research
You will be judged first and foremost on your research, which means that you should strive for a great presentation. In other words:
- Know what attendees at this particular conference expect, e.g., reading your paper vs. summarizing your paper? PowerPoint slides?
- Know your research and what it contributes to the larger body of research.
- Never, ever, exceed the allotted time! Think of your presentation as a headline service. You cannot cover all points, so select the ones you believe are most important.
How to navigate the conference
Read the conference program; attend the sessions that interest you, but don’t plan every hour.
Be ready with a brief “elevator talk” about your research. Conferences are very busy times, and people will not have time to hear a full explication of all your research projects.
Identify the individuals you would like to meet and ask your mentor/adviser to introduce you.
Introduce yourself to people. Many graduate students feel as if they know no one, so you’re not alone. If you are interested in meeting faculty and “big names,” walk up to them when they appear to have a spare moment, and talk about how you are using their research in your own work. Chances are they will want to learn more about you and your work.
Attend graduate forums and receptions.
Socialize at receptions held by various departments and schools.
Regardless of the sessions you attend and the people you meet, always remain professional. You want to be remembered for your research and professional demeanor, not anything else!
Large projects, such as an master of arts degree thesis, dissertation, book, or just a long paper, can be daunting. For some of us, myself included, project management can be a challenge for any article written from scratch. This memo can help you break down your writing project into smaller, less intimidating parts. I will focus on the writing of a thesis or dissertation, but the same basic logic applies to even smaller writing tasks.
Getting started: Clarify purpose, argument, audience
Purpose: A thesis or dissertation should yield a high quality document that adds to the body of scholarly knowledge and is worthy, eventually, of publication in a peer- reviewed journal. Or your writing may address a public controversy or develop a creative insight that could change how people view a phenomenon of interest.
Argument: With your purpose clarified, think about your argument. Create a main argument that carries you through your thesis or dissertation. (There may be many other points along the way, but a core message will help you stay focused from beginning to end).
Audience: Keep a particular audience in mind. For academic work, identify a target journal. Think about who would want to read your work; this will motivate you to write and clarify your message.
Outlining, setting deadlines
One of the causes of vertigo with large writing projects is the sense that the work before you is too big or too much for you to handle given all your existing responsibilities and pressures. So break the project into manageable parts, and make the immediate task a two- or three-page mini-paper.
How to start: Outline your project carefully. Start with a one-page handwritten outline that is simply the main sections or chapter titles.
Then move to a more thorough outline, with detail under each of the points in the first version. At this point, each part of the outline is no more than a few pages.
Refine your outline to indicate how many pages and what kind of work each part will require. For instance, I might have a line in my outline that reads, “Introduce self-perception theory (two pages; brief literature review).” Your daunting, massive thesis or dissertation has now been reduced to a series of manageable, “do-able” tasks.
Set a schedule for completing each piece of the outline. Make sure that each chunk is small enough to be do-able in just a week or two, or even just a day or two.
First-time procrastination problems? You may just be tired, so relax and don’t be hard on yourself.
Persistent procrastination? Break your task into even smaller pieces.
One option: Identify a one-hour block of time. Work on your next writing task for just 15 minutes, followed by a five-minute stretching/social break. Repeat two more times, and in one hour you will have done 45 minutes of work. If that works, then schedule your next writing period for 80 minutes, and so on, until you can set aside three hours at a time for writing. You may find that taking the break after 15 minutes is hard to do because you get a rhythm and can’t stop working. That’s a good thing.
Another option: Schedule writing appointments with fellow students or faculty—or, form a three-to-five person study group that meets every one or two weeks to help keep each other on track.
Other options: See your adviser, commit to a scholarly conference (to create an external deadline), or set up some other writing-related appointment.
If your large writing project becomes so emotionally upsetting that you find yourself unable to do any of the above successfully, consider making an appointment for student counseling. It is easy for the different parts of our lives to get entangled, and the fear or stress you experience regarding your writing may have nothing to do with the quality of your ideas or your skill as a writer—but instead be symptomatic of other things upsetting you at home or at work.
And remember—it’s OK to ask for help.
by John Gastil, former professor, Communication
From seminar paper to master of arts degree thesis to dissertation, the literature review provides both the foundation and the frame for your own research. Its preparation requires careful planning and a well-crafted presentation.
The purpose of the literature review
A literature review tells us what is known by sharing the results of prior studies related to your own.
A literature review places your study within a larger body of work. It shows how your study seeks to fill a gap in, or extend, our knowledge in this area.
A literature review offers a benchmark for assessing your own results. In the conclusion to your study you will revisit the literature review armed with your new findings.
Organizing the literature review
A good literature review is a synthesis of prior research presented in a way that adds value to our understanding of that work. So, it’s important to organize your review in a way that is coherent, relevant to your own study, and useful to other researchers. For example, you might cluster prior research by media type, communication situation, similar findings, key themes, respondent type, or other useful distinction.
Whatever organizing scheme you choose, it is typical to present the most important, relevant, or strongest collection of existing research first, and go from there. If not, there should be a narrative logic to the review presentation.
Another way to add value is to identify conceptual linkages among ideas and authors. Researchers often talk about the same processes — just in somewhat different ways.
It’s tempting to want to include every study that appeared in the key word search of your topic. Don’t. The challenge is to find the right balance between giving the reader confidence in your familiarity with literature and focusing on what’s most relevant for the study at hand.
Writing the literature review
Your synthesis of prior research should focus on key findings or conclusions with just enough information for the reader to discern the question and approach: “In her ethnographic study of Muslim immigrants’ perception of mainstream British media, Gillespie concluded…” The exception being if the study cited is significant because of its methodology — only then would you offer more methodological detail.
Not all ideas in the literature review are used to construct your study’s conceptual framework. So, at the end of each section, tell readers what key concept, finding, definition, or theme is most critical to “carry forward” into their reading of your study.
Don’t over-quote. It slows down your narrative. Direct quotations should only appear if the author said something in a unique, powerful, or precise way (e.g., a definition) that demands repeating in its exact form. Otherwise, use your own words.
Since a good review is a coherent, value-added organization of the literature, provide the reader with clear “signposts” through the instructive use of headings, introductions, transition phrases, and summary statements.
Finally, because people reading your paper or dissertation may not be familiar with your area of research, be careful not to weigh down your literature review in field-specific jargon. It is important that you write in clear and active prose.
by Nancy Rivenburgh, professor, Communication