Category: grad school

What is grad school like? I hear it's super toxic, is that universal? (i am very much hoping that i am not wrong in assuming you are in grad school oh lord)

I can say from personal experience that it is not universal. I started grad school in North Carolina and ended up leaving because I had an abusive advisor who discriminated against me for my chronic illness. She straight-up said she’s a workaholic and expects anyone who works under her to match her work “ethic.”

My current advisor prioritizes a work-life balance, and a majority of the other grad students have already started families, so there simply is not a culture of working yourself to death.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about grad school and mental health, and I think change is on the horizon. People are acknowledging the destructiveness of grad school, and that is the first step toward enacting change.

One of the nice things about presenting for something that’s neither paid nor graded is that you can put literally anything in it, like a picture of your rat because you are obsessed with your children

WOO I got honorable mention for the best student presentation with the American Bryological and Lichenological Society! Every minute I spent panicking about this presentation (which was MANY minutes) was worth it.

All summer I’ve been planning my dissertation, and I’ve strongly been thinking I want to do a study looking at how lichen composition changes along an altitudinal gradient. However, a few days into the conference I realized that if I want to make it through grad school alive, I need to live within the boundaries of my chronic illness. This means not doing an extensive amount of fieldwork. It means accepting my limits. It means not climbing all over a mountain to collect specimens and instead focus on cultivating my data analysis skills.

Fast forward to this morning when a lichenologist approached me to tell me about his research in northern Chile looking at lichens along a really interesting altitudinal gradient in a fog desert. He’s more of a functional ecologist, and he wanted someone with the molecular analysis background to handle the other end of things to investigate what’s going on. He saw my talk yesterday and wants to collaborate with me. Basically send me specimens and data in exchange for my skills.

And I am just…elated. Overjoyed. I can make this work. I can follow my research interests without breaking myself. <3

I did my presentation at the Botany Conference! I’d like to say that I didn’t lose huge chunks of time to panic over the past few days, but… I definitely did. Anyway, I’ve been learning a lot here, about what I want from a career, about how to do conferences as a spoonie (pay more to stay at the hotel the conference is at so you can go back to your room anytime to nap), and how to present. I learned very quickly that people enjoy a bit of silliness splashed into a presentation, so I made sure to lighten up (this may have included putting my pet rats in the acknowledgements).

Now, to actually try to enjoy the conference! I didn’t bring my DSLR with me, but I’ll make a few photo posts soon. Otherwise you can see a lot of it on Instagram (@microcosmiaphotos). Thanks for being there for me through this all!

I’ve been agonizing a little bit over my presentation because I’ve never been to a scientific conference, so I’m not sure what is the standard for presenting at one. I’ve been googling like mad to figure out the best way to set things up, but then it occurred to me…

I’m not getting paid to do this. I’m not getting graded on it. The conference itself hasn’t established any rules I have to follow (other than a time limit). I can do whatever I want!

Excuse me while I trash my current presentation and make a new one where I weave a tale on lichen hybridization.

I’m working on my presentation for the Botany Conference (continuing the trend of WINGING IT because who am I to present on a topic that I only really familiarized myself with in the past 6 months [/impostor syndrome]). Powerpoint is so hilariously off on its guesses of what the pictures of lichen are. Apparently the one on the left is a close-up of cauliflower while the photo on the right is just a pile of rocks.

Hello! How did you choose which university to do your PhD at? Do you have a favourite lichen fact that you wish everyone knew?

I chose my advisor, then came to where he was. Some people care about how prestigious a university is, but in my opinion if your advisor has good publications that you’re interested in, as well as the qualities that you want in someone who is going to mentor you for 6 years, then it’s worth it to go to a university that’s not R1 if that’s where that person is.

Right now, the thing I am finding most interesting about lichens is that they’re not really just a fungus and an algae. They can be multiple fungi and multiple algae, as well as bacteria. A lot of things come together to form these little structures, and that’s pretty amazing.

I'm working on masters right now and I just finished my first year. We have summer classes in our program and it's killing me. I'm struggling to motivate myself to complete my work and I have a growing feeling of apathy. How do you motivate yourself to do the work when you really don't want to? I have no self -discipline…

I’m probably not the best person to ask for advice on this right now, since I am struggling with the same… Were you able to take a break at all between your spring and summer semesters? I think a lot of times that lack of motivation can stem from burn out.

In any case, if anyone has any advice on this topic, please do reply!

Hi! What are you doing your PhD on? Where are you doing it (did you have to move far)? (if any of this is to personal, I apologise; I just like hearing people talk about their research)

I’m working toward a PhD in Biology at Brigham Young University. It’s a private Mormon university (I’m not Mormon), and it remains to be seen whether deciding to do my PhD at a place that doesn’t permit coffee is a mistake.

I am currently figuring out my dissertation, but it will for sure be 1) on lichens, 2) have phylogenetic elements, and 3) extend beyond the written dissertation to have an outreach component. I’m spending the summer reading up on the literature to figure out what I’d like to do, and I’m leaning hard on doing metagenomic studies to learn more about the community that forms each lichen.

(No worries about the questions! I love talking about my research and the thought processes behind it.)