(Almost) everything went right in grad school: Part 2

Grad school:

My graduate school experience started out really well. If I’m being honest, there was never really a situation to point to where I could say “this made me want to call it quits”. That is, except for the end of my first year.

Grad school started out really well. I spent the first two weeks reading just about every Bd-related (amphibian disease) piece of literature out there to get acquainted with my new study system. I landed my own office with two (that’s right, two!) windows. I hit the ground running and applied for a few grants/fellowships in my first semester. Grades were good, research plans were made for the field season, I was rolling. I even got to go home for about a month over winter break since there wasn’t much to do in Memphis. The following spring, my first field season went off without a hitch. From that year I got three manuscripts (two published, one in review). But even with all this success, I wasn’t happy.

There’s no need to get into the details of what happened. A bunch of (mainly) personal stuff came to a head all at once and it was almost too much to handle. I remember having a conversation with my parents where they essentially said, “If you’re not happy, come home. Sticking it out isn’t worth your happiness and sanity.” However, I am as stubborn as they come, and while I appreciated their concern more than they can know, I decided to stick it out. Needless of say, I’m glad that I did.

That moment at the end of my first year when I decided to stay in Memphis represented a turning point, not only in my career, but my life. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, science would become an integral part of everything I would do moving forward. If you told me then that someday I would blog about science, have a twitter account primarily for scientific purposes, and be a science-policy position at a federal agency, I would have laughed in your face. But not too soon after that moment, I began on a track that would lead to me where I am today.

I remember talking to Jess as an undergraduate about how we never wanted to become “those people” who always talked about science. And while I hope she’ll correct me if I’m out of line here, we totally are. In Memphis I would regularly head to my favorite bar to talk science with my good friend who studies waterfowl physiology. Friday’s were spent at our campus lunch spot with a group of fellow graduate students. To this day, James and I still talk about once a week about science-related issues. So why has science become such an integral part of my life? Because (almost) everything went right.

[I first fell like I need to say that I am not trumpeting my skills as a scientist. I’ve done OK for myself and am comfortable where I stand.]

After the success of that first field season, it became the status quo to perform multiple experiments every season.* My publication record (and hopefully future pubs) show a scientist who hasn’t (yet) redefined an area of science, but has a nice mix quality and quantity. Of all the experiments I ever performed, all but one provided me with publishable data (negative results are important as well). I’ve also had decent success getting money. I never landed that big NSF grant (again, yet), but I got by on small grants here and there and had enough cash to analyze my data. I’ve given numerous presentations at scientific meetings, schools, and community events. In addition to TAing, I co-taught a class where I was responsible for developing and carrying out my own curriculum. Things drastically improved in my personal life and everything went along pretty smoothly.

But, there are always setbacks (here is where the “almost” comes in).

1) Manuscripts: I was, and still am, not great about picking appropriate journals for my research. Initially it was just a matter of aiming way too high, but recently I’ve had a few rejected without review due to “fit” issues. When I would switch to a journal of lateral impact, usually the manuscript would be accepted. I think that I’m getting better at picking appropriate journals. Time will tell as I have a few in review currently.

2) Manuscripts: In addition to  picking ill-fitting journals, I was not good at manuscript writing when I started. I know I know, none of us are, but I think that I was especially bad. Rejection after rejection after rejection began to pile on. What’s worse is that I had to fight one that I was confident would be overturned (it eventually was, but the process wore on me). However, I continued to press on and things began to turn around as I progressed throughout my career. At the end of the day, I’m doing OK for myself.

3) Grants: I’ve applied for around 50 grants and fellowships of all shapes and sizes: travel, research, policy, etc. I probably have a success rate around 20%. Sounds pretty good, right? Like I said, I did well enough to get by, but something I learned is that with more effort comes more rejection. My peers would always say how they envied my drive and determination and success at getting money. Well, if I didn’t try, I couldn’t do my research, and while I was successful sometimes, I was not countless others. That much rejection gave me some pretty thick skin. So, when I applied to post-graduate positions, I didn’t sweat it when I received rejection after rejection. I was also on track to graduate a semester early so I figured I could just go the full five years and get in another field season. Luckily (or not, depending on who you talk you we shouldn’t use the word “luck” when talking about our achievements), I was granted the Knauss Fellowship which afforded me my current position.

In Part 3 (Friday) I’ll finish with my current position as a fellow and future goals.



*This is perfect timing as Jeremy Fox over at Dynamic Ecology has job posted about the value of performing side projects.






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