Been there, done that.
After six years of grad school, there are a few things I've picked up from personal experience and a whole lot of time talking with other female grad students (AKA procrastinating). I've always wished there had been some kind of handbook about how to handle the whole world of graduate school, so I figured I'd start a friendly place to discuss what it's like to be female in grad school, and maybe pass on some wisdom too!
Saturday, October 30, 2010
The Connection Connundrum
(Isn't this a cool picture? It *kinda* has to do with connections, which is why I'm using it, but mostly just think it's cool :)
So, I had a great comment on my last post about getting in to grad school that mentioned how connections with people around you really can make a huge difference. I would like to say that I was just saving this massively important topic for its own post, but then I'd be totally lying :) Anyhow, forming connections with other people in your prospective field can be one of the most important things you do before entering grad school for two reasons (maybe more--let me know if I'm forgetting something!): 1. meeting people in your field gives you an idea of what they do, how they function, and allows you to better understand if this is the life you're really looking for, and 2. it will totally give you a boost in terms of not only getting IN to school, but finding projects, jobs, etc. That old saying "it's not what you know, it's who you know"? Sad, but true. Now, I'm not saying it's the end-all, be-all to know the top dogs in your field. That would be impossible. But I am saying it helps to get your foot in the door if you are able to forge some links with others in your field.
Personally, I know full well I would have never gotten into grad school had I not known and worked with the people in my current lab. They were the ones who got me in here (for better or worse, haha!), and I owe them big time for it. Plus, they make life soooo much better for me, because they are awesome, as Smith Lab rocks :)
Okay, so connections: they're important. How do you form them? I mean, during undergrad years you read all these papers and see all these names in different fields, so how do you go about getting to know some people in your chosen area? Well, there are a few things, and one of the more important things to remember is that most people love some flattery, and generally like to talk about their research/work. Everyone likes to be made to feel a little important, though not like brown-nosing important :) Now, keep in mind that many people are busy and don't have time to sit down and spend hours giving out advice and help to every undergrad who sends them an email, but if you're serious, show some talent and genuine interest, it's not going to hurt. It might not get you any attention, but if it does, then you're on the right track. I'm certainly not saying stalk someone, okay?
Something I've seen my students do when asking about my research, and I think it's pretty appropriate, might provide a good guide: a student may read about me online (my website or blog), read a paper I've written, seen my lab, or heard a talk I've given. Then, a polite email asking for a time to meet, possibly during my office hours, or something similar. A short conversation follows, where they ask solid questions and ask for advice on what their best course of action could be. Now, these are the students I remember, the ones I'm happy to write super enthusiastic letters of rec for, and the ones I'll be thinking of first when I need interns. Good things, right? Generally, this is how good connections are formed. (Not that I'm exactly like some person that's all that great in the connections department, but I do know some people, and it's a good place to start :)
Other places that are great for forming connections are while you're working on that internship I mentioned last time. Get to know the people you work with, and MAKE SURE you're not the intern people are seriously glad to see go, okay? I've seen all kinds, and generally the ones who moan and complain, and are constantly breaking stuff aren't the ones we want to remember... Anyhow, be smart, be informed, and ask questions. It's a good thing. Conferences and professional meetings are other good places, though I'll be the first one to admit that I hate these big meetings. I get tongue tied and and much more comfortable hiding in the background. This is where the more personal connections you've made can come in handy though, and these people know others, and this can help even the shy among us meet people who can help with our careers. This is totally what's worked for me, and though it's probably not the best way to go, and certainly not the only one, it's a route to think about.
So, what have I missed? Where are other connections formed?
Also, if some people wouldn't mind hitting that little "follow" button on the sidebar there? I'd totally love ya for it. As in, I'll even make you cookies or something, if you live in the area :)