Let’s Talk—Applying to Graduate School

NIAID postbacs engaged virtually with the graduate school panel in 2020

By Joie Ling, INRO Postbac in the Pathogen Molecular Genetics Section, Laboratory of Bacteriology

On September 25, 2020, the NIAID training office hosted a graduate school panel discussion to cap off its intensive Applying to Graduate School Workshop. The panelists included Victoria Avanzato (M.D./Ph.D. OxCam student), Portia Gough, Ph.D. (NIAID postdoctoral fellow), Rodrigo Matus Nicodemos (NIAID Ph.D. student), Adam Nock, Ph.D. (NIAID postdoctoral fellow), and Juan Pablo Ruiz Villalobos, D.Phil (postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison).

The panelists answered questions ranging from how to ask a potential PI about the funding situation to answering tough interview questions. Through their answers and subsequent discussion, a common message shone through — no two people are the same and no two graduate school journeys will be the same. This message was further highlighted by the diversity of the panelists’ own experiences and paths through gaining their degrees. Some participated in the NIH Oxford Cambridge Scholars (OxCam) Program while others earned their Ph.D.s through the NIH Graduate Program Partnership.

The panelists urged attendees to take time to look at all of their options, not only to determine what they value but to find the program that is the best fit. Reflecting on their own graduate experience, they emphasized the importance of looking outside of the lab. Giving weight to things like geographical location and city versus suburban life are not superficial considerations. In addition, finding a lab that will allow you the time to continue personal pursuits and hobbies is also paramount. As Avanzato put it, “don’t give up what makes you you.”

In line with finding the best fit for you, the panelists also emphasized the importance of finding a program and school that would support you both academically and mentally. Dr. Ruiz Villalobos advised attendees to investigate programs’ demographics with regards to attrition rates and graduation rates to gain insight into whether there is institutional support for underrepresented students in STEM. I personally appreciated how panelists did not shy away from the reality that graduate school can be taxing on a person, both physically and mentally, and having support systems are vital.

By the end of the hour, the panelists had empowered attendees to find the path and fit best for them, drawing on the panelists’ own unique journeys and successes.

Learn more about postbaccalaureate training opportunities at NIAID.

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