Somehow I can never find the time to blog. Then again this last week I was freezing my tush off at University of the Frozen Tundra, so I was busy! This past week I got a paper mostly written (it was 60 percent done by Friday morning, but can be more like 80% early this week if I canabalize some grant proposals) and got the timeline together for finishing papers and writing some chapters of the epic pile of dead trees.

But onto a topic of academia:

On Facebook (*gasp*) a community I’m a member of has the question “What would you advise an undergrad to do at such a meeting to market him/herself for grad school?”. As a grad student my suggestions would be:

1) Go to the meeting with a project- you need something to present so that people stand up and take notice of you. Unfortunately what you do in grad school is very different from undergrad since you have to go from purely theoretical ideas of how to do something. . . to actually doing them! So a poster at a conference doesn’t have to be a big to-do, it just has to be something you’ve worked on and understand. Practice your poster talk on people before the conference if you aren’t the kind of person that’s cocky and feels they can make things up on the fly.

2) Don’t hang with your homies at a meeting. I know meetings are big and somewhat scary the first time (or four), but don’t hang with only the people you know from your department. Mix and mingle and use the accretion power of scientists to your advantage- in many cases you can join a group of people for meals and then you can tell them who you are and where you’re from. If nothing else, your advisor and any grad students from the lab should drag you along with them for dinners with all their collaborators thus making sure you never eat alone. Except maybe that night the grad student in your lab in buggering off to have dinner with her friends at a place that only has 12 seats total a night and requires reservations a month ahead of time (sorry, that would be me, but OMG Jose Andres Minibar!).

3) Don’t go to every stinking talk- I think it does better to hang out in the poster hall or the hallways outside to yap it up with people. We all experience squashy brain syndrome after 3 or 4 days straight of talks, so pace yourself. Among the people to yap up- the grad students in the departments you’re interested in: we can give you the dirt on the department and/or potential advisors.

Of course: I’ll be honest, I was a grad student with fairly crap physics GRE scores and not so good physics grades. Research experience was the thing that saved my backside as did a good relationship with faculty in my undergrad institution who did a lot of calling around for me. Going to conferences taught me to be more confident in my research experience and helped me verbalize what I do in terms of the big picture, which I’m sure helped with grad school applications where I talked about my experience.

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