I had some friends ask me about what grad life is like day-to-day. What to know what you’re getting yourself into, eh? So here goes a little run down of what I (and most other first years) do.
I have 2 "real" classes. Each has 3 hours a week of lecture. One also has an optional 1 hour a week discussion section (we mostly talk about ethical issues in biology and research). One class is more like your standard undergrad classes. It has tests and is mostly lecture by the professors teaching it. The other class is nothing like this. It is very interactive, has no tests, and is focused around making us into scientists (as compared to science students). I can already tell I'm gonna love this one! No tests though, huh? So how do we get graded you might ask. Well, we have homework problems sets that we're encouraged to work on in groups and we also write a mock grant proposal. We even get to form review boards and "decide" whose proposals get funding. Very science-y indeed. Homework is those problems sets and reading scientific journal articles that will be discussed in class. I have no textbooks this semester which is awesome for my bank account and my back! OH! And I only have one final to worry about this semester!!
I also have two seminars. One is presentations by students and one is by professors. For the student ones, we learn some science, give some constructive feedback, and leave. For the professor ones, it is more like a class and we have journal articles to read and discuss.
In general, class is taking up a lot more of my time than I had expected (and a lot more than I would like). I look forward to when I don’t have classes and anymore and I can just do research. Btw, most first years take two classes each semester and second years take one each semester, plus do one semester of teaching.
I am spending 4-6 weeks each in 3 different labs. This is to help me decide what lab I want to complete my thesis work in. Each lab has their own mentality about rotating students (i.e. people like me). My first rotation is more focused on me learning what the lab is like/about than on me actually getting any research done. So I spend about 3 hours a week attending their various lab group and subgroup meetings, 5-10 hours a week shadowing a post-doc in the lab, and several hours a week reading papers published by the lab. The meetings and the shadowing are to let me get to know the lab as a work environment. The paper reading is to help me figure out what sort of research I could do if I chose to enter this lab.
Other first years have told me that there rotations have set them up with a mentor to shadow but have also given them a specific project to try and complete during their time. This is a small project but it is common knowledge around the science world that research never goes as planned (esp. if you're just learning the techniques) and the department accepts that students rarely get any publishable work done during a rotation. But not to worry! That's what a thesis is for!
Now for the fun stuff eh? Well, I LOVE my roommate and could not have found a more fitting one if I'd set up interviews lol. We hang out as a class a lot since we're kind of the only people we know so far. That's working out well. There are a lot of microbial science events where we meet other micro grad students as well as some undergrads and we've hung out with some of them some.
The most exciting thing to happen so far was the Taste of Madison where tons of restaurants set up booths around the capital and sell cheap, small plates so you can try their food. There's also a special zoning thing those days so you can buy and walk around with your beer all day 😀 Wisconsins sure love their beer!
So basically that’s what I do with my time. Well, the interesting stuff anyway. I figured ya’ll don’t need to hear about grad student laundry day or calls home. 🙂