We were joined at our weekly brownbag lunch today by Dr. Marcela Hernandez of the Life Sciences Network (check out their website). Marcela completed her undergraduate, masters, and PhD at Ohio State, and had some very useful insight into doing a PhD in the life sciences.
Marcela did her undergrad degree in Molecular Genetics, and then joined the Ohio State Biochemistry Program for her PhD. After her lab rotations, she ended up joining a very big, well-funded microbiology lab. When talking to us about her experience in this lab, Marcela really emphasized the importance of your fit with that lab’s atmosphere and the PI; if you don’t feel like that lab is the right place for you, she said that you shouldn’t be there. Right before taking her candidacy exams, Marcela said she really didn’t feel like that microbiology lab was the right place for her and there wasn’t a lot of interaction between graduate students and the PI, so she ended up taking her master’s degree and leaving the program.
After leaving graduate school, Marcela got a job as a lab technician with Dr. Erich Grotewold here at OSU. She told us that her experience in this lab was much different than her time in the microbiology lab. She had a lot more interaction and a much better relationship with the PI than in her previous lab; this was a much better fit for her. After some time working at a technician and publishing with the lab, Dr. Grotewold suggested she rejoin the OSBP and finish her PhD in his lab. She was ultimately able to re-enter the program and finished her PhD in Dr. Grotewold’s lab.
Marcela discussed in depth how important the fit of the lab is to your success in the program. Even if it is a renowned PI and they have great funding, if it is not an atmosphere that is conducive to your personal and academic learning, you are not going to find success in that program. She emphasized how important it is to evaluate labs and PIs during rotations (for life sciences) and make a determination of which lab to work in based on your fit to that lab.
After her PhD, Marcela did a postdoc at Ohio State, and is now a research scientist and the administrative director of the Life Sciences Network at Ohio State. She spend some time talking about alternative careers for PhDs, and that there are many jobs out there outside of academia (and industry in some cases) where a PhD is a very useful-jobs such as journal editors, science writers, and in her administrative job to name a few. Since anyone who is interested in graduate school knows that faculty jobs are difficult to get and not plentiful, it is very good to know that a PhD can be applied to many science-related jobs throughout the country.
We had a lot of fun listening to Marcela, and she encourages anyone who is interested in the Life Sciences Network or has questions about it to contact her (her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org). Be sure to join us next week for our last lunch of the summer, where we will be joined by Dr. Meg Daly of EEOB!
Jackie and Tiffany