Basic Guidelines for a Great Start

Things to do as soon as you start your PhD program
1) Set up a support system around you, both academic and non-academic. Meet with your cohort, go out to grad student events, meet with your professors, and start a good relationship with your advisor. Let your family and friends know that will you need their support too as you start this new phase of your life.
2) Manage your time wisely. Being a grad student involves juggling a lot of responsibilities! Start identifying what works and doesn’t work for you, and work around your strengths and weaknesses.
3) Continue/Start networking. It’s never too early to start. Ask your advisor what conferences are good to attend, set up meetings with faculty members that you share research interests with, mingle with the advanced students and post-docs (these are good people to look for mentorship too)
4) Start looking for and applying for grants/funding. The more you do it, the better you get at it, and the higher the probability of you getting something.
5) Start looking into what you can do to build up your CV. Applying for grants is a start, but you can also start planning conference presentations and joining professional organizations.
6) Get into good writing habits. Our job as PhD students is to learn how to conduct good research, AND to be able to communicate it (after all, what good is research if nobody knows about it). Writing takes a good chunk of our time, but there is no good system in place within the PhD student process to make people good, habitual writers. Join a writing group, ask advanced students to talk to you about the writing process, and start a daily writing habit. This will really help you out in the long run!

Latino Film Festival and Conference

Currently, our very own IU is hosting its first ever Latino Film Festival and Conference. This event has brought together national scholars and film makers, to discuss the themes and issues within Latino cinema. The event began yesterday evening with a screening of Sleep Dealer, followed by a Q&A by the director, Alex Rivera. Several discussion panels were organized for today and tomorrow, along with more awesome film screenings, including Blacktino (director Aaron Burns), Gun Hill Road (director Rashaad Ernesto Green) and some classics, like Zoot Suit (Director Luis Valdez). This event is a depiction of the dedication by IU and the people and organizations within it to promote the diversity of perspectives and enrichment of life in Bloomington. And best of all, it’s completely FREE!!! Hats off to the IU Cinema and organizers of the event (for a list of the organizers, and more info, visit the website).

Bloomington for Doggy Owners

Have a dog and wondering if they will like Bloomington? Well, you are in luck, because Bloomington is a wonderful place for students who are doggy owners. To house your pet, there are multiple housing options that allow dogs (and other pets) for an additional fee. There are lots of beautiful places to go for walks, like the B-line trail that goes through downtown, at IU through campus, or at Bryan Park, where lots of families and doggy owners hang out. Griffy Lake Nature Preserve to the north of town has lots of wonderful hiking trails, and even its own unofficial dog park. Of course, if you are interested in an official dog park, Karst Farm Dog Park, on the southwest side of town, is really great too! The Hoosier National Forest and Lake Monroe also offer lots of trails for hiking with your furry friend. You are also very likely to see many dog owners with their companions just strolling through downtown on any given day. What about your pet needs? There are a couple of local pet stores in town, as well as your bigger name pet stores on the outskirts of town. And, if you are interested in adopting a new pet, the Bloomington Animal Shelter is just the place you need! My doggy loves Bloomington, and I’m sure yours will too!

Small town…. Big opportunities

Moving to Bloomington from a suburb in Houston TX was quite a change for me, especially because I was born and raised near such a huge city. I will admit, it took me a while to adjust to the small town feel of Bloomington, but after almost 4 years of living here, Bloomington has really grown on me. Despite being small, there are always so many things to do around town. Events are usually organized both by the university and the town, and involve everything from community sports to art, music, fine dining, theatre, comedy, dance shows, cinema, lectures, and organizations for the community to join. A few web pages that I keep an eye on for events happening in town are this one: http://www.visitbloomington.com/things-to-do/events/
and this one: http://bloomingtonscene.com/
Bloomington not only provides lots of entertainment, but the town also has lots of opportunities for people to be THE entertainment. From having weekly open-mic comedy,  to making it feasible for people to schedule their own shows at some of the local venues. If you have a talent, Bloomington has a place for you to show it off :)

This is a picture of a show I was a part of recently. We played at the Bishop (a pretty cool music venue/bar in town)

Wish I had known….

At the beginning of my PhD, up until not too long ago, I struggled a little bit with what I used to call “failure”. This wasn’t “failure” like “I’m not doing my work and i’m going to quit my PhD failure”, but “failure” of the kind where you work really really hard to get a specific result, or to answer a specific question, and things don’t turn out the way you think they might. This used really bring me down, and I used to think “what am I doing wrong…”

But recently, I had a realization. This thing that I was calling “failure” is actually, plain and simple, THE “research process”. Of course every question we try to answer is not going to be answered on the first try. Otherwise, we would have all gone home a long time ago. This was especially highlighted recently, when I was at a talk and the researcher was discussing this great result that had produced several publication, and they remarked “It took us 2 years to figure out how to set this study up for it to work”. In other words, it took them a lot of “failures” in order to get to their success.

So, when you’re feeling down because that great idea you had isn’t working, or you’ve run too many studies to count, but yet you have no “good” results, it’s OK! Keep your head down and keep working away. The worst that can happen is that this idea is really a failure, but now you’re a little smarter, and you can move on to work on a new idea based on this little “failure”.

Student mentoring

One of the really great things that I love about working in my specific lab is that our advisor really encourages graduate students to work one-on-one with and mentor undergraduate students. The way it works is that we are basically allowed to take on a few students to help us with our research. Students receive course credit and research experience, while we the graduate students get help to conduct our research AND sharpen our mentoring skills.

Over four years, I have managed and mentored 10 students and can feel that I’ve gotten a little better at delegating responsibilities and helping students develop their critical thinking skills. It’s really like managing your own research group, and it feels great when you see some of these students thrive. Last year I mentored 1 student through her honors thesis project and defense (she has moved on to a Masters program), currently I am mentoring another honors thesis student (who has been accepted at four great PhD programs in my field), and I have another current student who is presenting a poster at the Women in Science conference this Friday (link: http://www.indiana.edu/~owa/wisp/). All of this is mostly due to the amazing abilities of these great students, but I like to think that I have helped a little

Spring is almost here!!

The 67 degree weather today reminds me of how much I dislike the cold, and how ready I am for Spring and Summer to get here. One of the things that I tried for the very first time last spring and summer was to have a garden, and actually it was mostly successful. Considering that I’ve never done this before, I was really expecting not so great results. But I actually got lots of tomatoes (pictured below). Last year I rented a community garden plot (for more info, visit this link), but this year I will try to start my own in my yard. I know it’s still 2 months away, but I am already thinking about what I will plant this year!

grape tomatoes!

IU Cinema

photo courtesy of http://www.cinema.indiana.edu/about/

As a graduate student on a very tight budget, you often come to REALLY appreciate the opportunities for entertainment at a low cost. One of these options is the IU Cinema. The Cinema shows tons of films a year (approx. 150) from International/Foreign language films to new arthouse releases, to oldie classic films and special screenings. Best of all, attending is relatively cheap (usually free, but sometimes a few bucks will get you in). This week I watched Pina in 3D (which only cost me $3) and a special screening of the new PhD Movie (which cost me $0). Both were extremely good!

Graduate Recruitment Day…Good for Current Students too!

As a current student, I always look forward to graduate student recruitment day. My department gives me a chance to partake in some of the events. Not only do I get to hear about the awesome projects of a lot of up and coming, bright, future grad students, I get to also practice my five minute spill of my work (helps me sharpen my “big picture” skills). In addition to these wonderful benefits, I get FREE food (and as a grad student, this is a big plus!!!!)

For lunch we went to the Tudor room at the IMU (here’s a link, they have such good food!!! http://www.imu.indiana.edu/dining/tudorroom.shtml). This evening a potluck has been organized by the faculty in my specific program, and I will get to enjoy more free food, a glass of wine, and get to hang with people in my program and the prospective students.

If you are doing interviews right now, don’t worry, soon you will be on the other end, and you will be able to enjoy this process without the anxiety :)

Get that $$$$

Money makes the world go ’round, and unfortunately, it is also the foundation of a graduate student career. As a graduate student, a big portion of the time goes into thinking about money. Are you budgeting correctly to pay for living expenses? Can you afford that trip to that really big, important conference? Where are you going to get money to conduct that research project? Do you have funding to support graduate school next year?

Fortunately, there are lots of sources out there where you can get money. My tips for getting this money is to: start early, do it often, and get help.

It is never to early to start applying to get money. NOW is the perfect time. Look for external fellowships even if your department is funding you, and apply to all of the ones you are eligible for. When going to a conference, apply for a travel grant. If you are starting a new research project, apply for grants to fund it, no matter how small. The more you apply, the greater the chance is of you getting something, and the better you get at writing grant applications (practice makes perfect!). Most importantly, talk to others who have gotten funding before. People who received funding don’t receive it by luck, they did something right. Ask them to see their applications, ask them to read yours, team up with researchers and faculty members who are well funded.

So what are you waiting for? Go out there and get that cash!