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Ask Slashdot: Advice For Summer Before Ph.D. Program?

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the work-or-play dept.

Education 228

First time accepted submitter tookul03 writes "I'm a graduating senior from a small New England liberal arts college, and have secured a spot in a Biological Science Ph.D. program for the next five years. I realize this coming summer will be my last out of the lab for a long time and am not sure If I am interested in doing something related to my research interests or use it as an opportunity to find some new hobbies/interests. I figured the Slashdot community had a number of individuals who were/are in a similar position (albeit different fields) and could shed some light on things they (or others) had done. Thanks."

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228 comments

Hike the Appalachian Trail (4, Funny)

EmagGeek (574360) | about a year ago | (#43099229)

It's a pretty awesome experience.

Re:Hike the Appalachian Trail (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099363)

As someone presently hiking the AT, yes, it is awesome.

I was going to suggest he spend a few months out in nature.

Re:Hike the Appalachian Trail (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099503)

Posting on slashdot during a through hike is an act too deplorable for words.

Also, I'm jealous.

Re:Hike the Appalachian Trail (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | about a year ago | (#43100079)

I had an internet-enabled cell phone in 2001 when I hiked it, and I would routinely post my whereabouts so others would know I was okay.

But, yeah.. posting to slashdot on a through-hike is just.. wrong. :)

Re:Hike the Appalachian Trail (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43100025)

Or man up and do the PCT instead.

Go Get Laid (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099231)

A lot...

Re:Go Get Laid (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099537)

In 1 Word => YES!!! A smart young "stud" can find 100s of guys to suck his cock => craigslist m4m "no-strings" attached. (no women, either!) Even an "old fart" like me can get laid @ least once / day &/or night.

APK

PS => if u want 2 "ride" my "hershey highway" let me know!

...apk

Don't do research! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099239)

If you've already found a position, then don't do research! Do something wildly different! You're going to be working on something very specific for the next several years. This is your chance to experience something new! Escape while you still can! This is from someone in the MIDDLE of their PhD work!

This is /. (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099245)

Sex, drugs, rock & roll. Next!

party hard (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099247)

and party often

Start working on your dissertation (4, Insightful)

students (763488) | about a year ago | (#43099249)

The sooner you start, the sooner you will finish and get a job that pays better or is more prestigious.

Re:Start working on your dissertation (4, Insightful)

pesho (843750) | about a year ago | (#43099379)

I sure hope you are joking.

Re:Start working on your dissertation (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099625)

Yea, as soon as I got a PhD, my next job had a lower salary, actually.

Re:Start working on your dissertation (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099867)

Sorry, no. As soon as he's finished it's a never ending grind for 'what have you published lately?'. Now is the time to enjoy life. It's hard to get the chance after.

Speaking as someone long into the grind.

Re:Start working on your dissertation (4, Insightful)

spikenerd (642677) | about a year ago | (#43100139)

As soon as he's finished it's a never ending grind...

Right. People enjoy what they're good at. He's going for a Ph.D. Those are the kind of people that are good at making an impact. If we were good at "enjoying life", we would have pursued the path of greatest pleasure instead of the path of greatest impact. If he's not happier grinding, he's on the wrong path.

Re:Start working on your dissertation (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43100067)

But not too much. Budget some time for a genuine holiday, and when that's over, get to work. I would neither do work the whole summer nor relax the whole summer. The more you can manage to get done before you "officially" start, the better. It will save you on the deadlines later, but keep in mind this is a multi-year marathon and you have to pace yourself. Being overworked when you start is also a bad idea. So, balance it.

Re:Start working on your dissertation (1)

geezer nerd (1041858) | about a year ago | (#43100149)

Unless things have changed a lot since I went through the process, it is necessary to pick a research problem and get it approved by the faculty of your department to be worthy of research. I don't think most people know what their problem will be the summer before they start the graduate program. I sure did not. I had to get some experience before I could identify a good topic.

Travel! (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099255)

Travel! Don't do research but travel and charge your batteries for what comes ahead.

(Currently writing up PhD thesis and in desperate need for a vacation)

Have fun. (5, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | about a year ago | (#43099267)

I travelled across the country going from music festival to music festival the summer before I went to grad school. You will have plenty of time to do something research related. Just relax and have a great fucking time, you've earned it.

Re:Have fun. (1)

pesho (843750) | about a year ago | (#43099343)

I second this. Have fun and travel. Depending how your life turns, this literally may be your last opportunity for the next 20-30 years to see the world. Five years is a bit optimistic for biological sciences PhD these days. Then you will have to get a job (or a postdoc), you may have family and kids ..... None of these are conducive to long periods away from home.

Re:Have fun. (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about a year ago | (#43099721)

Actually, although you may not realize it at the time, by traveling around you will be collecting new experiences and inspirations. These could indeed turn out to be useful for your research later. Think of all the scientific discoveries that have been found by accident.

Sometimes if you are purposely concentrating, researching and looking for something, you don't find it. Maybe three years on, you will be stuck on a problem in the lab, and suddenly something from your travels will pop up to give you insight.

Re:Have fun. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43100095)

Going to see shows as a spectator isn't as nourishing as getting to know musicians (especially grad school musicians) and forming friendships with them, being part of the extended tribe of musicians in a local scene. It takes an adjustment in thinking, to be an enthusiast who befriends musicians as opposed to a consumer and customer. It's an interesting world, what those creative people experience, and well worth knowing. Pot luck dinner parties are usually an easy way to meet people and form bonds. Have a band over to your house to entertain at a party. Won't cost much but will open amazing doors.

relax and take it easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099271)

Get settled into your new apartment and have fun with hobbies. Homebrew is a good one. If you get bored then you can always read up on your lab groups research topics. Our you could just go smoke weed and fly a kite and sip beers with the college freshmen girls who think your hot shit cuz your going to graduate school.

Reconsider. (4, Insightful)

steevven1 (1045978) | about a year ago | (#43099273)

Turn back while you still can.

Re:Reconsider. (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099847)

Turn back while you still can.

I second this. Do you have any idea how many biological science phds there are? Any idea how much suffering and frustration you'll get doig a phd? Do anything else. I'm serious. You will make more money with just a masters or even a BA. You will feel better about yourself, still have your hair, have fewer ulcers, lower blood pressure and possible even be able to afford a family.

A phd ruined my life. Don't let it happen to you.

It's never too late... (-1, Troll)

Type44Q (1233630) | about a year ago | (#43099281)

I'm a graduating senior from a small New England liberal arts college, and have secured a spot in a Biological Science Ph.D. program for the next five years.

It's never too late to go back to middle school; hopefully, this time they can teach you that commas don't go before "and." :p

Re:It's never too late... (3, Informative)

dgatwood (11270) | about a year ago | (#43099541)

In almost every case it is acceptable to use a comma before "and". In the case of a series, it's a Harvard/Oxford/serial comma (and is either present or absent, depending on the editorial style of whoever you're writing for). In the case of a compound sentence, it is required. And in the case of a compound predicate (as in this sentence), it is considered optional. As a rule, you should not use a comma in a compound predicate unless the sentence is fairly complex. I probably would not have put in that comma, but I also probably would not have objected if someone else had put it in.

The only situation I can think of in which it is actually wrong (as opposed to being required or being a style issue) to use a comma before the word "and" is when you're writing a simple series of two things, e.g. "The boy, and girl went to the store."

Re:It's never too late... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43100027)

In the case of a compound sentence, it is required. And in the case of a compound predicate (as in this sentence), it is considered optional.

When is a period before the word 'and' permitted?

The English Major Smackdown (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43100105)

In almost every case it is acceptable to use a comma before "and". In the case of a series, it's a Harvard/Oxford/serial comma (and is either present or absent, depending on the editorial style of whoever you're writing for). In the case of a compound sentence, it is required. And in the case of a compound predicate (as in this sentence), it is considered optional. As a rule, you should not use a comma in a compound predicate unless the sentence is fairly complex. I probably would not have put in that comma, but I also probably would not have objected if someone else had put it in.

The only situation I can think of in which it is actually wrong (as opposed to being required or being a style issue) to use a comma before the word "and" is when you're writing a simple series of two things, e.g. "The boy, and girl went to the store."

English major or not, I bet you're really glad for those English classes you took.

Finally, a Liberal Arts smack down on Slashdot! This and the recent criticisms against Apple make me realize that times change - even here on Slashdot!

Or the World is coming to an end. Wait - criticism against Apple gets modded up. An English Major gets modd'ed +5 - OH GOD! THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END! WE'RE DOOMED!

re: commas don't go before "and." (1)

girlinatrainingbra (2738457) | about a year ago | (#43099551)

re: commas don't go before "and."
.
There are three types of rules: rules meant to be followed, rules meant to be broken, and rules that fuck with your mind. [see the example of what I did there?] When you have a list with multiple items separated by commas, it is permissible to put the "and" prefacing the last item even though it will be preceded by a comma.
;>)
Just to be persnickety is why I point this out. Now that particular rule does not apply to the ask-slashdot-author's sentence, but I thought I'd point out that the simple rule of commas not going before "&" is not as clear-cut as it seems. [notice the comma before the ''but'']

Re:It's never too late... (-1, Troll)

Type44Q (1233630) | about a year ago | (#43099589)

Let me guess: modded-down by a Bard or Simon's Rock grad (or similar ilk) and they're blaming me. It's not my fault that their parents paid too much for their tuition and the school didn't even have the decency to throw in a free "K through 8th" refresher class. :p

Re:It's never too late... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43100073)

Don't you get it? If the man has reached the high echelons of academics, no prole such as you can dare speak ill of his faults. It is like you are new to the upper classes. :p

Re:It's never too late... (1)

quenda (644621) | about a year ago | (#43099633)

It's never too late to go back to middle school; hopefully, this time they can teach you that commas don't go before "and." :p

Your use of semicolons is archaic; did you attend middle school in 1854? And there is nothing wrong with a comma before a conjunction. (Were you thinking of lists?) If you want to be picky, formal grammar would like an "I" pronoun in the second clause, but it is a slashdot question, not his thesis.

BTW, for us non-yanks (sic), hwo do you move from "liberal arts" to a science Ph.D. ? Have they lowered the entry requirements that much?

Girls (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099283)

How about girls? That's a nice hobby.

The PhD is not an end-point (4, Informative)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about a year ago | (#43099299)

I recently completed my PhD so I can offer some very recently acquired information for (hopefully useful) advice.

First of all, you need to find something else when you finish your PhD. Usually, academics went for a post-doc and non-academics went to industry. The game is a little different now, though, and pretty well everyone needs an academic post-doc, even to go to an industry position. Hence you should be thinking now about what you want to do when you finish, figuring out how to get there from where you are about to go. It really is never too early to start thinking about that. Some people say that the most important thing you do in grad school is line up a post-doc position.

Second, networking is critical. I highly recommend that you try to get to as many conferences as you can manage when you are a grad student.

Third, the job market for post-docs right now is terrible, unless you are in the right field at the right time. Right now it seems structural biologists are in high demand but in 5 years it could be something else entirely. Keep an eye on where the job market is going and know how to market yourself to the demand.

Fourth, start thinking right away about your committees for your time in grad school. You'll probably have a qualifying committee, an advisory committee, and a thesis exam committee. Obviously your advisor will be on all three but the rest might or might not carry over much between the three. Know how to deal with those people, how to keep them happy, and how to get them to help you graduate and network.

Fifth, if you don't have an adviser already, start talking to current students in the labs of advisers who are looking to pick up students. You want to know what your life will be like, and how long potential advisers generally keep their students around for before they graduate.

In other words, don't take this summer to escape academia. Take it to prepare for it. If your school graduates most PhDs in 5 years you really don't want to be the person who takes 7 due to lack of preparation.

Another way to prepare is to read: (2)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | about a year ago | (#43099517)

http://disciplinedminds.com/ [disciplinedminds.com]
"In this riveting book about the world of professional work, Jeff Schmidt demonstrates that the workplace is a battleground for the very identity of the individual, as is graduate school, where professionals are trained. He shows that professional work is inherently political, and that professionals are hired to subordinate their own vision and maintain strict "ideological discipline."
    The hidden root of much career dissatisfaction, argues Schmidt, is the professional's lack of control over the political component of his or her creative work. Many professionals set out to make a contribution to society and add meaning to their lives. Yet our system of professional education and employment abusively inculcates an acceptance of politically subordinate roles in which professionals typically do not make a significant difference, undermining the creative potential of individuals, organizations and even democracy."

Re:The PhD is not an end-point (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099643)

To put it another way... http://www.lvkarate.com/black_belt_story.html

Drone Hunting or maybe Camel Spotting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099301)

Drone Hunting, get a group of friends together with body armor, firearms (if they are still allowed in your country), and video recorders, than go Drone Hunting.

Should make for an interesting summer. You can upload the video to youtube, and than use the experience when applying for employment.

Or you could just go Camel Spotting. Camel Spotting could be a lot safer, but not as fun as Drone Hunting.

Have intercourse (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099305)

You'll have a head start on your class mates in practical biology

Drink (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099313)

As someone that has completed their PhD in Physics. I recommend training your liver for heavy drinking.

Trust me I'm a Doctor.

Don't do research (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099321)

Please, don't do research this summer. You're not going to get a real leg up on anything. Go out; enjoy yourself; get laid.

A summer of other than lab work (1)

drunkenkatori (85423) | about a year ago | (#43099323)

Build something with your hands. Travel. Trek. Try something you've never done before. Do something out of doors.

I didn't, I wish I had.

P.S. Graduate as soon as possible. You don't get more points for doing more work as a graduate student. Your post-doc record is way more important if you are trying for the academic track.

Travel the world (1)

FreakNGoat (1571935) | about a year ago | (#43099335)

Backpack Europe or somewhere more exotic if you're so inclined. Get some world perspective, have some adventures, experience other cultures. Don't forget to get laid.

Re:Travel the world (1)

quenda (644621) | about a year ago | (#43099783)

Backpack Europe or somewhere more exotic

That one is so obvious, I wonder why he did not mention it in the question. Maybe he is a rich kid who did that before college?
If not, then do it! Or if not into backpacking, rent a room somewhere like Berlin for the summer. Is that still popular with American students?
Great city, though less central for travel than the old favourites like Prague and Paris.

Re:Travel the world (1)

hraponssi (1939850) | about a year ago | (#43100041)

perfect advice. there is time to get bored and drown in the grind, now would be the time to enjoy the moment. there is no going back after..

and leave the work, laptop, whatever at home. can you?

Quit your program now (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099351)

PhD is brutal, and the labor market for PhD graduates afterwards is even worse. If you don't want to spend this summer before your PhD to do your research, you don't have enough drive to get through the toughest days ahead and exit from it unharmed.

Camping/Hiking (1)

locater16 (2326718) | about a year ago | (#43099365)

Why not? The appalachian trail is driveable relative to you, or if you want an even more amazing experience go out to California and stay a week or two in Yosemite. Or surfing, go somewhere where there's surfing! It's not hard to pick up if your even semi athletic. Whatever you do, you can try photography at the same time, it really lends itself to being a hobby while doing another hobby. Travel or hiking or whatever, wherever you are, you can be taking photos at the same time. Go on an adventure.

Re:Camping/Hiking (1)

quenda (644621) | about a year ago | (#43099731)

Why not? The appalachian trail is driveable relative to you, or if you want an even more amazing experience go out to California

Why limit your horizons so tightly? He is young, has a whole summer, and there is a world out there.
No need to be a parochial American. Get a passport.

Re:Camping/Hiking (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about a year ago | (#43099957)

America is a large place. There is plenty to do here, and if he's like most students he's going to need his money.

Re:Camping/Hiking (1)

quenda (644621) | about a year ago | (#43100145)

America is a large place. There is plenty to do here,

I agree totally. But he already lives there. And how can he appreciate it if he has limited experience of elsewhere?

and if he's like most students he's going to need his money.

Then head for Central America. Even Mexico still has some great places to visit, though I admit its not looking much different to the US these days, with all the guns, and Mexicans.

Military? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099377)

If you really can't decide on your own how to spend your free time and you need someone to tell you what to do, perhaps you're well suited for a career in the military.

Backpack in Europe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099381)

If you've never been to Europe, I would do it that summer. Travel with a friend and use Eurail (there's benefits for students) and stay in a hostel. If you can swing the airfare, that would be my recommendation.

It depends on your professional track... (3, Informative)

Cludge (981852) | about a year ago | (#43099395)

If plan to work in industry (private sector) or a national lab, then by all means, go ahead and blow off some steam before the slog. But if your plans include an tenure track position in academe, you've got no time for such frivolity. Competition for academic positions in the biological sciences has reached the highest levels ever. Expect between 150 and 250 competitors for each position you will apply for. With that kind of competition, only the shining stars become assistant professors. And current expectations have risen to ridiculous levels of productivity and achievement. So if it's a tenure track position you're after, better use your last summer to get started on a grant proposal and submit your first few manuscripts. That's what it takes these days to succeed in academia.

Dedicate yourself. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099415)

" I realize this coming summer will be my last out of the lab for a long time... "

I'd get a head-start on your PhD. Five years in the lab is nothing. Why waste a summer doing something different and getting a bit of life experience?

Bike tour (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099429)

Here's what I did my summer before starting a PhD program:

Sat on my ass for a month, hanging out with friends every day.
Went on a three-week bike tour from NYC to Niagara and then Chicago
Came back and worked a week as a summer camp counselor just for the hell of it
Then worked two weeks teaching a science camp also just for the hell of it
Then spent the remainder sitting on my ass and hanging out with friends every day.

It was probably the best summer of my life.

Find a girlfriend and do some reproductive activit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099439)

Seriously,

though it might sound disrespectful, find a girlfriend and get laid as much as possible while enjoying life, because after you start you would not have a change for doing it in years. Leave the research interests research on private time and the late nights in the lab, for when you are actually there.

You are never going to be the same age again, or on the same emotional/psychological level as you are now, or have the opportunity to be "free"

Do something relaxing, restful, and healthy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099489)

Ph.D. programs are intense. They're a ton of work, and they take most or all of your mental capacity, physical well being, and willpower. I'm just about to finish one myself ... its been a long time coming. Here's some of the things that I wish I'd done (or done better) in the summer before I started.

- Pay off most or all of your debts and/or build up a balance in your bank. Ph.D. students don't make a lot of money. You'll want to do things, and buy things, in the next few years, and you'll be better off if you have some cash on hand. Its not a bad life, but the lack of funds for your personal life can be stressful. If you don't need to worry about that, then....

- Get in shape. You're about to spend the majority of the next 5-6 years sitting on your ass. So take the opportunity now to get in shape. Find a good solo sport you can do (running, biking, swimming, etc) that you don't hate. When you get to your program, try to do that at least 90 minutes a week. And on a related note ....

- Learn or come up with a few easy to make recipes that taste really good (to you anyway) and are good for you. They can be staples of your diet, rather than the vending machine. And finally ....

- Read some books, take in the sunrise and sunset for fun, visit your family, hang out with your friends. Do all the things you won't be able to for the next few years that you know you're going to miss.

Good luck!

Consdering the fields (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099491)

Considering the fields you're studying I would recommend practicing the phrase, "Would you like fries with that?"

Get out! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099519)

You will spend a significant amount of your life time in front of a computer inside a lab.
Go get a life in the outdoors: hiking, climbing, travelling as much as you can.
I didn't do that, now I feel like "OMFG, I should have done that".

Best to get started (3, Informative)

Anthracene (126183) | about a year ago | (#43099549)

Move to your new university and use the summer to do (at least one) research rotation.

Here's why: you said "for the next 5 years." I'm not sure where you got that time period from, but if you're doing your PhD in the US, you're going to find that it's a completely open ended process. This is *really* important to internalize, because every other form of education that you've had experience with has a fixed term: you do what they tell you to for the prescribed time period and at the end they hand you the diploma. You can't run down the clock on a PhD. You don't graduate until you can convince your advisor that you've done enough to merit the degree. And it's generally against your advisor's personal interests to let you graduate.

So, if you want to complete your degree in a reasonable period of time (e.g. 5 years), you have two tasks: 1) Find a lab with a research advisor who you like and trust, because you're putting your life in his or her hands. If you wouldn't give him/her copies of your keys and your ATM PIN, you shouldn't be in that lab. 2) Get established in that lab so you can start organizing and taking charge of your own project and working toward first-author publications.

The first step towards this is doing lab rotations. Summer is often a good time to do these, because your first year is likely to be filled up with classes which will make it difficult to spend enough time in a lab to really get a feel for it. Just make sure that the PI in whichever lab you're rotating in is going to be around (sometimes they are gone for months at a time in the summer) because the most important thing you need to get out of the rotation is deciding whether you trust the PI.

I suspect there will be several threads of people recommending various voyages of self-discovery or self-education. If you had something that you really *wanted* to do, I wouldn't try to talk you out of it, but from the way you've phrased your question it doesn't really sound like there is, and there's no point finding a new hobby this summer that you won't have time to continue once you start your program.

Best of luck with your program.

Go to Europe or Asia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099553)

You have the rest of your life to work and the next 5 years (it's cute you think you'll be out in 5 years ... 6 to 7 is more likely especially in biochem) to toil in the lab. You won't be making any meaningful contribution (certainly not manuscripts or grant proposal) to the lab or science until your third year.

Get out and see the world.

advice from current graduate student (4, Informative)

beckett (27524) | about a year ago | (#43099573)

If you are doing a PhD, your subject matter will have to become your hobby. it shouldn't be your only one, but you should be absolutely enraptured with what you're studying. You are guaranteed to run into a dichotomous moment in your 5-7 year program where you will honestly consider quitting. It will only be through your personal passion and drive that gets you through the 'salmon of doubt'.

Since your spot is secured, you either have obtained grants, you have an academic advisor, or both. Spend the summer reading everything your advisor has written, and read everything in your field. If you are coming into a new PhD program you will most likely have a comprehensive exam (ours is verbal) where your committee will test your knowledge in the field to the point they would be comfortable allowing you to research independently. If you have not formed a research committee, use the summer to select internal and external examiners for your project. Selecting your committee is like drafting for a hockey team: there are heavy hitters and there are marginal academics. you may even encounter, as i have, a committee member that will attempt to sabotage your research. that's all part of grad school, so investigate who you're working with through previous students. Your prospective committee's individual publications is a good first step.

Spend the summer reading to the level where you can converse with someone in your field and be able to drop first and last names of the most pertinent research done between the last 50-100 years ago; much of this research (at least in my field of fish larval development) will be in the stacks and in the library; it is incredibly irksome to encounter a PhD candidate that has no references out of what they could pull out of an online paywall. A lack of understanding the foundational research makes the researcher rootless; it is as if a leaf has no idea it is attached to a tree.

Don't stop reading. keep reading. you should be reading already, but keep reading throughout the summer. clearcut an entire state of trees if you need to; keep reading. This is a primary failure mode of the graduate student: not everyone can take graduate school because not everybody can stand having their brain physiologically rewired on a daily basis as they encounter conflicting research, bad research, obscure research, and science-related gossip. Read until you feel comfortable holding conflicting ideas in your head. read until you find yourself asking a question that leads to no answer, and begin to formulate your project from there.

Changing gears slightly, the second most important thing to knowing your pertinent research intimately is the ability to communicate science to non scientists. My program stresses and indoctrinates strong presentation skills. i would highly recommend reading a book like Randy Olson's Don't Be Such a Scientist [amazon.com]. Learn the jargon, and learn to internalise the jargon and be able to speak to non-technical audiences. the more you can communicate your message and research, the better you will be.

Good luck!

go travelling or build up some money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099583)

Either (as others have suggested already) go traveling as its nice to do something not PhD related, although at least in the early years of your PhD you will have likely have the chance to travel to conferences in places far away from home and can always take an extended trip afterwards. You'll also have some time off in the early years of a PhD, but don't expect any in the last year!

Alternatively try and get a high paid job for the summer, if possible in something related to the PhD or that will give you some useful skills.
I'm guessing the PhD doesn't pay too well compared with some of the graduate jobs you could be doing (mine didn't at least). Depending on your funding it might be nice to have a bit of extra cash and some extra work experience might help secure a postdoc position in a few years. I don't know how it works at your university, but at mine most people take longer to complete their PhD than their funding lasts, so having some extra money saved up for the end is really useful.

Read a book (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099587)

You'll work for the rest of your life whether you want it or not, do something that defines who you are, no what you are. Don't become like most of the losers here. You should work to make money and enjoy life, not to make work the purpose of your life.

Other than that, just have fun. No matter what anyone says, these are among your last few days of freedom, after that, unless you win big at the lottery, you'll work for the rest of your life and worry about money after you stop.

Take a long, unstructured vacation. (1)

Qeyser (6788) | about a year ago | (#43099595)

Now is your chance.

In between my Ph.D. and first post-doctoral stint, I took three months off. Bicycle touring, surfing lessons, and visiting friends across the country. It was one of the best things I've ever done (even considering the credit card debt).

So whatever counts as an adventure for you, go and do it now. Unstructured time off is hard to come by in the sciences, except for the very few elite scientists and engineers who can manage their career on a 40 hour work week. I'm now in year 5 of my post-doctoral work, and I don't see another vacation like that any time soon.

WTF (1)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | about a year ago | (#43099597)

And once again, the collective /. intelligence drops a little.
"What should I do the summer before I start my PhD program, party or work?"

Jebus, dude, it's simple. Here ya go (budget 6 weeks for this):

1. Buy/rent skis and a good road bike.
2. Obtain plane/train/bus tickets to Zermatt in early June.
3. Ski the glacier for a week.
4. Ship the skis home (you don't want to haul them around for the next month)
5. Bike down the Alps to the coast, meeting the water at or around Nice
6. Continue your bike trip from Nice, down the coast, until you hit Barcelona
7. Turn inland, through Zaragoza, Guadalajara, until you get to Madrid
8. In Madrid, find a little bar. It's kinda near the Plaza del Sol. Tell Nico that Pete (the weird American that used to go out with Asphen) sent you. He'll hook you up.
9. Party a couple more days.
10. Sell the bike and fly home
11. Continue with the rest of your life.
12. Profit!

Oh...you don't like doing that? Well then...find something else. (but don't blame me when you have a crappier time)

Re:WTF (1)

Kittenman (971447) | about a year ago | (#43099649)

And once again, the collective /. intelligence drops a little. "What should I do the summer before I start my PhD program, party or work?" Jebus, dude, it's simple. Here ya go (budget 6 weeks for this): 1. Buy/rent skis and a good road bike. 2. Obtain plane/train/bus tickets to Zermatt in early June. 3. Ski the glacier for a week. 4. Ship the skis home (you don't want to haul them around for the next month) 5. Bike down the Alps to the coast, meeting the water at or around Nice 6. Continue your bike trip from Nice, down the coast, until you hit Barcelona 7. Turn inland, through Zaragoza, Guadalajara, until you get to Madrid 8. In Madrid, find a little bar. It's kinda near the Plaza del Sol. Tell Nico that Pete (the weird American that used to go out with Asphen) sent you. He'll hook you up. 9. Party a couple more days. 10. Sell the bike and fly home 11. Continue with the rest of your life. 12. Profit! Oh...you don't like doing that? Well then...find something else. (but don't blame me when you have a crappier time)

I am interested in your life plan and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

And you're right, that's the way to do it.

Go to Paris (1)

Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) | about a year ago | (#43099603)

Go to Paris (not the one in Texas.) Seek out the company of amiable women (or whatever you're into.) Drink, eat, sleep, repeat. Do not take your laptop with you. Take the train to Barcelona of Brussels.

If you're somewhere there are startups... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099659)

Go hang around the startup community. One of the things that drives many a PhD into the dust eventually is the never ending cycle of

grant-writing- > farm out the cool stuff to less senior people -> attend endless PI meetings -> rinse & repeat.

It's good to get perspectives from communities of people who dream big and fail (or succeed) hard. Gives you a different way to think of things, and sometimes that's all you need to rise to the top and become someone who influences the direction of Big Science rather than feeds at its edges. Go to TED. Find TEDx if you can't go to TED.

But spend your summer Thinking Big.

Re:If you're somewhere there are startups... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43100153)

Precisely why I did not finish my PhD. I wanted to be an engineer, not a beggar. I have no desire for anyone to know who I am without ever having met me. I don't care if my name is on a bunch of plaques somewhere.

Bad news for you (1)

jw3 (99683) | about a year ago | (#43099671)

Counting from the start of my PhD program, I have spent over 15 years doing science (biology) -- most of my grown-up life. I'm still doing science, it's my life. And what I have to say to you, young padawan, is not nice.

You are about to do the most thrilling (awesome, exciting, depressing, frustrating, crazy, fulfilling, everything at once) thing on Earth, you will be doing bloody science, and you think about getting ...new hobbies? New interests? All that in a fashion of someone shopping for a new T-shirt? (ah, skydiving, seems nice, I'll take a pair).

How will you come up with ideas for your research if you have not enough curiosity and interest in the world around you, and you have to fish for interests / hobbies on Slashdot? This is how your question sounds for me: "I just got an apprenticeship at NASA, can someone give me an idea for a new hobby? 'cause I have none". If you need to ask a question like that, then better ask yourself whether PhD in science is really what you want.

Apart from that, if you already have anything that you like to do with your free time, plus you have some kind of relationship (or plan to have one), plus you will take your science seriously, you will have barely any time to pursue "new hobbies / interests". Go and read http://www.phdcomics.com/ [phdcomics.com].

And get out of my lawn.

Go get a minimum wage job (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099681)

Go get a minimum wage job for the summer, so that during grad school, you can look back and remember what it was like to be rich.

Get a minimum wage job! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099691)

Get a minimum wage job doing the most physical task you can find and work the longest hours they will give you. Dig ditches, be a waiter or a cook in a popular restaurant, Push a lawn mower, pave roads, work construction, or join a roofing crew. If it's hot, dirty and low paying job, apply!

You will earn some money to pay some bills, so pay on your student loans (if you have them). If you don't have loans, put the money into savings or treat your parents to a vacation.

But the real benefit is you can look back when you get tired of being locked in the lab and tell yourself "I'm NEVER going to work like that again, so I need keep my eye on the prize and to study hard!"

Re:Get a minimum wage job! (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about a year ago | (#43099767)

Gee.... And I thought mowing lawns for 3 summers for minimum wage had no upside beyond the paycheck. You are right, I DON"T want to go back.

Enjoy your time and don't think about science (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099725)

This will be one of the last time you will not have a research project in your life. Do something that you enjoy that does not involve science. Working the summer before does get you ahead. You will finish when you finish.

Last Hurrah (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about a year ago | (#43099741)

Really, the only thing to do that makes sense is to spend your time enjoying yourself in the most hedonistic way possible.

Once your classes start you will be working 16 hour days 7 days a week until your dissertation is accepted.

And then if you choose an academic life it will start all over again until you get tenure.

This is your last chance for what could be more than a decade. Make the most of it.

Take it easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099749)

I'm in the write-up stage of my PhD. My advice would be not to sweat it, when you're doing your lab work you'll have time to go and do things if you are well organised; like tacking a week of holidays onto the end of a conference trip and so on. When you start to write up, write papers and so on, bear in mind that it will take you longer than you think most of the time. By the end of it all you will be sick of it and it just takes forever to focus and sift through that mountain of data and experience to distill it.

One option is to dwell really intense (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099801)

for the entire summer on what to do, and by the time you figure it out the summer is over. Problem solved!

So, some university thinks you are smart enough to be part of their phd program (I'm assuming they are also pumping some money into you), but you can't figure out what to do with your last summer. Wow! I hope they don't let you use sharp objects. Next time you are in a conundrum flip a coin genius... heads is choice A, tails is not choice A. If it lands on the edge go join a monastery.

Live it up while you can... (1)

whargoul (932206) | about a year ago | (#43099813)

Because you're going to be busy.
I suggest hookers, a case of viagra and pounds of coke or ex.

Read PhD Comics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099927)

read http://www.phdcomics.com

get in the mindset (1)

mako1138 (837520) | about a year ago | (#43099937)

You don't want to pick up new interests unless they directly support your life/sanity as a PhD student. Things like learning to cook or getting into fitness, yes. Things like learning Haskell for a great good, picking up Arduino, not so much. Learning R, okay maybe that'll save you time down the road. You only have so many spare cycles for technical stuff, I've found, and any half-started projects will only linger around frustratingly.

If you have a qualifying exam in your program, find out what's on it and get an idea of how difficult it will be. Start studying; it doesn't have to be every day, but it'll do wonders to go into it with confidence.

Bio PhDs? What's the point? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43099959)

I know people with Bio PhDs who became stay-at-home mothers, fathers, cafe workers, janitors and low level IT people. You should spend the summer thinking about what your job prospects will look like after getting no marketable skills after five years of graduate school.

A slight misunderstanding... (1)

the biologist (1659443) | about a year ago | (#43099981)

They've only found a position until the preliminary exam process, sometime in year #2. They have to pass the exams in order to have the remaining time they seem to be thinking they have.

make sure that PhD is that you really want to do (1)

brainscauseminds (1865962) | about a year ago | (#43100019)

Just saying that maybe you should reconsider alternative things you could also do. I'm not saying that PhD is a wrong decision, but its a painful one. Research is hard and getting stuff published in respectable places is even harder. Make sure you are ready to spend the best years of your life doing that.

psilocybin mushrooms (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43100029)

psilocybin mushrooms

You might alter the path of your life.

Travel 2nd or 3rd world (1)

nappingcracker (700750) | about a year ago | (#43100031)

Like others, I recommend traveling, but internationally. Go somewhere beautiful, affordable, and that has a few world heritage locations. Europe is nice, but very expensive. Go to Peru, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam. Get out and see other cultures, eat interesting foods, struggle with foreign languages and communication. This will be scary and fun and exciting and stressful and will give you more perspective than simply doing the AT or getting drunk with other foreigners in hostels around EU. Any international traveling will give you perspective, but IME I prefer the less traveled path. Live cheap, travel light, take nice photos and have fun.

start yer own biz (1)

capaslash (941889) | about a year ago | (#43100047)

Get a job first. Infiltrate this business; learn how things work. Then quit and start your own company. Read "How to Get Rich" by Felix Dennis.

I can't believe... (1)

Barny (103770) | about a year ago | (#43100059)

No one has suggested this? Get yourself a wow account, huddle up in a basement somewhere and blow your year on a terrible addiction. Then you will not need your extra letters on your name, you will have a bloodelf that will do you proud!

Go have fun. (1)

anom (809433) | about a year ago | (#43100069)

I graduate from my PhD program this May (*epic sighs of relief*), and have a lot of friends who are going the PhD route.

Some of them have a good time, more of them have been having a bad time. PhD programs have something like 50% dropout rates, and if you finally do graduate the job market sucks.

Regardless of how well you like it, you will work your ass off. It will consume the next five years of your life, and that's before you even hit "real life".

I actually had a pretty easy time during most of the first or two of my program -- I didn't find the coursework difficult and the research load was not yet high. My then girlfriend (now wife) and I would go to restaurants as much as we could afford, do things outdoors, do things in the city; we just generally had an amazing time of it. Then, we both got slammed as I entered the heavy research phase and she started to get slammed in medical school. When we graduate I'll get a job and she'll go right into residency.

I told you all that to tell you that for a time, I worked less hard than I could have and did as much fun stuff as possible (within reason), and I don't regret it for a moment. The fond memories I have of the time still cheer me up today, and I wouldn't trade them for anything.

bike trip! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43100077)

Europe is very bike friendly. The best places with bike paths and campsites are Holland, Germany, Denmark, etc... that's what I did before starting my PhD in biophysics... it's cheap, very rewarding, and gives you time to reflect. the music festivals suggestion above is also a good one! i wish i had done that!

Become useful... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43100107)

Nearly all the Masters' and Ph.D's I've had the "pleasure" of working with are completely incapable of _doing_ what they spent a decade _learning_. I'm convinced they just took the grad school route to simply delay the inevitable.

Qualifying Exams (1)

twistedcubic (577194) | about a year ago | (#43100117)

The best advice you will ever get: Starting today, spend every single day studying for your PhD exams. Next summer, after you finish the exams, you can hike the Appalachians. Your professors will consider you a genius, or at worst hard-working, and they will write you great recommendations. Don't waste time while you're in graduate school.

Go for a hike- (1)

gatzke (2977) | about a year ago | (#43100129)

I had a short summer, as my undergrad got out late and my grad school started early. Lucky for me, my little brother had just graduated from high school.

We started hiking the southern end of the Appalachian Trail, starting at Springer Mountain. After about three weeks, we managed to get to Clingman's Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

This experience changed my life. I absolutely loved it.

Brother and and I got struck by lightning. On separate occasions. (more like shocked)

We stopped for a full day about every week to rest and recover. At the start it was hard to do 10-12 miles per day with a full pack. At the end we were doing 20-25 with no trouble.

Out with nature, relaxing, nothing to really think about but getting to the next stopping point and feeding yourself.

Awesome experience!

Get a jump on your new city and school (1)

HomeySmurf (124537) | about a year ago | (#43100131)

Some (many?) programs will let you start doing rotations and projects the summer before you start your program. There are a whole heap of reasons for getting there early. Once school starts you'll be expected to be taking classes, doing research, selecting a lab/PI, and getting familiar with a new area (going from a small liberal arts college to a research university may involve a change of city in your case).

In your early years there is a lot pressure to do well in classes, and f you are coming out of undergrad there will be momentum to focus on your coursework, particularly as you get ready for quals. It is hard to get settled into a new lab and be productive, so your research suffers and it is hard to do well and impress potential advisors and be happy about your research work. If you start during the summer, you'll have some research momentum that will carry you through your classwork time. It also gives you time to learn the new area and all the little details you need for your life. Finally, many programs don't already have a PI picked out for you, so you can spend time going to any summer seminars are going on, sit in on different lab meetings (to learn about the culture of how the lab works), and generally start to learn about what is actually going on. Anything you are reading in papers or even on the lab website is about what the lab used to be doing, sometimes wildly out of date, and sometimes the projects that are already well established are precisely the ones you won't be able to work on or won't want to, because there is already an army of postdocs and grad students already working on them. You can scope out the landscape and find the interesting new research areas that are just emerging.

I wouldn't worry about starting a hobby right now. Once school starts, you can meet your no cohort of students. There will usually be some people who are into something new that you aren't into (rock climbing, wine tasting, soccer, skiing, distance biking, juggling, whatever). That's a good way to discover new hobbies and interests, and a good way to bond with your colleagues. Science is good about bringing together people from eclectic backgrounds, particularly globally/internationally, and it is good way to be exposed to different cultures, foods, ways of thinking, etc. One big transition from undergrad to grad school in science is that usually there is a big jump in the internationalized character of the grad students and postdocs you interact with. They will definitely be introducing you to new things. At the very least, your new university will have student groups, and usually there will be an activity fair (yeah, even for grad students), so you can have a chance to learn about new groups. You can even put together an intramural team (choose your sport) in your department.

A few years into school, you will have time and options to try something new. There is a big lull after you finish quals and classes (and hopefully finished TAing) while you are just doing your dissertation research, that is a sort of the long dark stretch. That's a good time that you will want to be getting out of the lab now and again so you don't go bonkers. Don't think about it being "my last out of the lab for a long time". Grad school is a long, indeterminate stretch of time. It's a marathon or endurance run not a sprint, so you will need to take breaks and vacations as you go. Once you are in the long research stretch, you will actually have some flexibility to take vacations and so forth. Most advisors are fine with you taking some away breaks now and again, as long as you are being really productive most of the time.

Good luck in grad school! It is can be really trying at times, but it is fun and worth it. The upcoming sequester is going to have big effects on how biological science is funded, good luck!

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