Personal reflections from the MS/PhD process

Have you ever stopped to think about what you’ve learned about yourself during your time in grad school? This was a frequent topic of conversation between me and my advisor on conference trips. While most job interviewers will ask about your research experience and what you want to do with your career, these abstract questions are also thrown in, especially at the MS level. As I went through my final year of my PhD and started interviewing, I thought about these questions and wrote down my answers. Feel free to add your own insights  – questions and/or responses – in the comments!

What has the PhD process taught you?

  • I can do anything I set my mind to, e.g. studying for (and passing) quals.

  • I can solve any problem — that’s what research is!

  • Setting small goals for myself — semesterly, monthly, weekly, daily — helps me achieve my desired result. In other words, how to solve a big problem by dividing it into smaller chunks.

  • How to find adequate resources / learn the material I need to learn to solve the problem at hand.

  • If I see something that needs doing, I do it. Also known as taking the initiative.

  • Keep track of references / papers along the way — with notes on what was helpful or will serve as a potential reference later.

  • Keep track of future work concepts while focusing on what needs to get done immediately.

  • Most of the time someone is not going to be there to do your work for you. If you don’t do it, it won’t get done. (e.g. Mundane and monotonous tasks)

  • Taking pride in my methods and attention to detail. While it may be annoying during the work, the finished product and analysis will speak for itself (e.g. running tests may not need to be run, but makes the analysis more complete).


What skills did you develop during your PhD that can be translated to the job?

  • Know how to find and use resources — library, professors/contacts.

  • Read, comprehend, and utilize relevant information from technical papers/publications and figure out how to apply it to the problem at hand.

  • Network and collaborate with other leaders in the field to advance the research in the most beneficial way.

  • Collaborate with other team members to utilize everyone’s strengths.

  • I see what needs to get done and I do it, because with research, no one else is going to do it.


What have you learned about yourself?

  • I really really need deadlines.
  • I don’t like waiting, or being inactive. I need things to do all the time. I prefer to be busy, I will be more productive and efficient with my time.
  • I don’t want to waste entire days of valuable research time.
  • Having gone through a PhD program with minimal other women, I am a huge advocate of SWE, STEM, and helping women succeed in male-dominated fields.
  • I stand up for what I believe in — always providing a welcoming environment and making sure people know I’m not ok with certain comments or actions
  • I need multiple things going on at once
    • music to distract portions of my brain
    • multiple projects/things to work on
    • people to talk to / interact with
  • Make semester goals, then monthly goals, then weekly goals to help break down a large task into more manageable pieces

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