Tag Archives: featured

GSC holds first advertised open meeting in 3 years

On March 3, 2016, the Sackler Graduate Student Council (GSC) held an advertised open meeting and invited the Sackler student body to attend. While all GSC meetings are open, according to the bylaws, and club/organization leaders attend the first meeting of academic year, this was the first time in 3 years that the GSC meeting was publicly advertised. When asked about the motive behind this action, Michaela Tolman, current GSC President, stated “we serve the students, so we wanted to offer a way in which they could express their opinions while also giving them a flavor of what GSC does and how it is run.” While the turnout was modest, she did mention that it was more than what she had expected.

Traditionally, GSC meetings  mostly comprise of financial updates from the treasurer, different committees (career paths, social, newsletter, etc.) reporting on their previous events and discussing their future plans and setting up action items to be completed before the following meeting. This meeting  followed the same pattern and after the committee updates, the floor was opened up to the non-GSC attendees.

Most of the non-GSC attendees shared that they were curious about the inner workings of the GSC and had either been invited to the meeting by a GSC member to the meeting or attended on their own initiative; some of them were also interested in joining the council the next academic year. Almost all class years and programs were represented in the attendee group.

Given that a major focus of the GSC is to organize and hold events focusing on career building and networking, it was no surprise that most of the suggestions from attendees were focused on that topic. Suggestions were made for events to improve social media networking, seminars on data management and presentation skills and early stage career development, and most emphasis was placed on the interactive nature of the events and their diverse nature. Other suggestions included a consolidation of seminar schedule, especially student talks, across programs and departments, including the hospital seminars.

GSC’s commitment on serving students manifests itself in it’s quick response to the students’ feedback at the meeting. CMP rep Dan Wong, has already put together a google calendar program that allows consolidation of all seminars that are listed on the Sackler calendar and can be easily integrated with an individual’s calendar (here is how to do it).  When asked about the outcome of the meeting, Tolman mentioned “I had no idea what people would bring up – which shows that we always need to seek student input. Some things were helpful for directing our current efforts – career paths heard positive things about diversifying the type of events that they hold while also focusing more on skills. The coordination between programs was discussed, and I am really excited to put into action the student suggestions.” She also hoped that some of the attendees would join the GSC in the future, and that most, if not all, attendees would see GSC as “a fun and an exciting opportunity to take part in”.

Overall, the open meeting seemed to have served its purpose in getting student feedback. The necessity of such a meeting, at least once a year, was echoed by both the GSC President and the attendees; Tolman believes that a town hall style meeting will be more effective in increasing student engagement and getting more input from students as “it would help better direct what we do and better serve the students’ needs”. Attendees who were contacted as a followup of the GSC meeting agreed that this year the GSC has become more interactive and applauded the various efforts GSC has undertaken to integrate students better and become more interactive, such as through The Goods email format, the Instagram account and voting on the location for Relays.

The bylaws of the Sackler GSC clearly show that this organization is for the students and by the students, and therefore, there should be no doubt that increasing student engagement in not only its events, but also its governance should be made a priority. In the past, there have been GSC events where student attendance and engagement have fallen short of expectation, whether it be due to lack of advertising or a distancing of the GSC from the student body it represents. This publicly advertised open meeting is, in my opinion, a definite right step towards the actual fulfillment of this organization’s mission.

Versatile PhD – a Non Academic Career Resource for Doctoral Students

Guest Post by Christina McGuire, CMP

Versatile PhD, a tool for graduate students to explore non-academic careers, began as a listserv while Founder and CEO Paula Chambers was finishing her dissertation at Ohio State University. Her goal was to create a safe space where PhD students could discuss non-academic career options without feeling pressured to go into academia. From this original idea, the company has blossomed into an active resource where PhD’s from all backgrounds can come together in a supportive environment to learn, discuss, and network based on their interest.

While most of the website content is unavailable without a subscription, the website still has much to offer for those beginning to explore career options outside of academia. The PhD Career Finder lists many career opportunities available to STEM and Humanities PhD’s with information about what the career entails, how to advance, what background is best suited for the career, and how best to prepare yourself and your resume for following that path. It is an excellent resource for those who are interested in exploring what their future options are.

Additionally, with a paid subscription you gain access to resumes and cover letters and narratives from of the hiring process from real PhDs. You can post questions to any of the Forums, and network with members within the Versatile PhD network. While Versatile PhD is a national business, they also run regional meetups, where you can network in person.

So how can this site help you as a Tufts student or postdoc? Come to hear Paula herself speak about the mission, founding, and resources that Versatile PhD has to offer on March 16. Additionally, we will be hearing from Tufts post-doc and Versatile PhD Volunteer Sarah Dykstra on how she uses and benefits from Versatile PhD.

Zika: Coming This Summer to a Mosquito Near You

Guest Post by Ila Anand, Micro

A startling number of viral epidemics have made major media headlines in recent years. In 2014, the Middle Eastern Respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) was quickly brought to America’s attention after two reported cases in Indiana and Florida. 2015 was the year the world went into Ebola frenzy and U.S. hospitals took extreme precautions to manage suspected infected patients. This year, the Zika virus has caught the CDC’s eye and for good reason. As Zika continues to spread from Brazil through the Americas, its arrival in the U.S. this summer is inevitable. Although no vector-borne cases have been reported inside the U.S. yet, over 150 travel-associated cases have been reported. Public health departments across the U.S. should brace for the next likely step: the moment when Zika passes from traveler-infected blood to a local mosquito and then to another person.

The Zika virus was first isolated in Uganda in 1947 from the Zika Forest, where researchers from the Rockefeller Foundation were studying yellow fever. These researchers experimentally used rhesus monkeys that were set out in cages in treetops as bait for mosquitos carrying yellow fever virus. Ironically, instead of yielding yellow fever virus from the blood of these monkeys, the researchers discovered Zika and speculated the virus had been lurking chronically in African monkeys for millennia. The virus was later isolated from mosquitoes of the Aedes genus in the same Zika forest and Aedes has since been identified as the vector of Zika. Eventually, Zika virus was discovered to infect humans across the African continent as well as in South Asia and Southeast Asia. More recently, circa April 2015, the virus has spread to the South America.

In humans, the virus manifests infection known as Zika fever, which often produces no symptoms to mild symptoms, such as headache, fever, rash, bloodshot eyes, and joint pain. Recently, the spread of Zika in South America has been linked to the growing number of infants born with microcephaly in Brazil. Microcephaly is a neurological condition in which the brain and skull fail to grow at a normal pace, resulting in a significantly smaller head size. At first the link to Zika was purely correlation, however, a recent report published in Cell Stem Cell directly demonstrated that Zika is able to infect and kill lab-cultured human neural progenitor cells. These neural progenitor cells were derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and scientists tested Zika’s “tropism” by comparing percent infection across four cell types: neural progenitor cells, immature neurons, embryonic stem cells, and human iPSCs. While less than 20% of iPSCs, embryonic stem cells and neurons became infected, up to 90% of neural progenitor cells contained the virus and Zika either killed these cells or slowed their proliferation significantly. These findings may begin to unearth some possible mechanisms to how Zika infects and damages fetal brain tissue. Since neural progenitor cells give rise to a larger population of neurons and glial cells in the brain, infection of these cells could impact the neurons they produce and possibly affect brain development. In addition to microcephaly, Zika has also been linked Guillain-Barré syndrome, a sickness in which the person’s own immune system damages nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. However, clinical findings from Brazil are still preliminary and there’s a need for more compelling evidence.

Sources –

 

Tufts Innovation Spotlight – March 15, 2016

Guest Post by Michaela Tolman, Neuro, GSC President

Next week Tuesday night, over 50 people have already signed up for a first-ever event. Have you? 

Tufts Innovation Spotlight is bringing together 5 panelists who have brought innovation to the academic, clinical, and industry settings. Their achievements and wisdom will be celebrated with this classy event hosted by the Graduate Student Council at Abby Lane, which is right around the corner (literally a 6 minute walk).

The event will begin at 5pm with passed hors d’oeuvres on the upper floor of Abby Lane. The program will begin at 6pm with a panel discussion. There will be an opportunity for questions throughout as well as open networking from 7pm on. The goal of the event is to generate a discussion among students and panelists about the challenges they have faced bringing innovation to each of their respective fields and how they would advise our students as they strike out on their own careers.

Panelists

 

Qiaobing Xu, PhD is an Assistant Professor at Tufts. He received his PhD from Harvard in Biochemistry, did a post doc at MIT, and now focuses on developing nanotechnology for the applications of drug delivery and tissue engineering. His lab has developed “lipidoids” for delivery of DNA, RNA, or protein for therapeutic applications. Their tissue engineering efforts have resulted in a scaffold built from decellurized tissue which is currently being used to guide tissue regeneration.

Richard T. Lee, MD is a Professor at Harvard University and Harvard Medical school, as well as an active clinician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, founder, and Chairman of the Board of ProteoThera, Inc. Dr. Lee received his medical degree from Cornell University and went on to study a broad range of medical issues. Their approach is to, “understand human problems and design solutions in the laboratory.”

Arnout Schepers, PhD is a post doc in the Bhatia Lab at MIT. He received his PhD from Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht in Hans Clevers laboratory. Previously, he has characterized intestinal stem cells in malignant conditions. Currently, he is working on making a 3D tissue model for cancer research.

Retsina Meyer, PhD is a senior scientist at Resilience Therapeutics. She received her PhD from MIT, where she won numerous fellowships and excelled in the entrepreneurial arena, winning the OneStart America’s competition. Resilience Therapeutics is currently developing a target for treating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Luhan Yang, PhD is a Co-Founder of the biotech company, eGenesis. She received her PhD as well as a post doc position from Harvard. She was named on the list “30 under 30” in Forbes Magazine and helped develop the CRISPR/Cas9 system for use in mammalian cells.

We hope you join us on Tuesday, March 15th!

TUSM Faculty takes steps to unionize

On December 11, 2014, tenured and tenure-track faculty members of the Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM) filed a petition to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold on-campus union elections. If this election is allowed by NLRB, then the 70 members of the TUSM faculty will join the ranks of their Medford colleagues in the Faculty Forward union at Tufts, a division of the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU) Local 509 (1). As mentioned, this is not the first time Tufts-affiliated faculty have filed for unionizing.  In February 2015, majority of the Medford/Somerville campus faculty had voted in favor of unionizing in an effort to improve working conditions (2). And even before that  in 2014, adjunct faculty members on the Medford campus, rallying under the Adjunct Action division of SEIU, negotiated a significant raise in their pay (3) that is set to be completely in effect by September 2016 (4).

http://www.seiu509.org/files/2015/02/IMG_0487_580p.jpg
Tufts University Medford Faculty vote to unionize. Source – SEIU Local 509

The TUSM faculty appears to be motivated for similar reasons; in a joint email to Tufts Daily, Dr. Karina Meiri, Professor of Developmental, Chemical & Molecular Biology (DMCB), and Dr. Henry Wortis, Professor of Integrated Physiology & Pathobiology (IPP), mentioned issues regarding salary and research funding as major sources of motivation. They elaborated in the letter that while faculty members are trying to get funding in an increasingly competitive environment with diminishing sources, the university is putting on additional pressure on them by providing “negative incentives”. Drs. Meiri and Wortis mentioned, “If faculty were unsuccessful, [in their application] as they were pretty much bound to be, given the odds, their salaries would immediately be cut, often by very significant amounts.” They also pointed out that many faculty felt that their ability to speak their minds on administrative decisions was being limited. Drs. Meiri and Wortis believe that through unionization, financial transparency and partial restoration of decision-making ability, job security and stability can be achieved for the faculty. To quote, “Our strong belief is that the educators and researchers at a university need to be deeply involved in decisions that shape its mission and that unionization will provide a path towards…the return of collegiality”.  It seems that majority of the TUSM faculty are in favor of unionizing, as almost 60% of them had voted in favor of holding on-campus elections. The ones who did not vote, either did not do so because they do not want a union or they do not feel strongly enough for the need of one, as Drs. Meiri & Wortis explained in their letter.

Faculty unions are not new in this part of the country – if the TUSM faculty are allowed to hold elections on campus, they will join their colleagues at Northeastern, BU, Lesley and Bentley Universities (5). There is also an increasing trend of faculty unionization throughout the country, and Drs. Meiri & Wortis believe it to be a reactionary movement to the increasing adaption of a for-profit model by universities. They explained in their letter, “Many universities have chosen to save money by shifting the burden of teaching to part-time untenured…adjunct faculty members. Others have increased the cost of enrollment to plug financial holes. University priorities are increasingly being set by financial rather than academic agenda. Across the country whenever universities are being managed as corporations rather than collegial institutions faculty are increasingly looking towards unionization as a means to re-assert the original model of shared decision-making.”

While it may seem reasonable to allow tenured and tenure-track faculty to unionize, it is not the case. The legal precedent set by the 1980 ruling in the NLRB v. Yeshiva University, which found the tenured faculty not eligible for unionization for their significant influence on administrative decisions, stacks the odds against the TUSM faculty’s hopes of holding on-campus elections. This precedent is also partially responsible for the opposition of the TUSM administration to the faculty’s petition at the NLRB. As the Executive Director of Public Relations, Kim Thurler, told Tufts Daily “that 1980 Supreme Court ruling … recognizes the substantial authority faculty members hold and their significant voice in determining curriculum, academic standards and policies. Many NLRB decisions since 1980 have followed this Supreme Court precedent.” (1)

Currently, the TUSM faculty waits on the NLRB’s decision on whether they will be allowed to hold elections or not. Regardless of this decision, the fact that this has become a trend across universities, institutions founded on principles of non-profit due to their increasing profiteering nature, is a great cause of concern indeed.

 

Drs. Meiri & Wortis’ quotes have been reproduced from their letter to Tufts Daily with their permission. The Tufts Daily article was published on Jan 29, 2016, and can be found here

 

Qualifying Exam Survival Toolkit: Faith, Trust, & Post-Its

I read my drafted email with the attached qualifying exam proposal for the fifteenth time, hit send, and then I felt like I was going to throw up.

It was March, the snow outside was half-melted and tinged gray with grime, and I had just submitted my qualifying exam proposal. Three weeks of carrying highlighters in my pockets, drinking tea morning to night, and rarely parting from my computer, and it all came down to the click of a button. At the time, it felt like the most deciding thing I would ever do during my PhD, and that was terrifying. Looking back, it was probably just the irregular sleep hours and too much takeout that had me feeling slightly nauseous.

So, my advice, first and foremost: buy a lot of groceries and do your laundry ahead of time. I sound like a parent, I know, but still: do it. Good food and clean clothes–as well as having those tasks checked off your list in advance–really can save you in the midst of spirals of self-doubt or experimental design frustration. And you will have those moments, but it is important to know they will either pass eventually, or you will beat it by finding a way to prove yourself wrong.

Everyone–and I do mean everyone–told me, with fond amusement: you’ll be fine, it won’t be that bad, no one is out to get you. And I can tell you, with complete certainty, that is true in retrospect. I have become the older student whom I regarded with respectful but extreme skepticism this time last year. Like they said, I ended up being just fine. Still, I remember the stress and the worry, the cycle of figuring out a problem in my proposal to only have that create yet another problem, and so it went, on and on. So I will avoid telling you what most others will and instead advise this: trust your knowledge and your intuition, even if you try to convince yourself otherwise, because you do know what you are talking about. Have faith. You are going to be your own worst enemy in this four weeks of research and writing, planning and designing, but at least it is an enemy you know well. Use that to your benefit: trust your doubt, because it will help you find holes in your work where others will as well.

And there will be holes; you can’t catch them all. This is where help from older students comes in. Your practice talk with them will be one of the most valuable experiences in this process. Be prepared for your 10-15 minute talk to take an hour, or probably two, to be critiqued by your peers. You may not be able to answer all of their questions, but those are questions you then will be able to answer in your exam if they get asked. Their advice on layout and presenting style is also invaluable; they have gone through this before, and their experiences and mistakes in their own exams will be your gain. Take full advantage, even if you have to bribe them to attend with baked goods (just kidding!).

Lastly, invest in some post-its. Keep them everywhere–by your desk, by your bed, in your bag. When an idea or a question or a worry strikes, you’ll have somewhere to record it, especially if you don’t have time to deal with it at that moment.

Faith. Trust. Post-its. 

Good luck!

Notes from the North – Northern Networking

Teleconferencing from 100 miles away into classes, meetings, and extracurricular events is all well and good, but sometimes you just feel the need to practice schmoozing in person. The Sackler Graduate Student Council holds really relevant and useful networking events, and much of the content of these events can be taken advantage of through a teleconference connection, but it is hard to beat the rapport that is established when chatting, or bemoaning, face to face with colleagues over hors d’oeuvres. For anyone who does the bulk of their work away from the main campus of their organization it is imperative to find and cultivate local career enhancement resources. Not only does this give you access to opportunities in your local sphere, it also improves your connection with the members of the satellite facility.

For Sackler students studying at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute (MMCRI) in Scarborough, ME this resource is available in the form of the MMCRI Research Fellows Association (RFA). Because MMCRI is a relatively small institute, we currently have about twenty principal investigators, we have a fairly small number of postdoctoral fellows and even fewer graduate students at any given time. The RFA was originally founded to serve both groups and has recently expanded to serve non-faculty scientific staff and technicians as well. These groups share many of the same needs in terms of networking and professional development events, so the inclusiveness of the organization has worked well for us thus far.

The RFA leadership team and active members are constantly kept busy to ensure we are providing meaningful events each month. Here’s just a small taste of what we do:
• Increase MMCRI visibility in the community by sending members to participate in local career fairs and the Maine Science Festival

RFA members handing out treats at the 2015 Barbra Bush Children’s hospital costume parade
RFA members handing out treats at the 2015 Barbra Bush Children’s hospital costume parade

• Organize scientific talks from speakers suggested and voted on by RFA members
• Hold professional development workshops such as “Intro to LinkedIn” and “The Art of Schmoozing” lead by University of New England’s Career Services Coordinator, Jeff Nevers
• Maintain a library of material on resume writing, cover letter writing, grant writing, and networking advice
• Work closely with MMCRI and MMC Human Resources to utilize hospital resources such as MMC’s Training and Organizational Development department for the benefit of our members
• Poll members annually on which of their professional development needs are being met and which still need to be filled
One of our newest events is also one of my favorites. In the spirit of positive reinforcement we recognize and celebrate either a mentor or a pair of researchers (one technician and one academic) of the year. This occasion allows the RFA to show appreciation for mentors and colleagues who demonstrate superlative qualities. Appreciation in the case of researchers includes $500 from the RFA discretionary fund (supported by our fundraising efforts) to participate in further career enhancement.

Former RFA president Dave Kuhrt, PhD presenting the 2014 Mentor of the year certificate to Dr. Rob Smith
Former RFA president Dave Kuhrt, PhD presenting the 2014 Mentor of the year certificate to Dr. Rob Smith

MMCRI may be 100 miles away from the biotech hub that is Boston, but we’re no backwater slouches when it comes to career enhancement and professional development!

Techniques – Go with the Flow

What is Flow Cytometry and what can it do for you?

by Stephen Kwok & Allen Parmelee

Flow Cytometry is something I never heard about in school, but once I learned about it, the possibilities seemed endless as to how I could use it as a tool to make work and research better. FACS (Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting) Sounds like an office tool, not a state of the art piece of scientific equipment. In reality, it is like a multitude of fluorescent microscopes all working together to gather data at the same time. Wait, it gets better…you can actually physically separate your cells from one single cell per well on a 96 well plate, to millions of cells in a 15ml tube! The human eye has a habit to have bias; these machines convert the analog data into a digital plot or histogram that can’t be argued with! Is it 30% positive or 35% positive? Yes, we can actually tell the difference!

Let’s back up a step here. The technology is best used if you have markers for your cells. You can take fluorescently labeled antiboties to identify cells. Let’s say you are looking for stem cells. Cd34, SCA-1, and c-Kit are common for hematopoietic stem cells. Label these three, throw in a viability marker, and you have successfully identified these cells. You can move forward with your experiment and simply ANALYZE the cells. Or, you can try to isolate these cells by SORTING them. Fluorescent protein transfections with a GFP or RFP marker are common. Why grow cells in harsh selection media when you can simply pluck them out and put them into a plate? I need to do some PCR, but I have to figure out how to get 1 cell, 5 cells, 25 cells, 50 cells. Limited dilution is going to take me forever! In as fast as 30 seconds you can have those exact numbers of cells lined up into your pcr tubes or a 96 well plate.

At our facility we have cell analyzers available for use 24/7. We train people in basic theory, and then help them get started on how to run the instruments. Sorting, however, is a little more complicated and is done by the two intimidating guys running the facility: Allen and Steve. 

Steve & Allen, the Flow Bros (right to left)
Allen Parmelee & Stephen Kwok, the Flow bros (left to right)

 

There are always plenty of questions to answer about FLOW. How fast is fast? Well the Analyzers can run approximately 3,000 cells per second. The high speed cell sorters. 30,000 cells per second! This can translate to over 100e6 per hour. How sensitive are the machines? We can detect one cell in 10e6 cells! How many markers can I use? The most common is 4 different colors at a time, but we could do up to 17. Be wary, however, just because we said you can. Doesn’t mean you should. Work smarter, not harder! I have 4 different populations: can I sort them all at once? Yes! In fact, we can do up to 6 simultaneous separate populations at once.

How can I do good flow cytometry? The key is sample prep! Yes, they seem like magical boxes, but the experiment is only as good as the components. Titer your antibodies. TEST them with a positive control. Bring a negative or untreated control as a baseline. Would you run a gel without the markers? Find the correct markers, and look for the greatest separation. Cells need to be in Single Cell format. It is highly recommended to filter/strain your samples because the pathway for the cells are 70-150um in size, a clump of cells can clog the machines and render them inoperable.

Come by, check out the machines, ask us questions…we hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the possibilities.

Tufts Laser Cytometry, Jaharis 5th floor. 

Special points of interest:

  • No Color Cloning
  • Bulk Sorting
  • Fluorescent work
  • Cell Cycle
  • Apoptosis
  • Ca+ Flux
  • Single Cell PCR
  • Rare Event
  • Bacteria
  • CRISPR
  • Stem Cells
  • Neurons
  • Transfections
  • Infections
  •  Libraries

 

Insight Essay Contest WINNER – Developing Resilience

Author: Matthew Kelley, 3rd year, Neuroscience, Moss Lab 

http://sackler.tufts.edu/~/media/Sackler/Page%20Images/Neuro%20Student%20Research%20Page%20Photos/kelley_matthew%20rp.jpg?&mh=160&mw=120
Matthew Kelley, 3rd year Neuro, Moss Lab

The pillars supporting a good scientist remain unbroken. They have changed little since Galileo dropped spheres in Pisa and Pasteur confirmed germs cause disease. It is the understanding and mastery of these core principles that should be the dominant focus of graduate training. The journey of a scientist is one of vistas and ditches. For the PhD student, so quickly can things shift from shining moments of discovery to the fierce harshness of figuratively banging their head against a lab bench after another failed experiment. Unless the student enters this land prepared, they will collapse in the first journey over the top. Discoveries require failures. Without resilience to failure, decisions are tainted by fear of failure. The process of gaining a PhD is overflowing with decisions of consequence including selection of advisors, scientific projects, and career paths. Resilience, the capability to adapt to diverse stressors, is critical to making these decisions with a clear and strong mind. Outlined here are four ways resilience can be improved during PhD training.

  1. Understand mental well-being.

We choose to go the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”

In 1962, in the sun drenched football stadium at Rice University, President Kennedy declared why the American people must pursue this great achievement. But the path to the Apollo 11 landing on the moon was far from smooth. A raging fire consumed all three astronauts of the first mission, Apollo 1. There were many reasons to scrap the program. Yet America pressed on to reach the lunar surface due to the ultimate resilience of an entire team following Kennedy’s call. We do things because they are hard.

In order to achieve such resilience in science, the PhD student must understand their own resilience. Are problems avoided because of failure’s sting? Do roadblocks bring the desire to avoid difficulties all together? It is critical to understand how stress affects personal decision making. A healthy mind underlies balanced processing of information. The student must be guided to recognize when their thinking is warped by stress, resulting in a lost desire to pursue difficult problems. The watchful gaze of the student’s committee is critical, but can be supplemented with mental health counseling focused on developing introspective thought. When such self-awareness is gained, resilience becomes a tangible trait to personally and actively increase. Hard problems are no longer fearsome, but glorious challenges.

  1. Place failures in proper perspective

Great people fail, but understand the meaning of failure. Failure isn’t a worthless enterprise, a waste of time and resources. Far from it. Failure is the journey.

In order to develop resilience as a PhD student, it is important to understand what failure is. When an experiment fails, it is not a fatal loss. Negative data retains value. And failed experiments can be further optimized to better answer the chosen question. In the process of PhD training, negative results or outcomes must not be hidden away, but acknowledged by student, advisor, and committee as a critical part of scientific training. Once failures are defined as constructive parts of training, resilience to their sting becomes much easier to develop.

  1. Build skills to create positive experiences

Some of the most resilient people on TV appear on Junior MasterChef, a culinary competition of children under the judgment of Chef Gordon Ramsay. He presents ingredients and a goal, and four-foot tall competitors bring him their completed dishes, some terminating in crying defeat under his carefully worded criticism. However the winners don’t break. They remain resilient to the criticism and create beautiful dishes that ultimately wow both Ramsay and audience. What sets these children apart? It’s both resilience to criticism and a mastery of cooking technique. These kid chefs are so skilled in their cooking finesse, that when a challenge comes this confidence sets them up for success.

In the same way, the PhD student can be set up for scientific success by becoming a master in their chosen area of technique. If skills are mediocre, failures are sure to increase, to the point where the student gives up and quits. Resilience is hard to build when one is set up for failure. It is an important role of the student’s advisor and committee to critique student technique, because in its improvement lies the path to increased positive student experience. And mastery of technique brings certain confidence, because though an experiment may answer or negate a hypothesis, a clean result remains a beautiful thing.

  1. Create supportive relationships

Neil Armstrong stepping onto the lunar service was a culmination of years of rigorous work. Thousands contributed so one man could take one small step. Science is a team sport. Without a supportive network of mentors and peers, problems become harder and resilience difficult to sustain.

It is easy as a PhD student to become intellectually isolated in pursuit of a project. This can and should be avoided. In order to gain resilience and pursue the hardest of problems, guidance is needed from those that have been there before. Opportunities to present work provide an outlet for constructive criticism and guidance. The selection and pairing of mentors outside the student-advisor relationship serves as a platform for dealing with failure. Support networks can be facilitated, but ultimately are an active process on the part of the student. Such relationships should be encouraged during graduate training to build the resilience to the failures and press to the successes.

Conclusion

Resilience is a trait able to be learned and developed by anyone. When scientific resilience is gained, hard problems can be pursued resulting in a fulfilling PhD training experience. A fulfilling scientific life requires resilience to separate one from the psychological weight of failure. And resilience not only gives the ability to think clear and true in science, but throughout the hard and difficult decisions that are guaranteed to appear during the human life. Developing resilience in science should be a major focus of graduate training.