Posts (31)

May 8, 2014 · Completing your Ph.D. Thesis

Time vanishes so quickly! While you’re busy with experiments, reading journal articles, and preparing for presentations, the home stretch reaches you before you know it. Now it is time to write your thesis and defend your dissertation. We have advice and perspectives from Mayo Graduate School (MGS) graduates and faculty to give insight into preparing for your defense.

Karen Hedin Ph.D.Karen Hedin

Program Director for Immunology

Associate Professor of Immunology, College of Medicine

Instructor in Pharmacology, College of Medicine






As a professor, what recommendations or advice do you have for graduate students writing their thesis?

  • I think the best advice is to “not wait”!
  • When students are approximately one year away from graduation, they should start outlining their entire thesis and discussing the outline with their advisor, and they should write the thesis introduction (Chapter 1).
  • Students should look at other students’ recent theses to get an idea about the appropriate length and style.
  • Students should also check with their track and MGS to make sure they fully understand the requirements and format for the thesis, the submission date, and the forms that need to be signed.
  • Students also need to start early to organize their computer files, make figures and tables, and set up their references in Endnote.
  • Figures need to be reformatted for the thesis, even if they were already published in papers—students should start early to get their figures in the proper format because this is time consuming.

How long should a graduate student allow for writing their thesis?

I think students should take only 4 weeks to write the thesis. Six to eight weeks if they are also working a lot in the lab during this time. For most students, all they really need to write new is the 1st chapter (the introduction) and the last chapter (the conclusion). The other chapters are typically his or her published papers word for word, just reformatted, so that is relatively quick. Additional chapters can be added to describe unpublished results. If there are a lot of unpublished results included in the thesis, the student may need more time to write these up.

What are common mistakes or areas a graduate student should prepare for on the day of or during their defense?

Be sure your talk is only approximately 40-45 minutes long, since there will be a long introduction by your advisor, and you will probably have a longer than usual thank you section at the end.

  • If you have family members attending your talk, you should “assign” a friend or lab member to take the family to an empty conference room or on a tour of the campus after your talk and while you are defending your thesis behind closed doors with your committee.
  • For your talk, you are expected to cover your *entire* thesis work, not just what you have done during the past year.  You should try to summarize everything you have done and show how it fits together as a whole.  Thus, it is different than a typical WIP talk.  Your thesis talk can work very well with small modifications as a talk you can give when you interview for a postdoc job position.
  • The faculty on your committee usually request some corrections and changes to the written thesis, so do not be surprised at this.  However, numerous grammar and spelling errors at this point make you look unprofessional. It is a good idea to have a friend or family member read your thesis through carefully for grammar and spelling—spell check is not sufficient.  Give them one chapter at a time as you finish it to read.
  • During the “closed door” session after your talk, you should not be afraid!  At this point, virtually “everyone” graduates!  However, you can expect faculty to ask you broad ranging questions about the meaning of your work, and about what you would do next on the project if you were the PI of the lab. Typically, the questions during this session do not focus on the tiny details of your experiments—it is more about the big picture and exploring how you have developed as a scientist. You are seen more as a peer with the faculty during this meeting—it should be rather fun!

When should Ph.D. candidates begin to look for post-doc or other post-grad opportunities?

At least 1 year before you graduate you should be looking for a post doc or other post grad position.

Also, at every scientific meeting you attend as a student, even in your 2nd or 3rd year, you should be chatting up other scientists and writing down their names if you find their work interesting and following up via email.  You can then contact these scientists about 1 year before you finish, to ask if they might have interest in hiring you as a postdoc.



SilvaJessica Silva-Fisher Ph.D.

 BMB graduate 2011

3 years staff scientist 

The Genome Institute at Washington University

Chris Maher’s Laboratory

Do you have any recommendations or advice you wished you would have had prior to writing your thesis?

Begin as early as you can. Do not wait till the last minute. You will have lots of edits and re-edits. Utilize your publications for your thesis as it makes writing faster. Utilize a good cite program such as Endnote.

How long did it take you to complete your thesis?

 About 3 months. I had 1 book chapter, 1 publication, and 1 publication in progress, so this made writing faster and easier. I was able to simply use each one of these as chapters.  I would recommend to start writing this at least 6 months….background and conclusions take the longest.

 Are your committee members instrumental in helping you go through the process?

 YES! My thesis advisor made edits and I sent it to my committee members for edits as well. They sent back their comments and marked it red. This then made it easy to submit the final thesis for defense. They give support and encouragement to finish and wrap up everything in a good time length.

 Were there any Mayo resources you were able to use to help write your thesis?

 Ask your thesis advisor to let you see their previous students’ bound final thesis. Many or all of advisors have a copy of their students’ theses. This helped me with my format (as you can create your own) to see what you like and what you don’t like. Each student’s thesis varies in length and style. Get a copy of Endnote, write in the library for extra focus.

 What would have made you feel more prepared during the defense of your dissertation?

 Practice, practice, practice in front of different people. Send your advisor your presentation for edits. Use your friends for practice, the more diverse they are (in different departments or programs) the better. They will give you perspective you didn’t think about previously. The more you practice it (can do it without even looking at the slides) the more confidence you will have. The more confidence you have the fewer questions they will ask you (they will assume you know everything)!

 When did you begin to look for a post-doc or other post-grad opportunities?

 About 1 year in advance. You want to be going to interviews the last several months before your defense so you can begin your post-grad position right away.  Talk with your advisor about your plans and goals. Do a PubMed search of the topic you are interested in and look who is the PI of the lab and see if your advisor knows them. If He/She does, they can give a nice call or intro email for you.  Then you can email them introducing yourself and ask for an interview. It’s always easier to network for a position than to do it on your own.

Also, make sure you have a well written CV and attach it to the email. Do mock interviews and prepare answers in advance of doing interviews.

Don’t forget to look for non-traditional jobs as well…..government, scientific writing, industry, etc. You never know what you may find.

Following my advisor’s advice “Kick As@ and Take Names!” Miss ya Dave Smith 🙂




Do you have any recommendations or advice you wished you would have had prior to writing your thesis?

I had access to a previous dissertation to see the formatting.  I also discussed with my mentor well before starting content and organization

How long did it take you to complete your thesis?

Four to five months (included writing one final manuscript to start which became one chapter)

Were there any Mayo resources you were able to use to help write your thesis?

 I did use the Mayo image archive to design one image as my overarching hypothesis.

When did you begin to look for a post-doc or other post-grad opportunities?

 Not yet. I finished the final two years of medical school (graduating both programs in a couple of weeks) and heading to residency.

Justin Juskewitch M.D., Ph.D.

Feb 13, 2014 · Productivity Tools for the Nascent Scientist

by Ian C. Clift

75% of graduate students in a recent survey have reported dealing with stress in the past year. The main source of stress is the pressure to produce. And why not? With deadlines, classes, experiments, and presentations, graduate students are under a lot of pressure to produce. There are three ideas for increasing productivity that I use regularly and maybe they can help you as well. I didn’t come up with these ideas, I learned them (see the embedded links in the text), and below I will provide an example of their utility in a scientific research environment. But before I do, there are two things you should already have:


1. FOCUS (a goal, a thesis, a dream)

2. A documentation system (i.e. a pencil, a laptop, a smart phone, or a stone tablet).

You can’t produce anything without a focus and you can’t achieve results without a system to measure progress. Now that you have a thesis and a pencil, let’s get going.

1. Frequency
Science is all about getting results from a set of conditions that have not yet been fully defined. That is why what we do is called experimentation. But with this uncertainty comes a certain fear that we will fail. In the regular world, the things that people do have risk associated with them and success is never 100%. In science, each experiment comes with even more risk than in the regular world. Whereas, a day trading stock investor might have a 20% success rate, if those gains are high enough for each win he can compensate for his losses. The same is true in science, except on a good day, my rate of success in the beginning, due to bad reagents, bad design, bad hypothesis, etc., was less than 5%; i.e. 95 out of 100 experiments have something wrong with them. (That doesn’t mean I didn’t get something out of them, just that what I got wasn’t expected.) This is where frequency comes in. (one of the 5 rules touted by author Brett Harward in ‘The 5 Laws that Determine all of Life’s Outcomes‘) Frequency is, of course, the number of peaks or valleys in a given period. Increasing the number of peaks (or experiments) in a given period, does nothing for your success ratio, it does however increase the number of successes in a specific period of time.

In my own work, frequency is dependent on a number of things, some general, such as non-work related responsibilities and events (a life outside the lab is important if you are to retain your sanity in the lab). Some are specific to my work; such as the rate of cell growth for my neuroblastoma cell lines or the time it takes to prep transfection plasmids. But despite these concerns, an increase in frequency is possible by coordinating and overlapping activities to maximize the number of experiments that are completed in a given amount of time. Furthermore, this overlapping system can increase the frequency that you do a lot of other things as well; you just need a focus and a pencil. Organizing your productivity can be implemented by using productivity tool number 2.

2. Action Items
The second productivity tip is called the action item. In David Allen‘s book “Getting Things Done,” he provides an organizational framework for increased productivity by the creation of lists. The most fundamental tool that this system provides is that it separates actionable items from ideas. Projects (another word for a ‘focus’) must therefore be examined periodically to determine the next ‘action item.’ By adopting an organizational strategy in which all major goals or projects are examined every week, and creating daily lists of ‘action items’ regarding these projects to fulfill, an individual will find themselves rapidly completing projects and reducing stress. Allen suggests that calendar items be separate from ‘to do’ list items. He even suggests that items be sub-categorized by location. For example, if in the process of performing a western blot a brain storm hits you about a potential new experimental direction that requires your PI’s input, jot it down in a list entitled ‘Meeting with PI’ and examine this list just prior to a meeting with your PI to make sure you cover all subjects on the list. I find that using a good note program on my smart phone, such as Evernote, helps for having these lists on hand when I need them. Action items are a list of ‘what to do’ whereas our documentation system mentioned above is a list of “what is done.” Examining what we have done is a major part of productivity tool number 3.


3. Accountability
What does accountability have to do with productivity? A lot. Accountability in this sense does not refer to job responsibilities, which you are accountable for, but to personal accountability; i.e. that which we hold ourselves accountable. Those who are not accountable for their actions don’t learn from their mistakes, because they don’t recognize them as personal mistakes. Ergo, they are bound to repeat them. Accountability, as Brett Harward suggests in his book (see point 1 above), is basically the same as rapid learning. Whereas, increasing your frequency in a given period can increase the number of successes you have in a given time, accepting and understanding the role you played in each failure; i.e. being accountable will help you to reduce your error rate. A good hypothesis will lead to more success than a bad one and a good experimental design will do the same. Recognizing where you went wrong, means accepting your fallibility and being shamed time and again, but you will find victory a whole lot faster for that occasional mud in the face. “It wasn’t my fault,” is never an honest answer. You have always played some role in getting yourself into a situation, and ‘your role’ is the only part of the equation you can fix. Accountability means focusing your attention on that which you can change and not on the parts that you cannot. Did you fumble a calculation or switch a key reagent? It wouldn’t be the first time and it won’t be the last. I can assure you of that. The key to knowing what you did is your documentation system, the key to knowing what you want to achieve is your focus. By the end of four years (plus) in my PhD program, my error rate had gone down considerably by using this method.

Every one of us has had a set of frustrating experiments that just doesn’t seem to work. We tried changing the buffer concentrations but the western is still muddy and full of non-specific banding. We increased the concentration of the primary, we decreased the concentration of the secondary, we tried pre-clearing the beads but the band we want still isn’t distinguishable… and we’ve been at it for over a month and our committee wants this one IP to validate two years of work. Accountability doesn’t solve all of these problems, a bad reagent or buffer may just require trial and error. That is where frequency comes in. Action items detail what we will do next. And finally accountability of our mistakes directs our future progress. Problems don’t miraculously disappear, but pressure can be controlled by creating a set of rules to follow and systematically working through to a solution. My suggestions may not reduce all anxiety but they should help. I encourage you to pick up the books I suggested in this post, and others, for more detailed information on productivity.

Check out my blog at, or post some feedback here about your own productivity motivators.

Oct 31, 2013 · Motivation

By Wells B. LaRiviere

Perhaps one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given came during my final year at Reed College. In the midst of a departmental meeting, a professor exhorted the seniors to select a thesis topic that we cared so deeply about that we would work tirelessly on it, even “during the darkest days of February,” to see through its completion.

It helps to have lived in Portland to understand just how deeply he felt about motivation, because it gets really dark in the depths of the Portland winter. Still, even if you have never set foot in Oregon, I think it’s easy to relate to his words. In education, there is a sense that one is constantly trying to catch up; running a gauntlet of never-ending hurdles, each yet higher than the last. Each mistake or misstep seems crushingly disappointing, and often there is the temptation to surrender to self-doubt. No matter how dark February gets in your part of the world, pursuing academics is always an inherently difficult task.

So, how do we find the motivation to persevere? Everyone discovers his or her own answer. For many, the intellectual challenge of academics is its own reward; at the end of the day, no matter how frustrating it may be, working with your mind is a privileged activity. Not to mention the great pleasure to be had working in the company of like-minded students, with whom you share a certain curiosity about the world around you.

Of principal importance is the personal reservoir of dedication that comes from a true conviction that what you are doing is something that should be and needs to be done. If we did not believe in the importance of our field of study, how could we possibly justify its pursuit in the first place?

As a post-baccalaureate student researcher here at Mayo Clinic, I firmly believe that the missions of the medical and biological sciences are inherently altruistic pursuits, and should bring with them a certain sense of satisfaction. I know this on a deeply personal level. As a patient of Polycystic Kidney Disease, I am sincerely thankful for the efforts of the countless professionals who spend their careers combating an illness that has so deeply impacted my life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of others. Today I have the privilege of doing my own part, as I begin my research training under the mentorship of Dr. Vicente Torres at the Mayo Translational PKD Center.

I address the topic of motivation today because I have far too often known students and even faculty in the professions of medicine and science who seem perpetually disappointed in their academic achievements. No matter how great their accomplishments, I have heard time and time again expressions of insecurity and regret from people whom I hold in the highest regard. Once, in speaking with my personal nephrologist about my academic ambitions, he expressed misgivings about the arc of his own career. I could scarcely believe him – as a talented physician employed by a well-reputed academic medical center, I had difficulty understanding his disappointment. I can only understand his regrets to be sourced in a problem of perspective; were he to walk a day in my shoes and to know the sincere gratitude I have for him and his colleagues, I think he would find some long-overdue satisfaction.

While my own experiences as a patient have left an indelible impression on the way I view my work here at Mayo Clinic, I do not think you need to have experienced disease firsthand to understand the importance of the medical sciences. Whether you work in research, healthcare, education, or the arts, you are participating in the living legacy of your vocation. Your contributions, no matter how small, are the thread to a rich tapestry of  human endeavor. Don’t allow yourself to falter when what you are doing does not go according to plan; I can promise you that, somewhere out there, there is someone who is deeply grateful that you are doing it at all.

“Wells presenting the OHSU Golden Rose award to his former physician, Dr. Sandra Iragorri.”

Wells B. LaRiviere is a student in the Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) at Mayo Clinic and under the mentorship of Dr. Vicente Torres. 

Oct 17, 2013 · A Scientist's Struggle with Faith and Science

“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual…The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”
– Carl Sagan

Close to 100 scientists and religious community members gathered in Geffen Auditorium this past Monday night to hear evidence from Dr. Fazale “Fuz” Rana describing the logical intimacy of science and religion. Listeners embraced the challenge of identifying their own beliefs and were encouraged to evaluate the framework through which they orientate their lives. Although I cannot do justice to the complexity of arguments in this summary, I hope to mirror the theme of the presentation and challenge all readers with the question, “Are science and religion mutually exclusive?” Intentionally, many of us have discrete answers arising from years of experience reconciling each space. However, I ask you to read the first sentence of this post again and consider your reflexive interpretation of the phrase “scientists and religious community members.” Did you originally perceive this to describe unique individuals in attendance with competing viewpoints, people who identify singularly with science or religion yet inform their worldview with the other, or a single group of people unified in their beliefs. I believe our response is indicative of our current perspective. Much like being a “father and husband” does not preclude one from the other, Dr. Rana proposes being a scientist and believer are entirely complementary foundations granted by God.

Dr. Fazale Rana discovered the world of chemistry and biology while in the PreMed program at West Virginia State College (now University).  As a presidential scholar there, he earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry with highest honors.  He completed a PhD in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry at Ohio University, where he twice won the Donald Clippinger Research Award.  He continued his postdoctoral studies at the Universities of Virginia and Georgia and then worked seven years as a senior scientist in product development for Procter & Gamble. During the talk, Dr. Rana spent little time describing his road to religious conversion, personal worldview, and justification for being an authority on the topic. This was mostly intentional, as his travels across the country serve to demonstrate one perspective where science and religion appear entirely compatible, not to create a roadmap for coming to faith or science. That journey must be worked out individually.

Dr. Rana did discuss a variety of arguments highlighting God’s fingerprints within scientific evidence. Cosmological and teleological foundations were outlined to establish the cause and purpose of creation. Next, Dr. Rana described his own work and the biologic and chemical complexity arising in human creation that mimics complexity in our own physiology. Similarly, much of his current work explores origin of life hypotheses to describe early existence. Lastly, the concept of human exceptionalism was presented, allowing for the reconciliation of biological explanations and the sanctity of the human experience. I apologize for skipping over the meat of the talk and concede these topics are too large to summarize appropriately here (video available for those interested.) However, those hoping for a purely didactic explanation of science and creationism may have missed the point of the talk, and potentially walked away unsatisfied.

This dissatisfaction is a call to self-exploration. As a man of faith, and as a scientist, I feel the most complete picture of creation involves exploring the scientific evidence supporting God’s design. As humans, we are naturally drawn to narratives within novels, movies, and daily life. The thread of our own narrative yearns to be satisfied, to have resolution, and begs to be coherent. I realize this most fully in the place where faith and science intersect personally, within the self. Each of us is governed by the law of nature (physical laws governing the world) and the Law of Nature, what C.S Lewis describes as “a law above and beyond the actual facts which we observe.” Scientific observation of my life would reveal a great deal about my instincts, temperament, and disposition. However, would that be sufficient in describing who I am? I contend not. Something is missing from the story describing the will behind my behavior. In much the same way, I believe faith and science interact to reveal the moral and expressive qualities of our creator. Dr. Rana shares pieces of the journey that fit in this greater story and restores the missing pages within our lives. Although many pages remain blank, even for myself, I find peace in the understanding that they come from the same book, from a single author.

Tyler Koep
Mayo Clinic Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCaTS) Ph.D. candidate

“From religion comes a man’s purpose; from science, his power to achieve it. Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are: in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hands are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped.”
– Sir William Bragg

Oct 3, 2013 · The Impact of the Government Shutdown on Research

Graduate students including Mayo Clinic’s Molecular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Ph.D. candidate, Alfreda Nelson, planned on attending the 2013 NIH National Graduate Student Research Conference, but due to the lapse in government funding, the conference has been canceled.

This is just one of the many examples of the lapse in government funding which has and will continue to affect research. The shutdown has cut off access to myriad of electronic resources which many researchers depend. Websites that were not operation include the National Science Foundation the Education Department’s research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences1. Many sites such as PubMed, a free repository of biomedical and life science research maintained by the National Institutes of Health, are operational but a notice on the site warns users that it would not be updated during the shutdown. Some researchers are setting up mirror websites to keep forms to apply for grants from the National Science Foundation accessible2. This creates the perfect opportunity to ask professors and students how the government shutdown impacts research.

How is the government shutdown affecting your work on campus? 

The government shutdown has not affected my work at the Mayo Clinic thus far but has affected institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control and the National Center for Health Statistics which will not be issuing any updates during the shutdown. According to The New York Times, the CDC furloughed about 68% of its staff, and said it would be unable to help state and local officials keep track of infectious diseases and have only limited capacity to respond to food and disease outbreaks3.

Danielle Miranda, Mayo Clinic Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCaTS) Ph.D. candidate


Does today’s governmental funding affect your career goals and path as a biomedical researcher?

 “The government funding situation in Washington has been through similar periods of turmoil such as under Bill Clinton 18 years ago during the last shut down. While there 

may be a variety of negative immediate impacts seen today, including within the research community, typically history repeats itself and a recovery and functional budget will be implemented similar to what has occurred in the past. A more relevant concern, at least from my perspective, is not only the timely passing of a budget, but more importantly the allocation of funding within that budget that directly impacts the NIH and subsequently our research as scientists. Therefore, this current shut down really has not persuaded or impacted me to consider altering my career path and ultimate goals as a scientist.” 

Bradlee Heckmann, Mayo Clinic Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Ph.D. student


“Absolutely government funding plays a huge role in my future career and research goals. Without major funding, research is difficult to conduct, and without major funding good impactful research will be made nearly impossible. I doubt the shutdown will affect me unless it last for a substantial period of time.  However, with NIH unable to accept grants at this time, all R-series grants which are due in October will be delayed, potentially affecting peoples’ careers and funds.  Unless the budget agreement to re-open the government includes cuts to NIH I doubt it will affect research as a whole.”

Justin Ryder, Arizona State University College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Ph.D. candidate

Do you feel that this shut down even if only momentarily will have a lasting impact on the scientific and research communities?

“I think for biomedical and basic scientists and others who depend on NIH funding for research support this is just another painful episode amid recent cuts which unfortunately reflects a lack of investment in science. For many, if things do not change 

(which is doubtful considering the difficult funding situation currently), the academic route is looking less and less feasible (especially considering that less than ~10% of our peers will secure a tenure track position during their career). So, while I do not think the shut down will have a lasting effect if it ends (<1 month), it is not an encouraging sign of any coming relief for US scientists.”

Patrick Blackburn, Mayo Clinic Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCaTS) Ph.D. candidate

What advice would you give to young biomedical trainees entering the research arena? 

“It is an unfortunate fact that a significant portion of research funding is obtained from government agencies with the NIH being the most prominent. It is an unabashedly non-political entity with the sole purpose of improving the health of all Americans through research and clinical translation of laboratory based findings. The negative impact that a government shutdown has on research funding from NIH is not unlike the hardships posed on many innocent government workers who have been furloughed by political negligence. The best advice is the same as always – be fully committed to your research in order to make the most progress possible while always keeping an eye on ways to make your finding clinically relevant as this is an area that will continue to grow in importance. Additionally, it appears more important than ever that researchers become more involved in the larger political arena by expressing their views to their elected representatives on a regular basis highlighting the important role that funding plays in the nation’s health and the tremendous return on investment that has been returned over the years in a variety of diseases.”

Joseph Loftus Ph.D., Assistant Dean, Mayo Clinic Arizona

 “I doubt that the current government shutdown will significantly impact our research in the short term. It may cause some inconvenience to the researchers who are near deadlines for grant submissions or are waiting on the decisions from NIH on their previous submissions. What matters most is the long-term commitment of the federal government to support research.”

Jun Liu, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic Arizona 

We would like to hear your opinion.

Please leave comments for further discussion.

1. Kingkade, Tyler. “Research Plans Thrown Off Course After Government Shutdown.” Huffington Post, 03 Oct. 2013.

2. Stratford, Michael. “Locked Out of the Library.” Inside Higher Ed, 03 Oct. 2013.

3. Shear, Michael D. “On Day 1, Parks Close, Workers Stay Home and ‘Panda Cam’ Goes Dark.” New York Times, 01 Oct. 2013.

Jul 12, 2013 · Network of Early Clinical and Translational Researchers (NECTR)

Network of Early Clinical and Translational Researchers (NECTR) is a resource for early investigators in clinical and translational research.

NECTR aims to drive collaborations between graduate and medical students and provide educational and scientific information sharing to decrease the gap between the bench and the bedside. NECTR Facebook page is a social media platform for all geared to biomedical trainees to discuss the dynamics and prospects of relevant programs from mentoring opportunities to help identifying available post-doctoral positions. The goal is to share advice on the importance of mentorship in creating and guiding leaders of the future and establish a network that promotes collaboration and innovation.

Please use this page to:
• Connect with peers/colleagues/potential mentors who are working in translational science
• Continue to define and provide examples of translational research
• Highlight post-doc opportunities and share career goals and accomplishments
• Share publications, conference materials, etc.

Please contact Elizabeth Ann T. Lieser if you have any questions or suggestions.

May 24, 2013 · Above the meritocracy

It is without a doubt that we live in a meritocracy; i.e. a society that has a built in rank and opportunity based on certificates, degrees, and records to determine worth. This is not unique to the realm of science, where indeed we are pigeon holed by our degrees, but can be seen in all sectors of our society. However, we are not just bound by our degrees but by our institutions and our associations. While this may not be ideal for your self esteem, it establishes a simplification of social dynamics that is almost formulaic in nature. Given that we can not radically alter our scholastic training, from scientist to engineer; nor institutional associations, from Mayo to U of MN; we can assume those variables to be fixed. What is left in the equation is our associations. How can we rise above the mass of others who have obtained the same degrees and fit the same requirements for a given job? How can we rise above the meritocracy of civilized society? The answer is networking. I am not the first to promulgate this point and several others have done it better than I, so I will leave it to you to examine some of the other articles on this subject to get the larger picture. (Here’s just one) However, below are four simple points to help you on your way.

1. Set up a LinkedIn Profile. Connecting with others on professional networking sites like LinkedIn is like having a live Rolodex (that was this thing that those ancient scientists all had on their desks about 100 years ago that kept track of people’s information and business cards). All anyone has to do now is update their own profile and everyone else can see where you published and on what topic, what institution you are at, and what advanced training you’ve received. You can even easily provide a link to the PubMed abstract of your work. And many company job sites now use LinkedIn profiles to populate their applications, which will make applying for jobs that much easier. They are easy to update and show up on all the major search engines as well. Lastly, this is not Facebook, and does not need to be associated with your Facebook account so your friends and your associates can remain separate (Your associates don’t need to know what your cat is up to these days and your friends have no idea what a chemokine receptor is).

2. Get a business card. A business card does not have to be that intricate. It should simply have your name, email, phone number, highest level degree, and title as well as any additional information that you think will quickly represent your skills. This small piece of paper is the key to networking efficiently. Having several in your pocket when you give a presentation, attend a meeting, or explain your poster will allow you to dole out your personal credentials to almost everyone. Even if they don’t have a job for you, they may know someone who does. A grad student from Ohio State may talk to you at a poster session and take your card. Weeks later, his mentor may mention that he really needs a post doc with skill in tetramer construction and as it just so happens our dedicated graduate student might respond with, “You know, I met a student at the Super Amazing Science (SAS) Conference last month that does just that. And I think I have her card. Here you go.” (It works exactly like this every single time).

3. Attend conferences and talk to people. (See above.) Don’t just give your cards out, but get them in return. Sometimes just the act of distributing your polished piece of personal advertising is enough to elicit a card in return. Otherwise, it is perfectly okay to ask for one. If the contact doesn’t have a card, write down their name and contact info in your smart phone for later use. And then, follow up on any leads that you have established. (Most of your very important PIs (VIPIs) love getting emails out of the blue from students asking about post doc opportunities that they can’t afford to give out because the NIH failed to renew their R01). You will have to do more work than that, but this is typically the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I would first inquire before sending them your full CV, latest publication, and glossy glamour shots; but it doesn’t hurt to inquire. And it never hurts to tell someone how cool you think they are (professionally speaking that is). Sometimes they will remember your name and sometimes they will be at the next SAS conference and you can reintroduce yourself and your willingness to work for peanuts for their greater glory.

4. Connect to people though social networking. It all circles back around to social media. We live in the internet age, which is a great advantage for the advancement of knowledge and network associations (as well as for finding pictures of cats). If you spend any sort of time getting to know someone in person, send them a networking request on LinkedIn. This is not too forward, you are not asking them over for pastries, you are saying, “I met you professionally and I would like to keep in touch.” This is a perfectly legitimate thing to do and a lot easier than keeping a Rolodex, like they did in the time before penicillin. If you are really ambitious you can join groups with others that share your interests and make comments on others posts or post something yourself. This is another exercise in advertising, which just may pay off. But by and large, connecting with others via social media is a passive way to keep in touch and requires very little daily effort on your behalf.

This set of rules may seem simple and they are. The advent of social media and computers make maintaining associations rather easy. And, as knowledge workers, however busy our lives may be, it is always good to know those who are in our field and even better to know what they are up to. Early in your career these associations will help you get a job and get funding and later in your career they will help you do better science. Above all, networking allows you to be more than just a statistic in a meritocratic ranking system, but a person with soft skills and motivations that are hard to establish by looking at a piece of paper.

You can find me on LinkedIn (look me up and connect) or follow my blog at
Ian Clift

May 23, 2013 · Perspectives on Research at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale and Jacksonville

Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale offers a great graduate training experience. Some of the main areas of focus are metabolic and vascular biology, multiple myeloma, receptor signaling, molecular modeling, and cancer research. The smaller campus offers a close-knit feeling in which you interact with post-docs, technologists, and students from the other labs on a daily basis. You also get to know the principal investigators very well and can ask them for advice. Everyone is very friendly and willing to offer their expertise when trouble-shooting.

As for living in Scottsdale, I could not have made a better choice. I enjoy the beautiful sunsets and the surrounding mountains for hiking after a long day in the lab. Arizona is a beautiful state that has the Grand Canyon and is just a short trip to San Diego or Las Vegas. Mayo Graduate School offers a three-day visit to Jacksonville or Scottsdale to meet the students and investigators and to see if it is a possible fit for one of your rotations. This visit and rotation option is unique to Mayo Graduate School. All living accommodations are taken care of which include a furnished apartment and rental car. Jenny Ho, Arizona Education Manager of Operations, is friendly, knowledgeable, and easy to talk to if you have any questions. So if you get the chance, do not miss out on the opportunity to visit Mayo in Scottsdale!

Danielle Miranda
Arizona Student Representative
Clinical and Translational Science PhD Candidate


Alright, experiment is almost up, timer is running low, and you only have time to read one more sentence. Give a Mayo Clinic in Florida rotation a chance. Now, those of you still reading are obviously procrastinating, so take this well deserved opportunity to hear me out. At the expense of sounding like a broken record/car salesperson, I just want to let you know that you have nothing to lose. I can attest. I’m a born and raised Minnesotan, and man, I do love that Midwest comfort. But there is also a thing called Southern comfort (and no, I am not referring to the alcohol). I went to my Mayo interview knowing very little about Mayo Clinic in Florida. But as an aspiring scientist, three things can really convince me (in no particular order): impressive top-tier research, passionate people, and free stuff (i.e. flight, housing, transportation, sun). So I gave it a chance (this is the rotation part). Many new friends, trips to the beach, hours in the lab, diverse restaurants, successful/unsuccessful experiments, weekday night trivia victories, insightful seminars, and empowering talks with faculty later, I’m still loving it. And the best part is, I still have 3 more years to go.

Kevin Bieniek
Florida Student Representative
Neurobiology of Disease PhD Student

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