Are you a student thinking about grad school and becoming an academic? Have questions? Ask 'em here.

(Some of these questions and answers were originally posted to CovertProfessor's page and have been moved here for general consumption. CP promises to lurk here and answer more questions, though anyone should feel free to jump in with replies).


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2009-01-30 18:59:08   Hey, extremely stealthy educational researching person. Have you seen any impact from CA's budget problems on getting research funds? Does it affect university hiring? Or does the money mainly come from grants from outside the state budget? —IDoNotExist

  • 1) Yes 2) Yes 3) No one has any money. Tough times are everywhere, oh one who is there but not there. :-( —CovertProfessor
  • It's not just California and it's not just recent. Good, easy read from the Scientist. I don't know about Dr. Professor here, but my focus has always been in the biosciences, and I worked at a biotech company in the bay area for a while before doing my PhD work. From the article, regarding NIH grants. In 1999, scientists submitted 8,957 applications for R01 grants classified as type 1, or new submissions (these figures include only original applications, not resubmissions). The agency awarded 1,761 applications, for a success rate of 19.7%. By 2005, the number of applications rose to 10,605, and only 970 were approved. That means only 9.1% were successful, and 9,635 were rejected - more than the total number of submissions only six years earlier. For type 2 grant applications, which request to continue an already-awarded R01 grant, the numbers tell the same story. In 1999, 3,214 funded scientists requested renewals; 1,772 received them, for a success rate of more than 55%. By 2005, 3,896 needed renewals of their grants, but only 1,262 requests were awarded; the success rate had fallen below 33%. So among nearly 4,000 scientists who were working off NIH funds in 2005, more than 2,600 lost that support. In 2007, more than 4,100 scientists were denied renewals of their R01s. It's been a slow squeeze on many research labs over the last half a dozen years. Earlier, the article mentions it, talking about how President Clinton promised - and followed through to double NIH funding in the late 90's, and then how once the war took over in 2003 the budget basically barely increased. It's interesting stuff - there's a whole lot of articles ranging from science mags to things like the Economist addressing this kind of stuff on the national level. -ES

2009-01-31 11:51:17   The funding of basic scientific research was not a priority for the Bush administration. (Read: The de-funding of basic scientific research was a priority for the Bush administration.) Hopefully, we will see substantial increases in research funding now. —IDoNotExist

  • Yes, I was happy to hear that Obama was planning to "restore science to its rightful place." I know he's got a lot of things on his plate, but hopefully we'll see evidence of that — I think we've seen some good signs already. —CovertProfessor
    • And here's the evidence - I just got an email from the university saying that "The Committee on Research has recently been advised that an increase in research funds to NSF, NIH, DOE, and other federal agencies is very likely to become available in the near future." —CovertProfessor
      • Yeah, a lot of these things we've known since even before campaign and are hoping he can follow through on. For example, Obama and McCain answered questions from Scientists and Engineers for America back in September. I believe Obama promised to double federal funding for basic science research over 10 years. And possibly among my favorite answers (as I'd rather not wait til I'm 40 to get my first NIH grant [the average age]): "increase research grants for early-career researchers to keep young scientists entering these fields." And of course, things he's said and mentioned elsewhere, it's looking like things might look up a bit. Woo! -ES
        • Yes, I know that promises were made, but a lot of things are promised during political campaigns. It's nice to see things actually happening. —CovertProfessor

2009-03-03 20:59:42   Is it difficult to find a position (sitting, standing, or perhaps teaching and researching as a professor) at a university that you wish to teach at (as opposed to one that happens to have an open position this year)? —IDoNotExist

  • If you want to be picky, you have to be 1) really lucky, 2) really persistent, 3) really good, or, most likely 4) some combination of all of the above. —CovertProfessor

2009-06-05 11:23:35   Are you on a tenure-track position? Did you do any sort of post-doc work? How long did it take you, if I may ask? I'm procrastinating between choosing between two labs; I think getting my PhD in one will be better if I want to continue an academic career and eventually become faculty myself, and the other lab will be much better if I want to jump into the industry and leave academia behind. Both labs would have a great mentor, they're just connected and focused in very different areas. And I'm concerned the track to tenure may be too difficult/involved. With a family, can't readily move to who knows where for a post-doc and then move again to a new university. —EdWins

  • Yes, I am in a tenure-track position, and no, it didn't take me long (a year, basically). But I was lucky. I think jumping around from postdoc to postdoc or from temporary position to temporary position is the far more common experience. So, you have to weigh your priorities — what you want for your family and what you want from your career. —CovertProfessor
    • Congratulations! It's a difficult decision indeed, to try to plan so (relatively) far down the line. My significant other is a counselor and will be a therapist by the time I'm done, and one large difficulty lays in that she'll be state licensed (and in her field, it's difficult to re-license in another state). Being restricted to California thoroughly reduces the potential post-doc positions, much less faculty appointments of the caliber I'd want. Maybe I'll just create a start-up, slave away for a few years to make it look attractive, and sell it <.< A lot of the big bio companies have been eating away at the small fish. -ES

2009-09-28 13:33:49   I started as a TA today. I'll have ~50 upper division students. As an icebreaker, I had them to introduce themselves and tell me what superpower they'd want. Most of them were laughing and actually into it. So was it wrong when I laughed so hard at their responses that ~49 of them cried? —EdWins

  • I'm confused... Most of them were laughing, but most of them cried? They laughed until they cried? Or they laughed until you laughed, and then they cried? —CovertProfessor
    • The 50th guy ran out the door screaming :( ES
      • People take their superpowers very seriously. —CovertProfessor
      • What do you TA? —IDoNotExist
        • The UCLA version of CovertProfessor's UCD course. <.< -ES
          • TA'ing is actually turning out to be pretty fun. Grading is not fun! I really, really hate it. This is an upper division microbiology course, but it's one of the first few, so it's mostly third years trying to adjust and advance to critical thinking in the sciences, rather than memorization. I don't think it'll get any easier on me by the end of the quarter, but hopefully next year. Maybe not. It's hard :( -ES
            • You need one of those stamps that autoadvances as you stamp, and get it custom made with a gaussian distribution of grades. It makes grading even the most tedious tests take only a few minutes. -jw ;-P
            • ES, the sad truth is that most professors hate grading (though I do know a few odd ones that like it). The way I figure it is that everyone has some part of their job that they hate, and this is our part to hate. There are enough good parts about being a professor to outweigh the grading parts. And if you're lucky, you'll get a position where you'll have a TA to do most of your grading. Oops, that's you now. Well, so hopefully you'll pay your dues now and get the payoff later. You have my sympathies (empathies?) if that helps —CovertProfessor

2009-10-06 20:26:55   What was your experience like as a TA? —IDoNotExist

  • Well, in what respect? I liked it overall. It was nice not to have to be the one responsible for delivering the content; I just had to fill in where the professor had confused everyone. So, in general students liked me because I was helping them out, and they came to me more often than the professor because I was closer in age to them and less intimidating. I tried to learn from the professors who I was TAing for, and the classes I taught at first were very much influenced by those professors. (Then I started to change things as I figured out what worked for me and what didn't). But grading, yeah, grading sucks. There's no way around it. Sometimes all the TAs for a course would grade in a group, just to share the pain a little bit and make it more fun (and, more practically, to compare notes about how we'd grade tricky cases). —CovertProfessor

2011-12-11 21:21:15   hey all. so i'm currently an undergrad here, and, well, (im pretty disappointed about this) but i failed two classes this past fall term. I was wondering, if i were to retake those two classes, and earn an A in both of them, would i still be able to have a shot at grad school? assumign i keep my gpa up in my major and over all gpa up? (btw, these two classes are not in my major, if that makes a difference.) —embaressed

  • You probably know the policy on re-taking classes, but just in case you don't: You can repeat a course after receiving an "F" or "D," for a maximum of 16 units. The new grade counts toward your overall GPA, but the original failing grade does not. Both the original grade and the new grade remain on the transcript, but only the new grade is used by UC Davis in calculating your GPA (note that AMCAS and LSDAS may calculate the GPA using both grades). So, to answer your question: Yes, I think you still have a shot at grad school. Some schools will only look at the GPA and not the transcript (although some will look at the transcript), and yes, I think it does matter that the courses are outside your major. Be sure to spell check your application. ;-) —CovertProfessor
  • Talk to your adviser. Depending on the circumstances, it is possible to adjust the transcript. You might be able to petition for a retroactive withdrawal from the course, leaving a 'W' on your transcript. It's also possible to have the entire course removed as if you never took it, but that's usually to remove an entire quarter, and the circumstances have to be pretty dire. As CP says though, it won't hurt the GPA as it can be retaken. But talk to your adviser for sure to make an academic plan and avoid academic probation. -ES