Monday, January 21, 2013

Advice for would be grad students. 001

Today's advice: Have a unique, transferable, skill.

 photo IMG-20130118-00379.jpg
Tools of the trade.

When I applied for the Co-op position which eventually lead directly into my PhD studies (no master's degree here), one of the things which certainly helped me out: Skill with Tissue Culture.

By which I mean: I had, during a brief research project during undergrad, gone out of my way to develop a skill set including animal handling, micro-dissection, tissue/organ bath work....and more specifically, all with smooth muscle tissues. It's no coincidence that the model system for my current project involves vessel culture in the Living Systems bath featured above.

So what do I mean by "have a unique, transferable skill?" You need to have something to bring to the table, that you would not have picked up in basic first and second year lab courses. You can do this either through working as a summer student/volunteer student in a research lab, or by taking advanced upper year lab courses. Finally, by completing a technique heavy honors thesis.

What kinds of skills am I talking about?
  • Tissue Culture
  • Cell Culture (more advanced than the brief intro to aseptic technique you may have gotten in Cell Bio)
  • Patch Clamping
  • Vector cloning/production
  • Protein/antibody purification
  • Real Time PCR
  • And many, many more
The majority of undergraduate students don't necessarily pick up more advanced skills than basic bench work. Or if you are exposed to a more unique technique, likely you only see/do it once. What you want here is a specific skills set to put on your CV that will set you aside from the herd.

Come back next Monday for more helpful advice for the would be grad student!


  1. This is applicable to many work areas. When you are at a new position at any job, you should take a look around and see where things are at, where is there a shortconpming, what is management wanting to do...and develop a skill in that area. Then showcase it. While no one is totally indespensible, you should work hard to be as close as possible to that. You'll have a job for life. Just don't stress yourself out doing it. :-)

    1. That's very true! The key to success in any field comes down to standing out from the crowd! But also always remember its just a job, and only worth as much stress as you are willing to handle! Thanks for commenting!


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