Near the End, and Preparing for a New Beginning

You’ve finally hit that point, where “comps” (comprehensive exams) has been completed. You passed. Now all you have to do is collect data, write it up and present it to your committee. The next challenge is figuring out the time to present the data you collected for the dissertation or thesis. Not to consider the biggest challenge of collecting data that is quality and timely. Thus, there is a few things to consider that might help streamline the PhD journey, or any similar terminal degree.

Thesis/Dissertation Tips

These tips need the context of a “best dissertation/thesis is a done dissertation/thesis”.

  1. Start coming up with ideas for your dissertation/thesis. The ideas evolve, be open to that. Discuss not only with potentially faculty, but also your friends and even family.
  2. Develop a rapport with all the faculty, feel out who may suit you and your journey the best. There is a fit that is needed on both the mentoring and mentee sides of the journey.
  3. Set expectations for yourself and then for your direct report or mentor. This will help ensure efficiency. The mentor has likely been in your shoes before, so he or she may view the initiative and eagerness as a positive.
    1. At the same time learn to establish a balance between work and your life. Talk to your mentor about this, he or she likely has valuable input. This is important because the majority of graduate students experiencing anxiety and or depression did not agree with the idea of their advisor being as asset to their career (shown in Figure 1) (Evans et al., 2018).

Figure 1. This figure highlights the graduate students and their experience of depression and anxiety as well as input related to perceived mentorship.

  1. Make sure to back-up all your work. Back it up in more than one spot as well.
  2. It is never too early to start drafting up or writing down and organizing your ideas and concepts.
    1. Two sections that you really can get a jump on are the introduction and methods types of sections (Wyllie, 2021).

Future Investigator Tips:

On top of completing the thesis/dissertation, you should really be applying to jobs and considering what would be the next best step for you as a researcher.  Dr. Douglas Seals published a very informative manuscript titled “The Academic Biomedical Research Laboratory as a “Small Business”.  He provides a perspective that shows biomedical research laboratories providing services to external organizations (Seals, 2021). These services include:

“ -..manuscripts submitted for publication to scientific journals, grant applications submitted to biomedical research funding agencies; and abstracts submitted to professional organizations for presentations” (Seals, 2021).

Dr. Seals viewpoint manuscript is valuable because it highlights the need for developing a network. You learn about the future timelines and the associated potential hurdles. Furthermore, it will help address the a new type of balance, completing the work that you have obtained funding for, and beginning new work from ideas you have formulated.  Beyond understanding the dynamics of a laboratory as a small business, developing yourself as a good writer will be something that continues, and a standard that should be set high for yourself.

  1. Find a skill set you would like grow with over time
  2. Look potentially broadening your network.
  3. Understand the importance of treating a lab like a small business.

Below in Figure 2, shows what would be the priorities as a PI through a career. Understanding the frame-work over time can help you determine where you are and where you would like to be as an independent researcher. One of the skills that will need development, will be motivating a variety of people in a variety of ways (Banks, 2021).


Finally, do your best to continue to find feedback from quality people with the network you established. Research is a process not only for sample and/or population studied, but for you and your development as an independent investigator. Develop patience and diligence.


Banks, L. (2021). Words of Advice: How to be a good Principal Investigator. The FEBS Journal, 288(13), 3973–3977. https://doi.org/10.1111/febs.15755

Evans, N. R., Shahrokni, R. O., Ferriday, D., Potter, C., Jebb, S. A., Brunstrom, J. M., & Rogers, P. J. (2018). Enhancing meal enjoyment: Evaluating the effects of flavour intensity and hedonic labelling. Appetite, 130, 304. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2018.05.184

Seals, D. R. (2021). The Academic Biomedical Research Laboratory as a “Small Business.” Journal of Applied Physiology. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00233.2021

Wyllie, D. J. A. (2021). Thesis write-up and manuscript preparation: Related but distinct tasks. The Journal of Physiology, 599(11), 2771–2775. https://doi.org/10.1113/JP281665

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Identifying Your Transferable Skill Set

Finding a job in this current market can be described as a nearly impossible, and scary, task. Particularly, for us PhD students and postdocs looking to score a faculty position at a research institution. While the number of PhD recipients is on the decline, the number of faculty members retiring, contrarily, is not. So, what do we do?! After all of these years of hard work and training, are you telling me that I may not be able to #SecureTheBag? Well, the good thing about having a doctorate degree is that there are a lot of other potential jobs outside of academia – government, industry, non-profit, the list goes on and on. However, how are we to apply to these jobs when we have spent years of being sculpted for academia? Transferable skills are skills obtained during one job that have the ability to be transferred to others. Recently, I attended a workshop completely focused on teaching and providing tools on how to identify one’s transferable skills.

Before the workshop, I was aware that transferable skills existed, but I was not entirely sure of the methods by which one identifies said skills, yet alone the ones that I “supposedly” had. However, after a few minutes of thinking and finally understanding how to identify my transferable skills, I was able to come up with a good sized “beginners list” of skills that I have picked up during the short duration of my PhD training thus far.

The first task and skill I developed that is translatable (and one that applies to most PhD students) is wanting to throw in the towel on writing my dissertation, but persevering through regardless. I haven’t begun to write my dissertation, however, I have spent many nights, early mornings and weekends at the lab bench and most certainly have been ready to give it all up to get my life back. Nevertheless, here I am still working hard to get great data. The attributes developed during this time are perseverance, patience, determination and confidence. Ultimately, this means that I am self-motivated, determined, not easily discouraged, and dependable in high-pressure situations. Performing assays in the lab is something routine that almost every biomedical researcher will encounter, but this is not something that I would brag about when applying to a government position. Instead I could say that through learning how to troubleshoot different assays, I have picked up excellent critical thinking skills that have made me adaptable and able to find multiple ways to approach a problem.

Ultimately, from this discussion I was able to come up with a substantial list of translatable skills (such as the aforementioned), along with effectively disseminating ideas, communicating science to a non-scientific populations, public communication skills, and many more.

Can you think of a list of transferable skills that would make your applicable for a non-academic position?