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Navigating The Science Trail

You are reading this guide because either you are 1) Interested in scientific research 2) are considering research as a career or both. Before you read this document please make sure you have read about research as a career – How stressful and how rewarding an experience it is – Read this It is a wonderful life and this working scientist before you read further. Now that you have decided to pursue a career in research, you would need to experience research. Many people volunteer in a research lab and get training for a year or two before applying to graduate school. While working in the lab, start drafting your CV, samples here CV Sample NIH and also here JKScientists CV Sample. We also encourage you to watch this very useful video How to draft your CV

Advice for 10+2 students

While applying for NEET/JEE etc also consider applying for IISER admissions IISER admission – they are the best research education institution in India. There are many more programs such as the Indian Institute of Science undergraduate program IISC admissions undergraduate program NEST is also a great option to get admission at good research institutions in India NEST Admission Guidelines If you are a highly motivated student and are ready to appear in this prestigious fellowship program KVPY, if you get it great, you can join any research institutions in India and get paid. IISERs, IISCs, and NEST all have paid undergraduate programs, other than getting great education you get paid as well – great. There are many more amazing career pathways, see this document What After 10+2 Even if you don’t get admission to any of these highly competitive programs don’t worry, you can join BSc at any college in Kashmir and still be a very successful researcher – the majority of us have done MSc in Kashmir and still managed to do good. The trick is to keep applying for summer schools and research internships such as here INSA summer program and IISER Summer Programs IISER Summer Program Kolkata there are many more IISERs, check their websites. Also, seek help from JKScientists, join the Facebook Group which has over 12000 student and scientists members and we discuss science, applications, etc there JKScientists Facebook Group. You can follow JKScientists on Twitter as well as @JKScientists, oh Yes we have a website as well JKScientists is a registered non-profit organization run by scientists and the goal is to foster science and education, with special emphasis on the trainees from Jammu and Kashmir. We advise you to join the JKScientists journal club SPECTRUM as well.

Advice for Undergraduate/Master Students

Now that you have decided to start thinking about applying to various research positions, we suggest you start reading and discussing papers. JKScientists has launched an interactive journal club called SPECTRUM, you can read more about it here SPECTRUM join and present papers there as well. We encourage you to be proactive and if you are one of those mentees we suggest you apply to our highly competitive mentorship program called SPROUT, more details can be found here SPROUT

After gaining at least a year or more of research experience, you are in a good position to apply and be competitive in various International Ph.D. programs. There are many, start thinking about whether you like Europe or the USA or any other country. But there are some important things to consider such as getting a good recommendation letter from the lab you are volunteering in, and a few more preferentially from the scientists you interact with. Also, start working on the presentation, that is what makes a huge difference during the interview process. How to make a good presentation, watch this video How to give a good talk by iBiology and useful tips here as well

When you are ready to apply for international Ph.D. programs, the first thing you want to do is discuss with your mentors and make sure they write a good letter. After, start reaching out to future lab mentors, see here how to choose a good lab, and also watch this video How to Pick a Good advisor. Start making connections with him/her, first impressions are the most important, read a few papers and start thinking about what is not known in the field, and then start drafting an email in that one can discuss future experiments to investigate those questions. Keep revising the draft, make your colleagues/mentors read it, and incorporate their feedback. How to write a good cover letter, read drafting a cover letter and here Drafting cover letters NIH and there are many more samples at our website JKScientists Resources Here are more tips on making a successful Ph.D. application UC Davis Sample CV/Letters/etc

Advice for Ph.D. students

Now that you have secured a position in your dream Ph.D. program, the scientific journey only begins here. Graduate school typically lasts 4-5 years and if you are hardworking and lucky, you will end graduate school with a few publications and discoveries that will contribute to knowledge science. It is your Ph.D. and you would have to take a lead on your career path, a mentor can only help in achieving your goals. Being a successful scientist requires more than research and bench skills and I suggest you take this course at the beginning of your Ph.D. Planning Your Scientific Journey and follow the guidelines provided in the course. Also, make your mentoring plan and discuss the plan with your mentor. Now that you have a personal and professional development plan, read and develop your research question, I suggest watching this useful session from iBiology on How to Develop a Research Question As a scientist we all need feedback from our peers and mentors, and graduate students need to discuss research findings/questions with their mentor and often are anxious to do so for many reasons, here are the tips on How to Talk to Your Mentor About Research and discuss your Research Plan There is a nice book At The Bench that will help you, find a copy and read it carefully.

Excellent that you have developed a research question and that you are reading and learning about various techniques topics, now prepare yourself for the benchwork, watch this useful session on How to Design Experiment  One other important skill you would need to master as a graduate student or researcher is to learn how to prioritize your experiments discussed in detail Prioritizing Experiments

A very important and essential component of being a citizen scientist is to make sure all the experiments are done with proper controls and rigor. I suggest you all watch these valuable videos on Scientific Misconduct, Reproducibility in Science, and Openness in Science More training videos about ethics are here. When you are in the lab respect each other’s ideas, values, culture, and identity – embrace diversity and contribute towards diversity in science. Lots of resources here to understand the topic and make an action plan. From my experiences, I must admit that living abroad in a foreign land brings many more challenges and often we miss home, family, and friends, it is very important to find friends in and outside of the lab and enjoy the outdoors together. That is what I did in Europe and the US and yes, keep running, it will help you in the long run.

Research is stressful and most often we fail, so find a way to keep your brain and body healthy.  We all have been through ups and downs during Ph.D., Postdoc, and beyond, you have to be resilient and find activities that keep you happy. JKScientists has organized some sessions to watch, for example, this one There are lots of resources available online, and also most universities have mental health counseling as well. JKScientists has also a dedicated person to discuss mental health, anxiety, and stress. My Ph.D. life was very stressful, I started running and still, I am running regularly to relieve stress. Meditation, hiking, and being with friends and family help too, seek help, and start discussing mental health.

One of the most important skills to gain during your training is to learn how to communicate your ideas, discoveries, and science. Make use of all the resources/opportunities available to gain personal skills, and you can learn more about these skills here: i) How to Give a Good Science Talk, and How to Give a Talk ii) Designing Effective Slides; Slides For A Research Talk; Attaining Confidence in Your Scientific Talk iii) Learn how to use text, color, and images to create compelling and clear oral presentations iv) Make Effective Visuals; Animating Molecular Biology; Anitmating Molecular Biology Part II Also make sure you prepare well in advance of your meeting with PI or an oral presentation in your lab meeting or outside. The more your practice the better you get at it, my mentor Chris Doe used to practice a lot before his actual presentation.

Writing is an important part of our day-to-day life, and I don’t have much to add here as I am struggling myself. Some useful information here Find resources, take courses and be good at it or else you will struggle like me. And yes, if you love writing about science it can be a good career choice. Science Writing Career The other important writing you would have to do is drafting emails, make sure to check for typos and grammar when you send out professional emails. I have heard that Writing Science is a good book.

Being proactive and professional is an essential element of success, it is your job to lead in setting up meetings with your PI, collaborators, etc. Seek mentors both professional and personal, discuss life, science with them and keep them informed about your decisions and seek advice from them. If you want letters, notify your mentors in advance 1-2 months, it takes time to write a good letter.  Most of the job applications require 2-3 referees, someone in your thesis committee or the faculty at your institution who you interact with should be able to write good letters. Find meetings that you wish to attend and discuss with your mentor why you want to go there. Use meetings as an opportunity to network and find your future postdoc mentors. If you are planning to make science editing or biotech a career, find and attend conferences where you find people from those disciplines.  

Be sincere, kind, helpful, and generous, these traits will take you forward. Make efforts to give back to the community through science outreach and mentoring or any other way you can, it will help you in the longer run. If you plan to continue in academia and are thinking about applying for a postdoc, start at least a year in advance. I started applying in December while I was writing my thesis and finally, I started the position in November of next year, so it took exactly a year! If you are thinking about industry start making connections with the industry people and also utilize techniques in your work that are more relevant to industry jobs. Here are some useful videos on applying for jobs in industry Job Hunting In Industry, tips on how to make a successful job application see here Industry environment is very different from academia, and here are some tips on interviewing in industry and negotiating salary. There are many other non-academic careers such as Science Policy, Science writing, Science Outreach Officer, Patent Lawyer, Clinical trials officer, etc. ASCB has a nice blog on non-academic careers Some nice career discussions here and here. More information here

Applying for a Postdoc Position

The postdoc is the most important phase of your scientific career and most often determines the future of a scientist. suggest you watch all these three sessions again by iBiology, they have developed cool open access resources Session 01  Session 02  Session 03, and Session 04. Keep making a list of potential postdoc mentors and discuss the list with your Ph.D. mentor and any other mentors you have. I made a list of about 15 labs and ended up visiting four labs located all over the East to the West coast of the USA. All of them offered me a position, so it was a hard decision to make and I felt happier being in Oregon. I still am in good connection and discuss science with the other scientists that I did not join, so it was a great opportunity to make new scientific connections. Before applying, read their work very carefully and draft a nice personalized email with experiments you wish to do as a postdoc. The first impression is very important, so don’t write an email or send a CV in a rush. Make sure to send your CV and email to other people who will provide valuable feedback and advice such as at JKScientists. See above for how to find a good lab

If your application CV is good and if you are a good fit, you will be called for an interview where you will visit the lab, present your work and meet lab mates. Make sure you prepare for the interview in advance, make a good presentation of 40-50 mins, and practice frequently with your friends and colleagues. When you visit a few labs and get offers from all the places, decide where your personality fits the best and how good/supportive your future mentor is. You can see from the lab alumni list where the majority of the trainees from that lab ended up and decided accordingly. If you are interested in academia better to join the lab that has trained postdocs who are in academia and the same for the industry. The salaries are standard NIH scale, but some cities in the US are expensive so you get a little bit of extra money there. Anyway, scientists are underpaid and academia is not a good career choice for making money. Now that you are a postdoc! Congratulations, but be aware the average postdoc is 6-7 years in current times. Again a long, exciting journey full of surprises and fun. Now you are not a student anymore and lose all those benefits and luxuries!  

To Be Continued ….


*(Credits to all the databases, websites, organizations whose material is referenced here and JKScientists)

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