We got in touch with Brandon Reinhart, a graduate of our department, to see what he’s up to now, and to get some feedback on his graduate experience. As always, our alumnus has some interesting stories to tell and important life lessons to share.
What was the most transforming experience of your degree?
Writing and defending my thesis. It’s an amazing experience to survey all of the territory you’ve covered during your studies, as well as rewarding (and a little humbling) to view it in the context of the great weight of existing literature.
The most enjoyable part of your degree
I truly enjoyed the freedom of being able to formulate and pursue a program of research. Of course, regular direction from my PI and committee were essential to my success, but I’ve never had a job that offered as much independence as grad school.
Your worst day (or week, or year!)
The qualifying exam was tough because the exam committee was relentless. Just when I thought I’d provided an adequate answer, they would keep digging until I could only say “I don’t know”. They were just doing their jobs, but it was a blow to my self-esteem at the time.
The most useful or beneficial things you gained from your experience
Research taught me the value of patience and perseverance. Obtaining publishable results takes time and the mental fortitude to weather dry spells and disappointment. Grad school also provided me with an opportunity to improve my communication skills through frequent writing and presenting. Even though I’m not in research anymore, I use those skills daily.
If you could do it again, would you have done anything differently?
I would try to maintain a more long-term perspective. It’s easy to get excited about promising results only to have them not pan out. It’s just as easy to get depressed about negative results. If you stick at your research program for long enough and are systematic about it, you’re bound to discover something interesting − and publishable.
If you could change anything about the graduate program, what would it be?
As a general criticism of life-science degree programs, I’d say that the time required to complete Ph.D. programs has become unreasonable. Seven or eight years is far too long − even six years is pushing it in my opinion.
What kept you sane?
Being in a long-distance relationship helped a lot because it forced me to leave the lab periodically to visit my girlfriend. Good lab mates, as well as regular excursions to O’Grady’s, also made life more bearable.
Words of wisdom for those in the program, or for those considering graduate school?
First, be sure that you actually like and are prepared for the rigors of benchwork. Undergrad science labs are very different from doing research full-time. Second, before choosing a lab, interview with and rotate through as many labs as you can. Grad school can last a long time and you want to make an informed decision about where you’ll be spending that time. Third, talk to existing students in the program about PIs who you might want to have on your committee. A good committee can save your life.
Any other general comments about your graduate school experience?
Most people enter the program thinking that they will eventually postdoc and then seek a faculty position. However, if you discover half-way through your degree that research may may not be for you, don’t despair − there are plenty of opportunities to apply the skills learned in graduate school outside of academia.
Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Trek. I loved Star Wars Episodes IV-VI, but I can’t believe they cast Hamill, Fisher and Ford in Episode VII. They’re older than Yoda now!
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