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Advice FOR PhD graduate students FROM PhD graduate students (or post-docs)

Graduate school is an important part of the career development of a medical physicist.  On this page you will find words of advice for those in/ or beginning a medical physics graduate degree.

(please note - text on this page is quoted from authors, and does not reflect official IAEA positions)


If you are a medical physicist graduate student or a recent graduate, and would like to post some words of advice, please email them to HHW.Contact-Point@iaea.org.

Submitted from: Adam Kesner (post-doc)
Title: Advice for graduate students


(2) Don't forget (1).  In graduate school your success/failure is up to you.  

  • You should take the opportunity as a student to try to talk to available experts about their work or labs. Try to get advice from those who you think may have good advice to give.
  • If you have your own research ideas, organize your thoughts (for example put together a 1 page project proposal), and share it with your advisor(s). The ideas may or may not develop, but this process helps put you in a place where you are ready to move forward when opportunities become available.
  • Don't be afraid to talk to people in your department, institution, or even other institutions, about possible collaborations.
  • As you go through your degree, keep your ears open - it never hurts to inquire with people about possible jobs/funding opportunities for your next step.  
  • PLEASE NOTE - if you are talking with others about something that effects you in a way that your advisor might care about, try to let your advisor know about it. This will help avoid unintentional misunderstandings.

(3) Understand your situation. There are many types of graduate experiences and every advisor/lab is different. 

  • If you are joining a lab talk with previous students who have worked in that lab about their experience.  Find out about the success/failure stories that have taken place in that lab.  If there have been students who intended to get a degree but took 10 years or didn't get a degree, try to find out why.
  • Try to get on the good side of your advisor and stay on the good side.  Whether it is how it should be or not, a large part of your success/failure depends on your advisor's help, direction, and support. For example, if your advisor cares about the hours you work, make sure put in the appropriate hours. If your advisor micro-manages, make sure you are micro-organized, and be patient in communicating micro-details.  If your advisor cares about keeping the lab clean, make sure you keep the lab clean.  Understanding your situation will avoid misunderstandings.
  • GRADUATE STUDENT WARNING - no one has time to sort out misunderstandings!

(4) Communication

  • Advisor - communicate as much as possible with your advisor about long term and short term goals.  If there is a small problem it is much better to try to understand it and correct it while it is small, before it turns into a big problem, as it is often easier for advisors to drop a student, then to sort out a big problem.  If possible, it is good to arrange a time once or twice a year to speak with your advisor about your long term progress, it is very important to share an understanding about what is expected for a degree completion.
  • Lab mates - If you share office space/equipment with others, it is in your best interest to maintain a good relationship with them. Be mindful if there is something that is bothering them and communicate if something is bothering you.

(5) Community 

  • It is worth the effort to get to know your fellow classmates whom you go through the program with.  First of all you have the opportunity for making lifetime personal and/or professional connections. Perhaps more importantly, having a program where you feel comfortable and welcome, and having support when personal issue come up, is important.  Graduate students work hard, live modestly, are unsure of their future, and like everyone else have to occasionally deal with tough issues in their personal lives. For these reasons community can be important, and is worth the effort.

(6) Don't be afraid to work hard.  This is your chance to become an expert in your field.