Go with your gut

Posted on March 27, 2012 by


Author: Anya Brown

As I sit and reflect on the Benthic Ecology Meeting (Benthics) that I just attended (and yes, I acknowledge that I should probably be sitting and reflecting on the chapter that I am supposed to be editing for my thesis), and although I am incredibly exhausted from travel, science, and late night discussions that verge on the ridiculous, all I can think about is how much I love science.

Well, Benthics and reading Skylar’s last post reminded me about the different aspects of science that I just love: listening to intellectually stimulating talks and talking about science and just being generally inspired. Returning home after a conference I am ready to write my thesis! Write a few papers! Read a bunch more papers. Write a blog entry! It’s re-invigorating. And maybe part of it is my personality, I like talking, I like listening, ecology is my favorite subject – so if mathematical properties can be translated into how I live my life – listening to and talking about ecology is my favorite thing to do! Hmmm, perhaps I need to work on my multi-dimensionality.

Besides my 3-day immersion into the broader benthic ecology community, I think what I really enjoyed about this conference was the opportunity to talk to people at different stages in their career about life as a scientist, and what advice they have for new scientists. Especially since I am currently struggling with the choice of which graduate school to pick. I am lucky enough to be choosing between two great labs with professors that I highly respect and whose students I also know and whose science I also respect. What is the best way to choose a graduate school when you are faced with great opportunities?

I know why I applied to these schools initially:

because I thought I would do well/be happy at either of them.

At one school, I know what I am getting into. I have known the professor for a while, I have interacted with him in the field; I have friends who have been advised by him and are now moving forward in their scientific career. He is an ecologist, and with that comes a breadth of knowledge that is very impressive.

On the other hand, I applied with a new, up and coming advisor who is excited about similar questions that I am currently working on/excited about and is moving towards cultivating a lab environment where the questions are wide and varied.

There are of course important questions to ask:

Will I feel challenged intellectually?

Whose advising style do I prefer?

What characteristics should weigh the most: advising style differences or shared research interest?

Do I want to live in a small town or a bustling metropolis?

Do I want to work locally or abroad?

Where do I see myself in 10-15 years?

This is 5-7 years of my life (the end of my 20s!) that I am talking about…something not to be taken lightly!

And the advice I have been given is coming from all over the place in all sorts of different directions –

just go where you think it will be over the fastest; go where you will be happiest;

go with the professor who is most well connected within the scientific community;

go with the professor who you get along with the most.

All of which are sound advice, and dependent as well on my ultimate goal of graduate school – leaving as a good scientist, with good papers and continue onto the path of professorhood… which seems a little bit like knighthood but with fewer swords.

I think some of the best advice that I was given during the Benthics was: at the end of the day, just go with your gut.

All right gut… give up the goods.