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Ph.D. in Progress Podcast

GradHacker Jason McSheene introduces his PhD in Progress Podcast.

October 28, 2014

Jason McSheene is a Princeton University Molecular Biology PhD student and creator of the PhD in Progress Podcast (Twitter @PhDPodcast).

If you’re a GradHacker reader, you likely enjoy conversations about academia and the graduate student experience. I fondly look back at weekend discussions with fellow PhD candidates about career searches, relationships, and productivity as great bonding moments during my grad school career. I felt a sense of belonging with my grad student cohort that surpassed most groups I have been part of. At the same time, I feared that I had nothing valuable to contribute to this group. How I could give back to a community that helped me? After a conversation with my colleague Nikhil Deshmukh, we had an answer: the PhD in Progress Podcast.

As a life-long talk radio fan, I remember programming an audio-cassette tape deck to record my favorite morning show while I was at school. The first hour after school each day was spent catching up on everything I had missed while in class. With the advent of podcasts, anyone can download complete episodes of a variety of shows on any topic and listen to them at-will on his or her mobile device. Shows vary greatly in format and scope, ranging from weekly adult comedy to science to intermediate Spanish lessons. However, I could not find a current show focusing on graduate school issues. As grad students of 5+ years, Nikhil and I decided to start a show that spoke about graduate study from our perspective.

Crowded around a single microphone in an undisclosed student-office-turned-recording-studio, Nikhil, Abigail Sporer, Kelly LaRue, and I (all senior Princeton University PhD students in STEM fields) create the PhD in Progress Podcast. Each episode features a discussion on a major topic that may or may not be openly discussed in PhD programs around the world. All the topics relate to our tagline: “Your Education. Your Career. Your Life.” In both graduate school and the podcast, we quickly learned that separating education, career, and life is nearly impossible. To talk about careers, you must talk about education. To improve your life, you must consider your career. To enhance your education, you must envision your goals for your life.

Your Education

With the podcast as a platform, we want to empower graduate students to take part in reforming their own educations, both formally and informally. In our opinion, the purpose of graduate school is to prepare students for their future careers and to promote the maturation of their self-education. My favorite episode tackling these goals was Episode 5: “3 Important Points of Advice to New Graduate Students.” Productivity is also a hot topic in the online community, so in Episode 12, we address how grad students can improve the quality and quantity of their work as well.

Your Career

In a report published by the American Institutes of Research in April 2014, authors found that 61% of STEM PhD graduates do not hold academic positions. However, most PhD programs exclusively train students for academic jobs. We give students permission to augment their formal educations with concepts and practices that allow them to be more competitive for a job marketplace beyond academia. For example, in Episode 2 we talk to career coach Fatimah Williams Castro, PhD about how grad students can explore careers outside academic institutions. Additionally, we encourage all listeners to visit their university’s career services office when we sit down with our career officer, Amy Pszczolkowski.

Your Life

Thanks to several amazing guests, we have covered some serious and difficult subjects. Most recently, my close friend bravely described her experiences with mental illness, and we both talk about impostor syndrome. We sought to remove the stigma from discussing some of the more serious issues and encourage conversations between colleagues at other institutions. On the lighter side, we have talked about embarrassing dating stories (yes, speed dating) and raising a family.

Ultimately, the PhD in Progress Podcast is a resource meant to enable everyone to improve their own situations while providing some laughs. Knowing that thousands of people have listened to our conversations and have laughed along is amazingly motivational for my education, my career, and my life.

For another podcast about graduate school, check out the archives of the GradHacker Podcast (currently on hiatus).

We ask each PhD in Progress Podcast guest the following question: “What advice would you tell your 2nd- or 3rd-year self?” Leave a comment with the advice you would give yourself, then tell us what your favorite podcast is.

[Image adapted from a Flickr photo by Bhernandez, used under a Creative Commons license.]


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