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applying for a PhD

SLF notmyaddress at hotmail.com
Sun Jul 1 16:02:33 EST 2001

> Karin wrote:
> I have been reading (lurking actually) in this ng for some time,
> and I've found many interesting discussions here. I am myself
> stuck in one of those situations that somehow only women seem
> to get themselves into. I am currently duing my master's at a
> university here in Norway. I'll hopefully be done around
> Christmas time, and I am really tempted to apply for entrance
> in this Computational Biology PhD programme that the EMBL has.
> The problem isn't applying, the problem is talking to my
> supervisors about it. I am going to need help with working towards
> getting accepted, and I also need two referees that can recommend me.
> I do believe they would, but there is still this sneaking fear
> of them saying that they won't. The reason for
> this fear lies mainly in that I haven't been the fastest-working
> student ever. My father died just as I was starting out, and
> I have also been doing Teacher Assistant work, so it looks like
> I'll be spending 2.5 yrs on my masters instead of the 1.5 that
> it should take. I know that this is a stupid way of thinking,
> but I still can't get rid of that sneaking thought that I won't
> cut it. Do any of you have any advice on how to deal with my
> own fear, and also maybe a strategy for how to approach my
> supervisors about my PhD plans?

I read somewhere that the  majority of women think they are below average, and most men think they are above average.   In addition, I read that women students need
more encouragement from their teachers than men to have the same degree of confidence in their work.  Sometimes, we can be our own worst enemies!

I have some general advice.   First of all, one of the important lessons we learn is to generate our own positive feedback.  You won't get it from others, so you have
to practise telling yourself that you CAN do this.   Trying and not succeeding is not the worst thing that can happen.  The worst thing is not trying at all.   If you
have found what you want to do, then don't hesitate.

Meanwhile, take a clear look at why your current situation hasn't been optimal.  What would you have changed, of the things you could have changed?   How can you take
the disadvantages and turn them into positive aspects?  For example, if you have been teaching, then you may have more experience than others at speaking,
presentations, and communicating information.  This is not  a bad set of skills for a young scientist to develop.  We often learn more in adverse conditions.

I suggest that you sit down with yourself and think of exactly why you want to do the computational biology PhD and what is involved.  (We  have an American idiom  for
this that says, get all your ducks in a row).  You want to go to your supervisors with a clearly thought out plan,  so that you can explain to them compellingly why
you want to do this program and why they should support you in doing it.    You can also show them that you have learned and grown from working with them.

Don't be shy about expressing yourself and talking to your supervisors.  If you are too shy and self-effacing, your abilities and accomplishments may be overlooked.
You don't want to defeat yourself.  It might help to remember that all of us have moments of self-doubt.  Sometimes it can be useful to talk to others you know and see
how they build their confidence--a network of peers can be a great support.

Good luck!

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S L Forsburg, PhD  Associate Professor
Molecular Biology and Virology Lab
The Salk Institute, La Jolla CA

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