Grad Life

4 reasons workshops are better than coursework for grad students

Estimated reading time 13 mins (2576 words)

I’ve just come back from my second and last bioinformatics workshop of the summer!

From last Wednesday to Friday I spent 3 days in a row staring at a computer for 8-9 hours.

You might be thinking “Well, isn’t this what you usually do?”

Touché. It is.

But this time it was special because instead of spending 99% of that time googling problems and getting distracted/giving up on my Ph.D., I was learning a bunch of incredibly useful and time-saving skills at the 2018 Applied Genomics in Anthropological Research (AGAR) workshop organized by the American Association of Anthropological Genetics (AAAG). Look, academics just love an acronym…

Since these workshops are still all fresh in my mind, I decided to write a little post about them to summarize why I think doing workshops is a really good way of learning important material for grad students.

There are many types of workshops. Some are a few hours, others are a few days. They might be offered at your university or at a conference, or they might be independent events that you have to travel to (as was the case for me this summer). What they tend to have in common is that they usually draw participants and instructors from various universities (or various departments/ cohorts in the case of within-university workshops) and they tend to be given within a limited period of time (a few hours or days).

The combination of bringing together diverse groups of people and stuffing a lot into a short time period means that they are essentially the polar opposite of the kind of learning you do within a coursework situation. So, here’s my list of 4 reasons why I think workshops > coursework.

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Grad Life

March is for Mammal Madness (and trash-talking and memes)

Estimated reading time: 4 mins  (647 words)

The first time I asked what ‘March Mammal Madness’ was, the answer I got was:

“You know, it’s like March Madness, but with mammals”

to which I eloquently replied:

“What’s a march madness?”


Fast forward to me currently being well-versed in the US sports, allow me to explain for those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a “March Madness” (mammalian or otherwise).

March Madness is the nickname for the university-level basketball tournament that is held annually during March (and a little bit of April; see Wikipedia or your local sports encyclopedia for details).

The hype around this is that people gamble by filling in these “brackets” that predict who will win during these face-offs and advance to the next round and ultimately become the champion.

real bracket
See for reference a “real” bracket for this years basketball

So what’s the deal with March Mammal Madness?

Well, imagine if instead of basketball teams you had mammals battling against each other like Pokémon!

Replace Blastoise & Charizard with actual mammals and you get the drift

Continue reading “March is for Mammal Madness (and trash-talking and memes)”

Grad Life

A 5-step guide to passing your comprehensive exams in grad school

Estimated reading time: 22 mins (4349 words)

One of the great joys of grad school is that exams are not just restricted to coursework.

Nope, PhD students get to go through the fun of taking an exam that determines whether they actually get to stay in grad school. Yay!

Since a few of my very close friends in grad school are preparing to go through this cruel, yet inescapable, rite of passage, I’ve decided to write up all the tips I can think of to help them out on their journey.

In my exceedingly finite wisdom, I have conjured up a list of 5-ish steps to passing comprehensive exams in grad school.

Since I just took these a year ago, the (painful) experience is still very much a recent memory, so this seems as good a time as any to pass on the knowledge I have gained to the next batch of students.

Now, you may be wondering why I’m writing about this so dramatically. If you are, you’re probably not taking these exams any time soon. Because if you were… YOU’D BE FREAKING OUT TOO!

One of the things I hate most is when I’m panicking and someone tells me to ‘calm down’


Or, even worst, when they tell me “there’s nothing to worry about”…

With all due respect, I am perfectly able to decide what is and what is not worth worrying about. As is every other grad student.

And if you’re about to do some exam that’s going to decide whether you do or don’t get to stay in grad school, then you, my friend, have a perfectly valid reason to freak out.

So, to all my fellow grad students about to go through this ordeal:




You’ll have moments when you feel totally fine and in control of the situation.

You’ll have moments when you don’t feel okay at all.

These moments will come and go, but they are not an accurate reflection of how prepared you are, or your ability to be a good student.

Accept whatever way you feel right now, whether it is good or bad. It will pass.

The most important thing is that you keep going and keep doing whatever is best for you.


With that pep talk out of the way, I will share with you what I think are the 5 essential steps to successfully completing your comprehensive exams.

Continue reading “A 5-step guide to passing your comprehensive exams in grad school”

Grad Life

Small conferences are great for graduate students. Especially, when they’re in Japan.

Estimated reading time: 7 mins (1289 words)

I was at a conference in Kobe, Japan.

And it was AWESOME!

Funny thing is I only found out I was going to this conference about two weeks before it started.

How did that happen? Well, I’m glad you asked…

So, at the moment, I’m in the process of putting together my doctoral committee. Basically, I’m asking a bunch of professors if they would kindly agree to evaluate my work and be the judges at my defense when I finish up this Ph.D.

100% real genuine footage of a doctoral committee judging a Ph.D. student on the verge of tears.

Continue reading “Small conferences are great for graduate students. Especially, when they’re in Japan.”

Grad Life

3 things I learnt during the 3 years I procrastinated this blog

Reading time: 13 mins (2678 words)

What better way to introduce a blog than by telling you all the ways in which I messed up?

Kind of joking, kind of not.

I seriously have been wondering about the best way to introduce this blog (but that’s not all I’ve been doing for three years, don’t worry, there’s plenty more I worried about).

However, it’s been 3 years, and it is comical at this point so I would like to share a distillation of the most important life lessons I have learnt while procrastinating this blog for few years:

1 . My to-do list is infinitely long, it’s growing exponentially, and tasks are not exactly getting crossed off. I remember when Facebook introduced the “save” button function. I. LOVED. IT. I remember thinking “Wow, this is so useful! Now my workflow won’t get interrupted by super interesting articles because I can just save them for later! Brilliant!”

Cue reality….

saved fb posts

This is who I am as a person and I have to come to terms with it. It’s honestly all done with the *intention* of actually reading/watching it, but I just never find the time!

My expectation was that I would somehow magically stop going through Facebook’s endless scroll (yeah, sure…) and THEN on a regular basis check my saved posts, read them and tick them off in an organized manner.

What actually happened was that I just kept on scrolling (endless scroll will do that to you…) and saving, scrolling, saving, scrolling, saving – until I was jolted upright by some kind of reminder of an immediate deadline or the realization that 3 hours had passed and I’d done literally nothing but Facebook my life away.

Funny thing is, I started noticing this happened not just with Facebook, but with everything.

I *love* me a to-do list. Mmmmm, good stuff! Pen and paper, app-based, check boxes on Evernote/Word. Doesn’t matter – love ’em all! Once it’s on your to-do list, it’s basically already done and you can chill!


It makes me feel so organized. Like, look at it, there is a physical representation of all my good intentions! And we all know ah-MAY-zingly that works, right? (see all previous New Year’s resolutions for reference)

Continue reading “3 things I learnt during the 3 years I procrastinated this blog”