Advice for applying to graduate school in Neuroscience

First off, welcome to the world of Neuroscience - its huge with people working solely on computers or bioengineering to people who do direct readings off of brain cells. The important thing about finding a lab for graduate school is finding a good fit, both with your advisor and with the people in the lab. I spend as much or more time in the lab as I do with my husband. Most people spend years picking a significant other but only meet/speak with an advisor for about an hour before picking which college to go to. Its important you like the lab you work in as it is a long term (4+ year) commitment.

A poor fit with an advisor can add years to the amount of time you are in graduate school.

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The Preliminary Exam

While you will probably take a small smattering of courses that have more traditional midterm and final exams, these are not really that critical to your success in graduate school. Rather than caring about your grades in them, the goal is to actually master the materials in relation to your research.

Instead, graduate school typically has three major milestones:

1. Qualifying Exam (aka Quals)
2. Preliminary Exam (aka Prelims)
3. Final Defense

There are a lot of variations on the qualifying and preliminary exams, even within a university. Taking a separate qualifying exam appears to be rare based on other graduate students I have spoken with both within the University of Illinois and from other schools. However, whether or not your program has separate Quals will change the goals and expectations of the Prelim exam.

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Stickleback fish

A mostly blue fish with a bright red throat. Meet your typical stickleback dad. My research is based on understanding how genes contribute to his behavior.

You can tell this is a male ready to become a dad because of his blue color and the red-orange color under his throat. Its only during the summer breeding season that he will look like this. Not all males will color up this brightly as it depends on a number of factors including the amount of light and the surrounding environment (gravel color).

Think fish behavior is boring? Not a chance - BBC2’s springwatch featured two stickleback dads.
Watch the high drama trailer.

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Diversity in academia

I have ADHD and dyslexia. It has taken me years to be comfortable openly talking about this. I think the most surprising thing to me was that the greatest obstacle was myself. Not only the ‘diversity community’ but the academic community as a whole have been very welcoming. Below are my thoughts and experiences but I realize that many have not been so fortunate as myself.

I think its important to talk openly about this. First, it helps us accept ourselves - both our strengths and weakness. Secondly, there are a lot of opportunities for those brave enough to identify themselves, especially those with non-apparent disabilities.

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The Art of Science 6.0

My image was included in the Art of Science 6.0 (2016). This is a wonderful opportunity to work with local artist to bring science to a larger audience. The artwork was featured at Gallery 217.

Original Image Artistic Reinterpretation
The Mind that Knows Itself
H & E stained saggital stickleback brain section with nuclei in purple and lipids in pink.
  Artistic reinterpretation including bright colors.
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