Graduate Studies
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Student Perspectives

matt howard

In the first month of graduate school, two sincere yet conflicting statements are made: “God, please don’t let me fail out!” and “God, please help me win a Nobel Prize.” 

At Princeton this humorous dichotomy, at least in my opinion, stems from our efforts as students to meet the new and exciting challenges presented before us, one of which is to push our thinking beyond conventional standards.  We think about solving the really tough puzzles, not just understanding them.  We are taught to break down the literature to its fundamental roots and then ask, “Now what?”

Fortunately we are not alone in this journey.  Our professors, some of the greatest minds in their fields, guide us through classes each day and never cease to encourage inquisitive discourse.  Later on, when we join their labs, these same minds become our mentors and collaborators.

Making the decision to join Princeton’s Department of Molecular Biology has proven to be one of my most satisfying choices.  There is no advertised “blueprint” for success here.  Despite the fact that each of us enters the program with different and sometimes multiple interests, we are still afforded the opportunity to explore and dabble in a few different labs before settling on our favorite.  As a result, there’s a level of openness in the department between students and faculty which I don’t think can be found anywhere else.

Outside of the department, the hefty stipend has allowed me to enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle in Princeton and additionally venture into both the New York and the Philadelphia areas for the occasional weekend getaway.  When I don’t feel like traveling, it’s great that there’s always something happening here on campus as well! 

Please contact me if you have any questions about life in the department.  I also grew up nearby, so any questions about “Princeton in general” are welcome too!  Hopefully my experiences can help you in your decision-making process.

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— Matt Howard
    WANG LAB

abigail trarbachI worked for several years in the performing arts before deciding to pursue a science career. When choosing a graduate program, I weighed the exceptional quality of faculty, collaborative environment, and research happening here. Primarily, though, I was swayed by conversations with students and faculty who were genuinely interested in me, holistically, as a potential scientist. People here seemed to recognize both the value of my seemingly unrelated work experience and the perspective I could bring to my class and the department.

This first year at Princeton has borne out that prediction. My classmates come from a variety of backgrounds, and we work together, learning from one another’s strengths and weaknesses. The focus has been less on what we already know than on what we can learn, what we can do, and the training we need to think critically about science. There are plentiful opportunities to engage in cross-departmental seminars and colloquia, as well as to learn what colleagues are doing, and the resources and support available to us are unparalleled.

Living in Princeton has exceeded my expectations. There are plenty of activities and social opportunities of every stripe, both organized and spontaneous. The campus is beautiful and inspiring in every season; sometimes just taking a walk to the library or coffee shop is enough to put a smile on my face. Deciding on a graduate program was daunting, but I am sure I made the right choice.

— Abigail Trarbach
      Rose Lab

jason mcsheene“Collaboration” was one of the buzzwords I heard tossed around at a number of institutions I visited as a prospective graduate student. However, at Princeton I saw how naturally true collaborations could occur on a daily basis. MolBio is the home to a very welcoming, supportive and interactive community that promotes sharing ideas and resources. It is difficult to get lost in the crowd here, which was a worry of mine when considering possible schools.

Events like the weekly Graduate Student Colloquia encourage socialization along with the sharing of knowledge and current research throughout the department in a low-pressure setting. In addition, the atmosphere is focused on research and education instead of competition and rivalries. The research topics range from computer modeling of bacterial chemotaxis to potential cancer therapies.

I decided to rotate in three very different labs before joining my thesis lab. Each brought a unique perspective to research as well as a unique lab group.

I have enjoyed my time in the program and never doubted my choice for a moment. My experience as graduate student has been rewarding and I look forward to my remaining years here. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact at me.

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— Jason McSheene
      Burdine Lab

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