Student Perspectives

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Kelly LaRue

Before embarking on my whirlwind interview schedule, my undergraduate research advisor gave me one last piece of advice.  She told me that instead of making this decision with my head, it was time to start listening to my heart. She was sure that I would fall in love with one program; I was skeptical.  The interdisciplinary programs that I interviewed for were very similar.  They all touted the breadth and depth of their research and the collaborative environment of the university.  Though all of the institutions were beautiful, well-funded and performing valuable research, the weekends seemed to blend together, no program was “the one.” Then it was time to interview with the Molecular Biology Department at Princeton University.  The moment I arrived on the gorgeous campus, I already knew that it would be a step above the rest.  It is located in a beautiful and safe area in New Jersey, just an hour away from cities, beaches and mountains.  The labs are doing top-notch research on a wide variety of topics.  They offer a lucrative stipend along with affordable and comfortable housing.  It was immediately apparent to me that the department is collaborative; they did not need to tell me, I could sense it.  Professors and graduate students knew each other both personally and professionally and the program seemed to encourage theses that bridged labs.  This interview stood out among the rest and after this visit, it was hard to ignore my heart screaming that I had found what I was looking for!  As a first year, I have found that graduate school is not hard; it is extraordinarily hard!  Princeton has provided me with daily challenges unlike anything I experienced in my undergraduate studies.  However, it is the support and encouragement that I receive from my peers and professors and the love I have for this department and institution that makes the pursuit of my Ph.D. the most rewarding experience of my life. The Molecular Biology Department is truly a scientific community that fosters an environment filled with excitement, high intellect and success. —Kelly LaRue

Photo of Abigail Trarbach

Abigail Trarbach

I 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

Photo of Matt Howard.

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.  —Matt Howard