Student Perspectives

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

Photo of Jason McSheene.

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. —Jason McSheene

Photo of Scott Breunig

Scott Breunig

Princeton’s Molecular Biology graduate program has offered me a wide spectrum of choices for both research and coursework. I've been able to work with professors from different fields and departments and finally chose to continue my research as part of a joint project with the Chemistry and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology departments. The Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics engenders such collaboration, and reflects the rule rather than the exception at Princeton. The constant flow of speakers invited to Princeton from a wide array of research interests further stimulates cross-disciplinary investigations. Course offerings follow this interdisciplinary theme, and they are often taught by more than one professor, bringing classic biology and new techniques and ideas together. While some classes involve a large proportion of first-year graduate students, others are much smaller or include students from other departments and often promote a discussion-based curriculum. I love Princeton’s proximity to my East Coast home and a large number of major cities, as well as the Jersey Shore and even a chance to get away for a weekend and ski. The ease of getting to major airports makes domestic and worldwide travel easy and inexpensive. The Princeton campus hosts a number of events through the year thanks to a large on-campus undergraduate population, including performing arts, intramural leagues and world-renowned speakers. If you have any questions about the program or Princeton in general, feel free to email me.  —Scott Breunig