Creating a support system during graduate school



By Adriana Bankston, PhD


Graduate school can be a very taxing experience. A support system is essential for success both in the laboratory and overall for your career. Support systems can be in the form of mentors, peers, or other support, and this can differ based on your needs while in the laboratory, or they can provide advice needed on a longer-term basis. Ideally mentors, peers, and other individuals can support your professional trajectory, as well as discuss personal matters pertaining to your emotional and mental well-being.


Support from mentors

Mentors can be part of your support network, and they can be instrumental in several aspects of your training, thereby showing different types of support.


Experiments and presentations: One of these aspects is helping you perform and think through experiments needed to perform at the bench in order to help your research progress. They can help you present your research in the form of talks and posters, honing your presentation skills which will be useful in your career. They can also facilitate collaborations for you with other laboratories, which may help advance your research even further, and help in manuscript writing thereby disseminating your research more widely and advancing your career.


Professional support: Mentors can also provide more targeted academic career advice, and may be able to point you to additional resources and mentors for non-academic careers (for example myIDP, resources from scientific societies). They can also talk with you about potential career options you might be interested in and considering related to science, and grow your network in those areas through participation at conferences and in-person meetings for informational interviews.


Personal support: Mentors can also be useful resources for you in terms of your personal growth while in the laboratory, and they can support you by discussing the needs that you have to improve your emotional and mental well-being. This includes discussing family-related matters, and any other personal issues that may be relevant for them to know or that could interfere with your work. Knowing details about your personal life that you are willing to share may enable them to better support you while in the laboratory and beyond.


Support from peers

Peers can provide similar types of support as mentors do, but may be able to lend a listening ear for issues that you may not be comfortable talking with your mentor about, or may give you advice in terms of how to talk with the mentor about particular issues if you decide to do so. They may also be able to suggest additional resources for your professional and personal development that the mentor may not be aware of.


Other support

Your family and friends can also provide support that your mentors and peers may not be able to offer, since they know you more intimately. In some cases, if they are not familiar with the pressures of graduate school, they may need to be educated on this topic. Also, depending on whether or not they are in science, they could offer different perspectives on your work, or be able to edit your manuscript with another view than your immediate co-workers. Also don’t underestimate the support of pets, which can be really therapeutic for you during the ups and downs of graduate school by being a constant source of comfort.


This post represents my personal views and not the views of my employer, University of California.

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