Emory GIVE Partners with Trees Atlanta to Protect Urban Forestry

By Sydney Sunna

Caitlin Sojka (left) and Adam Hamilton (right), first year neuroscience students admiring the tree that they planted together.

Caitlin Sojka (left) and Adam Hamilton (right), first year neuroscience students admiring the tree that they planted together.

Often regarded as the ‘City in the Forest’, Atlanta’s rich urban forestry provides the community with countless economic, environmental, and health benefits. Lush tree canopies mitigate air pollution, cool down sidewalks and buildings, obviate flood damage, and augment residential and retail property value. Emory University, whose verdant virtues earned its campus the title of “Tree Campus USA” by the Arbor Day Foundation, appreciates the benefits sowed by the hands of Atlanta’s arborists. Despite these adorned titles, a recent report from the U.S. Forest Service reveals that Georgia is leading the nation in tree loss. The study, published by Nowak and Greenfield (2018), found that Georgia lost an average of 18,000 acres of urban tree coverage each year from 2008 and 2014. This rate of depletion of Georgia’s forests is unmatched by any other state in the nation (Nowak and Greenfield, 2018). According to the Georgia Forestry Commission, the main factors driving deforestation include urban development, drought, and insects like the southern pine beetle. Preservation of Atlanta’s beloved greenspaces demands a consistent, concerted, community effort addressing those factors.

Thomas Shiu (left) and Sherry Ye (right) cover their sapling with fresh soil.

Thomas Shiu (left) and Sherry Ye (right) cover their sapling with fresh soil.

Several times each year, the student-led organization, GDBBS Involved in Volunteerism at Emory (GIVE), coordinates with the non-profit group Trees Atlanta to engage its students in protecting green spaces in the community beyond the campus. The mission of Trees Atlanta is to protect and improve Atlanta’s urban forest by means of educating the public, planting trees, and removing invasive species. In the thirty years since its establishment, this non-profit organization has planted 113,000 trees, thanks in part to a growing number of community volunteers. For this fall’s annual day of service, the GIVE team embarked to Brook Run Park to plant saplings in sparse areas of the estate. Relishing the opportunity to spend a Saturday morning outside for a study break, my neuroscience colleagues and I eagerly enlisted.

As we pulled into the parking lot on that crisp bright fall morning, we perused the farmer's market and helped ourselves to the light breakfast provided by GIVE. After outfitting ourselves with durable gloves and shovels, we joined dozens of volunteers from all over the greater Atlanta area, including students from Morehouse College, students from Emory University, and regular volunteers of Trees Atlanta. After filling up 72 barrels of mulch in under fifteen minutes and hauling them onto a trailer, we all assembled around the Trees Atlanta guide to learn how to plant a sapling. Caitlin Sojka, a fellow first-year neuroscience doctoral student, and I received the instruction with attention and appreciation, as neither of us had ever planted a tree before. The instructions were simple enough: dig a hole in the shape of a cereal bowl with a depth not exceeding the top roots of the tree, bang on the makeshift tree planter to loosen up the dirt and roots, pull out the tree and massage the roots to remove old dirt, poke holes in the side of the “cereal bowl” in the soil, place the tree inside, and fill up the bowl with mulch before watering. The instructor was a skilled presenter, as he gave detailed and concrete advice such as “Dig a hole the diameter of your shovel shaft, shaped like a cereal bowl” and “Shovels are good for digging, while mattocks are useful for cutting”. After the demonstration, we descended upon a remote region of the park that lay beyond an expanse of green lawn.

Sydney Sunna (left) and Thomas Shiu (right) finish making the ring of soil around the sapling.

Sydney Sunna (left) and Thomas Shiu (right) finish making the ring of soil around the sapling.

A plot of barren land interrupted an array of trees, where we found more than 70 saplings awaiting a new home. Thick carpets of wet pine needles covered the stubborn maroon clay beneath. As we took to the landscape, we broke off into groups of around three or four and set to work. My group consisted of people from my first-year neuroscience cohort. As we had only known each other for two months up until this point, this experience was one of our first opportunities to get to know each other outside of the program. Arguably more attuned to the arbors of dendrites than flora, we tentatively approached a sapling. Puzzled, we covertly looked to the more seasoned volunteers for guidance on how to start. Mumbled questions hung in the air: “So should we just… start digging anywhere then?”, “Yeah, I think so?”, “Is this wide enough, you think?” Adam Hamilton, who had experience planting trees, hopped on the shovel step and the blade cut into the earth. Just like that, we began to dig the first hole. Amused by the enthusiasm of his “jack hammer” approach, Sojka doubled over laughing. Sherry Ye and Thomas Shiu helped liberate the tree from its temporary container and began whittling away at the old soil. After we securely embedded the trees in their new mulch, we watered them each with a gallon of clean water. Elated by our accomplishments, we traded tree selfies with volunteers nearby before starting on another plot.

Our group alone planted five trees that morning. Sherry and I triumphantly stood beside one of our saplings, the Cornus florida, more commonly known as Cherokee Princess Flowering Dogwood; the newest resident of Brook Run Park. I dropped a pin in my Google Maps App to mark where the princess was, so that we could monitor the health and growth of our tree upon returning to the park. As a team, we planted more than 70 trees in the course of a few hours. The good company, vivid sunshine, and hard work left me with a feeling of happiness and fulfillment that I won’t soon forget. It was a wonderful way to become more acquainted with my neuroscience peers as we explored the greater Atlanta area, learned a new skill together, and participated in something truly impactful. After the last sapling was planted, we made our way back to campus for some free food. After a day of friendship and forestation, the Trees Atlanta NeighborWoods Campaign has certainly gained a few new avid adherents.

Neuroscience group photo with the last sapling planted.  From left to right: Sydney Sunna (1st year), Thomas Shiu (2nd Year), Caitlin Sojka (1st year), Adam Hamilton (1st year), and Sherry Ye (1st year)

Neuroscience group photo with the last sapling planted.

From left to right: Sydney Sunna (1st year), Thomas Shiu (2nd Year), Caitlin Sojka (1st year), Adam Hamilton (1st year), and Sherry Ye (1st year)


  1. Nowak D, Greenfield E (2018) Declining Urban and Community Tree Cover in the United States.

Why I (A Successful Scientist) Decided to Run for Political Office and Why You Should Get Involved, Too

By Valerie Horsley

While many of my community members have thanked me for running for State Senate in Connecticut, many others have wondered why I would step into this political world when my career as a scientist is going well. Yet, when I think of the students struggling with student loan debt, the women in our society who battle to have their voices heard or to be paid equal to their male peers, or the brown and black youth who have lost their lives too early due to violence, I think, “we need smart leaders to solve these problems.” 

Scientists are trained to create innovative solutions to complex problems. We use the available tools, generate data by taking risks (i.e. doing experiments), and solve the problem.  By 2018, I had spent 20 years honing my problem-solving skills, first as a part of Emory’s BCDB program in the laboratory of Grace Pavlath, then at Rockefeller University in my postdoctoral fellowship with Elaine Fuchs, and finally as a faculty member at Yale.  I had used my organizational and problem-solving skills to protect postdoctoral rent subsidies at Rockefeller and to help open a new daycare facility at Yale, but I had not considered running for public office until I began paying attention to the political landscape after the 2016 Presidential Election.

In November of 2016, I started Action Together CT, a local organization launched with the goal of helping my neighbors and friends engage in political work: volunteering in elections and supporting legislation. Through my activism, I realized that the values of science— truth and scientific inquiry— were lacking in both our national and state politics. I also saw that legislators use skills like public speaking and debate, skills that I had cultivated as an educator and scientist. And finally, I knew I wanted to see more problem solvers leading our nation and states.

So, a year later, I decided to run for State Senate in Connecticut.  Legislators in Connecticut have other jobs, so I wanted to balance my service for my state with my scientific career at Yale. During my campaign, I learned several important lessons.  


1) Voters trust scientists and want new smart leaders leading their state and nation. 

2) Courage is contagious. Many people stepped out of their comfort zones to knock on doors or make calls as volunteers for my campaign because I took a courageous step by becoming a candidate. 

3) Candidates influence the conversation. Many of the issues that I emphasized became issues that my opponents started to emphasize as well.  

Although my first campaign was not successful, I am even more committed to encouraging a diverse discourse in our democracy. Scientific perspectives and skills have the potential to impact economic and social issues that will make our states and nation stronger, more successful, and more equitable.  Innovation in biosciences and technology can build a strong economy for the future. Yet, perhaps more importantly, the ability of scientists to “follow the data” has resulted in positive policy changes. For example, later start times for high school students in Seattle to allow for more sleep that scientists have shown teenagers need, or changing our carbon emissions to thwart the climate changes that persist in our environment.  

I believe that as citizens of our states and nation, we, as scientists, have a responsibility to ensure that our communities support the values of truth and foster the success of everyone, not just a few. I am encouraged by groups like 314 action that support candidates with a STEM background in their quest for election to public offices. From school boards to U.S. Congress, the voices of scientists are needed to ensure that public policy is based in fact and rigor.  Therefore, I encourage you to get involved in your community either by volunteering for a candidate that holds your values, holding your elected officials accountable by calling or emailing them, or even running for public office. Only by stepping out of the laboratory and into the public sphere will we, as scientists, be able to ensure that science and truth are the foundation of our government.

GDBBS Embraces GRExit

By Miranda McDaniel

Most of us likely remember the horror that was the experience of standardized testing. Armed with a sharpened #2 pencil, an interrupted too-few hours of sleep, and a healthy sense of self-doubt, we marched onto the intellectual battlefield ready to prove our entirely knowledge-based academic worth. Although standardized testing certainly reared its ugly head during our K-12 days, the most important of the exams appeared to bookend our undergraduate studies. The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT) awarded us the perceived qualifications of being prepared for college and, even after earning our pre-doctoral degrees, the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) was necessary to measure and predict our ability to perform well in graduate school.

Now I don’t know about you, but the ability to correctly use the word “jejune” in a sentence or to determine which train will make it to the station first if one left at time W with speed X and the other at time Y with speed Z, doesn’t exactly represent my ability to troubleshoot a failed experiment or design a new one. As it turns out, more and more universities are also becoming skeptical about the validity of the exam for evaluating academic potential. Recently, several universities across the country have begun investigating the effectiveness of GRE scores for predicting successful completion of doctoral programs, performance on qualifying exams, time to degree, publication count, and more. 

Relationships between GRE Quantitative quartile (Q) scores and PhD completion rates for men in four state flagship universities.

Relationships between GRE Quantitative quartile (Q) scores and PhD completion rates for men in four state flagship universities.

In one study, GRE scores and PhD completion data were collected from institutions in the Northeast Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (NEAGEP)(1). The multi-institutional study investigated the relationship between GRE scores and degree completion specifically for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) doctoral programs. Their results showed that the GRE Verbal (GRE V) and the GRE Quantitative (GRE Q) scores were similar for women who completed STEM PhD degrees and those who did not, implying that the GRE score was not a good predictor of future graduate school success. Moreover, GRE scores were significantly higher for men who left their programs than those who completed their degrees. So, the exam is not only a poor predictor of degree completion, but at least for men, it appears to select for students who are less likely to complete their degree! Now, I’m not going to sit here and say “I told you so”, but I will say that I am feeling extremely validated by this finding. 

Vanderbilt University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill similarly explored the relationship between GRE scores and graduate student success in biomedical research(2,3). Their results showed that the GRE did not prove to be a reliable indicator for predicting who will graduate with a PhD, pass the qualifying exam, earn their degree faster, or achieve a more notable research presence. In addition to providing evidence to show that the GRE is not sufficient to predict success, these universities also advocate for consideration of the more qualitative credentials that students use in their applications, including letters of recommendation or research experience, without relying too heavily on one specific component of the application. In this way, more recognition is granted to those of us who meticulously balanced classwork with research obligations during our undergraduate studies with the stringency usually reserved for checkbooks or Thanksgiving dinner preparation. 

While GRE scores appear not to correlate with graduate school performance, they do trend with socioeconomic status, gender, and ethnicity. According to an article published in The Atlantic, research from the University of Florida, Stanford, New York University, and the University of Missouri showed that the GRE under-predicts the success of minority students(4). This message was echoed by an article featuring data from Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, New Jersey(5). The article explains that women, minorities, and those with a lower socioeconomic status perform lower on average, stating that “in simple terms, the GRE is a better indicator of sex and skin colour than of ability and ultimate success”. This relationship becomes increasingly important to consider when a minimum acceptable GRE score is used as a threshold to easily identify applicants who are “most qualified” to join a graduate program before the application reviewing process even begins. Such elimination criterion lends itself to a lack of diversity in the applicant pool and, ultimately, the graduate program itself. 

So, if the GRE doesn’t predict future success and selects for limited diversity, why has it stuck around for more than 80 years? An article featured in Inside Higher Ed addressed this question, arguing for the GRE to be upheld as a requirement(6). The appeal of the GRE for admission committees is, of course, its quantitative and objective nature. The article points out that without such a measure, admission committees are challenged to eliminate subjective interpretation of application materials that could introduce bias into the decision-making process. This task is made more difficult by the inability for admission committees to reliably compare letters of recommendations or grade point averages across universities. The article states that, “the objective, comparative data that scores yield is especially helpful when comparisons are difficult to make, such as when evaluating applicants from unfamiliar undergraduate institutions or from countries with different educational and grading systems.” 

While a single numerical score certainly aids in reducing biases and other comparative discrepancies, this value alone is insufficient to serve as an elimination criterion or predictor of success. So how should universities decide which students to accept into their graduate programs? An article published in Nature states that “the best way of predicting a scientist’s future success is for peers to evaluate scientific contributions and research depth”(7). As such, admission committees stand to benefit from diligent consideration of testimonies provided by recommendation letters. While the in-depth review of such material will take longer to process than a single numerical score, this approach would greatly increase the ability of graduate programs to select for the students that are most likely to find success in graduate school. If additional time spent reviewing recommendation letters has the potential to protect graduate programs from selecting students who will not follow through with their degrees, then this certainly seems like a worthwhile investment.  

In response to these studies, there has been a trend among biological and biomedical graduate programs to no longer require the GRE. Universities have begun dropping the requirement altogether, shifting their focus toward the more accurate criteria for predicting graduate student success and a more holistic approach to evaluating academic acumen. In fact, seven of the eight programs in the Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Emory University no longer require the GRE

By moving away from the inherently inequitable standardized test, graduate schools are able to expand their applicant pool to select for a diverse student population with the highest chances of success. This adjustment to the way admission decisions are made benefits both the programs and the students and can provide opportunities to students who might otherwise have been overlooked as a result of less-than-stellar GRE scores. Beyond just the weight of standardized testing being lifted from the shoulders of the already anxious college senior, more emphasis on undergraduate research experience is likely to encourage more students to start early on building a presence in the academic arena. Instead of undergraduate students putting all their metaphorical eggs in the GRE basket, students will be motivated to gain research experience, inspired to develop a wider skillset, and more likely to head into their graduate studies with a better chance of success. 


1.     Petersen, S. L., Erenrich, E. S., Levine, D. L., Vigoreaux, J., & Gile, K. (2018). Multi-institutional study of GRE scores as predictors of STEM PhD degree completion: GRE gets a low mark. PloS one13(10), e0206570.

2.     Moneta-Koehler, L., Brown, A. M., Petrie, K. A., Evans, B. J., & Chalkley, R. (2017). The limitations of the GRE in predicting success in biomedical graduate school. PloS one12(1), e0166742.

3.     Hall, J. D., O’Connell, A. B., & Cook, J. G. (2017). Predictors of student productivity in biomedical graduate school applications. PloS one12(1), e0169121.

4.     Clayton, V. (2016, Mar 1). The Problem with the GRE [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/03/the-problem-with-the-gre/471633/

5.     Miller, C., & Stassun, K. (2014). A test that fails. Nature510(7504), 303-304.

6.     Payne, D. (2018, May 21). The Value of Testing in Graduate Admissions [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/views/2018/05/21/standardized-testing-needed-graduate-school-admissions-opinion

7.     Acuna, D. E., Allesina, S., & Kording, K. P. (2012). Future impact: Predicting scientific success. Nature489(7415), 201.


BEST Retrospective: From Graduate Student to Medical Writer

By Emily Weikum

As I PhD student in my final years, I dreaded any conversations with my committee about my decision to explore careers outside of academia. In my second year, at my first ever committee meeting, I had multiple advisors question my need to stay in graduate school if I didn’t want to become a professor. I was so taken aback by this comment that, at the time, I didn’t stand up for what I knew to be right, that a PhD does not just train you for academic research. 

We have all heard the bleak job prospects in academia, have witnessed our PIs work 24/7 to finish a grant proposal, and have been told that we have to put life on hold to achieve success in that world. Therefore, from the start, I knew my talents and desires were suited to a career outside of academia. However, I was unsure of where to start, what “alternative” careers were even out there, and whether I had a shot at any of them with my only work experience being an academic lab. It was the answers all these looming questions (and more!) that the BEST program provided for me. 

It was 2014 when I joined the second cohort of BEST trainees. First, I was finally exposed to the vast number of careers that were available to PhD graduates. Second, I realized that I had a range of transferrable skills that companies were looking for such as teamwork, critical thinking, writing, and time management. Third, I was able to build a network of like-minded students that were also struggling with their PIs or committees in terms of career trajectory. Finally, and most importantly, I gained the confidence to pick up the phone and have informational interviews with people from various non-academic tracks. 

The BEST program was integral to where I am today, but it all started when I decided to be intentional about my professional growth. As author Rachel Hollis says, “I am successful because I have never once believed my dreams were someone else’s to manage.” Being intentional about looking for jobs, going to networking events, or doing an internship can be met with resistance within academia. It is my hope, as the BEST program has pioneered, that more universities like Emory will show their support for student growth outside of the academic arena. 

Looking back, I could not have imagined a better career choice for myself. Three days after defending my thesis, I began a career as a medical writer. During graduate school I had always enjoyed putting together presentations, working on figures, and talking about my science, yet I never knew I could make a career out of it. As a medical writer, I develop scientifically sound content for our clients, which are predominately pharmaceutical companies. We work on a wide range of projects—manuscripts and posters, video scripts, brochures for conferences, symposia presentations, you name it! Our clients also come from different therapeutic areas, so I have developed content for subjects from immunology (rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease) to neuroscience (Parkinson’s disease and opioid withdrawal). Through my experiences with the BEST program and my career thus far, I have learned some valuable lessons that I will elaborate on below.  


Determining what you don’t want to do is just as important as determining what you do want to do

The BEST program did an impeccable job of showcasing professionals from numerous careers. Through Career Workshops, we heard from government officials, consultants, educators, and more. Hearing testimonials from a diverse cast of speakers and having the chance to ask questions in a small group setting was critical to learn what careers really sparked my interest. When you google, “non-academic careers for science PhDs” you get 347,000 hits. This can be extremely daunting, particularly for those PhD students who feel they cannot talk to their mentors about their professional goals. The BEST program provided the perfect supportive environment to explore what’s out there. 


Networking really is king 

I know we heard it all the time in BEST, and sometimes we would roll our eyes, but I have to admit networking is a must. I am in my dream job because of a referral, one that I got because of an informational interview. Building your network can seem overwhelming, but I found that every person I emailed was more than willing to talk about what they do. I was also surprised by how receptive they were to my requests to shadow them. When people love what they do, they are usually eager to share more about it. It is also why I am keen to pay it forward! I am so passionate about what I do, and want to share that with other PhDs, that I am always willing to answer emails or jump on a call.


Your PhD is highly valuable outside of academia 

In my last few months as a graduate student, I started to become disheartened that I wouldn’t find a job. I had already made plans, as many at Emory do, to stay and post-doc for a while. I am here to emphasize that a post-doc is not your only option. I am an example of someone who did not post-doc and jumped straight into my job. This is not seen as a negative and is actually becoming more mainstream. As academia becomes more receptive to training and supporting their students for “alternative” careers, I think this trend will continue. As I’ve stressed before, graduate school is the perfect training ground for many transferable skills that any company would love to have in their future employee. 


Lastly, I want to mention that I would not have my job without a PhD. My company only hires writers with advanced degrees. If I had taken my committee’s advice during that first meeting, I would not be here to share my experiences, nor living my best life in my dream job. 

Never be afraid to take control of your professional development! For me, the BEST program was the optimal place to grow and prepare myself for what came after graduate school. Take advantage of professional development opportunities available to you. You never know where they may take you. 

Expanding Opportunities in Graduate Education

By Austin Nuckols

People enter graduate school programs for a variety of reasons. Some students are motivated by personal experience, aspiring to learn more about a disease or illness that they have personally faced. Some enter to build expertise in a field with the simple goal of understanding more or because they enjoy research and its results-driven nature. And yet, some students may not be clear on why they decided to pursue a graduate degree, knowing only that they seek a purpose to be revealed through the grueling trials of graduate education. Regardless of motive, the number of students enrolled in post-baccalaureate education has increased 38% from 2000 to 2016 (Institute for Education Sciences | National Center for Education Statistics, 2018). Unfortunately, this increase in enrollment has not been met with an increase in available independent research positions leading to, as one author put it, “a holding tank of frustrated senior postdocs unable to find permanent positions” (Bourne, 2013).  Indeed, the NIH budget saw a 22% decrease from 2003 to 2015 (Garrison, 2017). Despite increases to the budget in the years since 2015 (Garrison, 2017), the impact of this twelve-year depression lingers, leading to increasingly competitive postdoctoral positions as the increase struggles to catch up to an ever-growing pool of highly qualified researchers. In response, there has been a noticeable trend of researchers leaving academia to explore options in industry, biotechnology, entrepreneurship, consulting, and other science-related or even science-unrelated positions (see figure) (Fuhrmann, Halme, O'Sullivan, & Lindstaedt, 2011; Garrison, 2017; Mangematin, 2000).

“Distribution of Biomedical Science PhDs by Sector of Employment” graph taken from Garrison, 2017.

“Distribution of Biomedical Science PhDs by Sector of Employment” graph taken from Garrison, 2017.

As such, it is now more common for students to enter graduate school with the intention of pursuing a career outside of academia or for them to discover through their time in graduate school that they do not want a tenured professorship within academia. However, despite these observable trends, it is common that students lack structured resources for learning about other “nontraditional” career options. Often, professors are not prepared to offer guidance toward pursuing these careers (Juliano & Oxford, 2001), and some even vehemently oppose the transition away from the academic setting. In some cases, this narrow perspective is so strongly held that revealing one’s intention to move out of academia can seriously damage his or her working environment or even future career. This problem is so serious, in fact, that online resources like VersatilePhD.com mandate identity protection for all their users within their Code of Conduct (see figure below). 

Screenshot of VersatilePhD Code of Conduct clause detailing methods for identity protection and the reason for this.

Screenshot of VersatilePhD Code of Conduct clause detailing methods for identity protection and the reason for this.

A comprehensive study examining career preparation strategies for biomedical doctoral trainees (including both graduate students and postdocs) found that trainees with non-academic career goals are likely to show lower career development/career search efficacy. Additionally, they are less likely to reach out to their own or other faculty advisors for career guidance (St. Clair et al., 2017). Globally, graduate students already report rates of depression and anxiety that are six times higher than those of the general public (Evans, Bira, Gastelum, Weiss, & Vanderford, 2018). Undoubtedly, the lack of a clear career trajectory, or the support to find one after their dissertation defenses, would only contribute to the further development these mental health issues and reduce the quality of life for graduate students.

However, having recognized this issue, many universities are beginning to offer a variety of professional development resources for their students. These resources allow students to probe their interests, identify fitting career options, and even explore possible career options through internships or interviews. Here at Emory University, we can consider ourselves fortunate. Emory is actively taking strides toward providing resources and opportunities for a more “balanced” education, such that graduate students may freely pursue and be adequately prepared for non-academic careers. Among the resources offered by Emory are the BEST program, Individual Development Plans, Pathways Beyond the Professoriate lunch talks, InterSECT job simulations, an institutional subscription for Versatile PhD, and links to various websites containing information and potential internship opportunities. Furthermore, there are many clubs that exist as a resource for students to explore alternative careers. Some might disagree as to the availability or usefulness of these resources, but I recommend that graduate students truly explore the multitude of content available, as there is value to be gleaned from these resources. I encourage all who are interested to pursue the resources listed on both the GDBBS website (for whom it is applicable) and the LGS website. A list of additional websites will be appended at the end of this article for ease of access, including some that are not affiliated with Emory University. 

Still, Emory is innovating the graduate education experience through new and exciting courses. Over this past semester (Fall of 2018), I had the opportunity to enroll in the pilot offering of a new course called “Introduction to Entrepreneurship for STEM.” This course was based in the Goizueta Business School and directed by Dr. Robert Kanzanjian, Asa Griggs Candler Chair and Professor in Organization & Management and Senior Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives, Charlie Goetz, Senior Lecturer in Organization & Management and Distinguished Lecturer in Entrepreneurship, and Edward Rieker, Adjunct Lecturer. Throughout the course, we explored concepts behind entrepreneurship, such as development of a product based on solving an existing problem and understanding the unique value these products must hold. We moved into marketing and discussed how to target a message to different audiences from customers to potential investors. Finally, we explored large business strategy and innovation before finishing with a lecture about patent law and its role in the development of a product. The course was masterfully designed and well-executed with interactive classes, guest speakers, and low-pressure assignments (ungraded assignments that mostly consisted of reading or talking to potential customers for your chosen product). Furthermore, each of the speakers came from a biomedical PhD background and transitioned into different modes of business, such as business strategy, entrepreneurship, or patent law, offering insight into how he or she transitioned and what resources to explore to do the same. Throughout the class, we each developed an idea for a product, which we explored through potential customer interviews, refined, and defended as if we were building our own start-up. We developed a website and created a marketing video that we presented in the final session. However, most importantly, we dove into these concepts of business and marketing and were able to relate them to the realm of science or the specific research that we already did. To identify value in your project and see its unique position within a field of research, to market your research ideas to your PI, your committee, your colleagues, or even your field, and to identify the direction of innovation needed within a body of research are parallels to be drawn between the not so disparate worlds of scientific research and business/entrepreneurship. The directors hope to offer the course in future years if there is enough interest moving forward. I, as someone who gained much from it, highly recommend it for those interested in entrepreneurship or business strategy as a career.

Graduate school becomes much more manageable when there is a clear goal at the end. Emory strives to train both knowledgeable and impactful researchers as well as educated and driven individuals who take their scientific and analytical prowess and apply them to diverse non-academic careers. For those who are unsure about their future in research, please know that you are at a university that seeks to provide you with the guidance to follow wherever your interests and talents lead. Take the opportunity to explore the resources presented to you, reach out to your PI or your DGS, and contact other faculty members or Emory alumni. There is a vast network of support on which to capitalize.


  1. Bourne, H. R. (2013). A fair deal for PhD students and postdocs. Elife, 2, e01139. doi:10.7554/eLife.01139

  2. Evans, T. M., Bira, L., Gastelum, J. B., Weiss, L. T., & Vanderford, N. L. (2018). Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education. Nature Biotechnology, 36, 282. doi:10.1038/nbt.4089 https://www.nature.com/articles/nbt.4089#supplementary-information

  3. Fuhrmann, C. N., Halme, D. G., O'Sullivan, P. S., & Lindstaedt, B. (2011). Improving graduate education to support a branching career pipeline: recommendations based on a survey of doctoral students in the basic biomedical sciences. CBE Life Sci Educ, 10(3), 239-249. doi:10.1187/cbe.11-02-0013

  4. Garrison, H. H. (2017). Education and Employment of Biological and Medical Scientists 2017. Retrieved from http://www.faseb.org/Science-Policy--Advocacy-and-Communications/Federal-Funding-Data/Education-and-Employment-of-Scientists.aspx

  5. Institute for Education Sciences | National Center for Education Statistics. (2018). Postbaccalaureate Enrollment.  Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_chb.asp

  6. Juliano, R. L., & Oxford, G. S. (2001). Critical issues in PhD training for biomedical scientists. Acad Med, 76(10), 1005-1012. 

  7. Mangematin, V. (2000). PhD job market: professional trajectories and incentives during the PhD. Research Policy, 29(6), 741-756. 

  8. St. Clair, R., Hutto, T., MacBeth, C., Newstetter, W., McCarty, N. A., & Melkers, J. (2017). The “new normal”: Adapting doctoral trainee career preparation for broad career paths in science.PLOS ONE, 12(5), e0177035. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0177035

Additional Resources:










5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Rotations

By Ellen Woon

Rotations. We spend our entire first year of graduate school rotating through laboratories of interest to find our home for the next years. It’s daunting – the idea of emailing a PI we’ve idealized in our minds as the scientist who does the coolest work and asking them if they can take us on as a rotation student. Then, if they do take us on, we worry about a myriad of situations. What if I don’t like the lab? If I don’t like it, what do I do? How do I ask if the lab has funding? How do I know if this lab is right for me? How many papers do I have to read before I understand what my project is on? As you settle in to your new life as an Emory graduate student, here are a few tips that may make the rotation process a little easier:

1.     Time management is key, and it’s especially helpful during this first year of graduate school. Much of the curriculum you will need to complete will take place during your first and second years. During the first year, you’ll have to transition to the post-college life and maybe even a new city! On top of that, you’ll have your first-year classes. Then, just to top it all off, you’ll have your research rotations.

Remember: even though rotations are an integral component of your first year, they are not meant to suck up all of your time. At this point in your academic career, most of your time should be geared towards classes and studying, with rotation work weaving its way into your schedule wherever it can fit. Being able to manage your time efficiently will do wonders for you throughout graduate school. Be sure to touch base with your rotation advisor to ensure they know you’ll need ample time to study for an exam or to complete coursework. I planned blocks of time into my schedule to study during my first year and would talk to my rotation advisor a few days prior to let him or her know that I’d be in the library over the next few days. Planning ahead and communicating helped a heavily-packed schedule feel less hectic overall. 

2.     Don’t be afraid to talk to multiple PIs before deciding on your rotations. Rotations are intended for you to explore where you ultimately want to conduct your graduate research. The minimum number of rotations required for your program is not necessarily equivalent to the number of PIs you can reach out to (AKA three rotations doesn’t mean you can only talk to three PIs!).

When deciding on your rotations, it might be a good idea to create a list of labs in which you are interested. From there, you can email each PI and explain who you are, your past research experience, and why you might be interested in their specific field. This information should ideally help them identify potential projects for you. A great way to sign off each email is to offer to set up a meeting to discuss mutual interests.

Having an in-person meeting with the PI is a great opportunity for you to get a glimpse into the PI's personality, a piece of information which may or may not influence your decision to rotate with them. This is also a great time to ask if the PI if they are accepting new members in the academic year. Depending on funding and lab space, the answer may not be set in stone, but it is an important factor to consider when deciding on other potential rotations. You may even get the chance to meet current members of that lab who can answer more questions about how the lab functions day-to-day or what it’s like to balance the research with coursework.

Once the meeting is said and done, don’t feel pressured to immediately decide if you’ll be rotating or not. When I was going through this process, I didn’t finalize my decision until I had met with all four PIs I was interested in working with. I narrowed down my rotations from there, knowing that I wanted to have at least one rotation in a field with which I was completely unfamiliar. Entering graduate school, I carried over experience from my undergraduate research in behavioral neuroscience. I decided that for my first rotation, going out of my comfort zone meant diving into computational neuroscience. My other two rotations were then focused in behavioral neuroscience. I loved challenging myself to think in different ways when learning computational concepts, and finding what interests you during your rotations is ultimately what is important.

3.    Productivity comes in different flavors. You most likely won’t earn authorship on a paper in each rotation. That’s okay! Rotations are long enough to get a feel for the lab environment, the techniques, and the community, but just short enough that it makes it difficult to accumulate enough data for an authorship-worthy contribution.

It’s important to remember that productivity is all relative; it’s up to you to define it for yourself. If you’re rotating in a lab and learning an unfamiliar technique, then mastering that technique may be your definition of productive for that rotation. During my computational rotation, I challenged myself to become familiar with the world of coding. This was a completely new topic for me, and I set the goal for myself that the rotation would be all about learning coding basics. Even though I worked with previously analyzed data sets and generated no new findings, I was productive in the sense that I learned how to code (and learned that it was really challenging for me!)

On the other hand, if you’re rotating in a lab that uses methodologies with which you have experience, you may define productive as maximizing the amount of data you can collect for that project. My remaining rotations in the behavioral neuroscience labs were productive in the sense that I was able to generate new findings for those labs. I was familiar with the behavioral assays and comfortable with animal handling, so I was able to make a more significant contribution to their research efforts. 


4.     You are not expected to be an expert. It is important when you join a new lab to recognize and acknowledge your limitations, and to ask for help when you need it. If you’re completely new to a field, like I was with computational neuroscience, you might struggle initially with understanding new concepts, and you will have an endless amount of questions. Even if you have experience in the field, it’s likely that a lab uses different techniques or procedures than those with which you may be familiar. Ask questions when you have them!

Depending on your program, rotation lengths may differ. It’s important to note, though, that there is no expectation for you to be an expert by the end of that period. 

5.     You might not like the lab you’re rotating in, and that’s okay! I cannot emphasize this enough. One lab setting does not fit all. This applies to the mentorship style of the PI and the lab environment itself. Some PIs mentor in a “hands-off” manner, working remotely or only coming in on certain days of the week. These PIs may rely on post-docs or more senior graduate students to train junior students. On the other hand, some PIs may operate in a more “hands-on” manner, in the building 95% of the time or casually passing through the lab when they get the chance. While they might rely on post-docs and senior students to train incoming students, they may also be directly involved with providing training and mentorship. 

Then, there’s the lab environment, made up of the interactions between the PI, post-docs, graduate students, and potentially undergraduate students. Here are some things that I considered during my rotations to evaluate the lab environments: Is there a good balance between people working and socializing? Is it a fun work environment (i.e. are people happy)? Is there enough lab space to accommodate all lab members? Could I see myself working alongside everyone every day? 

Finally, you should also consider how you would be spending your time in lab, should you join. If you really dislike a particular assay that you would be expected to use every day or if you find yourself not entirely interested in the research topic, then it is possible that the lab isn’t for you. You might think you will enjoy something until you actually do it. Rotations give you the chance to change your mind. 

You may only be five days into your rotation when you realize that it’s not a good fit, whether it be due to mentorship style, lab members, environment, techniques, research topic, or something else. This happens more often than you may think, and it’s completely okay. Think about it this way: it’s way better to realize you aren’t a good fit when you’re rotating versus realizing it two years after you’ve joined.

Although you may decide that you won’t be joining a lab, it’s important to stay committed to the project assigned to you for the duration of your rotation and to remain respectful. Maintaining a professional relationship with rotation advisors is beneficial for a few reasons: 1) you might open the door for potential collaborations on future projects, 2) you may secure letter writers for upcoming grants/fellowships and 3) you might end up with one or more of them on you committee. Finishing your rotations on a high note is extremely advantageous in the long run.

Your first year of graduate school is demanding, to say the least. The light at the end of the tunnel is knowing that once rotations finish, you can officially join a lab. It’s completely normal to feel uneasy when beginning your rotations, but remember, each one of us has been through it and has found a home. The opportunity to experience different types of research in diverse lab environments helps students to determine what mentorship they may need throughout their graduate studies, to hone in on the techniques and topics that spark their curiosity, and, ultimately, to identify the best lab for them to finish out their degrees. At worst, you walk away from your rotation having learned a few new techniques (as well as a few things about yourself) and at best, you’ve found your research home. 

It’s Time to get Tweeting! The Advantages of #ScienceTwitter and Practical Tips for Getting Started

By Caroline Jansen

Social media? For professional interactions? For scientists?! Yes, indeed. Gone are the days of pseudonyms and ultra-hidden, unsearchable social media profiles! Undeniably, online communication—particularly Twitter—has become an important tool for the modern scientist. Skeptical? I was too! But the data does not lie. In fact, data shows that hiring managers use social media in guiding their searches and ranking candidates, and not just to throw candidates out for having questionable photos or poorly considered posts. Hiring decisions can often be positively influenced by the information found on social media, be it your involvement in advocacy or volunteerism or simply the authentic and professional way with which you conduct yourself digitally(1,2).

But the benefit of social communication for scientists goes beyond a personal edge in hiring decisions. Studies have shown that Twitter activity can predict highly cited articles within just days of publication, and some have even suggested that twitter activity outperforms 5-year journal impact factor in predicting the citation rate of a given publication(3,4,5). Aspects of this reality are captured in statistics titled ‘Altmetrics,’ which are designed to be a non-traditional bibliometric, used alongside traditional metrics, such as impact factor and H-index. Altmetrics capture ‘viewed’ (HTML views and PDF downloads), ‘discussed’ (journal comments, blogs, Wikipedia, Twitter, and other social media), ‘saved’ (Mendeley and other social bookmarks), ‘cited’ (citations in scholarly literature, tracked by Scopus, CrossRef, etc.), and ‘recommended’ (e.g. F1000) aspects of a publication’s impact. Indeed, many journals, including ‘big’ name journals, now include altmetric scores alongside traditional citation counts and publicize authors’ Twitter handles at the time of publication.

So, the data is solid; incorporating social communication as a tool in your scientific repertoire—alongside the usual tools of experimental design and execution, data analysis and presentation, science writing, etc.—is the way forward for modern scientists. While it can be overwhelming at first, Twitter is quickly becoming an important way to build community. The world of scientists on Twitter, aptly identified as #ScienceTwitter or #SciMedTwitter, is a uniquely rich resource—a one stop shop, if you will—for building a professional network, keeping up with literature, finding advice and support, and advancing advocacy initiatives. 

Twitter can be an excellent way to build a professional network, and this is particularly true and valuable for students or recent alumni. Twitter breaks down traditional hierarchies and power structures unlike any other communication system in science. It represents an accessible and approachable platform whereby scientists, students, advocates, and the public can interact in 240 characters or less. The character limit can challenge users to be efficient and intentional in their communication, and this necessary brevity requires users to suspend some of academia’s formality for a moment. On Twitter, trainees can interact with authors of recent publications, experts in the field, and otherwise ‘high profile’ individuals in a way that email, telephone, and other forms of communication don’t often permit. A tweet directly to the author of a recent high-profile paper may yield productive conversation, where an email may have gotten buried in the barrage of daily correspondence we all enjoy. And what’s more, this conversation, when played out on Twitter, makes room for other scientists, and those outside of science or academia, to participate as well, fostering crucial intersectional communication. 

The conversational value of Twitter usage also carries beyond discussion of recent publications, impacting how consumers attend scientific conferences. Hosts of conferences (and associated professional organizations) now often designate and curate a specific #Hashtag to spread awareness about their events. Conference attendees can tweet using this hashtag, and Twitter users can follow the hashtag to view the latest and/or most popular tweets from the conference. Not only does this ‘make big conferences smaller’, allowing attendees to see what other attendees are present and what their impressions of various presentations are, but it also allows for relative ‘virtual’ attendance of conferences. This is particularly valuable for trainees—by following along a conference’s hashtag, you can see what experts in your field are reporting from that meeting and see what important findings are presented, even if you are at the lab bench miles and miles away. 

Twitter can also be a great source of community support. Having trouble with that one tricky experiment? Curious about a particular assay or technique? Can’t find that paper your committee member mentioned last week? Ask Twitter! The community of scientists—students and faculty alike—are quick to respond, and respond accurately. Within a few hours, or even minutes, you’re likely to have a couple (or five, or ten) quality suggestions—effectively ‘crowdsourcing’ to gather valuable, experiential information that would’ve taken days or weeks to gather via email or internet searching.  

The support offered by Twitter communities goes far beyond technical tips or links to papers. In a time when the mental health of trainees is (appropriately) garnering more attention and conversation, a virtual community, which shares your struggles, celebrates your successes, and just generally relates to your experience is invaluable. Though community support is often exercised informally, support networks are able to organize formally as well. For example, many women physicians and trainees find great support, wisdom, and advice in participating in regularly scheduled #WomeninMedicine chats, hosted by @PetradMD. Graduate and professional schooling—and the careers that follow—may feel insular and isolating at times. Thriving Twitter communities provide a welcome resource for communication and connection.

So now you’re convinced—#ScienceTwitter is an important tool. But how do you get started? Here are a few practical tips and tricks:

1.    Take the plunge! Don’t be intimidated. We all felt clumsy and awkward as we first started science-tweeting, and chances are plenty of us still do. Just go for it! 

2.    Be professional… and authentic. Choose your profile photos, your handle (i.e. username), and your ‘bio’ wisely… and tweet with intention. Tweets go out in an instant, and the internet is a google-able, written record. 

3.    Find your people. Many professional groups, advocacy organizations, or academic institutions create ‘lists’ that capture relevant scholars in a certain field. This can be a great place to start when you’re looking for who to follow in your field or in other fields that interest you.

4.    Engage. Don’t just be a lurker, and don’t only retweet smart or witty things other people say. Try to engage with others, tweeting commentary or questions, not just links to papers or headlines.

5.    Get the most out of it. Use all the features of your profile. Pin your most important tweet to the top of your profile—e.g. a recent publication or information about an upcoming presentation—so that users visiting your profile see the best stuff first. Curate lists (which can be public or private) of various groups of users you follow so that you can scroll through tweets quickly that relate to a particular personal interest. 

6.    Use the 80/20 rule. Be authentic in how you represent yourself. You build real community by being your usual, relatable, genuine self, so don’t be afraid to tweet about your favorite sports team, your cute pet, or that neat vacation spot you finally got to visit. Just don’t let your personal tweets overtake your professional ones. Shoot for an 80/20 split—80% professional and 20% personal. 

7.    Meet your Twitter friends IRL (in real life). Meet up with friends from your Twitter community at conferences or meetings, and forge real friendships and professional collaborations!  

Hopefully, this has demystified #ScienceTwitter for you and given you the nudge you needed to step out and get to tweeting! Follow me @careyjans, and tweet me any questions you may have. Happy Tweeting!  


1.    http://business.time.com/2012/07/09/how-recruiters-use-social-networks-to-make-hiring-decisions-now/

2.    https://www.careerbuilder.com/advice/social-media-survey-2017

3.    https://www.jmir.org/2011/4/e123/

4.    https://www.forbes.com/sites/haydnshaughnessy/2012/01/15/how-could-twitter-influence-science-and-why-scientists-are-on-board/#6629614118be

5.     https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0166570

Fall 2018 STEM Symposium

By Miranda McDaniel

Each Fall, the Laney Graduate School hosts a STEM Research and Career Symposium welcoming students and faculty from diverse backgrounds to take part in two days of research sharing and networking. The Emory Conference Center buzzed with conversations about science and scholarship as students excitedly discussed their research and future plans.  

Daria Brown, from Fayetteville StAte University, explaining the Hessian Fly Life Cycle to a curious poster visitor.

Daria Brown, from Fayetteville StAte University, explaining the Hessian Fly Life Cycle to a curious poster visitor.

The event began with a Keynote Address by Dr. Charlie Garnett-Benson. Dr. Garnett-Benson, a tenure-track Associate Professor of Biology at Georgia State University, earned her PhD right here at Emory University from the Immunology and Molecular Pathogenesis Program. On the heels of a successful postdoc at the NIH focusing on tumor immunology and biology, she now spearheads her own research with an emphasis on the role of the immune system in cancer therapy.  Dr. Garnett-Benson currently serves as the Director of Research in the Department of Biology at Georgia State. 

During her lighthearted Keynote Address, Dr. Garnett-Benson shared her career trajectory and her research endeavors, but perhaps more interestingly, she concluded her speech with “what really keeps her up at night”. Going into her current position, she thought she would be worried about grants and collaborations. In reality, her concerns center more around how she can help bring in the next generation of scientists. To address her concerns in this arena, she took on the role of Early Career Scientist Committee Chair with the Society for the Immunotherapy of Cancer and founded “Beyond the Codon” to provide resources for students interested in careers in the biomedical field. Through her funny, slightly sarcastic delivery and her engaging story-telling, Dr. Garnett-Benson set the tone for the wonderful event to follow.  

Aishat Motolani sharing an oral presentation on her research at Albany State University.

Aishat Motolani sharing an oral presentation on her research at Albany State University.

The next day was filled with student presentations. A large ballroom was filled with colorful posters designed by undergraduates with an eye towards graduate school. Posters were presented by students from all across the country from Rochester University to the University of Arizona. Sprinkled among the research posters were a collection of posters providing information about the STEM organizations, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and research opportunities here at Emory University. The day was filled with overlapping conversations among students and faculty in between oral presentations and topical breakout sessions.

The day concluded with a second Keynote Address from Dr. Jose Antonio Bowen, President of Goucher College, writer of over 100 scholarly articles, editor, musician, and author of Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning. As an expert in such a wide variety of subjects, Dr. Bowen is no stranger to the learning process. His experiences uniquely prepared him to speak to attendees about the importance of relationships, resilience, and reflection in the learning process. He spoke about the value of failure and the importance of being open to changing your mind. Beyond just the value of his message, his delivery and stories kept the audience laughing throughout the night. 

Dr. Jose Bowen gIving an entertaining and informative Keynote Address.

Dr. Jose Bowen gIving an entertaining and informative Keynote Address.

The next day, several presenters were recognized with awards for outstanding presentations. The list of recipients can be found here: 

Judge’s Awards (10):

Charmaine Nganje 

Roysheda Tarver

Emily Casteen

Andrew Munoz

Chazman Childers

Kimberly Acevedo

Jacob Hickey

Pierce Perkins

Katherine Andrade

Letisha Smith


1st:   Imon Islam

2nd:  Arren Simpson

3rd:  Sarah Mansour

Oral Presentations:

1st: Brittany Williams

2nd: Anisha Lewis

3rd:  Elvis Kahoro

The STEM symposium is a particularly impactful event that GDBBS faculty, students, and staff look forward to participating in each year. By providing a stage for students to share their research, strengthen their professional network, and engage with fellow scholars, the symposium helps to connect a diverse group of scientists at different stages in their academic careers. We look forward to our 2019 STEM Symposium and hope to see you there! 

News from the Office of Advancement and Alumni Engagement

·     In recognition of Dr. Keith Wilkinson’s contributions to the quality of graduate education and the training experiences of students since the 1980s, the faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the GDBBS joined together with philanthropic contributions to establish The Keith Wilkinson Division Service Award. Dr. Wilkinson served as director of GDBBS for almost 14 years, and he was a professor at Emory University School of Medicine as well director of two of our PhD Programs. In his role as division director, Keith oversaw the GDBBS’s development and expansion into the home of some of the nation’s top training programs. We are thrilled to share that this brand-new fund has raised approximately $32,000. We need a minimum of $50,000 total to establish an endowment in Keith’s name. Make a gift to the fund by selecting “other” under Designations and then write in “Wilkinson Award-LGS.” You’ll have the option of making a single payment or making a gift in installments. Help us reach our goal so we can honor Keith in perpetuity the same way his legacy and impact on the GDBBS will be celebrated indefinitely.  

·     Thank you to alumni Dr. William G. Rice (86G) and Mrs. Catherine Rice (18PH) who hosted a wonderful reception in San Diego during the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting. Laney Graduate School faculty, students, and alumni joined us at the Rice’s home for networking and celebration.

·     The Laney Graduate School will celebrate our centennial in 2019! Celebrate Laney’s first 100 and help us continue to achieve academic excellence in the next 100 years. On January 26th, the centennial celebration begins with an on-campus event and the launch of our centennial website gs.emory.edu/centennial, including a list of events throughout the country during the year.

·     In honor of the 100th anniversary, we’re thrilled to announce our newest fundraising effort, the Centennial Scholars Fellowship - The Centennial Scholars Fellowship is given to applicants who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement and who will contribute to the development of a richly diverse student body.

·     Want to get involved? If you’re local and want to serve as a mentor to students or speak on a panel about your career inside or outside academia, contact Robin Harpak (rharpak@emory.edu). For those outside of Atlanta, stay connected, find alumni with common interests in your area, leverage our global alumni network, offer advice to current students, and more all through our platform Emory Connects. Join us today!

·   Calling all golfers! If you love Emory, love golf, and want a chance to play at the prestigious East Lake Golf Club, join us for the third annual Jones Legacy Golf tournament. Proceeds support the Bobby Jones Program at Emory including the Jones Biomedical Engineering Fellows. Read more and register today!