Advice From Alumni

What advice would you give to current or incoming graduate students here at WVU?

"Find good mentors. Choosing your advisor is one of the most important decisions that you will make and is the most important relationship that you will have in graduate school. Choose someone who will support you in developing your strengths and who also recognizes your weaknesses. Do your homework on this. Your mentor should be right for you…someone who inspires you and creates an optimistic environment. You can have more than one mentor besides your primary advisor during your graduate career, and mentors can serve different purposes. You will need letters of recommendation for many early career grants, promotions, etc. and the relationships that you form during your graduate career will be of utmost importance."

"Find ways to challenge yourself. The more that you are engaged with your work, the more you will enjoy it. Don't take the easy road. Not only will you achieve more, you'll have a better time doing it also. Getting a Ph.D. takes a lot of dedication and hard work but it doesn’t stop there. There is always something new to learn and your research or career may take you in a completely new direction, forcing you to learn new concepts and techniques along the way. Take on the challenge."

"Ask questions and obtain feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask questions- during a seminar, at lab meetings or journal clubs. This is part of the learning process. And always get feedback on your work including your experimental design, data analysis, manuscripts, abstracts, presentations and grant applications. Learn from your mistakes and correct them. Spend time with other graduate students bouncing ideas off of each other and troubleshooting."

"Have fun. If you aren’t happy, you will not be successful. So have fun in the process. Make friends and balance your work and personal life."

"And as Dr. Salati would say, "Don’t wish your life away!"

Laura Stabile, Ph.D., 1999
Advisor: Lisa Salati, Ph.D.
Currently Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh


"I would advise incoming and current graduate students to be open to all possibilities and don’t let other people’s opinions alter your perception."

"When I started in grad school, people warned me about labs to not go into. I was even told to not go to Brad’s lab because he expected a lot from his students (which is the point of grad school). Going to Brad’s lab was the best decision for my science career and I’m glad that I took the chance and rotated in his lab."

Holly Cyphert, Ph.D. 2012
Advisor: Brad Hillgartner, Ph.D.
Currently Assistant Professor, Marshall University
Clinical Professor, DCTS Marshall School of Medicine


"Work hard and pay emphasis on the conceptual understanding of theory and experimental procedures. Have fun working in the lab and listen to your mentors. It will help you in the long run!"

Sushant Bhatnagar, Ph.D., 2009
Advisor: Brad Hillgartner, Ph.D.
Currently Assistant Professor University of Alabama, Birmingham


"Write as much as you can. Dr. Minnear always told us to “write early, write often”. That is great advice. I write more than I do anything else (which is the opposite of what you do as a grad student, where you are doing bench work more than anything else). If you get used to writing, it’ll come easier. Plus, you’ll get more papers."

Alison Kohan, Ph.D., 2009
Advisor: Lisa Salati, Ph.D.
Currently Assistant Professor, University of Connecticut


"In my best inspirational speaker persona, I advise the following, which I really believe: Understand that life is a privilege, and that the most meaningful goals are reached through your own sustained hard work. But accept that no amount of hard work and planning can assure that your life's trajectory will be straight or smooth. Make the most of your opportunities to learn, because you never know where your path will take you. Practice ethical behavior and kindness to others, because the most precious things in life are the people who travel through it with you. And share laughter in your life - it truly is very good medicine! So sayeth the almost old alumnus."

Gloria Higgins, MD, Ph.D., 1976
Advisor: George H. Wirtz, Ph.D.
Currently Professor Emeritus, Ohio State University


"Work hard….Then work harder"

"Pay attention to learning the basics of data analysis and experimental design"

"Question your results and the ones you read about in the literature"

"Learn to present and explain scientific data & conclusions….you will do this many times in your professional science career"

"Master the skill of writing extremely well... I can't say enough about how important this is!"

Marcia Federici, Ph.D., 1977
Advisor: Frederick J. Lotspeich, Ph.D.
Currently Independent Consultant on Biotechnology & Pharmaceuticals


"Figure what you really want to do with your life and focus your education and training to meet that objective. Keep your nose to the grindstone but take some time to appreciate some of the finer sides of life including: arts, music, travel and family. Do not be afraid of working hard, it will be required to succeed."

"Keep in mind that one of the lowest paid jobs you will have in your life is being a graduate student. So, why not make best of your time as a student to get your degree and move on with the more rewarding things in the future."

James B. Blair, Ph.D.
Professor of Biochemistry, WVU (1972-1990)


"First, I would recommend that you make your education a little broader than just your field of interest. Currently you may end up with a non-research job where other talents will serve you well. Good writing and public speaking skills are important."

"Second, your research advisor is one of the most important people in your life. This individual should be truly interested in you and your work, and should be able to open doors for your research career."

"Third, develop balance in your life. The work you do until midnight in the lab will not be remembered however, not attending your child's birthday party will be remembered."

"Do not allow yourself to become a professional postdoctoral fellow. You need a career not a job.”
~ Eugene G Sander

Eugene G. Sander, Ph.D.
President Emeritus, University of Arizona University of Minnesota
Chair of Biochemistry, WVU (1976 to 1980)


"Graduate School is good. Postdoc is better. So, try your hardest now - and try your hardest later too. There is always something new to learn. Nurture the wonder of science that you must possess, for surely that is what led you to graduate school in the first place."

John Shabb, Ph.D., 1984
Advisor: Michael R. Miller, Ph.D.
Currently, Assistant Professor, University of North Dakota


"At times it is tough to know what area(s) to pursue or continue in an education since the outcome will likely play a large role in future professional and personal decisions.  My best advice is to follow one’s interests and do not select an area of study for the simple monetary promise down the road.  Obviously, a well-paid job is an endpoint for any advanced training, but students really need to focus on what gives them satisfaction at the end of the day.  After all, the professional career path that follows completion of graduate training will be traveled for many years.  Happiness and satisfaction with the job one does is a key factor in so many aspects of life including quality of health, productivity, and career advancement."

Deborah Hodge, Ph.D., 1997
Advisor: Lisa Salati, Ph.D.
Currently, Scientific Review Officer, National Institutes of Health