Think THRICE before choosing a new PhD program

Think THRICE before choosing a new PhD program


Joining a new PhD program where you will be in the very first cohort is hard as fuck (AF)! And it’s hard for some of the following reasons – there are so fucking many. The MAIN disadvantage will be the lack of INTELLECTUAL capital. This affects everything!

  1. Departmental (Faculty and Staff) INEXPERIENCE can fuck you up – The Department might have no clue what running a PhD program means administratively, intellectually, or financially. This means extra time and missing important deadlines and information on what you need to successfully complete your PhD.
  2. They LACK INTELLECTUAL RESOURCES, i.e. not enough PhD faculty with experience to advise a PhD, not enough collaborations and projects from the department to build research. Academia succeeds – I believe – when people are true experts in their work, are aware of what others are doing, and when possible collaborations are endless and without restrictions. Your advisor might not have even successfully graduated a Masters Student, but they are expected to advise PhDs. These two can in no way be compared.
  3. FUNDING – The faculty and the department may have no knowledge (intellectual resources) and experience on getting funding for projects and for PhDs.
  4. ADMIN – Administrative staff may not understand the technicalities, requirements, and differences between PhD students and undergrads/ Masters’ students.
  5. UNDERGRADUATE CULTURE PERVADES – with that comes a lack of understanding of the needs of PhDs when it comes to research and mentoring. It’s not just about a dissertation but mentoring and teaching you about being an academic, hopefully running a department and a lab one day, not completing a fucking assignment.
  6. They SEE YOU AS A NUMBER – They may focus on your dissertation and getting you out instead of molding you as a great academic. Here I mean inexperienced faculty and admin might be rushing you to graduate to advertise numbers without care or concern about your needs, wants, or the specific needs for your program and career. They want numbers, while you want to be properly trained and marketable.
  7. They have LITTLE CONNECTIONS for getting you in a good position – What are their networks and reach to get you the job you want? If they just got this job, they do not have the reach and history to help you get that job you want. Their work may not as yet be mature.
  8. POLITICS – Fucking hell there will be politics! People will be fighting to have you as their PhD, but have or make no time to advise you because they will be trying to get their research going. Although they need a PhD for tenure, they will be focusing on their work first. You might be advising yourself, and YOU CANNOT ADVISE YOURSELF. You will burn out!



One plus of going to a brand-new program is that you may have more flexibility in doing exactly what you want. There might be some freedom. But this is not guaranteed. Faculty will try to claim you, your work, and/ or steer your work in their direction to support their research. And remember, if they are new faculty, they have to prove their worth for tenure, so beware of situations where Faculty might steal your work to accomplish this. They have the position of power, not you. Beware of the shitty Advisor. See here – and


Secondly, because of the shit-storm you will be in, you will learn what you do not want, and you might have some skills from these experiences that you might not have had, had you not gone through this. This however is NOT a reason to choose such a program. You advisor and others can teach you this as they mentor you.

The stresses that you will undergo in this new program might not be worth it. I will even say, it is not worth it. A PhD program is hard enough, you do not want a department that cannot help you and who are adding stressors to you. Believe me, you do not. Do not do it. My advice, DO NOT CHOOSE TO BE IN THE FIRST (nor second) COHORT OF A NEW PhD PROGRAM.


I want to be a resourceful professor

I want to be a resourceful professor

As a professor teaching a class my best classes have been those that allowed me to focus on my interests, or to find my interests and dig deep into them. This may be different between undergrad and graduate students: undergraduate students need breath, while graduate students need depth. By reflecting on my experiences, I will describe my preferred courses/ professors. I will write this as the professor that I would work on being.


1.     Assignments – Modules – Projects


I want to craft modules, projects, and assignments for my students so that each module – a series of assignments which culminate into a project – results in the development of skills, ideas, critical readings, and writings on a topic or area within that study module. For each module, my students will learn a new skill, tool, or technique. The benefit of doing this, is that my students can use these “projects” as prior work, or the beginning of ideas and inquiries for papers, conference presentations, symposia, proposals, and their portfolio. It should be meaty enough – theoretical background, readings, reflections, assignments showing technical skills – that they develop comprehensive understanding and application of skills.

2.     Technical Work versus Reading Assignments


In one particular course, I would get approximately 3 papers to read each week. Our assignments involved writing critical reflections and preparing for in-class discussions and assignments. In each class, we went deep into the literature, discussed what it meant to each of us, and its contributions to our work. In another course, the professor would throw a lot of readings at us. They were dense and writing assignments were time consuming. During class, because of the many dense readings, my knowledge of the readings remained at the surface level. There was never enough time to go deep because there was so much to cover. I do not think this latter example is a good approach to teaching/ learning text. When it comes to developing technical skills (drawing, programming, interviewing, calculations, equations), I say open the firehose, you learn by doing a lot of them! But, it’s not the same for reading since the brain needs time to absorb what is read, chew on it, reflect on it, figure out what it means, what it might mean, and how it might be used. Projects and technical skills – give many assignments. Readings and writing – include time for reflections and mental mastication. Assign just enough readings so that minds can be challenged, but no too much so that readers are unable to go deep into the literature.


3.     Read with your Graduate Student


When working with my graduate students, I want to improve their command of the literature, and their critical reading skills. I want to give them literature to critically read and to respond to. After they have read and written critically and reflectively on them, I will discuss it with them. What were the main points of the work, what new did you learn, how was the paper structured, what were the contributions of the papers, and how might it inform your work? I will ask them these questions. I will ask what readings they found while reading the paper. Papers always have a bibliography, so it would be practice for them to develop a library of works around their topic or interest. I will ask, from the papers you have read, what 3 other papers referenced interest you?


4.     List of Conference and Journals


As a professor, you should be familiar with the conferences and journals in your field. I will have a list of conferences and journals in my field, and specific area of study ready for my students. I will encourage my students to write papers from their classes to submit to these conferences. Feedback is always a good thing. It’s a good thing to deploy your ideas and get feedback on them, as well as practice writing a paper. Believe me, every time I write a paper, I feel like I am learning how to write again for the first time. Not in a frustrating and discouraging way, but in a way that I have accepted. In order to be a good writer, you always need to keep looking at good writing. You start over every time, but not as far as you were before. And because you start over, you get in the flow, and become focused on what you say and how you say it. If you can afford to become sloppy in your writing, maybe you should not be doing it. It takes a lot of work, but is extremely rewarding.


5.     Know who and what’s happening at your Institution

July 11, 2016: Apple Music’s Marketing Executive Bozoma Saint John poses for a portrait at Apple Music Headquarters in Culver City, California.
July 11, 2016: Apple Music’s Marketing Executive Bozoma Saint John poses for a portrait at Apple Music Headquarters in Culver City, California.

I want to be the professor who knows the resources available at my institution. I want to be the professor who is in the know! This includes:

a)     Professors in my department;

b)    Professors in other departments for potential collaborations or assistance;

c)     Professors in other schools for collaborations;

d)    Professors in other countries for collaborations;

e)     Study abroad and exchange programs;

f)      Grant calls so that students can apply for funding;

g)     Competitions;

h)    Other departments in your College, School, and University;

i)      A list of courses in other departments that compliment your program or area;

j)      Associations and organizations that may support your work;

k)     Research opportunities;

l)      Institutional resources and how they work – writing help, counseling, etc.;

m)   How the fucking department and admin works: Dates to register for classes, graduate school requirements, IRB requirements, patent and copyright offices and/ or rules, who to go to for financial help or opportunities such as on campus jobs or paid research opportunities.

Intellectual Bandits in Academia

Intellectual Bandits in Academia


Keep your ideas private and your work safe.

One of the dirty linens in academia is that people steal other people’s ideas without giving them credit. It’s a nasty fucking world I tell you. Fucking cutthroat!

This happened to a colleague I know of. I am going to write this in such a way that you are able to put yourself in his shoes.

You are a resourceful Ph.D. candidate who has secured funding to work on your own projects. In one of your projects you develop a program that uses a particular technology which you present to a professor. Let’s say for example that that technology was a robot and you developed a program that teaches the robot to perform specific tasks, and move in a certain way. You show this to your professors and they love the idea and your work.

One year later your professor asks you to work with him and a professor in another Department on a project. He tells you that the other Professor uses robots in his work, and that he (your professor) chose you because of your experience in working with robots. While working on the project, you realize that your professor lacks the technical skill and knowledge to do anything. You are doing all the leg work, fixing all the problems, and making everything work. In fact, when you ask him for help in resolving problems you come across, that’s when you realize he does not know HOW to do the work. He does not know how the very thing he is working on, works. You work, design, develop and build a new robot to work with the other professor’s robot. You are a stickler for documentation and hand over your copious notes, methods, thoughts, etc. to your professor at the end of the project.

A few weeks after finishing the project a fellow colleague comes to you and asks if the professor contacted you about the Symposium. “Symposium? No, I didn’t hear of any Symposium,” you reply. Your colleague tells you that the work you developed will be presented at an upcoming Symposium. He also tells you that the professor ASKED HIM to present the work, but he said he was not comfortable doing that since it was your work and felt that you should present it. You are shocked!


Let’s pause here to catch up. This professor has possibly used your idea to collaborate with another professor and then build their work on top of it. THEN, when it comes to presenting that work, the Professor neither contacts you to tell you about the presentation, nor does he ask you to present the work. Pay attention here. If it wasn’t for your colleague – who apparently has more scruples than your professor could even dream of – you would not have known about the Symposium. The professor emails you later on that day in a frenzy asking you to present the work at the Symposium, claiming that he didn’t ask or tell you about it because he thought you might be busy. Fucking bullshit reason and you know it. Nevertheless you do present the work at the Symposium because it is your work. You did every gat damn thing!

After that first Symposium comes another bigger Symposium and the professor in an email tells you he is going. He doesn’t offer to give you a ride, or ask you if you would like to go. After the Symposium, he tells you nothing about it, how it went, or how the work was received. It is as though you didn’t even work on the project. Your Professor is also using this project to get additional funding. Just to recap, your professor is moving along with this project and not including you. I should also state that this professor is also your Advisor, so it’s not like he doesn’t see you or speak with you. It’s that when he sees you and speaks with you he NEVER mentions anything about the project you worked on. NOTHING.


One day a month or so down the road as you are walking out of your office, you see the same professor – your Advisor – with Professors and students using two of your experiments from one of your other projects in a meeting. You notice the professor – who is your Advisor, the same one who tells you nothing about the robot project, the same one who built on your previous idea for a research project – using your experiments in this meeting. You slow down to figure out what’s happening and he sheepishly calls you over and introduces you to those in the meeting. He then tells you about this grant that he won and was using your experiments because they can inform their project. He asks you to introduce your work in the meeting. Later that day he sends you an email telling you about the project, and asks you to join in, telling you that your name will be on a publication coming out of the project.


Let’s recap again. The same professor has again submitted a proposal and gotten funding based on another of your ideas. In addition, he doesn’t even have the respect and moral compass to ask your permission to borrow your experiments in his project. He uses your shit without your permission. Then, after being “caught” introduces you to the project. Also, in the development of their project, they ask you to use programs that you developed in THEIR project. You say no of course because you are still working on publishing it, and they seem to keep building their work on your ideas secretly. Do we see a theme here?

And here’s another thing, this professor is your Advisor but there is no visible contribution of his expertise in your work. Your other members are visible in your dissertation research, while his expertise is absent. In fact, you see your ideas in his funded proposals instead of seeing his input in yours. This muthafucka is a thief, an intellectual bandit. Is he using his position as your Advisor to leech off of your ideas and build his own career? Thus far we have examples and behavior to prove this is so. Bear in mind, this has implications for whether you are given credit for your work through citations, etc. In academia and research you are either first, or last. If he presents his work as his without giving you credit, you get no mileage for your work. He has essentially stolen intellectual capital from you.

After this was shared with me by my colleague, I decided to dip into my library for some perspective. I went to my 48 Laws of Power book because this sounded like psychological warfare. It did not sound collegial. I believe this professor has read this book and is unfortunately applying laws from it to build his career.


The Rules that I think he’s using are:

Law 3: Conceal your Intentions – Keep people off-balance and in the dark by never revealing the purpose behind your actions.

Law 6: Court Attention at all Cost – Everything is judged by its appearance; what is unseen counts for nothing. Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost.

Law 7: Get others to do the Work for you, but Always Take the Credit – Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause. Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a godlike aura of efficiency and speed. In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered. Never do yourself what others can do for you.

Law 8: Make other People come to you – use Bait if Necessary – When you force the other person to act, you are the one in control. It is always better to make your opponent come to you, abandoning his own plans in the process. Lure him with fabulous gains – then attack.

Law 12: Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm your Victim – One sincere and honest move will cover over dozens of dishonest ones. Open-hearted gestures of honesty and generosity bring down the guard of even the most suspicious people. Once your selective honesty opens a hole in their armor, you can deceive and manipulate them at will.

Law 13: When Asking for Help, Appeal to People’s Self-Interest, Never to their Mercy or Gratitude – If you need to turn to an ally for help, do not bother to remind him of your past assistance and good deeds. He will find a way to ignore you. Instead, uncover something in your request, or in your alliance with him, that will benefit him, and emphasize it out of all proportion. He will respond enthusiastically when he sees something to be gained for himself.

Law 14: Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy – Knowing about your rival is critical. Use spies to gather valuable information that will keep you a step ahead. Better still: Play the spy yourself.

Academia is a sick society.

When your Advisor doesn’t Advise you


Yes. This fucking happens. Some professors could give one rat-fucking butt hair about your dissertation. They are out there to get what’s theirs, and will not have you getting in their way. Let me attempt to unpack this.


When you’re a Masters student, apparently Advisors could care less about what you do. You may think it’s ground-breaking, and saving lives, but to them, you are time away from their focus on their research or their PhD students. You see, when it comes to getting tenure as a professor, having PhD students who have graduated under you is needed and important. A Masters student doesn’t do this for them. So, their strategy is to spend as little time on you as possible and focus on things that actually contribute to getting tenure. Fucked up right?! Yup! But, that’s the way the system is set up. So, if you are a Masters student working on your thesis and your “advisor” is not giving you the time of day and attention that you feel you and your work need, REACH OUT TO OTHERS. Whether you are having this problem or not, it is never a good thing to limit your association, knowledge, views, and conversations with your advisor only. Others may say differently, BUT, you will soon learn that diversifying your circle helps you more than it can ever harm. And if your advisor isn’t doing his/ her job, latch on the person(s) who are helping you and be sure to give them the credit where it is due. Keep them in your circle along the way.


Your advisor must serve some purpose on your committee. Some purposes include:

  • Content
  • Theory/ Frameworks
  • Methodology
  • Context
  • Project collaborations
  • Connections
  • Great supporter in the ring
  • Knows how to tell distractors to fuck off

These should be things you consider for anyone on your committee.


I once had an advisor who I felt could have given me more feedback on my writing when I sent him/ her stuff. So, I found another professor who was wonderful enough and did a fantastic job at reading and commenting on my writing. Although my advisor I felt dropped the ball on this, when it came to presentations and my defense, it was like Rocky Balboa and Mickey Goldmill entering the ring in presentations. S/he gave me encouraging speeches before my presentation, had my back in every way, and asked me questions to inform my audience more. S/he was the best advisor I have had thus far. Such a G! So while she faltered on one aspect, she showed up in one of the biggest ways possible. One very important way for me.


Now, in the PhD process, things are more serious and you have more to lose, including your fucking mind and reputation. There are different types of advisors. It is important like I mentioned in previous posts that you attempt to be clear on what you need/ look for in an advisor. This person should be supportive and make this period the happiest time of your life, because doing a PhD and working on exactly what you want, making a contribution to causes that are important to you, is a very rewarding and fulfilling thing. You ought to be happy. If you are not, and a professor or your Advisor is the source of that unhappiness, it’s time to figure something out.


Here are some of the types of advisors you may come along:


  1. The I-am-not-responsible-for-that Advisor:


This Advisor is very hands off and covers his/ her ass leaving you to deal with everything on your own. Should it come to a debate in a presentation of your defense, s/he remains quiet, leaving you to fend for yourself, not ever saying or doing anything to allow you to get back on your feet or inform your committee that your work did not concern that area they brought up. S/he may even let others on your committee make you change your dissertation or the direction your work was going, or let them add stuff for you to do without stepping in to say, “No, we discussed this and it is not part of his/ her work.” S/he is the king/ queen of sending cover-your-ass emails which document their not being responsible for things you do. Beware of these manipulative fuckers!


  1. The You-gotta-teach-yourself Advisor:


This Advisor does not help you. They do not work with you, they do not recommend shit for you to read, they ain’t got time for your PhD-having ass. One colleague of mine told me that s/he asked his/her Advisor for content on a field in which the advisor claimed as their expertise. The Advisor told him/ her: “No, that’s your job to find the material you need. That’s the PhD process, you have to learn how to find what you need.” WTF?????????!!!!!!!!!! Are you fucking kidding me? Why the fuck are you this student’s Advisor then? You are actually choosing to not share knowledge with this person, when it’s your fucking job?!! In this case, I would reach out like a muthaf$@#& to other people in the field to ask for content. Fuck that dumbass advisor with their lying fuckery. And if anyone who does this is reading this blog post, fuck you and the evil Segway you rode in on.


  1. The I-will-make-sure-you-don’t-graduate Advisor:


This Advisor’s students rarely graduate. S/he is deliberately preventing his/ her students from graduating so that they will keep working in his/ her lab to further their own research. They usually have a lot of projects happening, racking up points for themselves in the research column, but could give not one fuck about your timeline, life, or career when it comes to graduating. Beware of this fucker! They are selfish and only seeking their interest. If someone has a reputation of their students not graduating, watch the fuck out! And if anyone who does this is reading this blog post, fuck you and your evil fucking toenails.


  1. The Come-baby-sit-my-kids Advisor:


The best relationship you can have with your advisor is one in which there are clear lines establishing that this is a professional relationship. Some professors are very chummy and invite you to meet their families, baby-sit their kids, and dogs. I’m telling you, this can get nasty. Keep your distance. There is a thin line between love and hate. I know of many instances where Advisors used their personal knowledge of their students in ways that damaged them emotionally, professionally, and psychologically. Remain professional with your Advisor. Set the boundary for him/ her and it will be the best thing you do. It’s your choice.


  1. The I-will-steal-your-work Advisor:


This Advisor or professor only wants to be around you so they can use your data, project, or ideas. They are closely related to the I-take-all-the-credit Advisor. They will steal your shit without your knowledge, or are brazen enough to tell you they will be using your shit. And guess what, you have little recourse. They more than likely have way more resources than you to get their name on your shit faster than you can get your name on your own shit. Beware! You have to man up (or woman up) and have clear documented conversations with these people. How is your work cited, which number author are you on that paper, who will be presenting the work, etc.? Else they will screw you. Again, they only care about getting theirs, and when the stress of tenure is coming down like the hammer of Thor on them, they will eat their own – YOU. If you are one of those professors reading this blog post, fuck you and the eye-crust you woke up with this morning.

I will leave you with some good news…

  1. The I-will-be-your-mentor Advisor:


This advisor, who may or may not be your advisor or even on your committee, is someone who really has your best interest at heart. They support you, support your work, and are always there to assist you. They recommend stuff that they come across for you, are eager to write you recommendation letters, and are a listening ear when you need one. This Advisor is priceless! Do not let him/ her get away. Treat them kindly and know that they are a gem in this dirty, shark-infested water of academia.

I can write a million posts on different types of Advisors, and I am sure I will write many more, so don’t worry.

Intellectual Bends & Communication – PIs, Research Assistants, and Projects

intellectual bends

Know who you are as a PI and know who you are as a researcher/ assistant. Both parties should know how best they work and should inform each other of this. If one or neither of you are clear on this when you start a project, be sure to document how you work, how you work best, and what works for you so that you can state this in your next research project. Knowing how you work best, being able to articulate it, and discuss it with your student/ PI is a good thing.

At the beginning stages of a research project, and pretty much throughout the life of a research project, no one knows where things might go. Your project might be a resounding success, or one of many steps to enlightenment. It’s a journey of discoveries in many ways, both personally and professionally. So a good framework of certainty for this uncertainty can be how you and your team work. Both together and as individuals.

For example:

  1. Do you prefer daily or weekly meetings for updates?
  2. What time do you get in or really start getting work done?
  3. Do you work best early in the morning, or later in the evenings, or at nights?
  4. Are you expected to be in the lab everyday all the time or can you work away from the lab?
  5. How will you contact each other in case you need to? – Phone? Email? Telepathy?
  6. How do you best communicate – via email, telephone, or face-to-face meetings?

How best you communicate is an important point! Believe me! Email is the default mode of communication for most people today. This however gives rise to terrible miscommunications. I would recommend all meetings happen either by Skype or face to face. A quick email to ask a question is fine, but anything beyond that, meet face to face.

I have noticed that in a research project, especially where the PI is not working on the project directly, communication can make or break the project and the people working on it. The PI/ professor has not one fucking clue what’s happening or what needs to be done, so they assume you have been twiddling your thumbs or are incompetent. They are clueless about all that is involved administratively and otherwise for the project. I have also noticed that students/ researchers are so far down the tunnel, having to remember every single step and mistake that it can be frustrating. Especially when you have so much shit to do. I suggest having meetings often that are simply for updating your PI. Nothing else!

Meeting agenda:

  • Updating professor on the project
  • Issues/ challenges and problems encountered
  • Next steps

My reason for putting the discussion of problems separate is because sometimes professors may try to help you address problems while you are updating them, and they are really guessing here. Your work on the project may have placed you ahead of the problem and possible solutions that you tried and failed. By updating your PI on the project and introducing the problems you have encountered and solutions you have tried, you have imparted your knowledge with your PI, and have put them in the position of ASKING if you have attempted A, B, C or D, instead of assuming that you haven’t. It also gives them time to get their head in the game.

Remember, the point of your meetings are to meet each other half-way. You have to come up from the depths of the waters of knowledge to meet him/ her, and s/he has to dive down from the surface of knowledge to meet you. Going down too quickly or coming up too quickly is beneficial to neither. We don’t want to get intellectual bends do we?

Another point on communication – beware of the emails you send to others. I have seen TERRIBLE emails from PIs and professors to their students that just make you cringe. Do not get pulled down into that trench. DO NOT REPLY TO EMAILS THAT UPSET YOU. Ask to meet and speak in person. Some people are terrible human beings and having a PhD does not change that. Preserve who you are and don’t play their nasty games. They sometimes knowingly (or unknowingly) are trying to just fuck with you, and fuck with your mind. Do not let them. The PhD process is fucking hard, the job of your PI is not to make things hard for you or make you learn how hard life is by fucking you over. It is not.

  • Learn who you are
  • Communicate that to your PI/ student and your team so everyone works at their optimum, and
  • Don’t get Intellectual Bends

Don’t be fooled by Fake Diversity

All I will say here is… This:


versus, this:


The world is not homogenous, and neither is knowledge. If diversity means anything to you – AND IT SHOULD – there should be a healthy mixture of social and economic backgrounds, ethnicities, sexes, nationalities, and more in your school, college, and department. This will be reflected in publications, projects, people, and their positions. Don’t de fooled by that fake shit. The token person of color who is in every fucking photo because he/ she is the ONLY person of color. Fuck that shit!

If you like homogeneity, you won’t even notice the lack of diversity. Sadly. If you are a minority, you will notice. Do not go to an institution that practices fake diversity. Speak with people of color (PoC) to find out how they find their experience there. Your white colleague would not notice racial inequities or problems. On the other hand, minority students and professors would, since it is almost impossible for them not to.

Brains, Bureaucracy, and Bullshit!


Brains, Bureaucracy, and Bullshit!

As I go along this PhD process, not only am I learning about research, but I am also learning about the hidden minutiae of academia. I am seeing the shit that goes on, and using this information as a guide when I am finished with my PhD, is a helpful tool.

I have been paying attention to the shit they don’t tell you, until you sign that contract and show up. You are blind-sided when the mask that is shown to you during that courting period is ripped off. These notes are for my future self and to anyone who it might help. I have been thinking of what questions to ask, what do I do during the interview process to glean some insight on the brains, bureaucracy, and bullshit at an institution.


Question 1a: What has the turn-over been over the past 2 years for administrative staff?

Question 1b: What has the turn-over been over the past 3-4 years for professors?

I know a department at an institution that lost 3 admin staff within the period of 2 months! In addition, they lost 2 of their PhDs, and 4 professors, all within one year! What is going on at that institution that people are leaving in droves?

Any institution that has a high turn-over of employees is a sign that something is not right and that you should probably leave or not accept their offer. So remember to ask those questions. You can also ask, “How many of your Faculty and staff have been here for 10 years or more?” This too gives an indication of the quality of the environment, longevity, etc. The length of time someone stays at a place of employment is always a good sign of loyalty and trust.

Until you are at an institution, or know someone there who can give you the truth about a place, much of it may not come up during the interview period. The many levels, and layers of bureaucracy can make, and/ or break you and your research. The many lines of signatures, passing the buck off, and forms you have to go through to get the slightest of anything done is also something to find out about.


Let’s say you need the services of an external party, and that external party requires a signature on a form in order to proceed. How many levels in the chain of command do you need to go through in order to get a signature? Does everyone pass the buck, taking responsibility for nothing? Are people afraid to sign almost anything?

How would you find this bullshit out? Well, asking the following questions during your interview process might shed some light.

Question 2a: What’s the procedure for authorizing the ordering of materials, services, equipment, etc.? Please give me an example.

Question 2b: What’s the procedure for releasing funds for research? Please give me an example.

Question 2c: Who/ what are the steps and people needed to give the greenlight before a project begins or to request services for a research project?

If the person you ask does not know, that’s a warning sign. They should know the exact procedure. Frankly, if they don’t it might be a sign that they pass the buck off to each other, and/ or there is extremely poor communication in the department or school. They operate as silos.

You should be able to ask anyone in the department these questions, not just one or two people assigned as the “Heads.” If most people do not know the answers to these questions, it’s a sign that each person minds his/ her own business and there is a poor culture of communication and family in the department.



IRB and Academia go hand in hand. Some do it better than others. In some institutions, IRB offices are staffed with people who are educated on a variety of research practices and procedures from different fields. In others, it’s staffed by those who know little to nothing about research and are there to make sure you “follow the rules.” Terrible IRB offices can hurt you and your work. If you are spending days filling out IRB forms, and having meeting after meeting with staff because they don’t understand what you are doing, and it’s exhausting you more than it should, that’s not a good thing. If when you ask for answers to questions or clarifications, the answers are just as vague or complicated as it was before, that’s not a good sign either.

I would say it’s a good thing during the interview process to find out about the particular procedures and times it takes for IRB approval for work coming out of the department. If people don’t know, it’s a sign that they are not really doing research. Again, everyone should know the answer to this question. It will also help to ask graduate students about this. Ask them how the IRB process was for them, how long it took for approval, whether they had support from faculty and the staff, etc. Students usually are more honest than staff.

Questions might go like this:

Question 3a: What about the IRB process is different at this school from others? How long does it usually take to complete the application and get it approved?

Question 3b: How often are there IRB workshops and training sessions for students and faculty in your department?

Question 3c: Who do you like to work with best in the IRB office? How have they given insight to what research is to you? What was one issue one of your students had during the process?

The answers to these questions inform you about if there is proper communication between faculty, students, admin, and more. Do they know what the fuck happens at their IRB offices, departments and to their students? If they don’t know, it’s a sign. And if it’s a convoluted process (unnecessarily convoluted) where people pass the buck, think about that seriously.

I hope these notes help someone and prevents them from making terrible life-changing mistakes, and I will be looking back on these reminders from time to time.