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Learn what people really do at work

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Graduate Student/Graduate Researcher – Marine Sciences


  • What tasks do you do on a typical day, and how much time do you spend on each?

I structure my workload by the week, and acquire new tasks and insight from research meetings. If I’m not in a meeting, I’m probably writing code. The code that I write generally does one of two things: run a simulation according to guidelines discussed in a research meeting, or to generate graphics from a completed simulation. Those graphics eventually will end up in a powerpoint presentation for a research meeting or seminar, a conference poster, or a research publication.

  • What are the most and least challenging aspects of your job?

The least challenging aspect of my job is the flexibility. I can basically wake up whenever I want if I’m not giving a talk or presenting in a meeting that day. The most challenging aspect of my job is how inconsistent it can be at times. Being a student in my field as well as an entry level researcher means that your mind has to be all over the place sometimes. It can be hard to articulate things clearly between research fields, and that leads to some stress.

  • How does your actual job differ from what your job title implies? If you could change your title to something more accurate, what would it be?

I have much more in common with an investment banker or actuary than I do with an zookeeper. I might change my title to “Graduate Research Assistant – Marine Statistics”

  • How did you get your job, and how did you end up in this line of work and industry?

I worked in a government research lab for a summer as an undergraduate researcher, and applied to grad school to do tangentially similar work.

  • What do you like and dislike most about your job?

I like how my work is cutting edge and cerebral, but I also dislike how nobody has more than a basic understanding of what I study because it’s so complicated. Also, the politics can get petty at times.

  • What do you do when you need help accomplishing a difficult task or surmounting a problem?

I bring up my challenges or problems at the next research meeting, or I communicate it through email or IM with people working on my project depending on the feasibility of the communication medium, and who ought to know about it.

  • What are the biggest success factors for your work?


  • What types of equipment, hardware, computer applications and other tools and resources do you use in your work?

Terminal, text editor, SSH, MATLAB, and Powerpoint are the main tools of my trade.

  • Do you communicate internally and externally more via phone, email, face-to-face, or some other way?

Usually communication occurs through conference calls or email, but IM and face-to-face are good when hashing out a complicated idea, or dealing with a private concern.

  • How many hours, and what hours, do you work every day?

This varies. I’ve had days where all I did was spend an hour or two changing a few lines of code, start a few simulations, and then head home to do whatever. So those are 1 PM – 3PM days. Other times, I’ll have 12 simulations that I need to produce a narrative for at the last minute. I’ve worked 9 AM to 11 PM in that type of scenario, or 11 AM to 2 AM, etc.

  • What is the organizational structure, and what are the job titles of people you report to and of people who report to you?

Typical structure of a grad student in the sciences, I think. I have an advisor and a committee. Some of my committee members are co-PIs on my research project. They’ve secured the funding and essentially determine the direction of the project, while I do the technical stuff.

  • What and how did previous jobs prepare you to do your current job effectively?

I think my current job has prepared me to do my current job effectively? I definitely didn’t learn how to work like this as an undergrad, or as an intern.

  • Do you work for a private or public company, government, an NGO, or are you self-employed?

I work for a public university, and my funding comes from the federal government.

  • What’s your educational background, and how well did it or didn’t it prepare you for your current job?

I have an undergraduate math degree. It prepared me to not be as intimidated by math.

  • How are performance evaluations or reviews done, and how often?

Every term, there is a committee meeting where I give a presentation on my research progress and discuss my degree-getting progress.

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