Letter to Graduate Students 1 | Life After Graduate School

Dear Dr. You –

Congratulations on accomplishing one of the greatest achievements of your life! Only a few venture into PhD Land, and you were one of the brave souls to take that step. I do not know the obstacles you overcame to get here today, but I know they were many. You did it! I am so proud of you. You were tempted to quit several times. You doubted your intelligence several times. But, you held fast onto this PhDream and guess what it’s over! Pheww!! Life. Begins. Now.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Savor this moment.

Do a happy dance. In the mirror.

Do a happy dance. In the street.

Hug somebody. Squeeze them hard.

Cry those happy tears. Go ahead. I understand.

You have every right to be overwhelmed with emotion. I was too.

Dear Dr. You

The next few months is going to feel very surreal. You will stare at your diploma a few times, double checking that your name is really printed on that piece of paper. You will take Brain Trips and go back to the joyous and miserable moments of grad school. Take those trips. Relive them.

Remember when you gave your first talk at group meeting? Remember how little data you had? Remember how nervous you were? Hey, what about that time someone accidentally messed up your experiment by contaminating the incubator in the cell culture room? Or how stressed you felt when you realized that it was Year 4 and you still didn’t have any publications to your name. Remember that professor who ignored you in the hallway (even if he saw you at least once a week for two years)? But, remember how you always told him “Hi” with that Caribbean smile. And, remember when in Year 3, he finally acknowledged your presence and held the door open for you and told you Good Morning.  So, in celebration you did that happy dance and told all the guys in the lab “I won! I finally converted Professor X.” 😀

Remember when you won your first poster award? Omg. When they called YOUR name out of all those names? Remember when you started mentoring newer graduate students, showing them the ropes. Remember your first conference? Remember the first compliment your advisor gave you? Wait, Rewind. Remember again the first compliment your advisor gave you. Haha. That was a shocker, huh? Your advisor being proud of your work. Pinch me! Pinch me now! 😀

Remember the friends you made along the way? The bar crawls? The football games? Salsa dancing? Dinner parties? Those highly intellectual conversations that went on from 9p to 3a? Those coffee and cheesecake breaks?

Remember studying for quals. Failing quals. Studying again. Failing again. Studying again (last chance). Then, passing! Omg, yes! Dang, multiple choice is always so annoying. Can they just ask you questions verbally, and let you explain yourself? Jeez. Who invented multiple choice anyway.

Dr. You, life begins now. And, life now is so liberating. You feel free. Your manager at work does not send you emails at midnight, expecting a response. You now work from 8a – 5p, and you are not expected to bring work home. I’m dead serious. You do not have to work from 8a – 7p and again from 9p to midnight like before. You’re laughing? I’m not kidding. The hours from 5p to midnight are your own. Your weekends – all of Saturday and Sunday are your own. Un-freaking-believable. Pinch me! Pinch me now!

It will be a “struggle” managing all this “free time.” Heck, that’s why I’m blogging! Do you think I ever thought about blogging in grad school. Haha. Sometimes you will feel like your days are being wasted. Grad school was so hard, and well, work, work is not that challenging. You will feel like you can do so much more, but you are being limited by the politics of your organization. Don’t quit your job. Are you crazy?! I mean financial stability is amazing. Be the best you can be at work, and show them you can be even better than they expect. Who knows? Maybe you will be promoted earlier and retire younger.

See, in graduate school you always knew what was coming next. You always had a plan for this semester and next semester. You had deadlines for fellowships and grants. You registered for classes, then took classes. You did research, then presented it weekly or monthly. You did research to get publications. You published to show your expertise in your field. You marketed yourself as an “almost expert” to beef up your resume, and get a job. Now you have the job, there are project plans and there are internal deadlines. But, these deadlines may not lead to the improvement of you as an individual per se, Instead, they may feel more like an improvement to an organization. So, it may take some getting used to. And, it is a bit unclear what you will be doing next year. Or in 4 years. There are no more classes to take. There are no more graduations left. But, there are promotions. Your wings are not clipped. And, you are not limited to where you can fly. You can choose to live in the U.S., Caribbean, Europe, Africa, South America, Japan or Australia. It is the limitless opportunities in this great, big world that make you question which step to take now versus later. But, be free Dr. You. Be You. Do you. Go where the wind blows. I am super excited to see what your future holds.



Bella Agnes, Ph.D.


Inventor or Innovator?

If you were to categorize scientists/engineers as the innovative-visionaries versus the conservative-realists, then I would be in the innovator category. I have often dreamed of delivering a ground-breaking, awe-inspiring Ted Talk. Who knows? Maybe that dream will come to pass one day.

Do you know that there is a difference between an inventor and an innovator? Few scientists/engineers are both. An inventor creates a new technology/device/drug/process, and she patents it. She invents this new entity, challenges the state-of-the-art, and goes to bed feeling like Alberta Einstein. (Yes, I made Albert’s name effeminate). But, the inventor has no business savvy. To prevent the invention from only living on paper, she will (1) sell the intellectual property to a larger, more established company OR (2) partner with an entrepreneur and spinoff a new company in hopes that her technology gets commercialized OR (3) let her invention ‘die’ in the patent world, never to be heard of by you or me.

An innovator, on the other hand, improves existing designs, develops and commercializes a new technology/device/drug/process. When that new technology is marketed, the world says “Ahh, why didn’t I think of that?”

I’ll give you a great example. Have you heard of Elias Howe? Hmm. Probably not.

Have you heard of Isaac Singer? Hmm. Not sure? How about Singer Sewing Machines.

Howe’s patent for the first sewing machine was issued in 1846, but he couldn’t get investors interested in his design. Singer improved on the design and filed a patent in 1851, and he tirelessly pursued the commercialization of his design. Howe was the inventor, and Singer was the innovator. One hundred years later and Singer’s name is still synonymous with sewing machines.

Some scientists/engineers, however, can be both inventor and innovator. Just think of the Wright Brothers and the invention/innovation of the airplane ;).

I think I am more of an innovator than an inventor, but so far I have only proved that I am an inventor. I am a proud patent holder; my first of three patents was filed in 2011. And, I did explore my innovative side by founding a startup – but I opted for an industry position where I had more financial stability. And, my innovator bug is itching to “buss’ out”.