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The Worlds First Empirical ‘How-To’ Get Into Graduate School Book

Many years ago as a graduate student at the College of William & Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, my former officemate (Noelle Relles) and I came up with a novel idea: take all the disparate information out there about strategies for getting into graduate school in the natural sciences and coalesce them into a single concise yet comprehensive text. Essentially develop a How-To book about graduate school. But we wanted the book to be more than just instructional anecdotes. We were scientist, and thought it would be useful to add a level of empiricism to the book. We wanted to write a How-To book where the conclusion were driven by results from a national survey of graduate admissions offices in the USA. At the time, writing a book based on a national survey of graduate programs seemed like quite a long-shot as we were both a number of years removed from getting our PhDs, and the most pressing issues in our lives at that time were graduating and finding free food and alcohol.

Living the life of a graduate student at VIMS’ infamous Fall Party. (Photo credit: Kersey Sturdivant)

We decided to shelve the “project” until we both graduated, meaning we did not revisit the idea of writing a book about graduate school for a few years. Finally in the summer of 2012 we developed a book proposal and set out to secure a publishing deal with one of the majors. After being initially rejected by McGraw-Hill, we finally got offers from Springer Publishing, Oxford Press, and Cambridge University Press. We chose Cambridge and spent the next four years on an interesting yet rewarding journey full of challenges and spontaneity. This journey culminated in the production of the worlds first empirical How-To book, “Getting into Graduate School in the Sciences: A Step-By-Step Guide for Students”.

Cambridge University Press webpage for Getting Into Graduate School in the Sciences. (Photo credit: Cambridge University Press)

While I am admittedly biased, I do believe we have produced a great product that can be purchased from the Cambridge University Press website, Amazon, and Barnes and Nobles among others. This informative and humorous guide for life and earth science students offers comprehensive advice to help students prepare and increase chances of application success. Adopting a step-by-step approach, we guide students through the entire application process, from undergraduate preparation and choice of graduate program, to funding, applying, scheduling a visit, and finally deciding which offer to accept. Based extensively on a comprehensive survey of graduate admissions programs across the United States, the advice offered is evidence-based and specific to the natural sciences. And the book has pictures! We have also incorporated a number of PhD Comics strips along with the text and figures. There is also a great story about an interaction I had with PhD Comics creator Jorge Cham in order to get access to their comics.

The Book (Photo credit: Kersey Sturdivant)

Noelle and I  thought it would be cool to have some of the PhD Comic strips in the book and I emailed them about including their comics in our book. My email response went unanswered as did a few other email attempts. There was no contact number on the site, so I began scouring the internet for contact information for someone at PhD Comics. On google search page number 45 or so, I found an old CV of Jorge Cham that had a cell number listed. I thought, what the hell, and called the number. Jorge answered, and from the sound of kids crying in the background, I was clearly disturbing him at home. Undeterred I pushed forward with the pitch, he thought it was a great idea, and we now have his most awesome comics in our book!

So after this long journey we are both pleased to bring this book to the masses, and super stoked to have published our first book!  If you know of anyone applying to graduate school, definitely make them aware of this useful text!

Noelle with our book (Photo credit: Noelle Relles)

Kersey out celebrating with his book. (Photo credit: Kersey Sturdivant)