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Parting words and wisdom from 2016 Princeton Chemistry PhD Graduates

Profiles- - By Tien Nguyen, Department of Chemistry

Every year the chemistry department congratulates another class of newly minted PhD students and sends them off to continue onto the next phase of their career. Over the course of the students’ time here, they will have made many valuable scientific discoveries as well as memories. We asked a few recent graduates to share some of their favorite moments and their advice for incoming students:

I couldn’t have survived graduate school without…

Jack Terrett and Valerie Shurtleff

Valerie Shurtleff (MacMillan lab): My lab mates. They made good days fun, and the tough days bearable.

Brendan Phelan (Cava lab): My dog Leo and my fiancée Lauren. Having anchors outside of school help keep everything in perspective! Also, Meghan Krause, she helped me so much through the journey of graduate school.

Maor Baruch (Bocarsly lab): My close group of friends, aka “The Crew.” Every memorable experience in graduate school involved somebody from “The Crew” in one way or another. We were there for one another through thick and thin. The phrase “I get by with a little help from my friends” is a perfect summary of these last 5 years.

My advice to incoming graduate students is…

Max Friedfeld (Chirik lab): When you’re stuck in the weeds of your project, keep track of the big picture impacts of your work. 

Max Friedfeld with intramural chemistry softball team

James White (Bocarsly lab): Not to listen to your adviser all the time, since she or he is not as intimately familiar with the actual work as you are and sometimes she or he just has bad ideas.

Baruch: To find a balance between your work and personal lives. Despite what your peers and advisors want you to believe, there is more to life than just research. When the graduate school woes inevitably strike, you will need your family, network of friends, and hobbies to get you through. Graduate school is meant to be excruciatingly difficult, but your overall well being should always be your first priority.   

Lisa Yates (Fiedler lab): Don’t be afraid to change projects if yours is not working well and to make sure you have a support network beyond the lab to draw strength form.

One thing I’ll miss about being a graduate student is…

Students, researchers and staff enjoying buffet lunch at Fricknic

White: The vast quantity of free food that Frick had to offer.

Shurtleff: The vibrant work atmosphere and the freedom to chase down crazy ideas.

Yates: Being surrounded by passionate people and spending time with my colleagues that became close friends.

Baruch: The free food! The free food culture in graduate school is both hilarious and delicious. 

The best idea I had during my time here was…

David MacMillan’s office filled with balloons

​Shurtleff: Filling my boss office with 900 balloons that had his face printed on them. I actually can’t remember if this was originally my idea or not, but I’m proud to have contributed to it either way.

Friedfeld: To try experiments that shouldn’t have worked based on our previous assumptions (which turned out to be wrong).

Yates: To jump on a project that needed support when mine wasn’t working and help the team succeed. Everything successful that occurred during my PhD was because of my change to that project.

Phelan: It was a collaborative effort, but I’m very proud of the Cava Lab’s “Bagel Days.”

Baruch: To work with my lab mates rather than against them. Very few scientific papers are published without extensive collaboration. I am glad that I stopped thinking of myself as a “one man army,” and started working with others. Collaboration is always mutually beneficial.