Rafael L. Rodríguez
Behavior and Evolution

Grad School 101

I was very lucky in having great advisors, and projects that worked out very well. Here are some things that I’ve learned, that may help as you decide whether to go to grad school, where, and with whom.

What’s grad school like?

It is very much like an old-fashioned apprenticeship. You interact closely with your advisor and with a few lab mates, and you learn most from the informal interactions. There is formal instruction, but the most important bits come from conversations over coffee, from the literature review that your chosen subject leads you to, from the lessons that your chosen bug has to teach.

It is vitally important to drench yourself in the current theory of your field early on, and then thoroughly apply your research to the contributions that your bug can add.

It is important to choose an advisor and lab with whom you will interact well. But you can’t know that until you’re there. There’s the rub. Still, take your time, contact your potential advisor and lab mates and ask them what it’s like there. If you have the chance, visit.

Just when you’re getting the hang of it, it will be time to graduate and leave. This is hard, because grad school is close to the perfect setting to engage in scholarship, and it is a lot of fun. So it is useful to remind yourself that it is suppossed to be a brief period of intense training.

Applying for Grad School:

Look at several potential universities and advisors according to your area of interest.

Contact your potential advisors before you apply to the school. If you have somebody who is interested in you inside the school, the application process runs much better.


There are some options, and most people use a few during their graduate careers. Schools vary in the length of time they will commit support (say, in how many years a TAship is secured), so check up on these details.

You don’t need to work this out before you apply, or even soon after you begin. This is simply some info that may be helpful. And don’t let it draw your mind away from the main thing: the people you will interact with.


• Work as a Teaching Assistant in labs for courses taught at your school (and sometimes outside).
• Most people spend some or all of their graduate careers as TA’s.
• The teaching helps your CV, but not as much as teaching a class, which in turn pays less and takes much more time.
• More independence from your advisor.
• Less time for your reading, research, and writing.

• Work as a Research Assistant in a funded project of your advisor’s.
• You may work on your research full time. Even if it is not your project, you may have more time for it than if you TA.
• More pressure from your advisor (which is not necessarily bad)
• Grants run out.

Scholarships and fellowships from within and outside your school and university.
• Looks fantastic on your CV.
• You get a stipend, and/or money to hire assistants and buy supplies.
• For some, you can apply before you’re admitted to grad school. If you win, you’ll be very appealing.
• Very competitive.
• Some people with fellowships get less mentoring from their advisors. (I don’t know why, but be careful it doesn’t happen to you.)

Some Sources of Funding Within UWM:

Some Sources of Funding at the US/Global Level:

Department of Biological Sciences Lapham Hall, 3209 N. Maryland Avenue, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI 53201, USA