Happy graduation! Whether you graduated last week or twenty years ago, the experience is roughly the same. As soon as you arrive on the far side of the stage, empty diploma folder under your arm, hand still sticky from the Dean’s sweaty handshake, the reality of post-academic life sets in. Perhaps grad school is on the horizon for some and others might be busy prepping for med school. For some of us, though, our years of formal education end after four and we run off to rejoice in our newfound freedom. No more exams, group projects, late nights writing papers, disapproving professors, supervisors and mentors – done with that life forever! We didn’t even bother with the GRE, MCAT, LSAT or a single “Why [insert school]” essay. Now it’s off to enjoy the Real World, which will definitely be better than college.
I’ve found, in my one year of post-college life, that sometimes you can miss academic life. You’ll occasionally look back and think, “I didn’t know how good I had it.” In particular, those of us with a pure love of learning can find ourselves unsatisfied with our prospective learning opportunities or lack thereof. We spent college soaking up mountains of knowledge–and not just from textbooks. University life gives you access to free talks from eminent thought leaders, unrestricted access to myriad scientific journals, and plenty of people around who are eager to argue about that day’s lecture in Cell Biology or Neuroscience. After college, it’s tough to fill that void.
I work at Promega (obviously), a biotech company, so I still have access to journals and there are plenty of brilliant scientists around me. However, I’m still looking for more opportunities to learn and grow. I may be out of school, but the love of science never goes away. Here are a few of my tips for everyone receiving their hard-earned science degree this spring.
Find a University
Is it cheating that my first tip for learning after college is to go back to school? I’m not suggesting to enroll in more classes, unless that’s what you want. Universities often have extensive programs for community members – open lectures, discussion groups, demonstrations and workshops. At the University of Wisconsin – Madison, for example, hosts Wednesday Nite @ The Lab, where UW researchers discuss the strategies, triumphs and challenges of their active research projects. Northwestern University (my alma mater!) has an annual public lecture series that has featured experts in topics such as the microbiome, synthetic biology, personal genome sequencing and circadian rhythm.
Look for offices that have to do with outreach and engagement or check the events calendars of departments like Biology and Chemistry. I’ve also found event listings on the Alumni Association and Continuing Education pages.
Sure, you can’t read every article about epigenetic memory in Nature Cell Biology anymore, but I’m guessing you’re okay with that. Now that you’re out of journal club, finding the right scientific news sources can be tough. There are hundreds of publications that cover scientific topics, but how can you tell the PopSci from the Nature? (No offense if you like PopSci – it’s not for me.)
Bottom line: As long as the publication covers topics you enjoy and accurately represents the science, you can’t go wrong. I enjoy Science Magazine – published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, they take you straight to the primary sources of groundbreaking research. For a free option, I like ScienceNews.org – they still publish the occasional over-excited post about wacky animals and bizarre research findings, but they also do a good job covering the important advancements in fields like molecular biology.
When I open Twitter, my feed is an even mixture of bizarre memes and scientific news. The key is to find people you trust – Carl Zimmer and Ed Yong, for example – and follow them. Once you start with a few, you’ll notice others being retweeted into your feed. These science communicators share their own work, boost their friends’ work and tweet interesting tidbits from their conversations with scientists. You can also cut the middleman and go straight to the scientists, though it can be tough to find ones who produce engaging streams of content about their work.
If Twitter isn’t your idea of a good time, dust off that LinkedIn profile and start making use of your network. Connect with your old professors so you can see what they’re up to. Send connection requests to speakers you enjoyed. If they decline, you haven’t lost anything. If they accept, you get a firsthand look at their research.
Don’t Forget Your Friends
I’m not saying you’ll all grow apart, but…just trust me, it’s pretty easy to let that happen. Call up your friend in grad school or find time to visit them. Don’t complain when they ramble on about microscopy for too long. Instead, ask questions, dig into the details and try to understand why they’re interested in their project. Ask them about their PI and the other projects going on around them. And don’t forget your med student friends! Are they passionate about the kidneys? See what they can teach you about the kidneys, liver or even ethical dilemmas in the clinic.
If your friends are excited about their work, I promise it won’t be a boring chat.
You’ll definitely miss college; I can’t fix everything. While your days of shotgunning beers at 1pm and DJ’ing frat parties are over, the scientific learning never has to stop. Savor your graduation and embrace your next steps, but never stop searching for the answers that drove you to study science in the first place.