So you want a PhD…

For those of you who love studying or want to go deeper into your field of study joining a PhD program is a great opportunity. I had the privilege of talking to Whitney Lai a current PhD, who graduated in 2015 after receiving her Bioengineering degree from Lehigh. Below are her answers to questions many undergraduate student may have about getting and applying for a PhD program.


Whitney Lai-Lehigh Class of 2015 

What made you decide to pursue graduate school at Lehigh? Did you consider other Universities?

I have been working in a lab as a research assistant for two years as an undergraduate student. I was approached by my professor during my senior year and he asked me if I would be interested in pursuing graduate school. I actually never considered pursuing graduate school due to financial issues so I didn’t even consider other universities. After discussing with my professor for a very long time, I decided to give it a shot and applied.

I received my acceptance letter during the summer. At that time, I had already graduated and was interning at Becton Dickinson. I was faced with the decision of continuing industry job or graduate school- I was lost. I realized that I had a lot of regrets as an undergraduate student. I was a Bioengineer in the pharmaceutical track but I didn’t seem to like pharmaceuticals very much. Through the internship, I noticed that I actually much more interested in medical devices. I wished I had explored different fields in bioengineering as an undergraduate school – prosthetics, medical devices, pharmaceuticals; I wished I had learned a coding software, taken an imaging course; etc. College is full of all these resources, yet I was so focused on getting what I have in front of me perfect that I let all these opportunities slip by. I didn’t know what I like and don’t like. That was why I decided to go back to graduate school – I want to take the opportunity to explore and learn more about what my interests and passions are. I didn’t want to to be tied down with a job where I don’t even know I would enjoy and live with the rest of my life with “what ifs.”

What is the process of applying for graduate school? Is it a lot like undergrad?

The process of applying for graduate school is very similar to undergraduate school process. You need to take the GRE, submit a general application, an application essay, video introduction of yourself, transcript, and 2-3 recommendation letters.

How did you prepare to take the GRE?

I used Magoosh. I’ve got to say – it was my life savior. It gave me different study plans depending on how much time I have left until my exam date. The best part about Magoosh is that it categorizes and analyzes the types of questions you are weakest at. You can customize test questions so that you can target your weak subjects.

Do you have any ideas on what your thesis will be?

To be honest, I have no idea! I’m exploring different research projects, taking random courses in other fields and being involved in other projects outside of school. Hopefully by the end of this year, I’ll come up with a research project that I am passionate about for the next 3 years!

How has being a graduate student at Lehigh changed your perspective on your undergraduate education?

There are definitely things I realized as a graduate student. Unlike undergraduate school where you have 5-6 courses and finals back to back, you actually have 2-3 courses in graduate school and 1-2 finals. This allows you to actually learn and soak in the information and apply it in your research.

How involved are you in the lab and how much autonomy do you have?

I am very involved in lab. I am practically in lab whenever I am not in class. It’s kind of like a full-time job plus sometimes you work overtime! My research involves a lot of biology and sometimes there are very long wait times (2-7 hours). There are also some research projects where it is time sensitive and I have to be there for 6 hours straight. Overall, I think it is worth it – there’s nothing more satisfying when you produce useful data results at the end of the day!

What do you see yourself doing after graduate school?

I am currently keeping my options open and exploring different fields. I am currently geared towards working for the medical device industry and am considering hospital administration.

Do you have any advice for current students thinking about graduate school?

Think about what your interests are and do your homework! Make sure the university you are applying are conducting research that you are passionate about. Most importantly, you must do background research on your advisor. Your graduate experience is very dependent on your advisor.

Is there anything you wish you had known before deciding to pursue graduate school?

The amount of time commitment you have to put into your research.

What is your favorite part about being a graduate student?

There is a lot more freedom. Although labwork can be time consuming, you can schedule your day accordingly to however you want.

What did you do about finding funding?

Actually, if you are a phD student, your tuition is automatically waived and you get a pretty decent stipend!

How many other graduate students do you work with?

I currently work with 3 graduate students.

Hope this helps everyone to understand more what it is like to be a graduate student!!



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