Graduate School Horrors: Life of a PhD Candidate in the Sciences


by Lori Bystrom, PhD

Graduate school can be a tough time for scientists.  Here are ten scary examples of what can happen as you work to obtain your doctorate in the sciences.

  1. Three years into your PhD program you realize that you do not know what you are doing or where you are going.

With no clear path forward, it becomes hard not to see yourself as a zombie stuck somewhere in between life and death.


  1. Your advisor suddenly abandons you and the project (e.g., he decides to leave for another university or industry without you).

Your original research plan haunts you as you try to move on and find a new laboratory and advisor to continue the project.


  1. You show your committee members your new data that you think is very exciting, only to discover they think it is useless.

The vampires are merciless..


  1. Your experiment fails over and over again

Has someone cast an evil spell on you?


  1. You desperately look into a sea of bad data to try to find something good or at least interesting.

 Clearly an exorcism is necessary to save this project.


  1. You discover your cell lines are contaminated.

 The little monsters have attacked!


  1. You find a precious vial of your sample material – from a years worth of work – and then watch it come crashing down onto the floor.

You scream.


  1. You discover your project has been scooped and your research is not valuable anymore.

You scream again.


  1. When analyzing your experiment you discover some bizarre results that seem to come from out of nowhere.



  1. One of your committee members tells you at the last minute that they are unable to make it to the defense date you have rescheduled for the billionth time.

You fear they are trying to prevent your escape.

(Note:  if after reading this you are very scared this survival guide might help).