Three houseplants in vases are on a bookshelf surrounded by books. Two hanging plants are seen above the books.
Three houseplants in vases are on a bookshelf surrounded by books. Two hanging plants are seen above the books.
Are you wondering where to begin with prepping for Ph.D qualifying exams (especially if you’re a first-gen student)? Read on.

Beginnings can be overwhelming

Once I had a date planned for my Ph.D. qualifying exams, it took me a while to process where to begin. My project and interests felt very interdisciplinary in genomics and I found myself brainstorming how I’d tackle reading papers at the intersections of human evolution, repetitive DNA, microscopy, and computational biology. Even more so, I had to navigate conversations about planning, writing, and preparing for my exam, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 with my exam date being set for early June. Yikes!

If you’re in a similar position where you might need to take…


A person of color is standing beside a large erlenmeyer flask. They are content and happy.
A person of color is standing beside a large erlenmeyer flask. They are content and happy.

As graduate program interview season begins, I’m reflecting on how I chose my current graduate program for my PhD studies. As a queer and nonbinary first-generation student of color, for me, welcoming communities, supportive mentorship, and resources to help me achieve my personal and professional career goals came to the forefront of my decision making. For incoming trainees who belong to underrepresented groups* and are marginalized in STEM fields, preparing for graduate interviews can feel exciting yet daunting.

Here, I’ve attempted to compile several questions and reflection prompts that may help you contextualize and process your graduate school interviews as…

Robin Aguilar (they/them/theirs/elle)

PhD Candidate at UW Genome Sciences, computational biologist, probably drawing or writing, disruptor, they/them/theirs

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