An ICB podcast referral : A chat with Papa PhD



Interview completed by the Managing Editor for ICB and IOB , Suzanne Miller: 

In my continued search for new science podcasts, I happened upon Papa PhD hosted and produced by its creator David Mendes. 

This podcast has wonderful interviews with those who’ve completed their PhD’s where they talk about what brought them to the path they are currently on in their career. When it comes to thinking about networking and thinking outside the box as far as next steps after your PhD program, this is the podcast to subscribe to. 


The interview: 

What was the impetus for your podcast?

The reason I launched Papa PhD was a realization that doctoral researchers out there were still dealing with a lot of doubt and anxiety, 10 years down the road from my defense. This realization came after being invited to talk in different PhD career panels and at meetings.
If I can help in any way with my own lessons learned, I’m game for that. 

I realized that I could help and inspire researchers out there by sharing the career journeys of people who have gone down that path before.

I’ve always liked computers and audio, I realized that the podcast medium is growing fast and the barriers to starting them are steadily getting lower. I had a lull when a project finished so I decided to start a podcast to inspire people by showcasing what they can do professionally after their graduate studies. 

There was one episode where someone mentions serendipity – doors opening that you didn’t expect, then you must try to go in and see if opportunity presents itself. 

Which episode has been one of your favorites so far and why? 

Each interview has its own particular  interest for me, but if I have too single one out, I’d say episode 24 with Fabio Rosa, Gil Costa, and Patricia Monteiro. It was my second live recording and the first with multiple guests. 

What I really like about this episode is that I had the opportunity to have a PhD student, a PhD who left academia, and a professor around the same table. This made for a really rich interview, covering such subjects as starting a business during your PhD, going freelance, science communication and outreach, as well as the importance of women as role models in the STEM space.

I’ve had various surprises, where guests share about their past extracurricular activities, such as competition-level sports, and about how these eventually played a central role later on, when interviewing for jobs. 

One of my main motivations for starting Papa PhD, was to cover mental health issues as well. 

I’m from Portugal, originally, and when you’re away from home things can be tough. 

If you hit a roadblock early in your graduate studies, then you can begin to fear failure. 

I ended up defending my thesis without published articles, and this meant I would not be going into academia. This was a struggle and I used all the resources I could at my university, a PhD support group, an imposter syndrome workshop, and counseling services. After turning in my thesis, I ended up getting a job as a medical writer. 6 years later I ended up being published. 

Aside from my own hardships during my PhD process, it’s clear from Twitter that people are talking about struggle and difficulties going through grad school, especially PhD candidates. A lot of what is said on social media around life as a PhD researcher has to do with mental health issues. 

What was your original tract?

I was majoring in cell biology and biochemistry. I thought I’d like to be a professor and you must have a PhD. I’ve always loved science and apart from languages, it was what I was good at. 

Eventually you find that out of 100 people who go into grad school 10 stay in the academic tract and other 90 can do other positions. 

This is another thing that should be put out there, the stats on professorship, 

Have you changed your opinion or would you still be a professor? 

I’m more and more attracted to doing science outreach and science communication. 

Are there ways you feel the scientific community could better support PhD students? 

One of the things that’s come up during my interviews is that someone told me in my graduate studies, to always write graduate researcher when giving myself a title on applications, not graduate student. Thinking of people in this prism is better and will give you a better self value. 

Saying you’re a researcher changes how people look at you and how you see yourself. 

All the conversations I’ve been having point towards a change in mindsets , those of institutions and professors. A PhD program should make it easier for people to have a growth experience.

They should also keep in mind that someone can enter a PhD in neuroscience and have other interests like playing in a band or have an interest in history. They should accept this and realize those people can still bring valuable contributions. Some labs don’t like for you to have any focus other than your research and this kind of weight can be damaging. This kind of mentality can have impacts on happiness and also in their research. Lab teams that are as diverse as possible, in interests, backgrounds, and attributes. Promoting diversity in teams of graduate researchers is key. Grad students should not be made to feel guilty for being multifaceted. 

If we are all beige it gets boring and it doesn’t lead to the most productive work or good mental health. 

Another way institutions can help is by using their platform to bring possible players to campus to show them alternatives to the traditional PhD tract – bringing employers to PhD career fairs.This exposes them to possibilities. Only universities have the clout to do this. 

What are some of the biggest challenges you feel the PhD community faces in the next decade? 

We as people entering graduate studies need to update our outlook on our possibilities afterwards. Expectations must change. Institutions also must accept that people will come in who don’t want to be professors mandatorily.  The challenge is breaking a culture that goes way back, an ancient culture. We are still living by these standards even though the reality has changed. Decades ago, you were assured that if you finished your PhD, you’d have a tenured position, but this is not the reality now. The system is built for a reality that no longer exists. 

The PhD is a great experience and you will grow a lot as a person and an intellect. You will have accrued skills in team and project management or stock management if you’re in bio science, for example. It’s very pertinent to do a PhD if you’re the kind of person who wants to do something new. Though, we’ll set ourselves up for less doubt and depression if we make the shift and work towards the new reality. 

Change is very hard, however I’ve met professors who are very forward thinking then there are the other ones who are very one sided and don’t feel multifaceted people will bring anything to their team. To change this is like stopping a train that’s moving very fast. 

There has to continue to be conversations between the teaching and student body and gradually change will happen. 


Author: Isaac Ligocki

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: