*DISCLAIMER*: This website is for educational purposes only. I am not a CFP or financial advisor. Please consult a professional before making any financial decisions.

Budgets: who’s got ’em, who wants ’em

Ah, budgets. The salad section on the menu of personal finance: you might glance at it because you know they’re good for you, but you also know damn well that you’re still going to order those truffle fries when the waiter comes. We all know that budgets are important, but it’s so difficult to stay disciplined. With so many of us on shoestring stipends, monthly spending is likely a huge stressor for grad students. While I can’t increase all our paychecks, it can be empowering to know how exactly you plan to use that money. Below are some tips to help you get started on your budgeting journey.

Continue reading “How To Budget Your Money Without Really Trying”

*DISCLAIMER*: This website is for educational purposes only. I am not a CFP or financial advisor. Please consult a professional before making any financial decisions.

Saving for retirement was one of the most daunting tasks for me when I was 22. I was newly graduated from college, moving to a new state, and starting a lab tech job in the span of about a week, and I had very little room in my brain to think about my personal finances. Luckily, I had just become an employee of a large institution, which meant the framework for the university-sponsored retirement account (a 403(b), to be specific) was basically ready to go with a whole team of administrative staff who could help me set things up. I told them how much I wanted to contribute from my paycheck every month and that was that.

Once I started grad school, though, I was on my own. Getting funded from a large training grant meant that there was no 401(k) equivalent waiting for me, so I could only rely on opening an individual retirement account, or IRA. Since then, I’ve learned a lot (and made plenty of mistakes), and while I’m still no expert, I hope I can share some tips I wish I had known from the start!

Continue reading “Saving for Retirement 101”

The Qualifying Exam Doesn’t Have to be Scary

The other day, I realized that my qualifying exam was the last true exam of my formal education. I took the exam in mid-May of 2023 and have spent the past several months reflecting on the experience, thinking about what advice I could give to the class the year behind me. I decided that, even though some of the stress was inevitable, some of it could have be avoided if I had been armed with information from the start.

For those who are unfamiliar, the qualifying exam is sort of a pre-defense of what you think your thesis will be in a research-based Ph.D. program (it is also known as a prospectus, QE, quals, and many other nicknames). Typically conducted at the end of the second year or the beginning of the third year, it involves several months of intense study of the current scientific literature and writing a scientific proposal with original experiments. The exam itself is usually a presentation of the proposal (either in chalk talk or power point form) in front of a small committee of faculty members who have already read the submitted written proposal. Passing the exam means you have satisfied all academic requirements and have the go-ahead to start working on your thesis in earnest. And yes, it is as stressful as it sounds.

Continue reading “5 Things I Wish I Knew About the Qualifying Exam”

Photo by Recha Oktaviani via Unsplash, CC0

I don’t know about you all, but I was pretty panicked when I had to figure out my taxes my first year of grad school. I had worked other jobs before, so I only understood the very basics of uploading my W-2 to a tax help website. Taxes for grad students are notoriously confusing because of our unique position as students/employees depending on the institution. As a start to the general finance side of this blog and with the tax deadline approaching in a couple months, I’ve written this guide to tackling grad student taxes. I’d like to break down the very basics of what I know about how to calculate, pay, and file taxes. We’ll use the simple scenario described below to illustrate some important points to know about the process.


Hello and welcome to the Biograduate website! My name is Tracy, and I am currently a Ph.D. student studying cell biology at the University of California, San Francisco. I’m starting this site as a repository of answers to questions that I’ve had over the years about the different aspects of grad school. We’ll cover everything from how to give presentations to how to get the most out of meetings with your advisor to how to handle imposter syndrome and more! While a lot of this will be aimed at STEM Ph.D. students, I’d like to make as many posts as possible applicable to anyone in academia. Sometimes it seems like a trial by fire is the only way to learn these things in grad school, but if we will all need to know them eventually, why not share that knowledge now?

Continue reading “What’s the Biograduate?”

If you are in a science-based Ph.D. program, you will need to write a proposal at some point. Whether it’s for a class, a qualifying exam, or a fellowship application, knowing how to formally propose experiments in writing is a key skill to develop in grad school. Unfortunately, it’snot a skill that is often taught as explicitly as it should be, and many students are thrown to the wolves if they can’t figure it out fast enough. Even if you have written one before, did you feel frantic or rushed towards the end? Were you not happy with the way you prepared and with the final product? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, this article is meant to help with some of the issues you may have experienced. Here, we will just cover the writing aspect of the proposal. Stay tuned for related future posts on how to give a chalk talk, how to make figures, and more!

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash, CC0 

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