CIDD Graduate Students: What do we do?

Many of us including graduate students, post docs, and faculty, gathered together on Monday to discuss who we are as CIDD, what we expect of ourselves, and what the faculty expect of us. Additionally, we discussed and proposed multiple venues in which students and post docs would have the opportunity to discuss their ideas, research/data, job opportunities, and life in general. So for those of you who are curious about grad life at CIDD or are hopelessly wishing for more scientific opportunities to land at your feet…pay attention.

The Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics (CIDD) is a group of faculty, post docs, graduate students, and undergrads who have voluntarily come together across many academic disciplines to discuss the science surrounding infectious disease. This could be in the form of proposed ideas, data, and formalized seminars. The main point that you should remember is that CIDD is open to anyone and EVERYONE! The topics we discuss range from proteins to pandemics and we are excited about everything in-between.


On behalf of the faculty that were present at this meeting, I have put together a small list of some of the characteristics mentioned that graduate students coming out of a Ph.D. program (and CIDD) should have.

  • Ancestry (who is your PI)

This has always been important in science and I’m sure we are all aware of that. Don’t fret however, this can be overcome! The faculty stressed that your academic pedigree was important, but can easily be compensated with high marks in the next few categories.

  • Productivity

It should be noted that productivity can come in many shapes and sizes. For one, productivity does NOT just mean publications. This category is a broad one, it can include any and all achievements that you feel will enhance both your CV as well as your scientific thinking and capability. For example, outreach in the scientific community is extremely valuable! Another great example, one of our CIDD grads is interning at a local radio station. We’ve heard stories about faculty who started out writing a scientific column for their local newspaper. Publications are important but be sure not to have tunnel vision, remember that enhancing your resumé can happen through many different avenues.

  • Self-starter/trail blazer

This idea was brought up with the intent of emphasizing how great it looks to faculty/institutions who are looking to hire someone, if you can demonstrate the ability to be decisive and think on your own. You had the guts to start a project that was on the fringes of your PI’s current research. Or maybe you took an existing research idea, expanded it, and went in a completely different direction than those before you. The main point here is to not be afraid to branch out of your (and your PI’s) comfort zone. I should point out that this idea includes the ability to troubleshoot. We all know that at some point(s) in your scientific endeavors, things will just not work. No matter how hard you repeat them, push them, beat your head against the lab bench, or cry, they will still…not. work. Having the determination to keep trying, research alternatives, and troubleshoot the problem will take you far in your career. People notice those who choose to give up and those who choose not to.

  • Breadth of knowledge and understanding at every level (micro to macro/population level)

One of the final ideas that the faculty presented was that they hope graduate students leaving CIDD will have a large breadth of knowledge and strong understanding at “every level.” As I mentioned before, CIDD covers a wide array of topics and spans multiple disciplines; therefore, the students who come out of CIDD should be able to intellectually discuss everything from proteins to pandemics. There’s that phrase again. This is especially important because as a student, you don’t want to limit yourself–be open to learning how to model malaria outbreaks as well as how to study the molecular mechanisms of herpes simplex virus transmission. Even if you are not proficient in every area, being familiar and having a general understanding will open many additional doors that may have not existed otherwise.


There are many  opportunities on Penn State’s campus that can provide you the ability to grow as a scientist. In terms of CIDD, there are biweekly seminars on both Mondays and Thursdays in which Penn State faculty as well as visiting faculty from around the world come to discuss their research and ideas. The Monday seminars (CIDD Lunch!) are from 12-1 pm and are designed to be a bit more informal and low-key. Thurday’s talks (CIDD Seminar!) are formal seminars from 11-12 pm and if the speaker is from outside of Penn State, the CIDD Graduate Student Association always hosts a luncheon with the speaker immediately following their seminar. These lunches are open to any graduate student or post doc who has an interest in talking with the speaker and can include discussions about research, job opportunities, methodology, and even general life advice from a fellow scientist. Polls are sent out typically the Friday before a speaker is scheduled to talk on the CIDD GSA website–sign up if you’re interested! (You get a free lunch too!) Furthermore, the visiting speakers mosey downtown to one of the many bars (usually Allenstreet Grill but possibly Liberty in the future) around 4:30-5 pm on the day of their seminar. Students are encouraged to grab drinks with the visiting faculty member and have an additional opportunity to talk science in a relaxed setting.

Additionally, there are many thesis defense seminars that are open to the public and advertised on the science seminars website. One of our post docs brought up the great point that these talks are a perfect avenue to learn about a topic outside of your field! Typically, a thesis defense is well-organized and begins from a basic 30,000 foot view and eventually dives deep down into the detailed science of the person’s specific project. These are spot-on for those trying to improve their “breadth of knowledge!”

Finally, the CIDD GSA holds a monthly journal club where at each meeting, a CIDD faculty member is invited to discuss a paper that is relevant to their research. This platform provides students, post docs, and faculty the chance to hear from their peers, ask questions in a non-threatening environment, and learn about topics outside of their field. Remember: breadth of knowledge! At this moment in time, the journal club date(s) and time have not been nailed down but we, the CIDD GSA are working on it! Keep a lookout on the website for an updated date(s) and time.

We look forward to seeing you at CIDD journal club, lunches, seminars, and even our peers thesis defense talks! Until then, stay nerdy and focus on the big picture: proteins to pandemics.



About shipleym8

Graduate student hailing from the great Pacific Northwest! I currently study Herpes Simplex Virus in a human neuronal model in Dr. Moriah Szpara's lab. I'm interested in using this model to answer key questions that remain elusive in the field about neuron-virus interactions in vitro. In my free time I enjoy being outside--hiking, playing soccer, camping, and crabbing. Lover of dogs, science, and sports.
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