All his life, David H. Nguyen prepared to be a scientist, and getting a Ph.D. at Berkeley was an important step in that process.
During high school in Los Angeles, Nguyen assisted in laboratories at the University of Southern California whenever he could and received good grades. He attended UC Berkeley for his undergraduate degree, majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology. Nguyen excelled within the academic paradigm: work hard and receive good grades.
However, after beginning doctoral studies at Berkeley, the paradigm changed, he said. He noticed that his tried-and-true method of studying hard and testing well wasn’t the sole key to success at the graduate level.
“One of the most difficult aspects of graduate or professional school is adjusting to a system in which the attainment of success is based on subjective factors,” wrote Nguyen in his recently published book, Tips for Surviving Graduate School.
Networking with faculty and the ability to solve the right problem to move a body of knowledge forward is valued more in grad school than the ability to get good grades on a test, he said.
Problems in his personal relationships and unforeseen logistical challenges to his research conspired to send Nguyen into depression. Eventually he decided to take time off from school to recuperate. He sought therapy through professional counselors, including those at the University Health Services’ Tang Center, where he learned to identify unhealthy thought patterns. After a one-semester hiatus, Nguyen reenrolled to complete his doctorate.
Because Nguyen is very open about his struggle, other students would later come to him for advice. After doling out advice to countless graduate students over the years, Nguyen decided to write a book on how to survive graduate school.
The goal in writing this book, he said, “is to give perspective to graduate students to teach them that what makes people spiral into deeper depression are the reinforcement of negative thought processes with more negative thoughts.
Nguyen completed his Ph.D. in Endocrinology in 2011. He is now publishing his own public health and social justice magazine while teaching at the University of San Francisco. He also works part time as a bioinformatician at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
The first chapter of the three-chapter guide is available for free. The complete guide is available here for $2.99.