PhD Life at F&ES

PhD Life at F&ES

Most of our students at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies are Master’s candidates, but we also have many PhD students pursuing their doctorate degrees in a variety of disciplines. I interviewed a few PhD students about student life at F&ES, and they filled me in on their experiences as well as gave advice for prospective students.

“FES is a wonderful place to pursue a PhD with an environmental focus. It really is the best of both worlds – I’m a part of a hydrology- and biogeochemistry-focused lab group and a member of the broader FES community. This unique environment constantly reminds me of the importance of scientifically rigorous research that will help inform current environmental issues. I was lucky to earn my MESc degree from FES in 2015. Completing the MESc degree introduced me to the school’s unique culture, my current research topics, and the professors and students with whom I continue to work.” – Kelly Aho

“I’d say PhD is a long journey that flies by fast. F&ES here provides a quite supportive environment for this process.” – Hao Deng

“1) Accept that feeling lost and overwhelmed is the norm for the first year
2) Get into the fieldwork as quickly as possible, and take a course on methods in your first year
3) The qualifying exam can actually be a highlight of the Phd — everything finally comes together — don’t fear it.”
– Jasmine Hyman

“The F&ES PhD program provides the flexibility and support to take on transformative research, to pursue something you’re truly inspired by, which may not otherwise find its way into the world.” – Gabriel Grant

“The PhD program at FES is exceptional in the degree of academic flexibility it provides its students. We’re encouraged to create our own dissertation from the ground up, and the diversity of interests among the FES faculty allows us to conduct truly novel research that spans academic disciplines. The PhD program is relatively small, adding to the ‘close-knit’ feel of the community, and we can always depend on the support and guidance of fellow doctoral students when it comes to research or general work-life balance.” – Dan Maynard

And finally, from Jesse Burkhardt:

“Doing a Ph.D. is like having a job in which you get paid to learn and think about problems that you want to think about and no one cares when you do it. It is a pretty great life for those that like minimal structure and the freedom to explore your interests.

Taking first year classes at the Ph.D. level is like going through a brutal initiation process. If you decide to do a PhD in economics, get a PhD in math first, or at least an undergrad in math.

Some people say that doing a PhD is hard and they want to wait to have kids until they have finished grad school. I disagree. Having kids during my PhD was an awesome choice. However, I believe that there is never a perfect time to have kids, except that when you have kids, it is the perfect time to have them. So, having kids after grad school could be the perfect time as well. But during grad school you have so much flexibility with your time. When you become a professor, I can only imagine that you have less time and less flexibility.

Doing a PhD is the process of transitioning from a student to a teacher. It’s an interesting process that takes a lot of reflection. In the beginning we know very little. It’s really hard to shift your mentality from thinking of yourself as the student to thinking of yourself as the expert and then embodying that persona. This leads to a lot of faking confidence in the first years of teaching and presenting. I still haven’t figured it out.”