First impressions

I’ve been in Baltimore for three months and attended classes for two weeks. Just enough time to gather some first impressions of the PBS department, Johns Hopkins, and what a return to school after a 6-year hiatus entails.

June - Mid August

I arrived in Baltimore about 3 months before the semester began. The Mysore lab is brand new, and in June the lab offices were filled with nothing but echoey spaces. Without classes or lab equipment there was little work for me to do, but arriving early gave me the opportunity to adjust to life in a new city, to take care of administrative tasks (submit tax paperwork and health records, collect student ID card, set up direct deposit, etc.), and to better familiarize myself with the existing literature of the specific areas of research I’ll be working in, namely neural circuits in attention and stimulus selection. I also spent some time helping to set up the lab, which entailed things like receiving shipments and setting up and organizing various equipment.

Late August

Before the first day of classes, I spent some time attending a handful of orientations for new students. I was surprised at how many were offered: General graduate student orientation (spread over two separate days), new TA orientation, department orientation, and even a trans-university orientation for students from various colleges around Baltimore.

The PBS department at Hopkins is very welcoming and they made the transition into JHU and the department simple and smooth. Classes began in the last week of August.

Early September

I’m taking two graduate level courses, Advanced Stats and Fundamentals of Psychology & Neuroscience, and one undergrad one, Nervous System I. So far, the undergrad course is actually the more difficult of the three. But most of the work in these classes revolves around readings and exams. I’ve had only one homework assignment. The undergrad course isn’t a required part of my program’s curriculum; my advisor and I just decided that it would be a helpful refresher. Actually, although I’m familiar with the breadth of the material, the topics are covered to a level of depth that I never experience as an undergrad. I’m really enjoying learning the mechanics of things I’ve always wondered about.

On top of classes, I’ve got to continue participating in what work there is to do in the lab, which so far includes moving the owls into their enclosures in our lab space, feeding them, and attending our weekly lab meetings, where we hold a kind of informal journal club. I’ve got a presentation to give during next week’s meeting, where I’ll present a paper titled Long-range and local circuits for top-down modulation of visual cortex processing.

Finally, I’ve got to assemble an application for the NSF graduate research fellowship, which entails writing a couple essays about my personal history and my research and career objectives.


The summer was a breeze, but I wish I’d spent more time on the NSF GRFP. It would be nice not to have extra work to do on top of my coursework and lab duties. Still, all things considered the first few weeks of school have not been too stressful. During the first week I was a bit anxious because it wasn’t clear how many new assignments and obligations would be piled onto my workload, but it seems to have settled and I feel pretty comfortable with it — and I’m even taking an extra, unnecessary course. I’d say the outlook for the semester is good, but I’ll have to keep up a quick pace and avoid falling behind.

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