Graduate Student Success Stories
Ph.D Computer Science
Giorgio Morales, MS in computer science from MSU and Ph.D. student in the same program, is a Peruvian graduate student. Having gotten a BS in mechatronic engineering, he changed his academic path to computer science when working as a researcher at a national university in Peru.
“Although I had majored in mechatronic engineering, my job made me feel more inclined toward programming, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, so I decided that is what I wanted to do. However, I was stuck at some point because I felt the need to expand my knowledge in this field that was new to me. That is when I decided to pursue graduate studies in computer science abroad,” he commented.
With his new interests clear and his participation in precision agriculture and environmental monitoring projects back in Peru, he started to consider research a purpose-driven career.
“I liked the idea that my research had a beneficial impact on society, so I started looking for universities working on similar research projects. Then I found that MSU, surrounded by natural marvels and technified agriculture, is suitable for this type of research. More importantly, I found really interesting ongoing research projects carried out by the School of Computing, the Optical Technology Center, and the College of Agriculture,” said Morales.
Even if he faced some challenges at the beginning, like taking graduate-level courses in a different area from his undergraduate major, he got the faculty’s support to feel confident and grateful to the professionals who guided him through this process. Giorgio Morales started the program as a Teaching Assistant and soon became a Research Assistant, a job that led him to write four conference papers and two journal papers and make the most of his program.
He is now fully working on an important national multidisciplinary precision agriculture project and has been helping with some classes in the Gianforte School of Computing, as well as enhancing his knowledge about Computer Science and participating in some community-related events.
“Life as a graduate student has many different opportunities. There are several graduate seminars you can attend and be part of; I consider that a wonderful opportunity to connect with your peers on an academic level. There are also cultural and social activities that help you to balance life and connect with other people from diverse backgrounds, which is always a learning opportunity,” pointed out.
Giorgio also recommended some advice for incoming and prospective grad students: “I would recommend asking as many questions as possible. You will find that there are a lot of opportunities on campus that can help you in many ways. You can find people that can give you advice on academic issues, organizations that care about your mental health, food scholarships, recreation activities, people that help international students, and much more.”
Master's in Public Administration
“Stick with it, meet with professors when you’re feeling lost in the content; MSU wants to see you succeed! Use the University resources. Also, apply for fellowships and grants, they are out there, and the Office of Research Development has resources to help graduate students.”
Tracy Gatlin, born and raised in Montana, is a current graduate student. Besides her studies in the Master’s in Public Administration program, she is a full-time employee of the Office of Research Development at MSU and a mom of two wonderful kids. After earning her bachelor's degree in Elementary Education, and getting diverse job experiences, Tracy decided to get more involved with the research field.
“My student teaching was difficult and after graduation finding a local teaching job came with fierce competition. I eventually found employment elsewhere and made my way through a variety of jobs to Seattle then Boston without any real career direction. In Boston, I wound up working as an administrative assistant in a collaborative laboratory building housing researchers from multiple Harvard teaching hospitals,” she commented.
After working within the Division of infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, Gatlin came back to Montana to raise her first child and to start a position at MSU in 2019. The desire for a better position and especially because of the new worldwide challenges, Tracy Gatlin started to think about an advanced degree more seriously. Moreover, she considered the benefits she would get as an MSU full-time employee.
“I have been always connected with MSU, from great grandparents, parents, and my own undergraduate degree. As a full-time employee my tuition is fully waived, which makes the opportunity much more accessible,” Tracy expressed.
Facing some challenges like time management, stress, and the gap between her bachelor’s, she has gotten a name in her program and among her peers as being an in-career graduate student. Gatlin commented that she has reduced those difficulties by prioritizing, applying for and being awarded with the child care scholarship MSU provides, and by frequently visiting the Writing Center to feel more confident and comfortable.
Being a grad student demands time and focus, but she finds ways to participate in some activities around campus and the Bozeman community. “If I can make time, I try to attend things like the welcome picnic. Our family is a host family through the friends of international students' program established this year in OIP, so we include another PhD student in our family activities as much as possible.”
Finally, she left a message for our future Bobcats. “Stick with it, meet with professors when you’re feeling lost in the content; MSU wants to see you succeed! Use the University resources. Also, apply for fellowships and grants, they are out there, and the Office of Research Development has resources to help graduate students,” Tracy recommended.
Master's in Science & Natural History Filmmaking
“This program supported me as I reached for the stars to create my thesis film. I was able film dolphins in Australia and work with two major environmental non-profits based within the US and Australia during the pandemic. The lessons from this program allowed me to successfully crowdfund my thesis film and write grants that helped me get to Australia. One grant that I applied for and received was the Professional Travel Grant provided by MSU to graduate students who need help financing the costs of travel for different graduate work.”
Olivia Andrus, a graduate student in the Science and Natural History Filmmaking Program and the owner of Big Sky Genesis Productions, LLC, developed her thesis film in Australia filming dolphins and working with two major environmental non-profits. She is the Student Assistant MFA Coordinator, a position that allows her to be involved in other MSU departments and groups to, as she expressed, “organize several events and create a better program for the next generation of graduate students.”
After graduating from Purdue University in Wildlife Biology and Film/Video Studies and having worked in environmental education trying to get into the wildlife filmmaking industry, Olivia started to investigate different programs to keep her goals on track.
“I chose the Science and Natural History Filmmaking Program at MSU because it had a 98% placement after graduation into the industry, the alumni were very successful in all aspects of the film industry, and I felt comforted by the experience level the faculty had who were leading the program,” she explained. Andrus also expressed her appealing about professors considering students as colleagues and the mix of academic backgrounds among classmates.
“I also found it interesting that this program was made for scientists to be the best science communicators through the medium of film. This means that everyone in my cohort came from completely different backgrounds. This created such a unique experience because we were all learning together but able to challenge each other since we had different views of the world,” Olivia mentioned.
She also commented on the funding challenges she saw when considering applying to the program, but once she started, the program’s faculty and staff taught students about how to write grants, do crowdfunding and create their own business. She also got a research assistantship within the department, which provided her with financial stability.
“This program supported me as I reached for the stars to create my thesis film. I was able film dolphins in Australia and work with two major environmental non-profits based within the US and Australia during the pandemic. The lessons from this program allowed me to successfully crowdfund my thesis film and write grants that helped me get to Australia. One grant that I applied for and received was the Professional Travel Grant provided by MSU to graduate students who need help financing the costs of travel for different graduate work,” she affirmed.
Olivia is also the College of Arts and Architecture's steward for the graduate student union, where she serves as the spokesperson for debates about stipends, graduate teaching assistantship positions, and other concerns that the students have while attending graduate school at MSU.
Regarding recommendations for prospective graduate students, Olivia Andrus suggested to facilitate and engage in conversation with the graduate coordinators, program directors and current students. Besides, she also encouraged openness to the graduate experience and to ask as many questions as possible to clarify any doubt.
“If you want certain things out of this program, it has to come from you. Don't expect the professors to hold your hand and walk you through how to be a filmmaker. You have to have the drive, the time management, and the determination to make it in this program and this field. The professors can only mentor you so far, so if you want something get involved with the program and fight for it.”
Finally, do not forget the fun of it! “It goes by so fast, but the bonds you make last forever. I still call upon my cohort members for honest feedback on my films or just to talk. My cohort members are family to me and that was the best part of this whole program for me,” the passionate-in-filmmaking grad student said.
PhD in Biochemistry
“When I visited the Chemistry and Biochemistry department during the graduate recruiting weekend, I fell in love withit.There was a distinct feeling of support engrained, and the graduate students seemed genuinely happy. There was a clear picture that the department was doing everything they could to help the students succeed. I also met my current advisor and felt like her mentorship style and her research was an environment I could really thrive in.”
After getting her undergraduate degree in Chemistry with a focus in Biochemistry, it felt like a natural path to gain “freedom to do integral research” and the possibility to teach through joining the Graduate School. Stephanann Costello, PhD Candidate in Biochemistry at Montana State University, explained what elements influenced her to make that decision.
“When I visited the Chemistry and Biochemistry department during the graduate recruiting weekend, I fell in love with it. There was a distinct feeling of support engrained, and the graduate students seemed genuinely happy. There was a clear picture that the department was doing everything they could to help the students succeed. I also met my current advisor and felt like her mentorship style and her research was an environment I could really thrive in,” commented.
For her, it was such authentic care for student success that allowed her to overcome different challenges, like the imposter syndrome that many students experience at some point of their journeys.
“Multiple factors helped me overcome it, but a wonderful support system, an advisor (and committee) who believed in me, challenged me but also celebrated my work, and my personal dedication to hard work overtime were the primary ways. A few others include fellow lab-mates. We have a great team environment that my advisor has cultivated,” Stephanann affirmed.
On the other hand, she also explained the importance of a continuous professional training, among conferences and courses, to share input and obtain greater experiences, like the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) conference, the Summer Program in Neuroscience Excellence and Success (SPINES) course, the MSU Graduate Leadership Academy (GLA).
Costello is a busy and enthusiastic graduate student, who has been a Graduate Teaching Assistant for general chemistry lab courses and, currently, she does full time research as a Graduate Research Assistant. She also mentioned other activities she has participated in:
“Various conferences (AISES, Metabolomics Association of North America - MANA, Metabolomics, Society for Neuroscience (SFN), courses (SPINES in Woods Hole MA), and MSU courses (GLA, and a mentorship workshop for REU students). I am both an INBRE NAG fellow, and Alfred P. Sloan Indigenouse Graduate Partnership (SIGP) scholar, and with SIGP have had the opportunity to participate in outreach events for recruiting prospective Native American graduate students. I have also mentored various undergraduate students, an REU student and rotating graduate students in Dr. Copié's lab.”
It was not difficult for her to share some of the key ideas she learned during her program. “Trust and embrace the process. Nothing can truly prepare you for graduate school and everyone's journey is unique. This is such a distinctly different and wonderful time in your life that gets to be fully dedicated to learning. In the midst of the incredibly demanding work it takes, also enjoy Graduate school for what it is and take full advantage of all the wonderful opportunities that arise,” she concluded.
Vinicius Alves Cruz
Ph.D. Animal and Range Science
“I felt welcome right away. As an international student, you always feel a little frightened about the beginning of the semester, like how you will handle the graduate level courses in a different country. However, every faculty at the department of Animal and Range Sciences was very supportive and always willing to help even outside of office hours. It definitely helps to boost your confidence throughout your academic journey.”
“To be honest, I didn’t expect to be so immersed in my program,” said Vinicius Alves, Ph.D. student in the Animal and Range Sciences department. He commented on some difficulties he thought he would face as an incoming international graduate student from Brazil, “I had two weeks to prepare my PowerPoint slides to teach in two nutrition labs in my very first semester, and also started a trial with 90 recently weaned calves, aside from taking graduate level courses for the first time in an American university. I felt overwhelmed at the beginning.”
However, Vinicius pointed out that he tried his best and that’s how in the two years he’s been in the program, he had found a balance and confidence in his capabilities. “I’ve had more than 100 students in all labs and activities so far and I’ve participated actively in more than 4 research trials with some of the most important animal nutrition companies worldwide such as Chr. Hansen and Nutreco,” affirmed.
Vinicius previously studied equine nutrition and management (North Dakota State University) and beef cattle nutrition and management (University of California - Davis) as an exchange student thanks to a national scholarship from Capes-Brazil he awarded in his undergraduate studies. Besides, back in Brazil, he gained experience as a teaching assistant and research assistant.
“I also started teaching as an undergraduate teaching assistant in two undergrad nutrition courses at my University (Bs in Animal Sciences - UFRRJ-Brazil), where afterwards I got my master's degree in Animal Science. Now as a Ph.D. student in Animal and Range Sciences, these previous experiences provided me with the right tools to succeed in my graduate program, where I had the opportunity to start my program as a graduate teaching assistant, and subsequently, as a graduate research assistant,” stated Alves.
Student success also depends on the methodology faculty and staff use to make students feel welcome and connected with the program. Vinicius Alves mentioned how the experience was for him, “I felt welcome right away. As an international student, you always feel a little frightened about the beginning of the semester, like how you will handle the graduate level courses in a different country. However, every faculty at the department of Animal and Range Sciences was very supportive and always willing to help even outside of office hours. It definitely helps to boost your confidence throughout your academic journey.”
Besides the carefully selected teaching materials and the frequent research advice for increased efficiency Vinicius received from faculty, he also shared that the Office of International Programs and the Department of Animal & Range Sciences’ events have positively impacted on his college life to develop a sense of belonging and networking.
On a separate note, Alves mentioned some of the resources available at MSU he used the most, “I do think that MSU is a really inclusive campus where everyone is welcome. Due to my field of study, I have several hands-on opportunities at the MSU research farms, having access to machinery (tractors, ATV, skid-steers), analytical labs, and of course the animals. Providing me everything I need to conduct high quality research.”
He finished suggesting to always reach out to your peers and faculty if having concerns. “It’ll make your life easier.”
Ph.D. Microbiology & Immunology
“The Microbiology & Cell Biology department is incredibly flexible with our programs of study. The department values individuals’ career development over what is written in the handbook. I have been allowed to substitute and/or add classes such as BioMEMS: The Art of Tissue Chips and Research & Methods in Engineering to support my multidisciplinary work.”
“College was really tough. STEM subjects never came naturally to me, and I had to work very hard to just have a basic understanding,” confessed Katrina Lyon, a Microbiology graduate student who is also a continually active leader on campus. Even though her undergraduate college experience was challenging, to say the least, she stuck to her desire to join the STEM field, first as a biologist.
“I purchased my first textbook on Performing Arts Medicine, and this interest blossomed into a much broader passion for medicine as a whole. The first in my family to pursue a college education, I enrolled at MSU on the pre-med track,” commented Lyon. For a series of reasons, including financial hardship, Katrina dropped the idea of going to med school; nonetheless, she found another interest.
“It wasn’t until I read a paper on organoids and was pushed into trying research (thanks Dr. Aga Apple) that I found new passion and purpose. I am brought to life by organoid technology–these "mini organs" are not only patient-specific disease models for individualized therapeutic development, but also have the potential to completely transform transplantation medicine,” stated.
Katrina also highlighted some aspects of her passions by expressing that she dedicates herself 110% to what she believes has a strong impact. “I am so excited to be pursuing a degree that will allow me to enhance human health and hopefully treat disease. I am particularly passionate about cancer–tackling such a global burden takes a village, and my time as a researcher has inspired me to join the interdisciplinary network of dedicated scientists across the globe working toward the same goals.”
Graduate School requires a high level of time commitment and self-advocacy; thus, she shared how now she’s become more independent. Furthermore, Katrina also affirmed that having a good balance among your activities is key for success, “I am currently working on prioritization and delegation of tasks.”
In that regard, the Microbiology & Cell Biology department gave her the flexibility she needs for learn and thrive while also having time for other student organization-related commitments.
“The Microbiology & Cell Biology department is incredibly flexible with our programs of study. The department values individuals’ career development over what is written in the handbook. I have been allowed to substitute and/or add classes such as BioMEMS: The Art of Tissue Chips and Research & Methods in Engineering to support my multidisciplinary work,” Lyon mentioned.
Katrina has had a inspiring academic journey, and despite her initial doubts about doing research due to a lack of a “perfect” GPA, she had the mentorship and support from some MSU faculty, such as Dr. Diane Bimczok, who believed in her since the beginning and offered her a position in her lab.
“For the last 5 years, the Bimczok lab has provided me with a supportive environment where I feel valued as both a scientist and human being. I couldn’t have asked for a better research team to work with,” she pointed out. Besides, she also thinks bonding with fellow graduate students helped her to feel more welcome.
She is one of the leaders of MSU WISE, serves the First Generation and MCD Diversity committees, and participates in the Graduate Leadership Academy and Graduate Wellness Initiative. Her suggestions for future and current graduate students are “Make the most of it because higher education is such a privilege. Don’t wait for someone else to make it the experience you want–roll up your sleeves and make it happen,” and recommended, “Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker is a favorite book of mine. Even if you aren’t in the dissertation writing stage, read it,” she emphasized.
Master of Science in Innovation and Management
“As soon as I stepped into my master in innovation and management program, I knew I was in for an adventure. I was looking forward to making connections and building friendships, but what I didn't expect was how close I would become with my cohort,”
Francesco Bakhos is a Fulbright Scholar from Lebanon who is living one of his best journeys at MSU. “As soon as I stepped into my master in innovation and management program, I knew I was in for an adventure. I was looking forward to making connections and building friendships, but what I didn't expect was how close I would become with my cohort,” Francesco said.
The company and support from Bakhos classmates were significantly helpful during the study and working on projects hours, but his background in business marketing and passion for entrepreneurship were also key for success.
“Having an international mindset would help you a lot, especially when trying to think outside of the box and coming up with creative and innovative solutions to real-life problems. My professors were innovative and encouraged us to take an experimental approach to our learning, which made me feel like I truly belonged there,” he explained.
Regarding the faculty and department methodology and curriculum, Francesco mentioned how it boosts the students’ potential, making them feel empowered. “The curriculum is constantly evolving and changing, giving us the freedom to tailor it to our individual needs and goals. Being part of this academic process is both thrilling and rewarding.” He also referred to the overall experience has positively impacted his expectations and goals. “This experience has been instrumental in shaping my professional and personal growth, and I'm excited to continue building on these skills as I move forward in my career.”
On a separate note, Bakhos commented on his activities outside the classroom, since he works as a Graduate Assistant in the Office of International Programs and volunteers in some of the Diversity and Inclusion Student Commons’ endeavors. “Through these activities, I've discovered a true passion for building international relationships and promoting a sense of diversity and inclusion. It's incredibly fulfilling to know that my efforts are making a positive impact on my community,” he remarked.
Francesco also affirmed having MSU, his second home, on a tattoo. He’s got MSU coordinates on his arm. Thus, his final advice for incoming students is to take a leap of faith. “MSU has been a life-changing experience for me, and I know it will be for you too. Don't overthink it, just embrace the endless possibilities that MSU has to offer.”
“Something that I didn’t expect was how quickly me and the other first-year (students) built a relationship and became comfortable around each other”.
“Something that I didn’t expect was how quickly me and the other first-year (students) built a relationship and became comfortable around each other,” expressed Dillon Anderson, a Ph.D. student from the Physics Department at MSU. Among those lines, he said that his first-year classmates have helped each other to relief stress and anxiety, which “will be a necessity for most of us to complete the next five or so years.”
During his undergraduate program and over some summers, Dillon was able to participate in research activities as a way to start his way into a Ph.D. program. Therefore, he believes this is a good start for anyone interested in going to Graduate School. “The research I did as an undergraduate though was in a different field of study than what I'm going into now (Optics vs Plasma), but I prepared for this by doing computational and math projects directed towards plasma physics,” mentioned.
Anderson states he hopes his creative-geared mind will guide him to find solutions for research questions he encounters on his graduate journey. Besides, Dillon learned to appreciate and support the physics education program. “My quantum mechanics professor received his PhD in physics education, and it may have been the best physics class I've taken, even to this day,” he explained.
Dillon remembers some of the aspects that made him feel welcome and appreciated, including how faculty members call first-year students by their names, making them feel recognized. “Also, the upper year students, as well as the other first years occasionally checking in and just being there when needed has also helped a lot!” he pointed out.
Besides being a Ph.D. student, Dillon also is a tutor for the learning center and enjoys helping other students succeed in their classes.
Regarding some of his best suggestions for incoming graduate students, Dillon highlighted the community building element, which was crucial for him and his fellow students. Furthermore, he affirmed that it is better to reach out to peers early so that they start strong and have more time to develop relationships.
“It is not a guarantee when entering a program that the department as a whole has much of a community, or that others are looking for a sense of community as well (ask many graduate students in many other stem fields, i.e., computer science / mathematics). Having others to work through problems with, bounce ideas off, and just relax with is a necessity,” he finalized.