What It's Really Like Working With PhD Faculty & Staff

by Candice Stanfield-Wiswell

What It's Really Like Working With PhD Faculty & Staff

Looking to join a graduate program at George Mason University and want to know more about someone else’s experiences with faculty and staff? If you answered yes, then you’ve come to the right place. Huzzah!

Hi, I’m Candice and I’m a cognitive and behavioral neuroscience (CBN) PhD student in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Before moving to Virginia, I was teaching psychology with a Master’s degree at a Texas university. Regardless of my past experience as a graduate student, the dreaded Imposter Syndrome reared its ugly head once I stepped foot onto Mason’s campus as a PhD student. Fortunately, my new program’s faculty and staff provided the understanding and support I needed to refocus my energies to become more productive and less anxiety-ridden.

Being a transfer student, it was important that I have a degree plan laid out and know which credits were transferrable. Both my faculty advisor and the graduate program coordinator were available for me to discuss what classes to take, even before I packed my moving truck full of *cough* mostly books *cough* and a lazy, but adorable, cat. That’s pretty amazing! It definitely made the transition smoother. Their enthusiasm to communicate and prepare me further solidified my confidence in the decision I had made to make Mason my new home.

Okay, so pretty sure your advisor is reading this. Can you honestly say he’s that great? Be real. 

Yes! He really is that great. Everyone says matching your research interests with your graduate advisor is key. Yes, that’s true, but it’s also important that you and your advisor mesh well. Keep in mind, you’re spending the next five to seven years of your life working with them. True story…I have actually witnessed a fellow graduate student burst into tears and jump into a storage closet to hide from her approaching advisor (don’t worry, it wasn’t at Mason). This is incredibly rare! Most advisors are supportive. They want you to succeed. Your success is their success, and vice versa. With success comes publications and more opportunities for obtaining that beautiful unicorn we call grant money.

No joke, I couldn’t have chosen a better faculty advisor. My advisor, Dr. Martin Wiener, works hard to make sure everyone in his lab has the resources they need to succeed. We have weekly lab meetings where we each discuss our ongoing and future research projects, share research articles we find interesting, and discuss upcoming events. Additionally, Martin takes the time to meet with us one-on-one. Need a topic better explained? He’s got you. Want to check out the ginormous annual Society for Neuroscience conference that just happens to be held in Washington, D.C. this year? Great! He’s got you there, too. Side note: Martin is just one of the amazing faculty members in our program. The faculty with which I’ve had the pleasure of taking a class or discussing research have student academic growth and success in mind.

Yeah, but what about the staff, though?

At the risk of sounding even more like Mason is this magical world made of rainbows, butterflies, and where puppies never grow up… The graduate program staff is amazing! Seriously. Remember when I told you about transferring here with Master’s degree credits? Michael Hock, our trusty graduate program coordinator, made transferring credits and planning for my academic future a breeze. I’d also like to give a shout out to David Cerri, our lab management guru, who has gone out of his way time and again to make sure we have the equipment we need, and functioning properly, so we can create the best science possible.

Overall, my experiences with the faculty and staff within the CBN PhD program have been positive. This is a program where they truly believe science is awesome and so is helping students become great scientists.