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Take advantage of the Metro system.

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Today, I would like to talk about Metro system in Twin Cities. Public transportation plays an important role in a student life. You know owning a car costs a lot for a student, especially for an international student who intends to stay in Twin Cities temporarily to complete a degree. By using a public transportation, you can save tons of money including a cost for a car, gas, fixing & maintenance, parking, insurance and more. Good thing is that we have a good coverage of metro transit around the city.

When I first moved to the U.S. (not to Twin Cities, but Seattle, WA), I was surprised that there is NO train or subway connecting places in the city. Don't worry! You still have a great bus system here.

What I like the most is Trip Planner on Metro Transit's website. Here, you can look up how to get to your destination by simply typing in where you are starting and where you want to go. Trip Planner will give you what time and where you need to take which bus, where and what time you need to transfer to which bus, and what time you will get to your destination. You can also click a link to each bus line to look up a bus route & a bus schedule.

The other thing I like is express buses. An express bus runs only rush time - mornings and evenings. It connects residential suburbs to downtown or U campus making only a few stops. Because a bus can run on carpool lanes on highways, commuting by an express bus is quick and easy!

One more thing that I MUST mention. As a U student, you can get such a great discount on bus fee. The university offers U-Pass to currently registered students. It currently costs $97/semester. You can take any bus and go any where with it, no matter how many times you transfer.

Until next time!

"Multitask", the key word for a PhD student

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At a social occasion, people always ask me "So, what do you do?". When I answer "Oh, I'm a PhD student.", most of the time, they say "You are smart." or "You really like studying". But they are not exactly true. What is really required to survive (and complete) as a PhD student is "being persistent" and "being multitask". Today, I want to show you how multitasking goes on and never ends as we pursuit our life as a PhD student and a researcher afterward.

Basics: Heavy class loads
PhD students usually start from completing classes required for the degree. Even though you have 11+ credits in a semester, you still can focus on class work (although we already fell overwhelmed...). Just simple.

+ work
Most PhD students work part-time or full-time, which usually covers tuition, insurance and life costs. Being a teaching assistant often takes up lots of your time.

+ publication
Keeping constant history of publication is very important.

+ conference presentation
Keeping a constant history of conference presentation is also important.

+ preparation for preliminary exams
You need to find time to study to prepare for preliminary exams in a timely manner.

+ social life
You don't want to just keep studying. Of course you need a social life, too!

+ private (family) life
4+ years (sometimes 7+ years) as a PhD student is a long period in your life. Many PhD students get married and starting their family during the program. Then your life just gets sooo busy...

+ dissertation
If your work is not related to your dissertation, your life gets busy more.

+ paper review
As you publish your papers, you will be asked to review manuscripts from the journal. You could say "No", but you are theoretically supposed to contribute to the research field by reviewing other folks' manuscripts.

+ service work
As you advance, you may want to be involved in service work for your task, for your interest, for your resume or whatever...

The point is that you HAVE TO be multitask if you want to complete the PhD degree. That also means that being organized is a necessary quality to be a researcher.

Please don't take this massage in a wrong way. It is not negative. As a comment from a prefessor I work with ("It will never end and keep getting more and more. You will be amazed how much work you can handle at the same time!"), you will keep growing and someday, realize you are VERY multitask.

Interestingly, some people can be very multitask and organized at work, but not in their private lives. For example, my husband (former PhD student) is very multitask at work, but he can't even drive a car and talk at the same time...or eat dinner and watch TV at the same time.


Only 22 days to the final exam


Hi everyone! The spring semester just started, but I am already in a frantic schedule. I am a senior PhD student, i.e., no more classes but working on a dissertation (= thesis to complete the PhD program), so the school schedule does not quite matter. But let me tell you why I am SO busy now. Yes, I am going to graduate from the PhD program in a month.

Before starting the PhD program, I did not exactly know how I would be able to complete the degree. Even after starting the program, it took me a while to understand the complicated, multi-layer process to finish. Today, I would like to explain how the system/process works (for PhD degrees). Of course, the process may vary by the program, so I will describe a general frame, which may be applicable for most programs.

1) Complete required classes/credits

Required classes and number of credits vary by the program, for sure. In the program I am in (PhD in epidemiology), all students have master's degree, and many of them completed their master's degree at our division. They can transfer some classes and credits, so they can decrease class loads and focus on research. Unfortunately, I did my master's at the different school and it was not in epidemiology, so it took 2 years for me to complete all the requirements.

2) Take and pass a preliminary written exam(s)
Many programs offer one preliminary written exam to test students' knowledge (mostly what they have learned in classes), but a form of the exam varies. In my program, students have to take TWO written exams - one to test their knowledge in epidemiologic methodology and the other one to test their ability to write a grant proposal. The first one is a two-day exam - you are isolated in an assigned faculty office and take an exam from 9 am to 3 pm for two days. The second one is a 17-day exam - you have to write up a grant proposal within 17 days.

Once passing the written exam, you will start work on your dissertation.

3) Take and pass a preliminary oral exam
You prepare your dissertation proposal and present it to faculty members in your dissertation committee. There are usually 4 to 5 faculty members in the committee. After the presentation, committee members ask you questions on your proposal. Usually takes 2 to 3 hours.

4) Take and pass a final oral exam (final defense)

After completing your dissertation, you will have a presentation on your dissertation. It is usually open to the public. After the public presentation, a 2-hour exam (only you and the committee) will follow. You may (or may not) be grilled...

5) Submit a dissertation to the Graduate School - on line

Once your entire committee agree that you have passed the final exam, all you have to do is to revise the dissertation (if needed) and submit it to the graduate school!!

Again, the process may vary by the program. More information can be found at the Graduate School web page.

My final defense is scheduled in 22 days. That is the reason why I am frantically busy right now. I am aiming at circulating my dissertation to the entire committee tomorrow, but there are tons of things to do to complete it...Well, I have to go back to work on it. I will update you with the next step in 2 weeks!


Hi blog readers! It is 27ºF (-3ºC) in Minneapolis right now. We had a pretty cold and gusty day today. The highest temperature was only 37ºF (3ºC)...I know, I is November in MINNESOTA! I grew up in the moderate climate, and have moved multiple times, but not to cold regions like Minnesota. All I did when I moved to Minnesota to prepare for winter was buying a 4-wheel drive car (which is VERY important for me to drive in snow and ice!). Let me introduce you several "MN winter" things that I have learned.

A garage (or roofed parking) makes my life much easier
In my first place in Minnesota, I did not have a garage. I parked my car in outside parking lots. In winter, we sometimes (often) have inches of snow over night. When I started my car in the morning, I had to spend 15-30 minutes to clean up snow covering up my car! Not only snow, cars get icy in the windows. I learned to keep a brush and an ice scraper in my car through winter. snow scraper.jpgLater I moved, and having a garage (ideally heated) was the must.

window seal.jpgDouble windows or window seals to keep cold air out
Only one layer of the window is not always enough to avoid cold air coming into the room. Many people installed double layer windows in their houses, but old houses are likely to have cranky windows. If you rent a room or house (more likely for students) with not tight windows, you can buy window seals (something like a huge plastic wrap) and seal the whole window from inside. Installing the seal is not too hard and does not take much time.

Face mask! - Even if you are covered up, your face is cold!
Seriously, I had never seen people wearing a face mask in their daily lives. I do skiing, so I had seen skiers wearing a face mask. When I saw a person walking in a face mask on the street for the first time, I was shocked. ...not any more though. face mask.jpgThe air is painfully cold in winter and I have thought about buying a mask several times (although did not happen yet). I've seen tough joggers wearing a face mask, too!

Living in a house = You have to plow snow.

My husband and I used to live in an apartment, but moved in a house when our child was born. We knew that living in a house means we have to mow the lawn in summer and plow snow in winter...but we did not realize how hard it could be. Last winter (our first winter since moving in the house), we had very heavy snow. Thumbnail image for snow blower.jpgWe did not have a snow blower (electric or gas) yet. On the first snowy weekend, my husband spent a literally whole day just digging, digging, and digging snow from 8am to 4pm! One of our neighbors noticed my husband's hard work, probably felt sorry, and finally came by with his snow blower to help him. My husband and I learned that we need a snow blower to survive winter.

It is hard to get these little tips to survive Minnesota winter when you are not living here, but I promise you will get them soon once you start your life here!
Keep warm!


We need to learn, but fun time is a bonus :)

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Having a conference presentation is one of the academic activities that PhD students are involved. I have been trying to have at least one presentation at an academic conference each year and actually I like to attend a conference. It is a great opportunity to learn what is new or hot in the field and also to meet people for net working.

Last week, I visited Boston to attend the International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research, one of the conferences by the American Association for cancer Research (AACR) to present one of my dissertation projects. IMGP2014.JPG To prepare a presentation, I came up with a project idea, designed a study, created a data set, analyzed data, wrote an abstract (and a manuscript), and prepared & printed a poster. I had a poster presentation, which is not an oral presentation, so I stood by a poster on the board and answered questions from people came by. I attended this conference for the first time, but I liked it and would like to return next year. It is much smaller than the AACR main annual meeting, but much focus was on cancer prevention and epidemiology.

After the 3 days in this conference, I attended the other meeting - the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Cohort Consortium Annual Meeting. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and this meeting was an opportunity that principle investigators (PIs) of major NCI-sponsored cohort studies discussed about projects using data from multiple studies so that we will be able to have a larger number of study subjects. I accompanied my adviser who was invited to the meeting. It was a great opportunity for me, as a student, to be stimulated.

Since it was my first visit to Boston, I walked around the town with my friend during the off time. We went to a casual seafood restaurant "No Name" right by the pier. Of course, food was good, but the waiter was such an entertainer! He spoke multiple languages including Japanese :) He even treated us a free desert (what a yummy apple pie!) as hospitality, as he said.
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Preparing a conference presentation is a lot of work, but having fun in other cities is a bonus for hard-working students, right?!

Perhaps, a lesson for me is taking a comfortable pair of walking shoes to a next conference trip. My legs are still hurting from lots of walking :)


You can still pick apples. Hurry!!


Are you feeling winter is coming? Last weekend, I went to an apple orchard to enjoy this beautiful autumn. There are many apple orchards around Twin Cities. We picked Afton Apple Orchard because they have many attractions for kids such as an animal petting zoo and hay ride as well as pumpkins. My daughter enjoyed munching small apples and tapping pumpkins :) Pumpkin 1.jpg

"Picking" is one of the fun things that you can enjoy in Minnesota. I love "U-pick" (means you pick fruits or vegetables by yourself) for berries in spring and apples in autumn. As a nutritionist and an avid food lover, I like locally grown produces.

1. Farmers Markets
During summer, there are farmers markets, where a number of farmers bring in a variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables for sale.
Farmers market3.jpg
Usually, we can find much more variety of produces at more reasonable prices than at grocery stores. I like to visit farmers markets just for fun, but also to find Asian fruits and vegetables that I can't buy from grocery stores. Trying vegetables that look unfamiliar to me is also fun! They also have beautiful flowers. You can buy a big bunch of flowers at an unbelievably low price. FarmersMarket2.JPG

From June through the beginning of October, University of Minnesota Farmers Market is open on Wednesdays on campus. The biggest farmers market in Twin Cities is Minneapolis Farmers Market in North Lyndale (open 7 days a week) and on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis on Thursdays. You can find many others!

Since farmers markets are no longer open, I have a real feeling that winter is coming...

2. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
You can also make a contract with a farm to receive weekly deliveries of boxful locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. What kind of vegetables and fruits you receive each week solely depends on the season and weather, but it is a fun surprise to open a box and say, "What is this veggie...?". They usually have designated delivery places where you can pick up your box, but sometimes they deliver a box to your work place. The office of our division (where I have my office) has a contract with a non-profit rural community in Wisconsin, Community Homestead, so that I can pick up my box at work. Actually, I will receive my last box (box No. 20!) of vegetables this season this afternoon. I have enjoyed trying new recipes using celariac, rutabaga, parsnips, garlic scrapes, etc... (I have never come across any of these vegetables...).

I will miss them all!

Great program, Great student support!


Hi everyone! Fall is coming along and leaves are colored in Minnesota. So beautiful!

Before moving to Minnesota, I lived in Seattle, Washington. So why did I move to Minnesota? To start the PhD program! Then why did I choose U of M??

1. Great multidisciplinary program

I am in the PhD program in Epidemiology. Most of you may not be familiar with this word (so as most of American people), but epidemiology is the study to identify risk factors for disease at the population level for the preventive purpose. My background is nutrition, but faculty is a blend of many fields such as epidemiologists, behavioral scientists (ex. psychologists), clinical researchers (physicians), public health policy researchers, and nutritionists. It is a perfect place to get involved in multidisciplinary research! Our office building, West Bank Office Building (WBOB) is in West Bank. Thumbnail image for IMGP2006.JPG

2. Academic adviser

To explore my interest area, which is nutrition and cancer prevention, finding a faculty who is an expert in that field was a big factor to choose a school. Luckily, my current adviser and I have similar background and work experiences and she found me during the admission process!

3. Financial support

Honestly, this was the critical factor that I decided to come to U of M. As many prospective students, I applied for multiple schools including one in Seattle, where I was living then. I received acceptance letters from a few schools, but most of them asked me to find a financial support for the first year by myself. But the program at the U of M finds and offers financial supports to all the applicants who are accepted. That made me feel very supported and welcomed by the program.

Let me introduce major financial supports available in my program.

A. Graduate assistantship (GA)

GA is an employment opportunity offered to both Master's and PhD level students. Its benefits include tuition and medical/dental coverage, and we can get paid to cover living costs. There are two kinds of GA - research assistantship and teaching assistantship. Research assistants usually do data analysis, study coordinating, and manuscript preparation for a research project. Teaching assistants help professors in classes by attending classes to answer questions from students, holding lab classes/office hours, and grading and such. For the past 4+ years, I have been a research assistant for the division and Masonic Cancer Research Center as well as a teaching assistant. I have to add one more great feature - I (and my husband) could take paid-maternity/paternity leaves under GA!!! Check with the program of your interest for the availability of GA!

B. Trainingship

Many students are supported by trainingships, which support students' training activities with similar benefits as GA. However, unfortunately, usually only US citizens and permanent residents are eligible for this support...

C. Doctoral dissertation fellowship

I'm delightfully introducing this great fellowship for PhD students offered by the graduate school!! Every year, at least 75 fellowships are awarded to students from school-wide programs. I am awarded this fellowship this year and find this support is great! This fellowship is to give final-stage doctoral students more time to spend on dissertation, so it does not come with any work obligations. It does come with almost same benefits as GA including a full coverage of tuition and medical/dental coverage for 9 months (Sep - May). It also allows students to hold up to 25% GA along with the fellowship. I'm now under this fellowship but also have a 25% research assistantship.

Remember - this information is solely from my experience in my program or in the School of Public Health. Available financial supports may vary depending on the program.

Hope you found it helpful. See you next time!

Hi there!!

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Hi! My name is Maki Inoue-Choi and I'm a PhD student in Epidemiology in the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health. I'm so glad to meet you all here and excited to blog about my student life!!

I was born and raised in Osaka, Japan, but I've been in U.S. for more than 7 years so far. Before I started the PhD program, I did my master's degree in Nutritional Sciences in the University of Washington in Seattle. Actually, I first came to U.S. as a visiting clinical dietitian, but then decided to go to a grad school. I also worked in Seattle for a while between master's and PhD programs. So, I have been through lots of changes in my life in U.S.

Plus, I am now not only a student but a mom of a one-year-old girl. I met my husband in the program, got married, and had a baby!! My adviser sometimes teases me I have been through the most major life events during my life as a PhD student :)

My life centers around school, work and my baby. Yes, my life has so much hustle, but so much joy and fun, too!! Hopefully my experience and different sides of student life will help you, or at least entertain you all.

See you soon!

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