Guest Blogger Jonathan Dentler Introduces “Pius Aeneas”

Introducing the series, Pius Aeneas
By Jonathan Dentler 

Jonathan Dentler is a first year student in the History Department Ph.D program. He is interested in the history of visual cultures, philosophies and theories of history, and modern American and European history.

Los Angeles begins with the grunts and bellows of elephant seals on the beach, bloated creatures that live most of their lives a mile deep gorging on squid and crustaceans. It starts there, on the beach near the golden bluffs of Hearst’s mansion, Disneyland’s alter ego. 

It continues with the drive down, through San Luis Obispo, down through Santa Barbara, the first dull and lazy pastels of Spanish memories. Down over the mountains, more cars, automobiles in communion on the highway, through the valleys, then you see it. Hollywood – the number of churches surprised me. “The Asiatic city of the innumerable churches, holy Moscow!” I felt like Napoleon – same hubris. There’s a church near my casita; its bells ring out the hour as I look out my window at the palm tree hills, gradients of social capital. The light here never changes – that’s what almost everyone who ever wrote about Los Angeles says. The pleasurable go-with-the-flow monotony lulls one to reverie: washed out light blue, brown, dusty green, until the cars seduce the evening sky to mimic their color palate. That’s when the acrylic ecstasy hits.

What is USC? It’s the University of Southern California. What is Southern California? It’s the last true American frontier. Southern California is the Wild West, it’s cowboys and Indians and Mexicans and it’s the expanse of the Pacific with the dull beat of the surf, the dull beat of dreams, it’s Space. Follow me; follow me like the acolytes of a bizarre, fatalistic Sun Cult worshipping spirits from outer space. Follow me as I blog about being a grad student in the history department at USC.

I came here to study the history of images in a city built on images. It’s not just the moving pictures; it’s the whole panorama city of postcards, orange groves, wax museums, car wash billboards and the miasmic Americana dreamscape.

The Not-So-Small Price for Scientific Research

From the series Science Through Unpolished Glass

The Not-So-Small Price for Scientific Research
By Brian Leung
Brian is a PhD student in the USC Neuroscience program

These past few weeks, every news organization and social media website has been posting about the discourse happening in Washington DC and the employees affected by the shut down. To go off on a tangent, I have friends who are in science who are being funded by the NIH and NSF whose labs had to be shut down because of the government.

This lab that studies soil chemistry and the co-habitation of many microorganisms, it’s implications for sustainability and how understanding the fundamental building blocks of agriculture can influence human health. Yes, it’s not about drugs and disease, but everything in science is related. Although some science headlines mentioned NASA and the NIH, not very many talked about the nitty-gritty details and the exorbitant price to maintain your typical biomedical laboratory. With that in mind, let me give you a sense for how much biomedical research costs per scientist.

Let’s ask the first question: what goes into biomedical research? Off the top of your head, you might say things like: the drug, animals, animal food, veterinary care, chemicals, and supplies.

So how much do drugs cost?
Let’s go to this drug LY-364947 from Sigma Aldrich (L6293-25MG) and order a gram of this drug. They sell this drug in quantities of 25mg priced at $531.63. Now multiply that by 40 to get 1 gram of this drug, we get $21,265.20! This doesn’t even include shipping and tax! How much does 1 gram look like? Imagine your thumbnail covered in a pile of salt. That’s roughly how a gram looks like. 


Animal care & food:
Let’s continue using this hypothetical scenario. We want to know whether this drug, LY-364947 actually is beneficial. Let’s use adult rats (12 months) to get an estimate for how much animals cost. If we have 15 animals that get the drug and 15 animals that don’t get the drug, then there are a total of 30 animals. If we need to raise these animals to become old enough to receive this drug from birth to experimentation date and the price to raise one animal is $.45 per day, then it would cost: 30 animals x $.45 x 365 days = $4,927.50! This doesn’t even include the price of the vets, the antibiotics for the sick rats, and other overhead costs. What’s even crazier is that scientists juggle more than 2 to 3 projects simultaneously! We are now looking at $14,782.50!

Chemicals and supplies:
Chemicals and supplies can range and vary depending on the need and the type of project. For example some antibodies (aka fluorescent dyes and stains) that are used can range from $300 to $1,800! These antibodies are used to generate pictures like this:

(reference: Breuning, J., Gate, D., et al.)

Also, chemicals, supplies, and other resources we see on CSI don’t come cheap. Typically, each researcher may spend an average of $1,250 per month on supplies. If we multiply that by 12 months, we get $15,000!

So what’s the point of talking about all these numbers? Well, during the shut down, scientists couldn’t go to work. If we continue using our hypothetical example, animals that need the drug treatment did not get the drug, then the entire scientific study has been jeopardized. That means, the entire project would need to be re-done. Especially if these animals were already sick and needed this drug to be “cured,” the animal veterinarians on site would most likely sacrifice these animals and put them out of their pain. That also means, lost data and $51,047,20 lost! (Imagine if you were a grad student on this project. Well, there goes graduation, delayed by another year!) Now imagine how many clinical research labs at the NIH that are affected by this shut down… hundreds!

The price for how much money was wasted and invested in these projects is just astounding. To set up these experiments, it will probably take several more months to get things back in line. Now that the government is running again, rumor has it, several months from now, there may be another shut down. At this point, I don’t even want to imagine how much this will hinder the biomedical sciences in the US.

Off the Beaten Path: How to Find Alternative Career Paths in Your Field

Off the Beaten Path
How to Find Alternative Career Paths in Your Field

By Ray Xiong

Ray Xiong is a PhD candidate in the USC Neuroscience Program

Hello, my name is Ray Xiong. Originally from the city of Ürümqi in Xinjiang, China, I got my Bachelor of Science from Shanghai Jiao Tong University. I’m currently a USC PhD student in Neuroscience studying how the brain processes sound.

My blog series is called “Off the Beaten Path: Exploring Alternative Career Options.” Obviously it focuses on alternative career options outside academia. As many of you may know, the academic job market for PhD graduates is not very promising (especially in Life Sciences). According to an article on the Atlantic here, around 30% PhDs have no employment at the time of graduation.

Gladly I made the decision to search beyond academia relatively early. In the third year of my PhD (currently in the sixth), I realized that staying in academia is not the future for me. Since then, I have made efforts to explore alternative career options. I would like to share with you my experience of exploring career options and gaining skills from USC and local resources. Hopefully this can boost your confidence and help you to start alternative career planning earlier.

In this first post, I’d like share how to begin the exploration. Due to lack of exposure to the job market, many students have no idea what options they have. I’d like to assure you that there are plenty of alternative career paths for each major. You just need to find out yourselves. Because my background is in the life sciences, some of the following resources may not be directly relevant to you, but I encourage you to find information on your own.  It’s never too early to start looking. I encourage you to start in the first year of your graduate study.

My first discovery was a book called “Alternative Careers in Science, Second Edition: Leaving the Ivory Tower”. This book is a collection of essays from people in various industries describing their career paths.  The book does not have all the information you need, but it’s great to get the big picture.

Another great way to explore alternative career options is to use LinkedIn, or people “stalking.” To begin, I connected with some people from my PhD program working outside academia. I studied their contacts with similar situations. Even with this primitive sampling method, I was able to get an idea of how people started their first jobs and climbed their respective career ladders. You can also find people in a well-known organization in your field. For example, I looked at Genetech, a well-known biotech company. Additionally, you can start by looking at former students of a famous professor.

Besides the two methods mentioned above, I also went to alternative career events organized by my department and a USC student organization called Alternative Careers in Science and Engineering (ACSE). Usually these events are panel discussions about a particular career path.  I also found similar panels at conferences of my professional organization.

I hope you find this tip helpful. I’ll be back with some tips on how to gain leadership and team work skills in my next post. Stay tuned!


To contact USC ACSE, you can send an email to:

Radhika Palkar and Aminat Adebiyi

Introducing The Graduate School Guest Bloggers for Fall 2013!

We are excited to announce that eight graduate students are joining the Graduate School team this fall to blog about their experiences as USC graduate students. Our guest bloggers will discuss topics ranging from adjusting to graduate student life, to balancing studies and outside life, to preparing to enter the job market.

This week, Adam Feinman, a fifth year Ph.D. candidate in Biomedical Engineering, kicks us off with the introduction to his blog series, “Badges: Trials and Tribulations on the Road to Graduate/Professional School Success.” Check in regularly for more stories from our graduate student bloggers.

Have comments or questions about the guest bloggers’ series? Email

Join us in welcoming Adam!


Trials and tribulations on the road to graduate/professional school success

By Adam Feinman

I despise the days when new students arrive on campus. They are so bright-eyed and cheery. They are giddy with anticipation about what the future holds for them. They are excited to learn and discover (amongst other things). After 4+ years of working on my Ph.D., it can be a deeply painful reminder of how long I’ve been here, what I’ve had to struggle with to get this far, and how far I have yet to go.

But it also fills me with joy. I look at who I am today compared to who I was at the beginning of graduate school, and I don’t regret it. The hard years of attaining a professional or graduate degree are not merely the road to graduation. The process is itself the goal. It is important to attain knowledge in the process, but the struggles behind accomplishment are what shape us, personally and professionally, for the rest of our lives.

My column for this blog, “Badges” is about the process. It is about the struggles we all face in these school years, but more importantly, it is about the fulfillment created by facing those struggles and achieving greatness in the process. These stories can raise awareness of issues students face, but can also inspire us take pride in our own personal processes, past, present, and future.

My first post(s) will be about adapting to doing research in an unfamiliar area. Later topics may include such things as: being married (or a parent) in graduate school, dealing with stress and the potential emotional and mental issues that come that, adapting to a new culture, etc. If you have stories to tell of your graduate/professional school woes, how you felt through them, and how you have (or are currently) facing them, or if you have other topics you would like to hear about, please contact me at All names or potential personal identifiers will be changed in blog posts for privacy.

Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Arts Award

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is pleased to announce the launching of the 2014 Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Arts Award.  The purpose of the Graduate Arts Award is to help cultivate the next generation of great artists and writers.  This award, worth up to $50,000 per year, will recognize and reward the most promising artists and writers from lower-income backgrounds.

The Graduate Arts Award enables up to 20 students with artistic and creative merit and outstanding academic achievement to pursue a graduate degree in the fine arts, performing arts, or creative writing. The recipients receive funding for tuition, room and board, required fees, and books, for the length of the graduate degree program, up to three­­­ years.

For more information please visit our website at and follow the Foundation on Twitter @TheJKCF for updates.

As a reminder, we are conducting two webinars; one for Graduate Arts applicants on October 8 and the other for faculty representatives on October 15.  Both webinars begin at 3:00 p.m. (Eastern Time).