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Our top essays by scientists in 2019

Ashley Stenzel’s essay about the joys and challenges of raising two daughters while working toward a Ph.D. struck a chord with readers. “Good to know I’m not alone in this struggle. The guilt can be horrible,” one reader wrote on Science’s Facebook page earlier this month. “I loved every word of the story. As a graduate student with a child I can totally relate,” wrote another.

Stenzel’s piece was one of 51 essays we published this year as part of our ongoing Working Life series, which shines a spotlight on personal and professional challenges that scientists face as they pursue their careers. As the year draws to a close, we put together a list of our 10 most popular essays of 2019. Read on to find out about a disastrous postdoc experience, an eye-opening trip abroad, unexpected career transitions, and more.

1. Why scientists should take more coffee breaks

Vivienne Tam argued that it’s important for grad students to make time for casual conversations with peers.

2. How I learned to teach like a scientist

Sally Hoskins reflected on how she challenged students to think beyond the facts during her career as a college professor.

3. Committee members shouldn’t expect Ph.D. students to serve coffee and pastries

Kate Bredbenner wrote that thesis defenses and committee meetings are stressful enough without the added expectation of bringing food.

4. Reviewers, don’t be rude to nonnative English speakers

Adriana Romero-Olivares offered three principles for providing constructive, respectful feedback during the peer-review process.

5. My first postdoc position was a disaster. This is what I learned

Victor Wong wrote that he should have quit his first postdoc and moved on much sooner.

6. In academia, hard work is expected—but taking a break is effort well spent, too

Mattias Björnmalm reflected on why it’s important to take time away from work.

7. How I became easy prey to a predatory publisher

Alan Chambers recounted how an email and the pressure to publish led him astray.

8. Reimbursement policies make academia less inclusive

Jessica Sagers argued that having to pay conference expenses up front from personal accounts is a significant burden for early-career researchers.

9. Leaving a Ph.D. takes courage—and it doesn’t mean the path to academic success is over

Hendrik Huthoff wrote that leaving his first Ph.D. program was one of the most important professional decisions he ever made.

10. How I let go of my guilt as a mother in grad school

Ashley Stenzel realized that her daughters have benefited from her pursuit of higher education.

Honorable mentions:

How I conquered my fear of public speaking and learned to give effective presentations

It's never too late to stretch your wings: Why I got a Ph.D. at age 66

Three lessons from industry that I’m taking back to academia

I felt lost in a new academic culture. Then I learned about the hidden curriculum

Post-Ph.D. job searches are tough. Here’s how I escaped Dr. Seuss’s ‘Waiting Place’

If you have an interesting career story that you’d like to share, feel free to email us at Please also check out our guidelines for writing and submitting Working Life essays here.

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