Graphic depicting questions and answers.

Hey, First Years, What Do You Want To Know?

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Being a first-year graduate student can be hard. Like, really hard. As a first year, you may feel like a lone pirate ship navigating treacherous open waters.

You may have questions like: Should I join forces with that ship full of cool-looking buccaneers or that other ship full of cool-looking whalers? Do I want to explore this rocky island with the fruit trees or this sandy one with waterfalls? Where can I get a good coconut around here? And, which way is west?

We here at Synapse want to help you answer these questions and more as you set sail into your first year. So, we’re launching a series for first years where we tackle some of the biggest questions new students have about graduate school, UCSF, and the Bay Area.

To start, we talked to some of you first years about what kind of information you are eager to know, and what makes you most enthusiastic about this new journey. You had a lot of questions, but you were also excited to be here. 

Many of you were elated at the amazing breadth of research topics and technologies accessible to you, and all the incredible possibilities for collaboration that UCSF has to offer.

“I’m excited to have people in my cohort to struggle with and cheer for,” said Gary Chan.

Many of you were keen to learn more about how to choose rotations and a thesis lab. You wanted honest, sage wisdom from the start to the end of the process, with specific examples of how older graduate students navigated these murky waters.

Interestingly, some of you said you were already getting lots of information about classes, rotations, career planning and all that other boring business stuff. Instead, you were eager to know about how you can continue to be a human while in graduate school. 

“How can I manage the stress of a new city, new people and a new program?” asked first year Zachary Stensland. 

Many of you also expressed an interest in learning how to explore different careers. You were curious about what internship and career options are available to students at UCSF, and how you could work these into an already busy graduate school career. 

Many of you wanted to know the best places to snooze, read, get coffee, stroll, eat, go on a date, and just hang out around the campuses. Jayden Ross was curious about quick and healthy recipes other graduate students whip up after a big day of sciencing. Sophia Nelson is looking for great city hikes. You also wanted to know what other graduate students do to stay balanced and how they expand their lives outside of the lab. 

And you were thrilled about being in the Bay Area, a mecca for science, food, and nature. 

We’re looking forward to answering any questions you may have. Please email us at with any sailing — or rather first year graduate school, qualms, concerns, confusions and curiosities.