All posts by Sarah Luna

How to Connect to the Cornell Servers for Ubuntu Users

As travelling graduate student, I often find myself needing to access Cornell’s servers from my personal laptop. The Cornell IT site has helpful instructions for Windows users and Mac users but nothing for Ubuntu users like me. After tinkering around a bit, here’s how I got things to work.

For Ubuntu users:

Search for “remote desktop client”. My version of Ubuntu already had Remmina Remote Desktop Client installed. If yours does not, you can find it here. Open the application.


Click on the “Create a new remote desktop file” icon. Type in the name for your profile. I connect to the Cornell servers, so I named mine “Cornell”.  Leave Group blank. Protocol should be “RDP-Remote Desktop Protocol”.


Under the Basic settings, type in your server name. Here is a list of the Cornell research servers if you are a student.

The rest of the fields can be left blank. If you want to share a folder (this prevents you from having to email yourself all of your files), check the “Share folder” box and choose which folder you want shared.

Click Save. The server should now appear in the Remmina Remote Desktop Client window.

Double click on the server name. This will take you to the log in screen. Enter your user name and password (I’m not sure why, but you must add “_RS” to your Cornell ID to log in), and you should be good to go.

It’s not science until you write it down: Starting the New Year with Clarity

Happy New Year from one of the most beautiful countries in the world!

I’m starting off the new year back in Rwanda. For those of you who have been following along, I travelled to Rwanda last January as well to begin a project related to my research. For lots of reasons that can be summed up as “international research” the project was delayed for a year, and now I’m back to try again.

Many things have changed over the last year regarding this project. Simply put, I have more responsibility this time. I am thrilled to be trusted with so much and terrified of messing things up.

I remember the following quote:

You never rise to the occasion. You sink to your lowest level of training.

With that in mind, I’ve been training like crazy getting the procedures and equipment ready. Though I’ve worked with this equipment previously (in India) and been trained since undergrad, I’ve come to realize something important: none of that matters unless it’s written down.

It doesn’t matter that I can do all of the procedures. What matters is that I train others to do them just as well. What matters is creating standards and references and training materials. What matters is passing my knowledge along so that others can achieve results. This is called reproducibility, and clear writing is key.

One of my perpetual goals is to communicate more clearly in writing and when speaking. This trip to Rwanda will force me to communicate in plain English (and perhaps garbled French) what I want and need. It also strengthens my written communication with friends and family back home since I cannot call them.

Happy New Year everyone. The ball is about to drop in NYC. Here is to a clear 2013!

In a Slump? Here are Two Things That Will Make Your Life Easier

I’m going to be really honest. This week was rough. I’m sure you can relate to feeling overwhelmed and underproductive (I just made that word up). Some days, you just wonder what you’re really doing in grad school in the first place.

Well that was me this week. You see, I am preparing for my A exam, and in my lab that means that I have to have a comprehensive proposal written in about 10 weeks. I’m also in the midst of writing two manuscripts and searching for grants.

Stressed. Worried. Curled up in my bed not wanting to move.

That’s pretty much how I spent yesterday. But then I found two resources that turned my week around.

Take Control with Productive Flourishing

If you need something to challenge you to get moving, look no further than Charlie Gilkey’s post that poses 50 relevant questions about your productivity. This post helped me define what I was trying to accomplish and what I needed to prioritize. Then I used their free planners to map out the next 10 weeks.

Accomplish More with the Pomodoro Technique

Once I had my plan, I was ready to take action.

The Pomodoro technique in it’s simplest expression is working with razor sharp focus on one task for 25 minutes and then taking a 5 minute break. Once the 5 minutes are up, you start up at your task again. Every 4 “pomodoro” cycles, you take a 15-30 minute break to rest and recharge. (If you want to learn more, read this.)

My application of this technique had been spotty at best, but then I found a free online Pomodoro timer that made it much easier to take this method wherever I work. On a campus computer? No problem. In my office? Yep, still on Pomodoro cycles.

With these two new tools, I overcame my slump funk.

Bad days happen. Bad weeks happen, too. You’re allowed to feel overwhelmed when things get tough, but there are always tools, methods, and most importantly people who are there to help you get through it.

If you like what you see, sign up for the free emails!

photo credit: katiew via photo pin cc

Remember: Even If You Feel Behind, You’re Not Losing

Sometimes grad school can be a little intimidating. You’re surrounded by brilliant people all the time, and you might start wondering how you fit in.

Especially during the first weeks of a new semester, it seems like everyone has something exciting to report, and you begin to feel stuck and small.

It can be hard to remember that you’re brilliant, too.  That’s why they picked you.

Here are some ways to get you out of your funk and back into the game.

Think about it for a minute

Someone somewhere in your department had faith in your ideas. They read what you wrote, looked at what you’ve done, and decided to train you. You are worth their time (and their grant money). Your adviser, your mentors, and your entire university is vested in your advancement. They care about you.

Talk to another (more experienced) grad student

The more advanced grad students have done it all. Seriously, go find one and pick their brains. Vent to them about your coursework, your ideas, your IRB troubles…whatever. They will likely have ideas or tips from their own experiences. Or at the very least be able to lend a sympathetic ear.

Talk to Your Adviser

And make the most of it. Remember, if you’re the Olympic athlete, your adviser is your coach. Listen and learn.

Get Organized

It’s incredible how much information is out there. I use Evernote to keep track of articles and classnotes that I find helpful. That way they are neat and searchable for when I need them.

Make a (Minimalist) Game Plan

Leo Babauta calls it his three Most Important Tasks. Before you go to bed, list out the three most important things on your to-do list for the next day. When you wake up, address these three tasks first. That way, if nothing else, you accomplish something related to your goals.

Make a (Complex) Game Plan

Maybe you want more than Leo’s method. You like big checklists and huge plans. You want to plan out your time for the entire month.  Look no further than Productive Flourishing’s free planners.  These things are amazing because they encourage objective-based planning. Set goals, and define your path towards them.

Most importantly…

Remember that you’re not losing. Graduate endeavors are individualistic affairs. For the most part, you set your own path and determine how far you go. 

Look at others around you for inspiration and encouragement. Collaborate and commiserate when you need help. But ultimately, you will look forward to focus on your own goals and cross your own finish line.

If you like what you read here, sign up for free email updates!

photo credit: ….Tim via photo pin cc

6 Savvy Ways to Help Your Adviser Help You

You’ve just started graduate school, and now you’re completely lost.

Or maybe you’ve realized that this is your third or fourth (or nth) year. And you’re completely lost.

“What did I get myself into?”

But wait. Before you panic, there is one person who has been chosen as your superhero. Your adviser.

If you’ve chosen to study under this person, chances are your goals are similar to their accomplishments. They can be a gold mine of information if you only know how to ask. But how do you even ask for help when you’re still learning the language?  How do you get their valuable feedback and time when you have a very important person with very important things to do as an adviser?

Here are 6 ways to make it easy for them to help you. The first three are for before you meet with your adviser, and the last three are for meetings with them.

Before the meeting…

1. Start with structure.

You didn’t just come to graduate school on a whim. You have a mission. Take a look at your personal statement. This is the piece of you that convinced your department to take you on as a graduate student. What made you the compelling choice? Write down 3 goals you have for your graduate career. This focuses your mind and nips panic mode.

2. Make a Master Task List

Take those 3 goals you came up with and list everything you need to do to accomplish them. Split the list into immediate (1-2 weeks), short term (3-6 months), and long term tasks (years). This list will get longer as you progress (and certainly after you meet with your adviser).

3. Know what You Want to Know

Your adviser isn’t a mind reader. They don’t know what you don’t know. Their minds are occupied by numerous projects and duties and classes. You have to do the active thinking about what you need to know.  Keep a running list of questions to ask them, and keep it current. Evernote is a wonderful tool for this.

During the meeting…

4. Don’t Waste Their Time

Outline your expectations early. If you called this meeting for a purpose, tell them exactly what that purpose is and what you hope to get out of talking with them. It’s their job to help you (and most are eager to do so). Tell them what you need. Hint: refer back to your Master Task List and Question List.

5. Agree on Deliverables (and then provide them on time)

Advisers are great at providing feedback on something tangible. Agree on a deliverable to have by your next meeting. This does two things: 1) It keeps you on track and focused, and 2) It gives your adviser a way to appraise your work and offer suggestions.

6. Don’t be Afraid to Look Stupid. Just Ask.

You will look stupid at some point. Get over it, and ask your question.

Remember, you are not alone in this journey. Your adviser is there to, well, advise you. Take advantage of their experience and expertise to get unstuck and get going.

And as always, if you like what you see, subscribe to the email list!

photo credit: thekellyscope via photo pin cc

11 Inspirational Quotes for First Year Graduate Students

First of all, congratulations on starting your first year of graduate school!

You are embarking on a wild, whirlwind adventure that will push your mind and your will (and maybe even your body) further than you have ever gone before. You are on a noble quest to extend the boundary of human knowledge.

I salute you.

After two full years of graduate school, I can tell you that the first few months are the hardest. Here are 11 of my favorite inspirational quotes to get you started.


“There has been an alarming increase in the number of things I know nothing about” – Winnie the Pooh

“Whatever you can do, or dream, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”~Goethe

“In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.” – Miguel de Cervantes

“Only those who risk going too far will see how far they can go.” T.S. Elliott

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’ ” – Mary Anne Radmacher

 “It is not by accident that the happiest people are those who make a conscious effort to live useful lives. Their happiness, of course, is not a shallow exhilaration where life is one continuous intoxicating party. Rather, their happiness is a deep sense of inner peace that comes when they believe their lives have meaning and that they are making a difference for good in the world.” – Ernest A. Fitzgerald

“Whatever you do today do it better tomorrow.” ~Robert Shuler

“Its not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves.” ~Sir Edmund Hillary

“There is a way to do it better. Find it”. ~Thomas Edison

“Only those who risk going too far will see how far they can go.” – T.S. Elliott

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” – Helen Keller

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” – Steve Martin


Good luck this year, and check back for helpful tips!


Future Fun Facts

Remember when I said that my life is so much more than the pursuit of a PhD?

I’ve been keeping a “bucket list” now for a couple of years. It’s helped me defined what I truly want to do and see and become in my life. After finding Joel Runyon’s Blog of Impossible Things, I was inspired to refashion my list because my bucket list just wasn’t aiming high enough.

This list is designed to evoke statements like Girl, you crazy. You can’t do all that. That’s impossible.

But as I’ve mentioned before, now is the time to be outrageous.

Even more than that, though, putting this list together forced me to define an ideal future filled with possibility.

So without further ado, I present…

My Future Fun Facts


PhD Stuff

  • Publish a paper
  • and another one
  • and another one
  • give a lecture at Cornell (as a TA, as a guest lecturer)
  • Become a walking reference manual for SAS, SPSS, R, Evernote, Refworks
  • design a full semester course
  • design an online course


  • Complete 50 push ups in a row
  • Handstand or any inverted yoga pose
  • 200 consecutive squats
  • Complete one unassisted pull up (then five)
  • learn Parkour
  • Become proficient in four styles of martial arts (Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Jujitsu, Kung Fu)


  • Visit every continent (North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, Antarctica)
  • Macchu Picchu
  • Hagia Sophia
  • Camino de Santiago (Camino Frances)
  • Pilgrimage to Rome
  • Great Wall of China

Confronting Fears

  • Learn to surf
  • Learn to hang glide
  • Scuba dive
  • Do an unassisted back flip
  • Ride a bike in a foreign country


  • Earn $5,000/year freelancing
  • Make a full time second income online (~$30,000 per year)
  • Write an e-book (besides my Evernote guide)
  • save $100,000

Renaissance Woman

  • Design a Tiny House
  • Build a Tiny House
  • Speak four languages besides English (Spanish, French, German, Esperanto)
  • Compete at Pre-Champ Level in two of four ballroom styles (Smooth, Standard, Rhythm, Latin)
  • Sing part of the Hallelujah Chorus

And that’s it for now! Do you have an “impossible” goal or list of goals?

How to be Understood in Grad School: Speak the Language

Have you ever written something you thought was brilliant and then reread it a week later and have no idea what you meant? Or had it covered in red comments from your adviser?

Do you get overwhelmed and mumble something unintelligible when someone asks you “what you’re studying”?

You are a smart, capable person. But…

You don’t speak the language.

It all comes back to the words. The majority of what you want to say has been said more concisely and eloquently by someone else already. I think this is safe to assume for all graduate students. We’re learning. It’s ok.

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel by explaining difficult concepts “creatively”. What you think is clever wording is probably unintelligible to the person listening to you.

There is a unique language in each field of study. Adopt that language as soon as possible. Veterans in your field speak it fluently while baby grad students stutter along.

I’m not just talking about jargon (though that could be a large part). I’m referring to the way professionals in your field talk about your subject, the phrases they use, and the style of the questions they ask. As in a foreign country, speaking a little bit of the language can take you from being the loud, awkward foreigner to being a welcome part of the community. It is critical to acknowledge this language barrier and address it.

Three Places to Find Your Field’s Language

1. Your advisor’s bio page – This is a perfect place to see what your advisor uses as an elevator speech. What is the main purpose of their research? Out of everything in their decades-long, super auspicious career, what do they choose to highlight? If you’ve chosen to study under this person, chances are your goals are similar to their accomplishments.

2. Mission statements – Whether from your department or an NGO or a grant organization, mission statements give you concise, goal-oriented language.

3. Introductions of journal articles – Authors often start their papers with an overview of the current knowledge. Clear, simplified concepts just for you. Bonus: check out their citations.

Use Your Common Language

Besides writing, you can use this language in many different settings.

For example, you may be interested in the BOND project. Their website states that a “primary goal of the BOND project is to harmonize the processes for making decisions about what biomarkers are best for use in support of research, program development and evaluation, and generation of evidence-based policy.”

Here are a few ways you can use that language:

Introducing yourself to someone at a seminar: “Hi, I’m interested in what biomarkers are best for use in iron research in populations with high infection rates.”

Talking to a faculty member: “Could you point me in the direction of good resources for program development and evaluation of iron supplementation trials?”

Get the gist?

***Note: Obviously, if you’re going to use any of this language in writing, you will provide the proper citation. No plagiarism ever.

Collect Winning Words

Start a collection and refer back to it before writing or making an introduction. This is your “Smooth-talking cheat sheet”. Just copy and paste phrases into a Word document (citing them, of course, for future reference) or put them in an Evernote note (guess which one I do). I find Evernote’s Web Clipper to be really useful for saving grant websites’ mission statements.

Remember, learning the language is only the first step. It’s up to you now to use this language to spruce up your pitch and your proposal and get you talking with the in-crowd.

If you like what you see, subscribe to the email list!

photo credit: giovanni_novara via photo pin cc

Why Do I Do This?

I saw that secret in my first year of grad school.

It shook me to my core. It’s one of those I could at and say: “What if that’s me?” It could easily become my secret in 10 years if I let it.

I found that it was easy to get overwhelmed by the endless reading, writing, and thinking. It was exhausting to feel like I wasn’t making progress. But my life is so much more than a PhD.

I want an incredible life, too, and I don’t want to wait 10 years for it.

And so I live now. I make the conscious choice to enjoy every single day. To do fun things. To step out of my comfort zone.

Since starting my PhD program, I have:

  • started playing ukulele
  • joined a competitive ballroom dance team
  • lived in Rwanda and India
  • learned to use a DSLR
  • begun learning Spanish and French

How do I do this?

Since I don’t intend to do cool stuff at the expense of my academic training, I have to be incredibly purposeful about the way I structure my life.

I create systems to enhance my productivity without driving myself insane.

I don’t complain about how difficult my work is.   This is my challenge, and I embrace it.

No matter what your specific grad program is like, we all have five tasks in common:

  • Idea Generation
  • Idea Organization
  • Idea Presentation
  • Self-Promotion
  • Self-Funding
I’ve learned quite a bit about these five tasks over my past two years as a graduate student at Cornell. Most of the things I learned I had to figure out on my own. Now I am going to share what I know and what I discover.

I am here to encourage you.

Grad school is difficult and misunderstood. How many times did people question your decision to go to grad school? Or poke fun at you? Or tell you that you’ll always be poor and overworked?

How many of your peers endlessly bemoan the amount of work they have to do?  Every day, they work and work but they never seem to feel better!

There is a better way. Optimize the Five Tasks. Work hard on stuff that matters. Then stop and go play for a bit.

I will show you ways to work smarter so you can live the life you want now.

Thanks for reading along!