Distinguised IMSD Predoc alum Dr. Jordan Booker, now at Emory University school of medicine, gave scholars some advice:
There are three broad tips that I think can help serve scholars well in their current efforts and across their careers. Those include managing your time carefully, staying open to exciting opportunities, and building strong, dependable networks.
Some of the recurring topics that come up within and beyond academia include work-life balance and "getting things done" -- efficiently knocking out the major tasks that are important for you. These kinds of topics all point to the importance of being mindful of your time and using it to the fullest. With coursework and labwork, that means prioritizing tasks well. What needs to get done? What order do you need to tackle tasks in? How much time do you reasonably need for each task. It can take practice figure out what you need to get that manuscript done, or latest round of data collection managed in good time -- especially if you want to keep some time dedicated for relaxing outside of the lab (which you absolutely should be accounting for as well). Whether it's through a calendar, to-do lists/applications, or group accountability, I would strongly recommend finding ways to keep yourself mindful of the things that are important for you to get done and what steps you'll need to dedicate the time and energy to get those things done well. This is an activity never gets any easier, but if you get more comfortable being organized and motivated now, it will serve you very well with future initiatives.
Second, while it's important to stay focused on the major tasks you need to mature as a professional and an expert in your area of study, you should stay open-minded with opportunities that might provide new and valuable experiences for you. Whether that includes collaborating with colleagues who approach questions with a different framework or toolset, or taking some time to take up a class or activity that's a bit different from what you're typically most comfortable with, there can be some very nice value in becoming more familiar with other activities and viewpoints. That said, you have to remain focused on the major tasks you need to get your main work done and done well. You have to prioritize (see point 1) and you can't overload yourself with activities that don't ultimately contribute to the long-term goals you have as a professional (SEE POINT 1).
Lastly, in somewhat in line with the second point, you need to be purposeful in reaching out to others and building a strong, reliable network. This applies both to your professional development and personal well-being. It is invaluable to gain peers, colleagues, and mentors who both are closely aligned to the work you're already doing as well as folks who are going to approach questions a little differently. You'll find yourself getting great feedback and advice from folks who have a rich array of experiences and ways of thinking about the world. That will challenge you and the way you've gone about doing your work sometimes, but it can be really rewarding to think about your own directions from multiple viewpoints. Further, building a strong professional network is great for getting opportunities to collaborate, build strong ties, and possibly be directed toward future opportunities your colleagues hear about, if not being offered some opportunities to work more closely with some individuals should openings that are good fits come along. Strong personal networks are incredibly important for having a source of support, understanding, and care outside of the lab and classroom. You need individuals who you can turn to just to step back and go relax with, have the chance to vent with, and so on. For a lot of people, their family members and friends fill this role. Others find peers who are in similar situations (like PREP/IMSD colleagues) who are great for catching up over coffee or a meal and understanding some of the pressures you're facing. Others find rewarding community groups (see point 2) that help provide a great source of support and break from things on campus. Whatever way that shapes up for you, it is so important having people in your life you can depend on just to be there and be supportive after the inevitable long days running projects or working on (and hopefully making progress with) a manuscript or thesis.