Jennifer Whitney, PhD: Getting what you want.

Director, Regular Physiology Master’s Program
Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology & Physiology

“In physiology, you learn how the body works and I don’t think there’s anything more interesting or more applicable than that.”

At Georgetown University since 2003


Successful students have desire and work ethic.

I have never seen anyone who has real drive and a real desire to learn do poorly. There are students who come in who do not have appropriate study skills and who do not know how to approach this material. There are some that fall by the wayside and don’t do well and there are some that do just fine. Ultimately, the ones who do well are the students who have the attitude of, “I am going to learn this and it does not matter what I have to do, I am going to learn it.” Those students come to my office over and over again and we work on study skills and how to succeed. Those who have the desire are the ones who do well, and I can see their incredible work ethic.

One of the things that many people do not do is prepare for class. They might study after class, but they do not do the preparation necessary to get the most out of it beforehand. Most students show up and while we are throwing graphs and words at them, they are busy trying to figure out what we are talking about and what that graph is — that’s not learning. It is also important to learn how to understand the material so it can be applied.

“Memorization alone doesn’t get you very far at the graduate level.”

Getting what you want.

For me, lab work does not work. I find it too frustrating to put in so much work and not get the results that I want, or results that I do not understand. I had to accept that lab work was not for me and change course to find what I wanted. By the time I realized this, I was already halfway through my PhD. I could have quit at that point, but I also realized getting the PhD would help me get to where I wanted, and that was to be a professor. Sometimes you have to deal with the things you do not like to get what you want, and sometimes you may say, “This isn’t what I want, and I’m done.” You have to find a balance.

A deep desire to educate.

There is such a deep desire to educate well here, and that is somewhat unique in most graduate and medical schools. Most graduate and medical schools are looking for research dollars, but those who do well in research don’t necessarily always teach well. Some graduate and medical schools throw researchers into large teaching jobs that they are not well suited for. That is something that Georgetown does not do. There is a large education faculty that is good at teaching, and it is what they do. Georgetown puts a really strong emphasis on the faculty and their work with students, and that is very important.