Pointers for new graduate students

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Pointers for new graduate students

Postby Suzanne » Jul 29 2009 2:28 pm

Not so much humor, but something to discuss that is not strictly science.

Pointers for new graduate students
http://bitesizebio.com/2009/07/29/point ... -students/

I listed 10 things that immediately came to my mind that I wish I had known when I was getting started.
How about for you? What advice do you all have for the new class of grad students?

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Suzanne
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Re: Pointers for new graduate students

Postby relaxin » Jul 29 2009 4:00 pm

Tip #12. Learn from your (future) labmate's mistake. Graduate students often made the same mistakes in choosing a mentor or doing experiments. It is much less painful if you can learn from other people's mistake than from your own. :D
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Re: Pointers for new graduate students

Postby Suzanne » Jul 29 2009 6:15 pm

Very true.
Sometimes it is best to not always take someone else' word for it and to do it yourself- like if you think they could have made a mistake in an experiment. But some lesson are far better not to put yourself through when you don't have to.

I would also add another point- make sure that your project has enough questions that will lead to papers and is not one big fishing expedition.
You want to be able to summarize and make conclusions about mechanisms or results as you go.
My project was exciting to me because I was looking for novel genes that might be involved in leukemia. However, until you find them, you really have nothing to write about!
Papers and posters at meetings are key to success!

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Re: Pointers for new graduate students

Postby Lokutus » Jul 30 2009 12:07 am

:!:
Tip #13. Do not become a workaholic. What you cannot achieve in 60 hrs a week you wont never in 80 hrs as well! Often the very enthusiastic grads work so incredible hard that they do not have the energy anymore when it gets really tough and important. And if the experiments not working well, please, do not think they will do in the extra hours you spend in the lab over the weekend and in long nights during the week. You definetly must have days completly without your PhD thesis in your mind and without the pipette in your hand. Regulary and not only once a month. Being a workaholic is a serious social problem leading to early death, often on the job...
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Re: Pointers for new graduate students

Postby Suzanne » Jul 30 2009 3:50 am

Hi Lokutus,

Your post reminds me of this very interesting blog I read this week:

why am I so ashamed of being successful
http://mommyscientist.blogspot.com/2009 ... ssful.html

What do you think?

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Suzanne
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Re: Pointers for new graduate students

Postby Lokutus » Jul 30 2009 11:08 am

In my experience so far, it seems to be that those grad students work that long and hard (means more then 40 to 60 hrs a weak) who encounter (often) experimental problems. Many of them try to tackle these problems in additional working hours. This strategy works sometimes with simple issues (e.g. culturing cells with wrong antibiotic) but very often backfires if the problem is bigger and not that easy to solve. If there are no serious experimental problems and your are sure to get your results then there is no need to spend extra hours since your are satisfied and you feel your strategy works.

Of course, if your are successful it is easier "to confess" to work no more than eight hours a day. So, the strategy is justified by success. But without success things looking quite different. It is the fear of failure and the feeling to be in a kind of contest. These are the feelings that have be to tackled.

From my point of view, it is very important to have control over the work and not to be controlled by your work (as it is implied on http://mommyscientist.blogspot.com/2009 ... ssful.html). For instance, that means to leave the bench on Friday afternoon even if the experiments are not working well. Then come back on Monday but recovered and with new energy and ideas to solve these problems you encountered. The same is true for the working days. It is rather seldom that you solve your problems midnights. Moreover, there is no need to master the working load of a whole week on a single day. This rather shows a lack of planning skills and an obvious overestimation of your own capabilities.

And if you have to be on the weekend for feeding the cells or to water the seedlings or simply because the experiment is still running? This only justified two things: (1) leave early during the next week in order to compensate for these additional working hours and (2) do not start experiments during the week that cannot be stopped over the weekend or finished until Friday afternoon.

I know that sounds very magniloquently and I do not want not compare the academic work with a war story but it is correct: truly wins who do not fight (Sunzi).

:idea:
There is a nice booklet availabe for the very very busy researcher, called The Balanced Researcher. I am not sure anymore where I came across it but most probably on Bitesize Bio. Here the link of the PDF: http://www.vitae.ac.uk/CMS/files/Vitae- ... e-2008.pdf
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Re: Pointers for new graduate students

Postby relaxin » Jul 30 2009 1:18 pm

It is true that some grad students work long hours in the lab because they are pressured either by no data to show in the Monday morning lab meeting or by the mentor (I knew one professor used to show up in the lab after dinner to see who was working in the evening). But some do enjoy doing experiments; they are working for their own thesis, they should not have the mentality of technicians who just work from 9 to 5. Students who work hard can graduate earlier (in 3 years as compared to an average of 5 years). When I was an assistant professor, I worked 7 days a week for my tenure. So getting used to work for long hours when you are a grad student may help you in the long run.
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Re: Pointers for new graduate students

Postby relaxin » Nov 30 2010 10:08 pm

Tip #14. When you just join a lab, keep your mouth shut or you will irritate the old-timers (technicians). Learn all the jargons and inner-working of the lab and read the literature on the on-going projects. After you have mastered these, then speak up whenever it is appropriate (e.g. in a lab meeting). You will be praised by your mentor and admired by your colleagues.

Tip #15. Never criticize the technician that what he/she is doing is wrong. It may be the way your mentor wants him/her to do the job.
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