Monday, September 25, 2006

"You're only as good as your next paper"

We had a different kind of seminar today. Once a week, we have an invited speaker from outside who gives a talk on his/her research. Today we had a "motivational speaker" types. It's almost worrisome, that we need these talks now. :) Nothing new was said, but the reinforcement was useful. Good timing for me too, especially since the jade from starting my sixth year is beginning to set in, and I'm beginning to embark on the post-doc hunt too.

Vishesh tippani from babaji's talk.

What should motivate a scientist? Love of the process of finding out. Not so much the ends or the results, but the means.

You cannot prove anything. All it takes is a single experiment to prove you wrong. You can only find the truth to the best extent you can.

As a graduate student:

Interdisciplinary is the way to go.
Make the best of your environs. If you're in a lab with the sexiest microscope and imaging facility, take your project there.
Read widely, not always necessarily deeply. (To gain breadth)
If you're really keen on doing an experiment, DO IT.
Think out of the box. Ask of your data "What is the most interesting thing this could mean?"
Don't be afraid. Have the self confidence that you could've indeed stumbled upon the answer that many were trying to get at. (He in fact mentioned that women are bad at this)
Learn the history of your science.
It's ok to get side-tracked. But don't put all your eggs in one basket.
Think quantitatively.
Be a control freak. :-) (As in designing controls for experiments)
Honour the scientific method, always.
Keep a good notebook. Should have all the information needed to repeat the experiment.
Develop a thick skin. Take criticism constructively. Nothing's personal.
Speak up when you have to. Our mission is to find the truth, not to be nice or to honour elders.
Always LOOK at the cells. (Sigh, indeed! The cells, they tell you so much)


Think for yourself. Write for yourself. OWN your project. Be the world's best expert on it.
The Boss is not always right. (hah! this i know ;) )And will often be happy to be proven wrong.
When you find yourself disagreeing with the boss, you're ready to graduate. (Excuuuz me??? ;) )
Pick a project where you can learn as many techniques as possible.
Each time you perform an experiment, you should be thinking about improving every step for the next time you do it.
Base conclusions on multiple experiments.
Don't be blinded by the statistics. The statistics are only as good as the assumptions they rely on.
Force yourself to write down observations, especially of the failed experiments. Do not forget the unexplained results! (This is so important!)
Speak up! Ask questions at talks.
Grab every opportunity to present your work to an outside audience. (very important, especially when it comes to the post-doc hunt)

Do not prolong your Ph.D. :(
Take responsibility for yourself. Have a plan for the next five years.


Post doc hunt:

Don't sell yourself short. Salaries are negotiable. Play the game. Post-docs are among the most exploited class of workers anyway. (hah!)

Must interview prospective lab. Talk to students/employees. Track back ex-members of the lab and speak to them.

Does the P.I help his people? (Outside of lab). Will he let you take projects with you when you leave?

Choose wisely. Cannot go wrong in picking a lab for your post-doc, after being in the system for five plus years.

If you have to do two post-docs, switch after two years at the first one.

Try getting outside fellowships for post-doc work.

Work hard. If you want to become a P.I, it's an uphill climb.

You don't have to end up as a P.I to be successful in science.

23 comments:

Prashanth said...

Hmmmmmmmm I suppose I'm already doing most of it right. Unfortunately, its no substitute for raw brilliance!

The Smiling Girl said...

Cmon Lajjo, we know you can do better than making sad faces at - Dont prolong your PhD type of sentences... Whatever it is taking to take long for you, I am sure is worthwhile.. :)
And indeed good words he said.. these ones are applicable for most of us, I guess.. :)

sd said...

Hi my first time here... I think I know exactly what you were feeling, when you wrote this post ... there should a group for phD students in there 6th year and above:)

Pallavi said...

This is fantastic for aspiring PhDs.:)

Andy E. said...

Good luck with the post-doc hunt!

Rebellion said...

hehehe, wise words eh Lajjo?! :P
Loved the bosses wale statements! hehehe :P

Btw Lajjo, when are you finishing?? :P:P:P
Just kidding dear.. please don't get hyper! I yet dunno how to handle the hyper Lajjo :P

All the Best,
Take care,
Aarti

Kaushik Gopalan said...

Thanks, much needed rejuvenation and inspiration came on reading the post.

Sakshi said...

Seems like we are in the same boat.
Good one.. May be I should invite this guy as my speaker candidate ;)

Born a Libran said...

Read the whole thing and was kind of nodding to most of them... But, what is it about "When you start disagreeing with ur boss, u r ready to graduate"? I find myself doing stuff either before my boss asks me for it or have it in the "To Do" list even before the boss asks for it. I thought that meant that I was ready to graduate, but :( A good post none the less...

Tachyoson said...

first rule in life i guess is ... "dont plan it too much ... just plan your attitude to circumstance"... difficult to predict what the next millisecond may bring (Thank You - Chaos Theory) :P

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

prashanth,
::-) good for you!

s.g,
Cmon Lajjo, we know you can do better than making sad faces at - Dont prolong your PhD type of sentences..

haan...it's just reflex action these days. i hope to make it worthwhile too. there are some good things that can come from it.

hi sd!
sixth-year-support-group! good idea!

hi pallavi,
yeah. it is. good points they are.

andy e,
thanks! that will take form of another rant soon. :p

aarti,
maar khayegi. :-)

kaushik gopalan,
yes, it did rustle me up too. glad it was of help.

sakshi,
jonathan yewdell, NIH. he's the guy. but it was a good talk, good choice for student-invited speaker, yes. i only felt he was kinda too overbearing for my taste. but..it could just be all that energy meant to inspire. which he did.

libran,
yeah, that disagreement thing is a myth. nothing signals graduation except graduation itself. bas. all other theories are bunk.

tachyoson,
yeah, thats a good attitude in life. but at work, one has to plan, no?

Sakshi said...

@ TGFI -
You only gradute when your PI fears that your sanity might break any min and you meight go off on a "lab rage" - that is a theory I am testing right now.
Frown and growl at randome people and positively snarl at the newbies.

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

sakshi
hahahha! i like the idea. will try too!! the very idea brings a gleeful grin. :-)

confused said...

FSM! Another post on Phd! Why dont you guys ever invite a highschool counseller?

Anonymous said...

"If you're in a lab with the sexiest microscope and imaging facility, take your project there."

I think you can never undermine the importance of the right tools and facilities...! :)

qsg

PS: why does stupid blogger not accept my name? Hmph!

Rebellion said...

Aap mujhe maaroge Lajjo?
I don't mind and sure you know why, right? ;):P

Take care,
Aarti

Born a Libran said...

Unfortunately, I am a theoretician and I dont experiment too much... So awaiting the results so I can make a prediction of how future generations will graduate ;)

Prashanth said...

What happened? Ek post deleted?

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

confused,
the only counseling some high-schoolers need is: blog less study more. fir pass ho jayega. :-)

qsg,
:-) totally. my precious microscope.

aarti,
:-)

libran,
look out for our paper. :-)

prashanth,
yes.

Di said...

looks like u DID have a gud notebook in hand during the talk!!..but seriously real gud points there!! :) though im nowhere near being a researcher...

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

hi di!
:-) yes, actually i did. :-) do you want to be a researcher? you should save these tips then. :-)

Meenu said...

Its 8:43 pm and I'm in the lab trying to postpone writing the final chapter of my PhD thesis. Blog surfing brought me to this post. Caught myself nodding my head to most of the points you mentioned and wished I had read it 5 yrs back. But still I wont complain coz am at the end of the road and when I look back i have a whole load of happy memories.
Thanks for putting this up.

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

hi meenu!
congrats on getting as far as your final chapter! yeah, in an ideal world, we'd all like to follow these all the time, but ideal seldom happens..
good luck going forth!