Saturday, September 5, 2009

Guest post by someone who's made it through to the other side...

A reader who has made it past the PhD finish line kindly sent me his "Tips on How to Survive Graduate School and Maybe Even Flourish".

These tips are definitely focused on those of the Biological fields - so if you're not a Biology major, consider if they apply to you before accepting them as fact - but I think all of us can take away good points on the more general tips (I especially like and agree with #1 and #15, simple and so true!).

There's even quite a few tips aimed at PhD's just starting their journey.

By the way, he mentioned that he'd be happy to revise based on your feedback, so leave some comments with what you think!

Thanks for the tips Dr. Varela! We hope to meet you in beautiful Drland soon...

Tips on How to Survive Graduate School and Maybe Even Flourish

Dr. Manuel Varela
Professor of Biology

  1. First priority: pursuit and completion of your thesis.

  2. Time management: Maximize your daily efforts towards your education and your thesis project; i.e., complete daily experiments—don’t section off parts of experiments for another day.

  3. Enjoy your intellectual pursuits.
    a. Routinely (daily) read books and the latest published literature, especially in your field, but also other fields.
    b. Do not worry about your grades; instead, just try to understand (and play with) your knowledge.

  4. Choose a research laboratory that is functional.
    a. Do not study techniques: study problems.
    b. Do not invent (or be the first in your lab to use) a technique—use only those techniques and methods already established.
    c. Never develop (or tweak) an assay, nor clone a gene, nor purify a protein, nor work with RNA for a thesis.

  5. Choose a graduate advisor wisely.

  6. Apply for your own graduate fellowships and funding in collaboration with your advisor.
    a. Learn good grantsmanship and writing skills.

  7. How much work (minimum) for a thesis?
    a. 1 full-length paper for M.S.
    b. 3 full-length papers for a Ph.D.
    c. 1 full-length paper per year for postdoc.

  8. Present your work at meetings
    a. Rehearse your presentation repeatedly.
    b. Write putative questions and have a written answer ready for each.

  9. Publish your work early.

  10. For thesis research and projects…
    a. Always provide a logical rationale and hypothesis.
    b. Never ask “yes or no” questions.
    c. Instead study Hypothesis A versus Hypothesis B, or Hypothesis A versus Hypothesis Anti-A.
    i. Experimental design should distinguish between the hypotheses.
    d. Provide a “Gap.”
    e. Conduct more than one project at a time, in case one or two projects fail.

  11. Design your experiments such that the data are useful to you no matter what the outcomes are of such experiments.

  12. Use appropriate statistics.

  13. Get teaching experience, to the extent that you are able.

  14. Be leery of envious colleagues and competitors; your best revenge is to be successful.

  15. Be honest and ethical, or else your transgressions shall haunt you for ever.

  16. Do not be afraid to think or dream big, and do not let others talk you out of pursuing your dreams.

  17. Never give up.