QotD Walter Granger

September 27, 2007

Walter Granger, AMNHA young geologist challenged Walter Granger, saying, “Dr Granger, are you sure you’re right?”

Granger answered, without a flicker of hesitation, “Young man, I will consider myself a great success in life if I prove to be right fifty per cent of the time.”

from John McPhee’s masterful Annals of the Former World

Five sensible steps to increase your productivity

September 13, 2007

Steven Covey’s Four QuadratsI’ve got a date with a tropical rain forest for the next 12 days or so, so posting will be light. What follows is my basic system for deciding what to do, day by day. It is accrued, accreted, and amalgamated from GTD, 7 Habits, and lots of trial and error.

The basic idea: combine strategic planning with a simple rule that guarantees you do stuff daily that promotes your long-term academic fitness. Its simple and professor-proof. Here’s the gist:

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How much is enough? On climbing the reprint pile

September 8, 2007

paper-stack.jpgClass the other night was led by a top comparative physiologist. As it wound down (due to low glucose levels, or perhaps a high titer of corticosteroids…maybe both?) I asked her “How do you find time to read?”.

She frowned, and said “I don’t find enough. And it’s frustrating.”

Over the next few minutes she nuanced this a bit, acknowledging that 1) we all have different roles to play in our lives, and only so much time, and 2) by definition, scientists are infinitely curious, the literature is vast, and so frustration is not a bug, as our techie friends would say, but a feature. Our impatience with the literature signals why we are scientists.

I scribbled down that little nugget, thinking about what I’d write today, generating a pleasing little dribble of epinephrine in the process. Just then, another member of the class spoke up. “How much is enough?” she said. “My major advisor says read ten papers a day! Ten papers! Every day!”

My adrenals belched out another aliquot, I scribbled again. “How much reading is enough?”. Read the rest of this entry »

Eight reality checks for new grad students

September 1, 2007

GSMGraduate school is not your undergraduate education on steroids. It is a transformative journey in which you spend most of your waking moments training yourself to think and act like a scientist. Along the way you have many mentors and guides, not least of which are your fellow graduate students, the vast literature, and fussy, know-it-all blogs.

But your advisor is undoubtedly the partner most responsible to help guide your way, protect you from egregious political crap, steer you from some mistakes (you will find ways to make enough the way it is) and basically give you the time and space to transform yourself. The advisor’s role is complex and may best be described as your academic parent.

This realization is hard for some, particularly those who just spent some pretty harrowing years discovering both the joys of puberty and that their parents were batshit crazy. But just as every set of parents is different, advisors come in every stripe. The problem is, it is often not clear at the outset what you are getting yourself into. The more considerate, literate, (and, by definition, not batshit crazy) professors go out of their way to lay out their expectations early on. These vary, obviously, but the most basic advice is timeless.

Toward exploring these issues, I present below just such a “Manifesto of Expectations” (repeat to yourself, “It’s all about M.E.”). The author is a colleague who wishes to remain anonymous. I will respect his wishes, save to say that his short-lived career as a left tackle for the Golden Buffaloes was plagued by scandal, not all of which was his responsibility. What follows is some pretty frank (and dead-on) advice. It is lightly edited (MK: and annotated) toward removing the author’s frequent and rather strained metaphors to offensive line play. Read the rest of this entry »