Summary: Science is hard work, but making it through a PhD program and into a rewarding career can seem downright impossible. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone shared the secrets for success at every stage? Admissions, rotations, classes, quals, research, dissertations, job-hunting – avoid the pitfalls and get back to doing what you love. It's like getting a PhD in getting a PhD!
The CACTUS Global Mental Health Survey asked valuable questions about stress, performance, and career goals for scientists. The data revealed plenty of room for improvement, as researchers struggle with harassment, work-life balance, and limited pay. But the study’s authors also asked more open-ended questions: Do you have any suggestions for organizations within academia or other related stakeholders on what they can do to ensure a great work environment for researchers? The received 5,434 ideas from the 13,000 survey respondents. This week, we’re joined once again by Andrea Hayward, Senior Associate for Global Community Engagement at Cactus Communications. We unpack the themes she uncovered from those responses, and identify the many ways in which Academia can foster a more supportive research environment. Address Bullying and Harassment Andrea Hayward, Sr. Associate for Global Community Engagement at Cactus Communications The most prominent theme from survey responses was to implement measures to promote equality and prevent harassment, discrimination, and bullying. For example, one respondent wrote: Take people seriously. I experienced harassment and bullying and I was brushed off and not listened to until it got severe. Then the department said “Why didn’t you say anything?” when I had been the entire time. What seems inconsequential to some may be harmful to others. Reputation is too important to some programs.PhD student, Europe Some researchers talked about sexual harassment that is normalized or explained away. Others described differential treatment or favoritism based on race. Whatever their experiences, we know that departmental policies regarding bullying and harassment are rare, and consequences for this type of behavior are practically non-existant. To improve the work environment, Universities should establish written guidelines around inappropriate behavior, and enforce them even when it’s inconvenient. Improve Job Security and Pay Wanting a bigger paycheck is not unusual in the working world, but scientists experience unique challenges. Aside from lower pay in academia, they also face contract terms that make their lives unpredictable. “Fixed-Term Contracts” are just what they sound like – a scientist is hired to work for a certain number of months or years, and then they’re done. Contrast that with most other careers where you are hired to work until you decide to move on. And what’s truly unusual about fixed term contracts is that they might cover only 8-12 months. After that short period, the funding dries up. Setting aside the fact that it may be impossible to complete a publishable body of research in 8 months, these short contracts add considerable stress to postdocs and technicians who are supporting themselves and their families. They may have a 12-month lease, but an 8-month job! Foster a Work-Life Balance Another common theme was a call for better work-life balance. Students, postdocs, and staff wanted their departments to recognize that 80-hour work weeks take a toll on mental and physical health.
Most academics are overwhelmed, even the ones who are successful in terms of being productive researchers, busy teachers and efficient administrators. But, they seem like the norm and everyone who struggles is not, and this needs to be disrupted and changed.Research fellow/post-doctoral researcher, Africa. I’m worried about sexism in academia in general and this might make me want to leave after finishing my PhD, even though my current work environment is good.PhD scholar, Europe It’s not about free time, it’s a lack of free energy. Who can do hobbies when you’re physically, mentally, and emotionally drained?Lecturer, North America Would it surprise you to hear that researchers and scientists around the globe are stressed out? Long hours, competitive labs, and unpredictable funding are just a few of the factors that contribute poor mental health among academics. Graduate students tend to suffer the most, as they don’t receive the same support as those more advanced in their careers. This week on the show, we delve into data collected by the Cactus Foundation from their 2020 Mental Health Survey Report. Andrea Hayward, Sr. Associate for Global Community Engagement at Cactus Communications We’re joined by Andrea Hayward, Senior Associate for Global Community Engagement at Cactus Communications. She’s a member of the Cactus team who surveyed 13,000 researchers from all career stages around the globe. The survey report is rich with nuanced data on how scientists are feeling at work, and how that breaks down by career stage and region of the world. For example, when asked “In the last month, how often have you felt overwhelmed by your situation at work?”, 38% of respondents said they felt overwhelmed ‘fairly often’ or ‘very often’ Thirty-one percent say they’re working more than 50 hours a week, and 13% report working more than 60 hours a week. A third didn’t believe their organization had strict policies around discrimination, bullying and harassment, and reports of discrimination and harassment were common. This was particularly true among women, people of color, and those identifying as LGBTQ. But the news was not all bad – 77% agreed or strongly agreed that their work gives them a sense of fulfillment. Sixty percent look forward to their work and the creative challenges each day. We discuss these topics, and so much more. How do academics view their job prospects? When they feel overwhelmed, are they comfortable asking for help? How many suffer feelings of impostor syndrome? To learn more, check out the CACTUS Mental Health Survey page, or follow them on Twitter. They also have a powerful 4-part video series following researchers as they deal with mental health issues called “Some Days Are Better Than Others”.
Do you hear it? It’s the sound of hopeful scientists frantically typing out their grad school applications! They’re pondering the best format for a CV, scouring University websites to learn more about each graduate program, and begging their research advisors to PLEASE make the time to write that letter of recommendation! The silence you hear is the sound of trepidation as they sit down to write their personal statements…. This week on the show, we unpack the essential elements of a grad school application, and what you need to know before you begin. During application season, you might be short on time and long on things to do. We get it. That’s why we’ve condensed our application advice into one, easy to listen, episode. Here are the essentials: Where to Apply? Grad school applications are expensive: they cost both money AND time. Even if you happen to have enough money to apply to 20 or 30 schools, you probably don’t have the time. And we recommend that you limit your applications to places you’d actually like to go. Graduate school is a multi-year commitment, and you shouldn’t apply to schools that can’t teach you what you want to know. It’s better to apply to the few programs you really want to attend than to get into a school that doesn’t match your interests. Even if you get in, you’ll be stuck in a research track you never really wanted. For more on this important subject, see Episode 101: HelloPhD Guide to Grad School Applications – Knowing When, and Where, to Apply with Dr. Beth Bowman The CV Applications will require your CV. It should be composed in reverse-chronological order, with your education and most recent research experiences first. Remember: any lab experience you list in your CV should have a matching letter of recommendation later in the application. And if you happen to have publications or presentations at major conferences, be sure to list those with your own name in bold font so that the reviewer can quickly spot your name in the longer list of contributors. Your Transcript Here’s some good news: biomedical PhD programs are less focused on your GPA than other programs might be. Reviewers are MORE interested in whether you have experience doing research in a lab or in the field. That said, they want to see that you’ve gained the background you need to succeed. That usually means coursework in advanced sciences like molecular biology, biochemistry, and organic chemistry. If you don’t have this experience, or your GPA is lower than you’d like, it’s not the end of the road. Use the Personal Statement to make a case for your readiness, in spite of some gaps in your transcript. For more, check out Episode 152. How Do I Explain the Bad Grades On My Transcript? Personal Statement This is the trickiest section for most students. How do you describe your interest in research and affinity for the program without resorting to flowery language or flattery? We recommend describing the overarching theme your prior research lab has fo...
The only thing harder than hiking for three hours into a remote boreal forest is realizing you forgot your sample kit back in the lab. For many researchers, running out of a reagent means walking down the hall to borrow more from a neighboring lab, but field researchers don’t have that luxury. They may be hours away from their labs, and miles away from the van. That’s why planning is so important. This week, we learn the three T’s you should remember to pack on EVERY trip. Dr. Sara Vero, PhD is a researcher and lecturer in agricultural and environmental science at The Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland. Dr. Vero has worked extensively in soil science, water quality, plant nutrition, and land management, and this week, she condenses some of her experience into three topics you’ll need to prepare for your next successful trip. Tools The first T stands for Tools – the equipment you’ll need to bring along to complete your observation or experiments. As you plan your trip, Dr. Vero recommends that you think through the specific tasks you’ll need to accomplish – sampling, field treatments, assays – and compile a checklist of items required for each. Typically, you’ll need three types of tools: * Task-specific tools – these are the reagents and equipment you’ll use in your research, like core samplers, chemicals, or metering equipment.* Consumables – the items that get used once and packed out. Think gloves, bags, pipettes, and bottles.* Everyday Carry – personal items and equipment that have multiple uses, like a multi-tool, flashlight, or duct tape. Make a spreadsheet or checklist, and pack common items in advance. Dr. Vero recommends having clothing and your everyday carry items in a duffel bag in the closet. When it’s time to hit the road, you won’t have to think about (or forget) any of these essential items. Team It’s rare for a researcher to go out into the field alone. There’s too much to do, and there’s safety in numbers. That’s why Dr. Vero recommends thinking through those tasks one more time to identify the right team. She recommends assessing the following considerations: * Skills – do you have people who are skilled to complete the experiments or observations? Can you learn a new technique, or teach a junior member of the group to expand the skill base of your team?* Labor Requirements – Do you have enough people to complete the tasks on time? In cases where time is limited but the observations are simple, consider recruiting more people from the department to multiply your force.* Availability of Personnel – grad students and postdocs are busy people. Be aware that you may need to give plenty of notice, or scale down your planned experiments based on their availability. Time Allowing for enough time to complete the work is a common point of failure for field research. Even if you have a good idea about how long your observations may take, it’s easy to underestimate all of the other time sinks of a trip. Dr. Vero uses the following equation to estimate the time needed: Travel Time + Setup + Measurements + Rest + “The Unexpected” = Time Needed Researchers often forget the latter two items. Scheduling rest time is important,
When we think of scientists, we often think of the lone researcher plodding away at the bench late into the night. We imagine Alexander Fleming scrutinizing his penicillium molds or Einstein pondering the latest equation he’s written on the chalk board. We go a step further when training new scientists: we ask them to complete an ‘independent research project.’ We tacitly perpetuate this notion of the solitary scientist, making her own success or failure. The side effects of this lone-wolf approach to research are painfully manifest: projects that stall on a single experiment, money wasted teaching everyone the same techniques, and students who burn out due to frustration, lack of direction, or just plain loneliness. In Part 3 of our goal to modernize the PhD process, we propose a radical 180º turn from the independent project. Let’s turn science into a team sport. Though ‘group work’ was a dreaded sentence in your undergrad classroom, teams themselves are essential in most modern industries. Can you imagine a manufacturer who expected one person to think up a product, design the machines, assemble the widget, box it up, and launch an ad campaign? Yet that’s our vision of an ‘independent scientist.’ A scientist needs to identify the important questions in his field of study, design experiments, execute them, publish the results, and score grants from various funding agencies. Imagination Laboratory If we draw parallels to the lab, a new way of doing academic research arises. We see a cohort of students, postdocs, technicians and PIs who team up to solve the same problem. They map out the figures for a paper, and then divide up the work. Instead of laboring away alone at the bench, experiments become an intricate dance. An undergrad prepares the media while the PI (who has good ‘luck’) makes the clone. A tech transforms the bacteria, inoculates the flasks, and teaches the undergrad to do a miniprep. A grad student, who has flawless aseptic technique, is responsible for transfecting the mammalian cells without contamination. She hands off analysis to the postdoc who has had ten years of experience at the microscope and prefers that quiet, methodical work. They gather at lab meeting to assess the results of their team effort, and to chart a path through the next week. Experiment by experiment, figure by figure, they divide and conquer the paper and publish faster than their competitors. Everyone works to her strengths. No one is left to flounder when an experiment fails. In fact, it’s in every person’s interest to help the others. Never again does a student sit stymied by the transfection that just won’t work; the whole lab needs that step to succeed, and everyone pitches in to diagnose the problem and break the bottleneck. Of course, this system has its pros and cons. While it’s possible to move more quickly from idea to paper, it requires a level of coordination that won’t happen by accident. And PhD programs would require a tweak to graduation criteria. First-author papers would no longer be common, or meaningful, in such a team-based approach. Tell us what you think – would you be willing to team up with others in your lab? Have you ever worked in a setting where teamwork was the standard? Leave a comment below,
It’s 8PM on a Wednesday night, and you’re sitting in a quiet lab all alone. It’s your turn to present during lab meeting on Friday, and that familiar sense of panic starts to set in. What HAVE you been doing with your time? You flip back through the lab notebook and remember how you spent the first week waiting on reagents. The second week is a blur, and the third week, every dish in the incubator got contaminated for reasons no one will admit. Now you have a day to try to come up with something… anything… to show for yourself. Of course, it didn’t have to be this way, and with some techniques from the tech industry, you’ll never have to fret over a ‘missing month’ again. A Failure to Plan… It’s no secret that PhDs take a long time. We often lament the frequent failed experiments, but is that really where all of our time is going? In truth, even when they make concrete plans, many trainees lose months or years to some common lab dysfunctions. Do you wait weeks to hear back from your PI on a manuscript review or experiment question? Have you lost time waiting for reagents to ship when someone else used them up? How often do you prepare an experiment, then vie for time on a common piece of equipment like microscopes or the mass spec? Even if you had a plan, these failures in lab-communication can slow or stop your progress. Make it Agile Luckily, labs aren’t the only organizations in the world that need to plan and communicate across a team. In fact, industry has developed myriad ways to organize a project based on unique resources and constraints. In the tech industry, companies often use a process called “Agile” or “Scrum.” It’s an organizational framework focused on producing things customers want (apps, services, products) in less time and for less money. Traditional planning might include a two year development schedule with detailed steps and checkpoints. But in a field like software where entire sectors might rises and fall in a matter of months, a two-year plan is worthless. Companies that can quickly change strategy and adapt their plan have more chances to succeed. That’s where Scrum comes in. Named for the huddle behavior in a rugby match, Scrum is marked by frequent team ‘huddles’ to organize the work. The team, facilitated by its ‘ScrumMaster’ or ‘Scrum Leader’, breaks down the work into week-long chunks called ‘Sprints.’ During the sprint, the team gets together daily for a very brief ‘stand-up’ meeting where each member answers three questions: * What did I accomplish yesterday?* What do I intend to work on today?* What is blocking my progress? The stand-up meeting may only last 15 minutes, but by the end, each team member will know what the others are doing, and how they can help. Scrum for Labs Lisa May was completing her PhD when the dinner conversation with her husband turned to lab. She lamented that there didn’t seem to always be a clear research plan, that lab members were competing for resources, and that there were multiple external forces blocking her progress. Her husband, a software developer, suggested she look into the planning practices he used at work. She did, and LabScrum was born. This week,
All those feelings of excitement and possibility screech to a halt when you walk back into the lab to see your PI glaring over her reading glasses. She looks at her watch. “Hey, good to see you. So glad you could join us,” she drips with sarcasm. After missing a beat, you rally. “Yeah, sorry about being a little late. I heard about an information session on internships for grad students and wanted to check it out. It seems like a really great opportunity for me to…” She cuts you off there. “Well, I’m not sure you have time for internships or information sessions if you aren’t making progress on that paper.” And just like that, the hope dies within you and you slump back on your lab bench. No Time To Lose Sure, the interaction above is fictional, but it plays out in many forms every day. A student, looking for inspiration or skill development in a future career meets an advisor who believes that all time outside of the lab is wasted. Because of the power dynamic, many students will either stop attending career development events, or they’ll do so quietly and surreptitiously. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could convince your advisor that, in fact, building career skills doesn’t slow down your progress in the lab? What if you had the data to show that students who spend time on skill development graduate on time and publish just as much as those who don’t? Well, your wish has come true. A new paper published in PLOS Biology followed thousands of students across 10 universities over a decade. The researchers asked: does participation in career development events impact the time-to-degree or publication quality and volume? This week, we talk to Beka Layton, PhD, one of the lead authors on the study, and the Director of Professional Development Programs at UNC Chapel Hill’s Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program. She walks us through the research design, results, and talks about which conclusions are well supported and which were just suggestive. The study concludes: Using quantitative data collected from 10 institutions, our current study shows that participation in career exploration and professional development programming did not adversely affect time to degree or numbers of manuscripts published, and, in select cases, even correlated with more productive outcomes. We hope that the data presented herein will assuage concerns of faculty and trainees alike and will lead institutions to incorporate more experiential learning activities into PhD training programs (such as programs described in references Full disclosure: both Josh and Dan are (very minor) co-authors on the study. We’re not just podcasters, we sometimes do science! If you’d like to connect with training and development resources near you, check out the NIH’s Office of Intramural Training & Education or the Graduate Career Consortium. Alternatively, you can start a club or networking group with a few peers at your own university. And when your PI asks why you’re ‘wasting so much time’, you can lay down the facts to support your cause!
You know it. You love it. It’s mailbag time! We answer real listener questions, plus a few questions no one is asking! Make it Meaningful The first question comes from Lexi, who is trying to choose between a PhD program that is ‘pure fun’, and one that will have broader impacts: I will be applying to Ph.D. programs this fall. On one hand, I could apply to applied math or mathematically-oriented Earth science Ph.D. programs where I could work on solving some of the biggest environmental problems we’re facing today. This type of work would entail some more boring daily aspects (like checking for errors in code etc.). On the other hand, I could apply to pure math programs where I know I’d enjoy every minute of the day to day, but my research would feel much less connected from the real world. Tough, right? Boiling it down: is it more important to enjoy your day-to-day work, or to look back over a career and feel like you made an impact? We refer back to Episode 144, where we spoke with Marlys Hanson about identifying your ‘motivated abilities. As a refresher, a motivated ability is a skill that you do well and enjoy doing. It’s a fundamental part of your personality, and when combined with your motivated subject matter, operating relationships, and payoff, defines a sort of ‘career fingerprint’ unique to you. When you define those features, you can identify careers in which you’ll excel and be happy. For Lexi, the day-to-day work will matter a lot, and finding something that aligns with her motivated abilities is key. Finding that alignment in a career is kind of like riding a high-end, carbon fiber, well oiled bicycle. You’ll coast through most days, and have no trouble facing the few up-hill challenges. When you DO face a longer, steeper challenge on the job, it’s nice to have a broader motivation to help you over the rise. For example, PhD students may run into failed experiments, cantankerous PIs, or difficult classes. If your passion for human health or environmental impact can help you push through those challenges rather than quitting, then all the better! But a desire for long-term impact is no substitute for day-to-day proficiency. No matter how much you want to save the Earth or save a life, if your daily work routine grinds against your motivational profile, you’ll quickly burn out. Postdoc Away Our next question comes from Srijani, who is thinking ahead: I’m a PhD candidate in India and after much deliberation, I’ve now decided to go for a postdoc either in the US or Europe. I was wondering if you could talk about the postdoc opportunities that can potentially work for me. I plan to submit my thesis in 2023. Though at the time of this writing, 2023 seems like a long way off, we’re actually really happy that Srijani is actively planning the next phase. Landing a postdoc on another continent is not easy, and starting early is key. One challenge is that most prospective PI’s receive hundreds of emails that start with “Dear Esteemed Scientist, I am interested in…” If your missive lands in that pile, you’ll have a hard time breaking through. Instead, take the time to research the labs you’re interested in working in, and be specific about why you want to work there. If your email gives even a hint of sounding like a form letter, your chances of getting a reply go way down.
Imagine a tennis ball dropped on cement – it immediately bounces back to your hand. Now imagine dropping that same ball on a sandy beach. The bounce of a tennis ball on pavement is a form of resilience, but it’s important to note that resilience is not just an inherent property of the ball. Context matters just as much. The Origin of Resilience This week on the show, we talk with Adina Glickman. She served as the Director of Learning Strategy Programs at Stanford University for 18 years, where she founded The Stanford Resilience Project. She co-founded and is currently a co-director of The Academic Resilience Consortium. She’s the author of The Resilient Learner: Eight Pillars of Student Success among other works, and is the CEO, Founder, and Academic Coach at Affinity Coaching. As you can tell, Adina Glickman has spent a lot of time thinking, teaching, and mentoring around resilience. We start our conversation by trying to understand just what resilience means and how it applies in academic settings like graduate school. “As human beings, we are hard-wired to be resilient. We are born resilient,” Glickman says. She describes how a baby falls many times while learning to walk, but with each attempt, learns something new about muscle movement, the position of the feet, and balance in the inner ear. Ultimately, the baby’s resilience pays off and she can walk a few steps, then a few more. And that’s a key component of resilience; it’s not enough to keep trying – you need to learn from the failure. It Takes Two But Glickman cautions us not to see resilience as a trait confined to an individual. It’s not enough to expect each person to develop a set of skills. Instead, resilience comes from the interaction between the individual and his environment – the context in which he fails. She uses the example of the rubber ball bouncing on pavement or thudding onto a mattress to show that our ability to rebound has everything to do with our environment. And that’s why she’s worked and written so extensively about how academic institutions, families, and society at large can foster the individual’s ability to bounce back. This all becomes painfully relevant for graduate students, who are guaranteed to meet failure as they design and run experiments, submit papers for review, and apply for grants. Failure is unavoidable, and so resilience is central to success. Unfortunately, some students have never had to exercise their resilience. They enrolled in graduate school because perhaps they excelled in their high school and undergraduate training. The failure they face as a grad student may be the first real challenge of their training. At the same time, many academic institutions aren’t set up to provide a good resilient surface to learn and rebound. The rules and expectations may not be explicit, and impostor syndrome can chip away at our desire to get back up when we fall. Glickman encourages students, faculty and administrators to talk about their failures in an effort to normalize the experience. She recommends “sharing your own story, sharing your own struggles on a human level.” Somehow,
In 2011, a whopping 36,000 science and technology grad students earned their PhDs. That same year, about 3,000 faculty positions were created. So why did you feel like a failure when you decided to step off the tenure track? Taking the high road Scientists aren’t always as rational as we seem. A rational person would look at the disparity between faculty positions and new PhDs and realize we need to support students and postdocs who choose careers outside of academia. But there remains a stigma. If you go to industry, you’re ‘selling out.’ If you find a job in policy or outreach, you’re ‘throwing away your training.’ And heaven forbid you take time off to raise your kids! What gives? Dara Wilson-Grant, Licensed Professional Counselor This week on the show, we talk with Dara Wilson-Grant about an article she wrote titled Standing at the Crossroads: When PhDs Abandon the Tenure Track Career Path. Dara is a licensed professional counselor and associate director of the office of postdoctoral affairs and career counselor at UNC Chapel Hill, and she’s seen the struggle as postdocs come to terms with their “alternative” career plans. Her article is unique, because it addresses the deeply emotional issues of changing careers. We’ve trained for years to be ‘scientists,’ so what do we become when we take a job in analysis, accounting, or administration? How do you know when it’s just a rough couple of months in lab, and when it’s really time to reassess your life goals? Dara answers all. Read her blog and get in touch at careersinbloom.com
It’s Friday morning, and you promised your PI a draft of your paper before the weekend. The trouble is, you lost a lot of time this week to distractions. Monday you had lab meeting and a few other planning sessions. Tuesday you worked from home but got sucked into cleaning the kitchen and folding laundry instead of writing. You don’t remember why Thursday wasn’t more productive. You started out the day feeling anxious about the deadline, and then spend a few hours (hours?!) online shopping to numb the anxiety. And here you are on Friday with less than 7 hours left until your deadline and your stress levels are maxed out. So why is it that your main desire is to watch videos on TikTok? The Cost of Paying Attention Social media companies are often described as the ‘attention economy’ – each site employing science and psychology to trick you into spending your time and attention online. But that attention comes with a cost, especially if it’s distracting you from other meaningful work. If graduate students need to read papers, plan experiments, and publish in journals in order to graduate, then every moment spent on Twitter is a minute longer until your degree. But social media companies aren’t the only culprits here – distractions come both from within and without. Maybe a noisy open-lab layout draws your attention from your reading, or your phone buzzes regularly with notifications. These are external distractions. But we can also get distracted by sensations and emotions – that gnawing hunger from missing breakfast, or your recurrent worry when finances get tight. This week on the show, we unpack the who, what, and why of distractions, and share five strategies for getting them under control. We base the discussion around Chris Smith’s article 5 Strategies for Writing in Turbulent Times published in the London School of Economics and Political Science Impact Blog. Though the author focuses on writing, the tips apply to any type of focused work you may need to complete. For more time-management tips, check out these previous episodes: 154. How to Plan Your PhD w/ Hugh Kearns 015: Simple Tricks for Time Management: The Pomodoro Technique
Most graduate students look on their research advisors as a mentor – hoping for guidance on science, career, and life in general. But even a superstar PI can’t provide that kind of comprehensive mentorship for all students all the time, and those stellar advisors are rare indeed. That’s why EVERY student needs to think about identifying and building relationships with three distinct types of mentor through graduate school and beyond. Competing Interests Let’s face it: your research advisor may care about your development as a scientist, but they also have to worry about how quickly you’ll publish papers, how much grant money you’ve taken up, and what academic legacy they leave when their students and postdocs start their own labs. That means that any advice they give you may have hints of those other interests. They can’t give an unbiased answer when you ask whether this paper needs one more experiment before publication, or whether a career in industry would be a good fit. But you can help round out their guidance with advice from other mentors, and this week on the show, we discuss three types of mentoring relationship you’ll want to build. The Other Science Mentor It’s really important during grad school to have ANOTHER mentor who can also give you advice and feedback on the specifics of your project and your progress through your training. For example, maybe you’ve started to write up your results to publish a paper, you give it to your PI to read, and they come back with just “one more experiment” for the seventeenth time. You think it’s a complete story, and by the way, you’re in your fifth year of grad school and really need to get this paper out! Having another scientist familiar with your work and your field can be a good mediator in this situation. Or maybe you’re just stuck… your PI keeps telling you to repeat some experiment that used to give some cool result but now is going nowhere and you are out of ideas. How do you find a Science Mentor? Here are some features to look out for: * They are knowledgeable about your research* They are in your department (or are easy to connect with to share results)* You enjoy talking to them This mentor may be the PI of a lab you considered joining, or one of the members of your graduate committee. What’s important is that they understand your work, and can offer advice without the baggage or bias of your own research advisor. The Career Mentor(s) How many careers has your research advisor had? If you answered 1, then you’re in the same boat as most graduate students. To get a tenure-track faculty position, most scientists leap from graduate school to postdoc to assistant professor. And if that’s the career path you want to follow, your PI will probably have some knowledge to help you get there. But what if you want to go into industry, or science writing, or entrepreneurship? It’s unlikely you’ll get anything other than blank stares or discouragement from your advisor. That’s why having one, or more, career mentors is so important. These are individuals who work in the fields you want to work in, or they have the job you hope to achieve someday. Their experience and advice may differ wildly from what your PI would tell you, and that’s exactly what you want. Good career mentors not only share their experience,
It starts innocently enough with an email. This mail is with reference of your article published in the Journal of Cell Science, which is of good quality and making a good impact in the research field. In which you provided this email address to contact you. We would be glad if you submit your manuscript to our journal, we do accept and publish Research/Review/Case reports/Mini review/Commentaries, round the year. Unfortunately, if you fall for the scam and submit your next manuscript to this predatory journal, you’ll lose both your money, AND your research. This week, we talk with Dr. Antonio Peramo, PhD of scientificwritingcourses.com, about predatory journals and how YOU can identify and avoid them. What are Predatory Journals? Quite simply, predatory journals are scams that target researchers. They look and act like scholarly publishers, but end up prioritizing their profits over the advancement of science. More formally, a consortium of researchers writing for Nature defined it this way: “Predatory journals and publishers are entities that prioritize self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial and publication practices, a lack of transparency, and/or the use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices.”Grudniewicz et al. Nature Comments, December 2019 A predatory journal solicits manuscripts from unsuspecting scientists, often dispenses with peer review in favor of speed, and charges exorbitant fees for pushing the article out through an open access website. The Consequence of Predatory Journals Aside from their economic impact (estimated at over $75 million in 2014), predatory journals harm researchers in other ways. Articles published in these journals do not have the same impact as those published in higher-quality journals. Over 60% never get cited in a five year period, meaning the research goes effectively unnoticed. Perhaps worse, when these un-reviewed and questionable articles do get noticed, the scientists who cite them in their own work contribute to ‘citation contamination.‘ Know the Warning Signs There are several useful indicators that a journal is not legitimate and should never receive your manuscript. A full list can be found at the Cabell’s Blog, but here are a few to get you started. A journal is suspect if: * They make first contact with YOU requesting that you submit a manuscript.* They clearly do not know which scientific field you are working in.* The email contains spelling and grammatical errors you wouldn’t expect in business communications.* The editor isn’t listed on the website, or the editor listed also edits multiple other journals.* There is no mailing address.* The journal title looks similar to a well known journal, or it sounds real by nature of having ‘International Journal of…’ or ‘British Journal of…’ prefixes.
At some point in your graduate training, you’ll want to host an event. For many students, that will mean inviting a speaker for a special seminar. For others, it might be an outreach event or a departmental retreat. But no matter the purpose, you’ll probably feel a little lost as you try to nail down all the details during weeks or months of preparation. We can’t make every scientist a certified event planner, but we’re here with a step-by-step guide for making your seminar or gathering a roaring success! Event Planning 101 We start by sharing the hilarious and helpful article that inspired this episode: How (not) to plan a scientific event by Adam Ruben for Science Careers. In it, Ruben relates his recent experience as an invited speaker at a University, only to find out that everything has gone wrong. He uses that story as a jumping-off point for all the ways you could REALLY screw up an event if you wanted to. The advice is instructive, as long as you do the exact opposite! For example, he writes: “If it’s a virtual event, provide a Zoom link—but only on paper, so that participants not only have to type an overwhelming string of characters but also have to figure out which ones are capital O’s and I’s versus zeroes and lowercase L’s. It should take participants at least an hour to type the information.” We pick up his thread on the other side – what exactly SHOULD you be doing if you want to plan an event? Planning is all about the Who, What, When, Where, and How on Earth am I supposed to get all of this done on time? We’ll start with the Who and What. Know Your Audience A successful event starts with understanding your audience – who exactly are you hosting this event for? It’s the first consideration because it will help you determine so many other things about the event. For example, if you want to host a seminar for grad students in your department, you might choose a speaker with a relevant career, you’ll pick a venue that will fit your cohort, and you’ll supply pizza. A seminar for the wider community might mean a bigger venue, a speaker who can translate complex topics for a lay audience, and much MORE pizza. Do your best to define that target audience. Write it down and share it with your collaborators so you’re all on the same page about who this event will serve. Timing is Everything Next up, the “When?” For any event, your goal is to book it at that perfect moment when everyone in the target audience can, and will, attend. That means avoiding conflicts, and aligning with motivations. Conflicts come in many forms. Check your department calendar to make sure you’re not double-booking your event with the journal club, weekly seminar, or fall retreat. Avoid the major conference dates when people are either attending the meeting or scrambling to create a poster. And it goes without saying that you’ll want to avoid holidays or even summer months when many people take extended vacations. The time is just as important as the date! Pay attention to the department’s normal rhythm for events like yours. If you book the talk at 8AM on Monday morning, you can be sure no one will remember or be awake. Same for 6PM on Friday afternoon.
A PhD Plan sounds like an oxymoron, but charting a path to graduation is one of the most important things you can do as a graduate student. This week, we talk with Hugh Kearns of Thinkwell about why PhD planning is so challenging for students, and learn about some tools that can keep your research on track. Uncharted Territory We start the conversation by trying to understand why planning is so difficult and so rare for PhDs. “They’ve never done a PhD so they don’t know what’s coming,” Kearns observes. “And your previous education doesn’t prepare for research.” He continues, “Research by its nature is uncertain. Things go wrong. And then what happens is people think that ‘Because I don’t know, we just won’t plan anything! We’ll see what happens.'” But just because you’ve never done a PhD before, and no one has pursued your particular branch of research, that doesn’t mean you can’t plan ahead. In fact, there are already tools and strategies, adapted from project management in the business world, that will help you set some guide rails around your winding path to a PhD. Getting Your PhD Plan Backward Traditional ‘forward’ planning works great for a well-worn process, like building a house. Builders know from experience that you can’t build the walls until you’ve poured the foundation, and you can’t paint until the drywall is installed. Each of those activities has a reasonably predictable timeline, so you can plan the construction of a home week by week until it’s finished. But a PhD isn’t quite at prescriptive. Sure, you know you need to do a literature review, but how long does that take? And how long will experiments take? The fact is, they’ll take as much time as you give them. There’s no definitive ‘finish line’ for a literature review the way there is for a construction project. You just need to decide how long you’re willing to give the review, and stop when it’s ‘good enough.’ That’s why Kearns recommends ‘backward planning’ for PhDs. You start with an end date in mind (usually when the funding runs out) and work back from there. His book, Planning Your PhD: All the tools and advice you need to finish your PhD in three years, lays out the steps in detail, and provides some worksheets you can use to create a multi-year Thesis Plan. In fact, he offers those worksheets for free on the website! Drilling into Detail With your Thesis Plan in place, you can begin the process of adding more and more detail to the events closest in time. This ‘rolling plan’ recognizes that you don’t know what you might be doing on Tuesday March 25 at 3PM three years from now, but you CAN decide on some goals over the next six months. And don’t stress out if those goals shift, or you don’t quite manage to meet them. If you revisit your plan on a regular schedule, you can adjust and adapt. If you never set the goal,