Tuesday, September 7, 2010
The thing about "If I knew then, what I know now", is that there always someone that does. You are all reading this right now, presumably, because you want to know now what years of experience will bring you. It's a shortcut. I'm kind of harsh about people trying to get around experiential learning, mostly because we are scientists, and we should be learning by experience, but also because I had someone tell me everything I needed to know about being in my graduate PI's lab. I didn't listen. However, there were times in which I would sit down, be quiet, and realize that "Holy Shit, this is what Dave told me. Exactly."
When I did a rotation in the lab that ended up being my graduate lab, the senior student was a loud, fun-loving, brash, brilliant, beaten, gregarious guy named Dave. Dave was still excited about his project. He loved science. He was ~1 year away from defending. I ended up joining that lab because of him. I did a lot of things because of him, and I *still* talk to him. In fact, when I graduated, he flew me to his company so that I could have practice interviewing at biotech places.
Here are some things that he told me.
1. Nothing is going to work your first year. This is a time for you to be dealing with classes, learning techniques, and reading everything you can get your hands on. Don't worry about it, because 90% of the data that's in your dissertation will be from the last year you were in the lab.
2. Keep a good endnote library. (I use papers.)
3. You don't want to be "that person" in class, because instructors will remember that. They will especially remember that during oral exams.
4. Have at least 1 person on your committee that will stand up to your PI because he will save you. (And every time my favorite committee member did this, I was thankful).
5. You are going to want to quit. You are going to have quitting all figured out. If quitting is easy for you, this isn't the right path.
6. Stand up for yourself. Don't be afraid to be the iconoclast.
7. Do not take a project in which you have to develop the system if you want to be out in 5 years.
8. Sometimes you have to slap the taste out of someone's mouth.
9. The technicians will never be your friends (Note: this is specific to that lab, for reasons related to management.)
10. Have something you love outside of lab.
11. If you haven't spent all of your stipend by the end of the month, you aren't trying hard enough. (In reference to blowing off steam, and regional beer selections.)
12. Do not sleep with anyone in the department.
13. Your friends in the department are going to keep you sane. They are the only ones that will keep you going.
14. Don't call him a jackass to his face. (In reference, obviously, to Jackass. But I think that calling your PI names is probably a bad idea.)
15. Sometimes science works out so that it's not you that's causing the problem. Sometimes it's important to have an 'experimenter' control.
16. He gives you the money and the opportunity. (In reference to the PI.)
17. He's not going to respect you until you can go one-on-one against him in science and win. (The day that this happened resulted in a week of my PI and I not speaking to each other. He eventually came to me an apologized.)
18. People fuck up. It's not the end of the world. You'll remember it, and not do it again.
19. For the love of god, take good notes. A monkey should be able to follow your lab notebook and get the same results.
20. If you need a piece of equipment to do your experiments to graduate, you should be in charge of it, and guard it with your life.
21. Pay attention in stats class. It still won't make any sense. But the stats department will do all of your stats for you. They get PhD's to do it. How fair is that?
22. Never lose your common sense. Sometimes they just are Wylie E. Coyote ideas.
23. Have someone outside of your lab that knows enough about your project to edit writing for you.
24. Do not become friends with your PI. (In retrospect, I have broken this rule during my last year.)
25. Rap music keeps the PI out of the lab.
26. Beer when it's good, bourbon when it's bad.
27. Science is fun, but have a focus. Yours should be graduating.
28. Have an outline and boxes to check.
29. The woman the edits the dissertations is insane. You will spend more time getting it into her format than you did writing the introduction.
30. Go take as many classes for computer software as you can.
31. Knowing more will help you. Knowing less will hurt you. You can't know everything. You can know the most about what you work on. You are the subject expert. Your defense should be you teaching the world. You rock.
32. Don't cry in the hall.
33. Go to meetings if they are somewhere fun.
34. Talk to your competition before they know that you are theirs.
35. There is always a golden boy, don't try to be him. The pressure is always worse.
I went into the lab thinking that Dave and Jackass had a different sort of relationship. The stories I heard...ugh. I decided at the beginning that because of this, it was unfair to judge based on Dave's experience, and I should strike out on my own. As I went further and further in my years, I realized that Dave was right. Dave was right about mostly everything. The thing is, I don't know if I would have payed attention to any of these things, that I would have had an easier time. Mostly his advice was to recognize the things that were happening, which, as scientists, we should be doing anyhow. I think that by giving me all of these nuggets of wisdom, he set me up to realize that these things were happening, and by recognizing them, I learned from them.
Over the time in the lab, I was responsible for several rotation students. One of them joined the lab. He actually just graduated. He told me once that he joined the lab because of me. At that point, I felt that everything had come full circle because I had joined the lab because of Dave. I hope that I have given that student at least 1/8th of the opportunity for wisdom that Dave gave me.
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