Tuesday, September 7, 2010
I have been thinking about this month's theme over here on LabSpaces "What I wish I knew before..." and I haven't come up with a single topic that screams at me to be written. I think that this is because I am at a beginning right now (as I start on the TT). In this realm, I have no idea what I wish I knew. I'm trapped in a Rumsfeldian
world of known-knowns, known-unknowns and unknown-unknowns. As a n00b, I often feel like everything is an unknown-unknown.
But, of course, I have made it through grad school and a postdoc, so there must be some known-knowns that were at one point unknowns. So what do I remember learning from my own experience and others in those times?
1. Don't choose a grad advisor based solely on how you get along with other people in the lab. They will move on before you. The project is not enough, either. You really need to have an advisor that you can work with and that will be an advocate for you.
2. Realize that, especially if you want to stay in academia, who you choose as Grad Advisor matters. How you perform in grad school will determine whether you get a postdoc fellowship, which is almost required if you want to go on after that. The big-name fellowships require some sort of pedigree and big pubs. If you join a new lab (which I am NOT discouraging!!), it may
be harder to get those big-name pubs. This is because publishing in the glamor mags is large part political and n00bs don't necessarily have as much weight to throw around. Or the time that may be required to make it happen. And you will be working to make the pedigree. This can be a harder route than joining an established lab that has a pedigree already established and the pull to get work into high-profile places.
3. Work hard, but don't brag about it. This may be specific for where I was a grad student, but the people that we scoffed at the most were the ones always talking about how much they were working. Saying things like "I'm so tired, I was in lab until 4 last night!" doesn't make you look cool. Everyone is working a lot. Don't be a jackass and piss off the others in your program by implying that you are working the hardest. You need allies in your classmates.
4. I wish I had known how to choose a postdoc. I was extremely lucky with where I ended up, but I can't take credit for that. My postdoc search was somewhat random, and I ended up meeting Postdoc Advisor randomly when we were introduced at a meeting.
5. Never have just one mentor. Everybody has their own prejudices and baggage. Multiple viewpoints and advice is essential.
6. (the biggie) I wish I had learned to write better. I am not a naturally gifted writer. My training in writing has been unfortunate, to say the least. I would NOT call writing one of Grad Advisor's strengths. And Postdoc Advisor actively DESPISED writing. So, I struggle through. But I have seen others that get much better help and I think they are probably having an easier time than me right now.
OK, so I don't know how coherent this list is. But ask me again in a few years when I have some tenure-track experience under my belt!