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Re: Does a Ph.D. program really prepare you to be a good scientist?

PostPosted: Thu Jan 20, 2005 10:21 pm
by John Fetzer
This post uses the adjective good with the implication that the results are very high. I just wrote a book on the subject and in doing so talked to scientists from grad students to Nobel laureates. The answer is that the correlation is not very strong.

Good scientists do have to think and the program must teach how to scoure the literature, take disparate facts and concepts, meld and innovate, apply some skeptical thinking to ensure proof and reproducibility, and so on. Most programs do not teach these formally and at best teach some of them slightly and haphazardly. Some research advisors know this and instill things in the workings of their groups to cover them better.

Besides the large numbers of technical and scientific things that good scientists master, they also learn communications skills and people skills. You gain a reputation writing well - your papers get better reviews for the same content. The same is true for speaking skills used in giving a presentation. A poor speaker's work is often lost or seems less valuable. He or she will not get asked to chair sessions or put together colloquia.

As fae as people skills, you network not just in job seeking. You network to learn what is going on - even presentations at conferences are weeks or months old info; to build potential collaborations; to be visible and well thought of - nominations for editorial boards are based as much on collegeality and the ability to work with others as on technical skills; and many others.

Being a research advisor, if you choose academia, means you have to manage a research group of diverse personalities, handles budgets, set schedules and priotities, and manage your group's available resources....and deal with tenure or departmental or university committees and issues, and so on.

A good scientist is part-time involved in these areas of psychology, sociology, and communications.


Re: Does a Ph.D. program really prepare you to be a good scientist?

PostPosted: Fri Jan 21, 2005 10:32 am
by Tom
From many of the replies to this posting it seems that the satisfaction of having of Ph.D. is pretty relative.

Andy, I think if I were to head in the direction of a Ph.D. I would also probably be happy being in your situation, being a post-doc Research Associate. I know I don't want to be a PI ever. However, the practicality of the situation would be difficult (lack of retirement plan, bad or no health plan, being in a full-time temporary position, etc.), but is perhaps subjective to each PI and position. I think having a family makes it even more difficult unless you spouse provides most of these needs.

John, I agree that there is a need in academia to teach communication and social skills. As I've observed the PI (who is a full time professor at one of the top cancer research labs)in my lab I do notice his motivation and drive to see good science done, but I also see how well he utilizes his management skills to direct the lab, social skills to make collaborations, his charisma and communication skills to really motivate others about the practically of his research. I think if you were to take him out of the field of science and place him in business or a law office he would be just as successful. I see these skills very lacking in some of the post-docs in my lab and some are aware of the deficiency, but do nothing to develop it. Not sure why, maybe b/c their research and publishing is more important, lack of time or motivation to develop these skills, don't see the need until much later down the road, b/c they have been able to get by so far w/out them?

John I was wondering what would you suggest to someone who wants to refine their communication skills? I know practice, practice, practice is definitely one, but what if you don't have as many opportunites to do so? I would think joining a toastmasters?

Communication Skills Improvement

PostPosted: Fri Jan 21, 2005 12:47 pm
by Dave Jensen
Tom, I know you directed your question to someone else, but I'll tell you that I have been in toastmasters (worthwhile) and I have also taken the Dale Carnegie program. The Carnegie program was literally life-changing and improved my communication ability about 500%. Plus, I became a better manager and my wife even liked me more afterwards!

Dave Jensen

Re: Does a Ph.D. program really prepare you to be a good scientist?

PostPosted: Sat Jan 22, 2005 1:58 pm
by John Fetzer
Better communications sjills? Ironically most problems are self-imposed or paradigms. The mechanics of speaking are the same in a one-on-one or small group informal description of what you are doing. In a formal talk you use visuals rather than nothing or a white board. You structure your thoughts better, but you tell a story in each case. Stage fright in talking to a group is an inner psychological response.

You can read papers and note the well written ones (the same is analogous with talk). Adapt any styles that suit you. Write whatever part is easiest for you first...experimental, conclusions, background, whatever. Get the writing started. Outline to get your thoughts organized.

Increase your vocabulary and understanding of words.

Become an extroverted introvert by relaxing more in professional situations. Others are similar to you and an audience is empathetic - they came to hear you speak.

There are many skill building tasks that are not very hard.


Re: Does a Ph.D. program really prepare you to be a good scientist?

PostPosted: Sat Jan 22, 2005 9:54 pm
by Andrew
As an expressive introvert myself I can tell you that it is difficult to change the sort of personality type you have. Some people will never be comfortable speaking in front of a group, but there are some things you can do to help. I too can highly recommend the Dale Carnegie course. I have never seen anything else like it.

Re: Does a Ph.D. program really prepare you to be a good scientist?

PostPosted: Mon Jan 24, 2005 4:53 pm
by Gokce Toruner
I think Tom raised up very interesting questions, but I will deal with one specific one which is about "justice". The fact that a technician is paid about as much as (good techs are sometimes paid even more) than a third year postdoc.

I believe the salary is just. (By the way, for the record I am not saying that postdocs recieve good compensations), because of their future career prospects. Technicians have no upward mobility in their jobs in academia. Once a tech is always a tech. Well of course they can go med school or graduate school, but it is a drastic career change with substantial short-term career setbacks.

I dont believe that technicians, graduate students, postdocs or PIs have differences in IQs or learning abilities. Afterall everbody has a college degree.

I think that the main difference between technicans and other lab personnel is the scientific freedom. Even the most junior grad student can make experiments with his/her initiative (well PI might perhaps yell, but that is it). Postdocs are expected to be on their own, and PIs plan the experiments. Techs do not have that freedom, they have to do what they are told to do.If not, they are fired The opportunity cost of the loss of freedom in work comes with better pay (up to a certain level), job benefits and stability.

Gokce A Toruner, MD, PhD

Re: Does a Ph.D. program really prepare you to be a good scientist?

PostPosted: Mon Jan 24, 2005 5:40 pm
by Andy

Just to clarify, I am not in a long-term postdoctoral position. I am in a research scientist position. I have argued on this forum that long-term postdocs are not the ideal way to solve the PhD glut.


Communication Skills Improvement

PostPosted: Mon Jan 24, 2005 7:32 pm
by Alfred

You and another poster had good things to say about the Dale Carnegie program. After doing a quick online search, I'm now wondering if it may be useful for someone with a Ph.D. working his way up the science/manager track in a biotech company. From what I read, it is a relatively significant financial commitment, but it seems to me that it might provide some training in those areas that graduate school and post-doctoral fellowships do not.

Any thoughts?



Communication Skills Improvement

PostPosted: Mon Jan 24, 2005 10:23 pm
by John Fetzer
Managers are measured as much by their communications skills as their project management or business skills. If you can project confidence and capability and follow through, you stand out from all of the other middle-level managers. A well-spoken message is received better than a poorly done one. In fact, I once heard an executive privately denegrate a manager because of his poor grammar and choice of words. I am sure that executive never chose the manager for any plum assignments.

Dale Carnegie, Toastmasters, and others help make a person much better at communicating. Without them it has to be either a natural gift or self-taught - often through trial and errors.


Communication Skills Improvement

PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2005 11:02 am
by Dave Jensen

The Dale Carnegie course is likely priced a bit artificially, because it is usually paid for by companies, who get a discount from the "list" price by the number of people they send. When I was there, almost everyone else was a Motorola employee, for example.

I would ask for a discount if you are paying yourself.

Yes, it will fill in the PhD training wonderfully,

Dave Jensen, Moderator