advice for a 2nd yr

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advice for a 2nd yr

Postby eli » Mon Jan 24, 2005 11:20 pm

i'm in the 2nd yr of my phd program and i often feel like i am dependent on my advisor for almost every experimental direction. i look at the students and post-docs in other labs and most seem to be able to plan their own experiments. how do you develop this ability of self-sufficiency? is this state that i am in typical? at what year in their program should one expect to be at that stage? any advice or tips would be appreciated.

advice for a 2nd yr

Postby Kevin Foley » Tue Jan 25, 2005 12:35 am

In my experience, most grad students don't even start to think until their 3ed year! I can remember saying to myself each year: "Boy, was I ever stupid last year!? That feeling should last for ~10 years, at which point the process appears to reverse itself. This is probably why most grad students believe they are smarter than their thesis advisors by the time they graduate--they probably are!

Which is not to say you can't push yourself to hurry things along.

For example, try reading a different journal article every single day of the week. Get up an hour early if you need to. Just imagine how much more you'll know by the end of the year after reading 365 papers (and how far ahead of your peers you?ll be). Although few of us like to admit it, most of our good ideas come from reading about someone else's good ideas.

Take careful notes at each seminar you attend, and then ask the speaker at least one question. The fear of asking a stupid question will really force you to pay attention and think (sitting in the front row also prevents one from falling asleep!). Reading one of the speaker?s papers beforehand will help. If you can, volunteer to go out to lunch with the seminar speakers. Hanging around with smart people is a good way to have some of it rub off you (and you also get free food!).

Finally, be skeptical. Try to prove every paper you read or seminar you attend is wrong. Don't accept things on face value--find the holes. And then, don't be afraid to point them out.

Kevin Foley
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advice for a 2nd yr

Postby Andrey » Tue Jan 25, 2005 7:21 am

It greatly depends on the supervisor you have. The worse thing is when your supervisor wants always to contribute somehow without much thinking on the problem. In this case, if you do not think yourself this would mean that you have to waste a lot of time doing unnecessary experiments.
What to do? First of all, you should read all articles in your field. At least it will save your time on inventing something that has been already known. Besides, I am sure you will find a lot of unanswered questions as well as artifacts in the published articles. Read critically the papers from your lab!!! Secondly, try to make experiments based on your ideas and your boss? suggestions in parallel. I cannot exclude that your supervisor has a good idea, which leads to a good result. Another option is to modify the xperiments suggested by your boss. Ones, you got a good result try to convince your boss that it was HIS/HER BRILLIANT IDEA that helped you to succeed in solving the task. Otherwise, your supervisor will get a feeling that you are doing something behind his/her back. The more positive results you have, the more freedom you get from your supervisor in doing your research.
You should not wait when you will be allowed to do independent research.

advice for a 2nd yr

Postby Doug » Thu Jan 27, 2005 4:06 pm

What do you mean when you say "almost every experimental direction?" Is your advisor assigning you experiments to do? Is your advisor allowing you input? Do you feel you have no intellectual freedom to do what you want?
Appearances of others in other labs can be deceiving. They may very well think the same thing about your lab.
You develop self-suffiency by learning from your mistakes. If your advisor isn't willing to let you do that, find out why and address the issue.
At every stage of the game, you should be getting input from everyone around you: faculty, postdocs, fellow students. That's why they're there. In fact, many would say that your fellow students are MORE important than your advisors for this sort of thing, since they can be easier to pose "dumb" questions to.

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