Archive for the ‘Graduate Studies’ Category

Letter from the trenches

February 20, 2012

I have received a letter from a student who obtained their doctoral degree with me a few years ago, and after one postdoctoral appointment decided that their heart was really into teaching.
They wrote me to let me know how things are going, and gave me permission of posting their letter here (I am withholding the person’s name). It may be of interest for those who might be considering switching from research to a teaching career. Currently, only a tiny fraction of doctoral degree holders take that path.

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The boss is out to lunch

November 18, 2011

The two basic criteria to establish whether someone is your boss are:
— Can they fire you ?
— Can they give you a raise ?
Unless the answer to both questions is yes, then they are not your boss.

(can’t recall who said that to me… my dad, maybe ? Nah, it’s impossible, that would make him right…)

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Rantings over rankings

October 9, 2011

Times Higher Education has just published its influential rankings of World universities. I can almost see university presidents all over the world, at this time, either pounding their chests, proudly announcing to their students that the reputable institution to which their money goes, has climbed from 369th to 347th place in the world, a fact of the utmost importance clearly to ascribe to the vision, hard work and resolve of its administration… or, shrugging off the news (typically reported by the campus paper) that their institution has yet again slipped in the rankings, flatly dismissing the entire operation as petty and insignificant, glorified propaganda, and denouncing the inherent bias, inaccuracy, unfairness and futility of all rankings.

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Exams never end

September 5, 2011

(Title of famous play by Italian playwright Eduardo De Filippo.
To my knowledge, it was not inspired by his own PhD defence)

Dear fellow Committee Members,

as the appointed Chair of the Examining Committee for the upcoming doctoral exam of Mary J. Great, who will be defending her dissertation next week, I thought I would share with you ahead of time my views on what a doctoral exam should be, and my expectations on how I wish to see it administered. I understand that some of my views may seem unorthodox, but the notion that some things should be done in a certain way just because “they have always been done that way”, has never sounded very convincing to me.

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Postdoc Emeritus

March 8, 2011

An aspect that is widely perceived as “problematic”, in the way the career path of a scientist in North America is currently structured, is the relatively long period of uncertainty and precariousness between the obtainment of one’s doctoral degree and the first potentially permanent employment [0]. That time, which in some fields of inquiry often approaches or exceeds the decade, is typically spent in term, so-called postdoctoral appointments.
This state of affairs has prompted cell biologist Jennifer Rohn to write an editorial published on the prestigious Nature magazine, calling for a restructuring of what she calls a “broken system” of traineeship in the sciences.

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Graduate application fees

February 24, 2011

I routinely receive inquiries from potential graduate students, who send me their Curriculum Vitae, asking me whether I am planning to take new graduate students under my supervision. They state to me their interest for the research that I conduct, and inquire as to whether I would consider them as members of my research group. My response to them, in these cases, is usually “boiler plate”, almost.

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Gimme this, gimme that…

January 6, 2011

The following fictitious dialogue summarizes some actual conversations that I have recently had with senior undergraduate physics students, who sought advice from me regarding their choice of a suitable graduate program.

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Gimme some (money)

September 27, 2010

In the latest post, DrugMonkey challenges graduate students who lament their meagre pay and long work hours, allegedly often comparing unfavourably even with those of unskilled workers, to name or describe any low wage job that they have held before graduate school, presumably to substantiate the underlying claim of exploitation and harsh treatment of graduate students, at the hand of supervisors and universities.

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On jobs and papers

June 7, 2010

A few commenters took issue with a contention that I made in my latest post, namely that publications matter very little, when it comes to the fortunes of science doctoral degree holders seeking employment in industry. It is the opinion of some that, in fact, many a potential industrial employer will raise eyebrows over the lack of publications on the CV of an applicant with a PhD in a scientific discipline — alternatively, having published the type of peer-reviewed research articles that constitute the backbone of one’s scholarly portfolio, may also significantly enhance that person’s marketability for industrial positions, most of which feature no substantial research component and/or do not specifically target PhDs in the applicant’s field (or in any of the Science and Engineering disciplines, for that matter).
One of the arguments seems to be that, since there is an expectation of publication of doctoral graduates in the sciences, lack thereof is often perceived as a sign of overall applicant mediocrity.

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The “three-paper” rule

May 30, 2010

It is customary these days, for students pursuing a doctoral degree in a scientific discipline, to co-author a number of articles published in peer-reviewed, international scientific journals, during the course of their studies. In many disciplines, the widespread expectation is that by the time doctoral candidates are ready to take the final exam, their curriculum vitae will sport a number of publications, most of which with them as leading authors and/or in high-impact journals in their field of study.

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