The end of graduate course requirements

What is exactly the purpose of graduate course work ?
Post-graduate education, in just about every university system, places most of its emphasis on research over course work, for very good reasons. Much like knowing the recipe by heart does not make one able to cook a sophisticated dish, re-hashing for years textbook material and solving countless exercises of ungodly difficulty (physics graduate students reading this will immediately think of our nemesis) does not enable one to do science. The one and only way to learn how to do research, is doing research.

(The following discussion is centered on my own discipline, namely physics. I am curious to know whether some of it may apply, or have any relevance to other fields as well).
I myself did my undergraduate work in Italy and my PhD in the US, and favor graduate curricula in which the amount of required course work is minimum (as in, zero). My observation is that a) a solid undergraduate background is all that it takes for a motivated graduate student to plunge into research right away; b) the effectiveness of course work drops dramatically, as the material to be learned becomes more and more advanced.
This is very much the philosophy underlying most graduate education in Europe, where seldom are students required to take courses. Typically, the few that are taught are highly specialized, and students take them voluntarily (whether they actually learn anything by taking them, is a different story).
In the North American system on the other hand, a significant fraction of the total amount of time that a student spends in graduate school is devoted to course work, for the most part required. In some cases the requirement is explicit, in others indirectly enforced, through the administration of a comprehensive exam, for which students prepare by taking courses. This can occupy the better part of the first twelve to eighteen months, and is perhaps the main reason why the duration of the program of study is five years or more, significantly longer than for a graduate student based in Europe, for example.
But what is really the point of graduate course requirements ?

One of the “canonical” arguments invokes the (supposedly) higher level and greater rigor of undergraduate education overseas; graduate students in America need the course work in order to “catch up” with their European or Asian peers. I myself have long thought that that was the case, but after teaching first year graduate courses in North America for over a decade, to students from all over the world, I am not sure that I believe that anymore. My observation is that while, e.g., European undergraduate curricula may impart a stronger foundation in some of the more “formal” aspects (e.g., mathematics), in practice reasonably prepared American students perform equally well in graduate courses.
Moreover, it is my impression that the level at which required, foundation graduate courses are taught is often only slightly above that of the corresponding undergraduate ones [0], suggesting that the goal has tacitly become not that of enhancing, but rather filling gaps in one’s undergraduate background, by covering material that should have been learned at the undergraduate level but was not, for one reason or another (obviously to no fault of the students, who simply did what they were told to do).
But if graduate courses end up serving the purpose of “remedial study”, why not simply send those students whose background is somewhat deficient (as assessed by means of an entrance exam, for example), to take the undergraduate courses instead ? This would not only avoid duplication of teaching effort, pernicious at a time of stretched departmental resources, but also would spare graduate students whose background is adequate to sit through entire semesters of unneeded repetition.

Then there is the so-called “breadth” argument. This may not have the same emphasis in other fields, but in physics it has been traditionally felt that, while graduate students specialize in specific areas, the underlying intellectual unity of the discipline, and intrinsic interconnectedness of all subjects that it encompasses, demand that a physicist be a bit of a “renaissance man”, reasonably knowledgeable of current research themes and issues across different areas, and capable of relating to colleagues working in relatively distant sub-fields.
Now, in principle there is no argument, here. There is no question that possessing a broad background is a huge asset. After all, most physics graduates will eventually switch to a different subject than the one of their doctoral research, whether they continue in academia or move to industry. Moreover, being able to see the connections between subjects in seemingly unrelated areas, is often what allows a scientist to make progress on a specific problem, or think of a new one [1].
But when it comes to the actual implementation of this principle, by way of designing a graduate curriculum, seemingly insurmountable problems immediately arise. What is the core set of topics that every respectable physicist needs to know ? Can we get any two of us to agree on it ? I do not think so. If you are a physics faculty, postdoc or graduate student, try it for yourself and ask ten of your colleagues.

There is enough for a student to be taking courses forever, let alone two years. Classical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics, Quantum Field Theory, Thermodynamics, Statistical Mechanics, Electrodynamics, Relativity, but also Non-linear Dynamics, Hydrodynamics, Numerical Analysis, Computational Physics, Condensed Matter Physics (both “hard” and “soft”, of course), Nuclear Physics, High Energy Physics, Biophysics, Astrophysics, Cosmology, Atomic and Molecular Physics, Chemical Physics, Optics, methods of Experimental Physics… where should the line be drawn ? Nobody can possibly be expected to know everything; but then, how does anyone go about picking any subject as being “more important” or “fundamental” than others ? Physics has become a very diverse discipline over the past two decades, and the notion that its practitioners can be broadly classified in few, rigidly defined categories is increasingly out of touch with reality [2,3].
Furthermore, is it really a useful intellectual exercise for anyone to sit through a series of lectures, work on some assignments, possibly get a grade, and then forget everything in a few months (as it invariably happens to all of us, if the subject is not one with which we practice regularly) ? To say nothing of the fact that, for such a course to be suitable for students with very diverse backgrounds, it likely means being taught at a very basic level, so that only the surface is skimmed.

The way I see things evolving, I believe that in the long run graduate courses will be elective only, and focus on topics of direct relevance to student research. The person in the best position to make a recommendation to a student, regarding courses to take (both to shore up a student’s shaky background, as well as to become familiar with the terminology and research issues in a given area of research), is the student’s major professor. This person was hired as a faculty precisely because (s)he is presumed to be able to make this type of determination, and should be trusted to be competent.
Ultimately, the goal of broadening one’s background rests with the person, and is very much an individual effort, that requires setting time aside to study. The duty of a department and/or graduate program is to offer students opportunities to hear about a lot of different topics, mostly through seminars and colloquia.

[0] Textbook comparison is quite telling. Consider, for instance, Quantum Mechanics. Widely adopted textbooks in North America are Shankar’s at the graduate level, and Griffith’s at the undergraduate one. While the first undoubtedly covers a wider range of topics, and in slightly greater depth, I think most colleagues of mine would agree that a student having gone through the second book knows all that (s)he needs to get started with research work. Conversations with colleagues have led me to believe that a similar argument can be made about Electricity and Magnetism as well.
[1] I confess to be jealous and in awe, when reading blogs such as Doug Natelson’s or Zapperz’, at the ability of their authors to stay abreast of developments in areas very different than theirs, speaking knowledgeably about topics that require a non-trivial amount of reading and thinking even on the part of specialists.
[2] If you think that there are a few subjects deemed “fundamental”, not renounceable (e.g., Quantum Mechanics) by simply every physicist, theorist or experimentalist, “pure” or “applied” (whatever that means), in condensed matter or particle physics… well, all I can say is — you are in for a big surprise.
[3] Naturally, there is much room for disagreement even on the content of the individual courses.

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28 Responses to “The end of graduate course requirements”

  1. The Inorganic Gardener Says:

    A Biological Science Ph.D in the UK (at MOST Universities) consists of the following:

    2 yrs 9 months hard graft at the bench face and 3 months writing up
    (though 3 yrs at the bench, 6 months writing and 3.5 yrs at the bench and a year writing do seem to happen though Lord alone knows why…)

    No coursework. No scientific courses to attend. If, for example, you hold a B.Sc Genetics and want to do a Ph.D Immunology or a B.Sc Human Biology and want to do a Ph.D Plant Sciences, it’s up to you to learn the basics before you start. If you want to change disciplines like this, there are 2 usual routes – you do an M.Sc by way of converting your skills or (more commonly) you just teach it yourself as you go along and learn the basics before you start the Ph.D.

    If you’re very unfortunate, you get sent on short (3 day) courses on “transferable skills” which are generally pointless

    e.g. “how to use the literature search engines”…excuse me but to get the 2(i) degree required to get onto a Ph.D program you MUST have used such search engines already!

    e.g. “how team work happens”…this is normally one of those things where they have you all outside in a carpark throwing paper at each-other. How about some relevant examples?

    e.g. “how to write scientific papers”…now I kid you not here – this course is being run at my current University for all new Ph.D students and is it run by someone with a good publication record who knows how to write? No, it’s being run by a “teaching fellow” from the English department! She hasn’t published a single paper (scientific or otherwise) in her life and somehow she’s qualified to teach students how to write papers. Aye, aye, aye…

  2. Zodia Says:

    Then who is gonna study Jackson’s Classical Electromagnetism on his own? Or, should it be moved to be the text book of an undergraduate course? 🙂

    Joking aside, offering placement exams ahead of the academic year should do the trick. They would keep high standards without wasting a competent student’s time.

  3. Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

    TIG — I think that much of the insistence on course work comes from the administration, for the usual reason, i.e., course work is measurable and documentable. You have transcripts, grades etc., and these people (who, as we all know, see no value in education) are wired to reason in terms of weight, size, price per pound etc. Can’t do that as easily with research work. I mean, if students don’t take courses, they can’t be possibly learning anything, right ?

    Zodia — That’s exactly what I advocate. Entrance exam, research right away for those who have the background (and only elective courses on a per need basis) and some remedial undergraduate courses for those who need them.
    What do most schools do instead ? We teach duplicates of the undergraduate courses (except with titles like “Super-Duper-Really-Advanced-Only-a-Graduate-Student-Can-Do-this” — students have to feel good, you see ?) and go through basic undergraduate material which half of the incoming graduate students have never seen (in spite of what their transcripts say).
    Indeed, sometimes the “graduate” course is taught at a lower level than the undergraduate one.

  4. The Inorganic Gardener Says:

    I can recall back when I was an UG, some of our final year modules were also offered to M.Sc students – they did identical modules to us, same essays, same exams – everything the same, and yet theirs somehow counted towards an M.Sc – AND at a higher weight. E.g. One of our modules was worth 1/8th of the year (the final year being worth 50% of the degree) but for the M.Sc students, each was worth 1/4 of the year. So strange…

    Massimo – as you say – I think it’s to keep the penpushers happy. I’ll won’t be happy until Universities let Academics run things, not managers who have no idea about education or research.

  5. Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

    I won’t be happy until Universities let Academics run things, not managers who have no idea about education or research.

    Used to be that way. Granted, there was abuse on the part of some (very few) professors who felt they were above the law, but for the most part I thought things ran well.
    But then came the 90s, everything had to be run based on “business-like” criteria, free market was declared the best approach for everything, all the time, education like everything else had to be treated like a “consumer good”, students became the “customers”, there needed to be “accountability”, universities and departments had to “quantitatively assess their performance” (as in, how many students do we graduate per year ? Well, guess what, we can graduate as many as we want, it is all a matter of lowering the bar…), “unproductive” departments had to be downsized, and administrators had to be brought in from the private sector. All started going downhill from there…

  6. Professor in Training Says:

    As one who did a PhD based on the British system, I have positive and negative feelings about coursework. My PhD was 3yr 9mth from start to finish with ~3yrs 7mth benchwork (6mth of which were spent in a lab in the US) and 2mth full time writing – I wrote everything as I went along and published individual chapters/studies as they were completed so my thesis was a compilation of studies with an introduction and conclusion section tying everything together. And I didn’t have an official defense as my thesis was examined by external (ie international) examiners in a pass/fail manner.

    Nobody else in my dept was doing anything close to what I was, so the first 12mth of my PhD were spent learning more about my topic, formulating the questions I wanted to ask, setting up the lab analyses from scratch on a very tiny budget and troubleshooting. I then spent the next 12mth running animal and cell experiments, doing biochem analyses and writing. Headed to a US lab for 6mth to learn some new things while continuing to write my papers. Went back home to hit the bench and repeat some experiments, finalise the benchwork, write the last of the papers and pull my thesis together. During this entire time, I was teaching classes, assisting fellow grad students with their experiments (it wasn’t required, but they needed extra hands) and teaching undergrad students to assist with the research.

    I had the choice of taking some coursework if I wanted to, but I don’t know of anyone who ever did that. My undergrad studies included advanced courses and what I didn’t know when I started my PhD was soon learned by extensive reading and finding people who could clue me in on certain points. While coursework would have been good to broaden my general knowledge in physiology, it wouldn’t have helped me very much in my chosen area of specialty.

    A PhD is supposed to be a time of independent learning and discovery, and of working to further knowledge in a specific topic – coursework doesn’t really help any of these things. I shared a large office with ~10 other grad students all working in different areas of physiology and I think I learned more from the office conversation that I probably could have picked up in a class.

  7. Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

    In my Canadian postdoc lab, I was oh so excited to be told I was getting a graduate student to co-supervise… and then I barely saw him for the first year, as he was always in classes. I looked at the syllabus and it was all stuff I’d done in my 2nd year of undergrad in the UK. It was very frustrating as we had a great project for him, but by the time he really got started I was wrapping up my own (complementary) project and applying for jobs.

    My own PhD days saw me at the bench full time from the first week onwards (finished in 3 years 4 months, including a 1 month gap between submitting and defending). I would say I was on a steeper learning curve than my own student!

  8. Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

    PiT, I think that there are also practical considerations that will lead to the same eventual outcome. More and more, on this side of the ocean, people are beginning to feel that 5+ yrs for a PhD is way too much. If we are going through the exercise of trying to reduce its duration, I don’t see what else should/can end up on the chopping block, other than courses, especially if they are just repeats of the undergraduate ones.

    I looked at the syllabus and it was all stuff I’d done in my 2nd year of undergrad in the UK.

    Cath, I know nothing of your field but would bet that it was stuff that he too should have done in 2nd year undergrad, but either did not, or forgot, or was simply told to redo it.

  9. The Inorganic Gardener Says:

    I’ve got a US exchange student (Junior year) in my class at the moment. I’m teaching 2nd yr UK students [for the unacquainted, in the US there are four years to a B.S – Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior. In the UK there are three years to a B.Sc – 1st, 2nd and 3rd]. Said student has a really high GPA and majors in the subject I’m teaching, so you’d think she’d be walking through the class? Quite the opposite I’m afraid. I need to ask her next week what she’s actually been studying for the last 2 years in the US because the fundamental gaps in her knowledge of a subject which she’s allegedly majoring in, with a good GPA, is a great concern to me.

  10. Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

    I need to ask her next week what she’s actually been studying for the last 2 years in the US because the fundamental gaps in her knowledge of a subject which she’s allegedly majoring in, with a good GPA, is a great concern to me.

    I believe you, as I have made the same observation myself, more than once. But, I have also observed the reverse, namely European and Asian students coming to America, some even with MS degrees (or, the supposed equivalent thereof), who are then unable to perform at the graduate level. In at least two cases I found myself at a loss trying to figure out how in the world the person had managed to get a degree in the first place.

  11. Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

    I know nothing of your field but would bet that it was stuff that he too should have done in 2nd year undergrad, but either did not, or forgot, or was simply told to redo it.

    Do you know, I never thought to ask him!

    As a teacher, do you find that your classes tend to forget a LOT of the subjects you’ve already covered? From high school and up I was constantly astonished at whole classes of fellow students claiming that the teacher hadn’t ever mentioned this subject before – but there it was, in my notes from the last lesson / lecture. I am lucky enough to have a very good memory, but even so – I was often literally the only person other than the teacher who remembered that we’d already covered something!

  12. Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

    As a teacher, do you find that your classes tend to forget a LOT of the subjects you’ve already covered?

    Yup. It’s the “disposable course material” mentality, as a colleague of mine at my previous institution used to say. You do the homework assignment for the week, take the midterm, and then forget it altogether, like everything else you have no interest for. If you have a jerk for a teacher (like me) who gives a cumulative final exam, well, damn, you are going to have to go through everything again before the final…

  13. Dr J Says:

    I too did my PhD under the British system. I really dislike the Canadian system for this business of classes and coursework. There is a difference in culture between the systems too that I dislike. A PhD should be a personal achievement that is yours. Here they have to get permission to submit their thesis, in the UK you can submit if you want, it is up to you to take advice from your advisors but it is clear it is your thesis to stand or fall on. The classes though are particularly ridiculous. It seems that these are needed just to bring some of them up to a British degree standard. However, some of the students I have seen have had to take classes on things that have nothing whatsoever to do with what they are going to do for their PhD. Just about the first year is wasted and then because of the consequence length of the PhDs here they seem to loose focus and this leads to things taking even more time. Surely you should not be thinking in the course of a PhD that attendance at a seminar series (which is apparently compulsory and graded (!) although no one has explained to me what they will do if they don’t go) is more important than getting results nailed.

    The benefit of the British system is for sure that you are straight at the bench full time and focus quickly on that. The disadvantage is when you come over here and they expect you to have the same number of papers as someone who has taken 6 years + to do a PhD.

  14. Professor in Training Says:

    If you have a jerk for a teacher (like me) who gives a cumulative final exam …

    I thought I was the only one who thought this was conducive to more long-term retention of the material. I’m team-teaching a course for my first semester on the TT and my more senior colleague suggested we use the same syllabus she has used for the last gazillion years – I was happy with this idea as it meant less work for me with all the other crap that’s been going on. BUT, the students have 3 medium sized papers, weekly quizzes and 4 small-ish exams that are all spaced out across the semester and once they finish a section and complete the assessment, we don’t touch on it again. The maximum required retention time is about 4wks. And the faculty wonder why students aren’t able to recall any information during the more advanced class the following semester. What’s wrong with one or two papers, a mid-term exam and then a final exam?

  15. Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

    I thought I was the only one who thought this was conducive to more long-term retention of the material.

    No, PiT, many of us thought so, plus if the final is to have a much greater weight than all other tests*, it simply has to be cumulative. But I have also experimented with 4-5 midterms uniformly distributed throughout the semester and I am beginning to believe that actually it may be more effective. Problem is, if the study habits are what they are, you can’t really change them by giving cumulative final exams.

    *That is what the students demand — that way they can slack off for the entire term and then study “really hard” for two days before the exam and still walk away with an A, you see ? That’s how they reason, what can I tell you…

  16. Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

    some of the students I have seen have had to take classes on things that have nothing whatsoever to do with what they are going to do for their PhD

    HA !
    OK Dr J, this is the compromise on which my department has converged after a lengthy debate: Because it is strongly felt by some that students should be taking some courses, and because there is not even a hint of agreement among faculty on which ones (not even on a single course that every graduate student should take), then we have a requirement that students take a certain number of graduate (or fourth year undergraduate) courses of their choice, not just in physics but actually in whichever subject/department they please. Makes sense, eh ?

  17. Professor in Training Says:

    During our meetings/arguments about our masters program and what we want from a PhD program, someone has finally realized that we just don’t have the faculty numbers to be able to cover all of the graduate coursework that everyone thought we needed to offer (I clearly wasn’t speaking my piece but thought their list was ridiculous and should have been covered in undergrad programs). Anyway, our dean has been very vocal about the fact that our grad school actually has a very minimal requirement for coursework at both the masters and PhD levels and that he would prefer the students don’t waste time taking course after course after course – he’s advocating that the students take a few essential, core courses, such as statistics, and that they should then concentrate on developing and undertaking their research. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out but the dean and I are clearly on the same page.

  18. Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

    Ah, but see, PiT, if you take away from us our pet graduate courses, the ones that we have been teaching in the same way for the past 49 yrs and that by now require little or no preparation on our part, covering material that is probably obsolete, in which well-disciplined graduate students enroll who will simply take whatever crap we throw at them and thank us in the end (graduate students almost always teach themselves anyway), then what is left for us to teach ?
    That’s right, the dreaded introductory undergraduate sequences… the nightmare of every college professor… 😉

  19. Schlupp Says:

    How impressive: 18 comments without even *ONE SINGLE* reference to Swiss laundry !

  20. Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

    SCHLUPP ! Welcome back ! Don’t go away, now, pretty please

  21. Professor in Training Says:

    Yup – that’s exactly right and I know I’ll get lumped with all the undergrad courses while the tenured profs kick back and take care of the super-mega-important grad courses that the students don’t really need but that satisfies their barely-there minimum teaching requirements.

    One of the arguments we’ve also been having is that some of the faculty don’t want to admit students that don’t have the specific practical background to be able to TA for the very-applied undergrad classes. My suggestion was that only appropriately-trained students would be eligible for TA-ships, but no, they only want to consider those who could teach. Sigh. Remind me again about the purpose of graduate education …

  22. Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

    Remind me again about the purpose of graduate education …

    At all the places where I interviewed in ’97, as well as where I was doing my second postdoc, faculty made absolutely no bones about the fact that fewer graduate students meant fewer TAs, and therefore more teaching (and clearly they meant “undergraduate” teaching) to do for them — hence the need to recruit more graduate students.
    And at my first institution, the one and only time I saw the department chair ready to dismiss a graduate student on the spot, was when the student forgot to show up to teach his lab — failing courses repeatedly, not making any progress in research, taking many years to finish a Master’s degree, even going AWOL for months at a time, well, none of that would have warranted such an action…
    And the funny thing is, these people think that graduate students are dumb, that they don’t realize that they are being regarded as “cheap labor”…

  23. Professor in Training Says:

    It’s just insane. Teaching is something that can be beneficial for grad students for a variety of reasons, both financial and experiential, but isn’t something that should drive grad program admissions. Myself and almost all of my grad school peers had external scholarships and as there were a lot of grad students, picking up teaching was a very competitive process and certainly wasn’t guaranteed. For some of us, it was an important addition to our CVs but for others it was simply a way to supplement their stipend. But the overriding concern of the faculty was that it didn’t interfere with our thesis work and not wanting or not being able to teach simply meant one less person trying to get a class.

  24. Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

    PiT, I completely agree with you, which is why all of my graduate students are on RAs — I buy them out of the teaching as soon as they join my group.
    I also used to think that a little bit of teaching might be beneficial to the student, but I no longer think so. Based on my experience, at least in my field nothing that a graduate student can do by way of teaching, will be seriously regarded as “teaching experience” by a search committee.

    And the argument put forward by some faculty (“Students should be given a chance to experience what it is like to teach, in order to decide whether they like it or not”) is disingenuous and self-serving. First of all, teaching as a graduate student is not the same as teaching as a faculty. Secondly, students will have to find out on their own many other things, including what it is like to work in industry, or at a national lab, or to be a PI.
    I am sorry but, to me, graduate school is for learning how to do research and getting good at it. That is what will open most doors afterwards, and graduate school should be mostly (exclusively) about opening doors. Teaching, service (believe it or not graduate students do that too, sometimes), as well as any other activity that is not research (yes, that includes taking courses, to a large extent), are tantamount to “lollygagging around”* — they only get in the way.

    * An enthralling expression that I learned recently, courtesy of Cherish.

  25. Professor in Training Says:

    I agree that graduate school is (or should be) about learning how to do research, but I would argue that teaching can be a very valuable experience for grad students as it improves/refines their communication and presentation skills. Even if they don’t want to go into academia, these skills can be applied to almost every position they might find themselves in after grad school. I’d also argue that teaching is a skill that needs to be learned and developed and that new faculty with no teaching experience tend to struggle and be less effective if they haven’t had that prior exposure. That being said though, pushing students to teach isn’t a good idea and overloading TAs at the expense of their research is exploitation.

  26. Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

    I would argue that teaching can be a very valuable experience for grad students as it improves/refines their communication and presentation skills [… which…] can be applied to almost every position

    In principle I agree, but time is finite.
    You could say the same thing about other activities, which are not research, into which students may spend time while in graduate school, e.g., service. Seminar organization is the first example that comes to mind. Although I know that in some departments students are in charge of seminars, and though I think that students may well derive some tangible benefit (e.g., from meeting speakers in person — again that “schmoozing” obsession of mine), I still maintain that seminar organization is a job for faculty; students have no business doing that (they obviously can make suggestions regarding speakers — I am just talking about the actual running of the seminar, hosting of the speaker etc., all very time consuming).
    Just my opinion, of course.

  27. Professor in Training Says:

    Haha – again, I agree! I’ve managed to unintentionally derail your post, so I thought I’d rant about why I think teaching should be encouraged over at my blog 🙂

  28. ScientistMother Says:

    Can a graduate student put her two cents in? I did my masters degree in an area that I had focused during my undergrad studies, and although I had to take coursework it was not very helpful. Not the stats class or the molecular biology course. The only course that was helpful was a directed study, because my PI was the instructor and had me focus on writing the first section of my thesis.
    For my PhD, I am not required to take any classes since I have a MSc. Individuals in my first PhDlab though I should have to take classes to learn the material for the new field I was in, but personally I never did. I learned the material by attending journal clubs, reading review articles and attending seminar. That is how you learn about science.
    However, I do see a great benefit in attending short intensive courses on particular areas (ie on FACS, microscopy theory). those are extremely helpful in figuring out techniques that can be applicable to your researcher and/or troubleshooting.

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