Knowing what I know now: Grad school (Sean Hoban)
Sean Hoban is a postdoc at the University of Ferrara, Italy, where he develops software and evaluates methods for conservation genetics, with Oscar Gaggiotti and Giorgio Bertorelle. Their user-friendly software for choosing the appropriate number of markers and samples for a genetic study is available here (manuscript in press at Methods in Ecology and Evolution). Their recent prospectus on genetic simulation software is here. Sean is also an editor for invasivore.org, and a contributor to ESA’s blog Ecotone.
If you have advice for yourself in a past career stage, find out how to contribute to the carnival here — we’ve got many great contributions already!
Increasingly, good science takes place in collaborations, especially between researchers and non-researchers, and between disciplines. You will likely have opportunity to work formally and informally with other institutions, natural resource agencies, NGOs, educators, etc. As such opportunities arise, nurture these relationships! (1) Keep a spreadsheet of your contacts, the date you last communicated, various “to-do” items, etc. This will help you find potential collaborators or employers months or years later. (2) Share new results and questions with them- this helps to circulate your findings among the community and shows that you appreciate people’s past involvement in your work. Do not use and then forget people- you will meet and rely on them again. As my advisor said, “science is a small town.”
Acknowledge the help of others
As others have stressed, it is true that all responsibility and onus is on you to get things done. Still, you must remember that accomplishments are a team product- your lab manager, field technicians, undergraduate assistants, advisors. There was a phase of my graduate career when I looked at my accomplishments and knowledge, and felt pretty cocky, and selfish of “my data.” Get over that feeling fast, and thank those behind the scenes.
Email authors of papers you really like
Sounds strange, right? I first did this in my fourth year, sending a few lines of admiration to an author whose Bayesian method changed my way of thinking. A year later I applied for a post doc with this scientist, and he remembered my small email compliment. (I got the post doc.) Point is, people appreciate and remember your interest (but avoid fawning). Contact someone new once a month, or after conferences. It helps build your contacts list, integrates you into a small community, and sparks conversations.
Learn to cook
Some say that when you stop thinking about a problem directly, the answer comes to you. Cooking may spark such out-of-the-box thinking, and is one way to relax and de-stress. Also, if you can cook well, your labmates and advisors might enjoy it … but fresh-baked cookies at your defense will not buy you much slack! Anyway, remember that eating healthy is important for energy and cognition.
Consult your fellow students
I didn’t ask many questions in graduate school, feeling I would be a burden. Now I realize that most of my co-workers enjoy helping me through a tricky statistics problem, advising me on a piece of writing, etc. People like taking a break and being collaborative. Furthermore, your office mate will often be aware of an experimental design, journal article, or technique you (and your advisor) would have never known of. Even if you are really embarrassed at lacking a fundamental piece of knowledge, the sooner you get it over with and ask, the better. I had weak undergraduate preparation compared to my graduate student friends, and I often tried to hide it. Since graduating, I have learned to ask questions constantly.
Sadly, 80% of success is knowing the protocol
This was my advisor’s parting advice. By this, she meant: read instructions thoroughly (my worst habit is to skim instructions), when you really need an answer pick up the phone rather than email, reciprocate favors, try to understand academic politics and hierarchies.. In short: pay attention to small things, and absorb pieces of advice and lessons from your everyday blunders.
Get away once in a while and recharge!