How to pick a thesis committee

I was asked the other day what factors to consider when picking a thesis committee. And I realized that this is not a question I have pondered a lot. Normally, when one of my students needs to pick a committee, I just recommend people that seem a good choice. I don't have a properly thought out, systematic framework to steer the selection process. So with this post I’ll try to develop a more systematic approach to this question.

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6 reasons to do your graduate work in the lab of a junior PI, and 6 reasons not to

One of the eternal questions of graduate schools is whether you should work with a junior or a senior PI. I have commented on this question before and argued that either decision can be the right one. Here, I present a more comprehensive list of arguments for and against. As you’ll see, there are plenty of arguments going both ways. You may assign more weight to some than others and thus arrive at a decision that is best for you. Ultimately, I think it doesn’t matter too much; there are other factors that are more important, such as whether you enjoy and fit in with the lab’s culture and approach to research, collaboration, publication, and so on.

 

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Understanding the graduate-school interview or recruitment event

It’s the beginning of the new year, and with it comes graduate admissions time. If you are currently applying for graduate programs in the sciences, you hopefully have received or will soon receive one or more invitations to interviews or recruitment events. If you’re wondering what such an invitation means, how these events work, and how to best prepare yourself, read on.

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What does it take to be a computational biologist?

I would like to talk about what it takes to be a computational biologist, specifically in comparison to being an experimental biologist. If you’re wondering whether instead of becoming a computational biologist you should become a race-car driver, fighter pilot, or ballet dancer, this post probably won’t help you. But if you’re wondering whether a computational biology lab is a better choice for you than an experimental biology lab, this post should provide you with some useful guidelines. To cut right to the chase, here is the take-home message: To become a computational biologist, you need to want to become a computational biologist.

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How glamour journals rose to prominence, and why they may not be needed anymore

In the ongoing discussion about the value of glamour journals such as Nature, Science, and Cell, I think it’s worth looking back and asking: “How did they rise to prominence?” and “Are they still serving the same role they did when they arose?” So let’s take a quick trip into the history of science communication, before the internet. Then we can ask what the internet has changed, and how we could make the best of current technology.

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The value of pre-publication peer review

I see lot of discussion these days about the value of peer review. Are journals too selective? Are acceptance decisions arbitrary? Does peer review actually catch scientific mistakes or fraudulent practices? Wouldn’t it be better to just put everything out there, say on preprint servers, and separate the wheat from the chaff in post-publication review? I’m not quite ready yet to give up on pre-publication peer review. I think it serves a useful purpose, one I wouldn’t want to do away with. In the following, I discuss four distinct services that peer review provides, and assess the value I personally assign to each of them.

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Is there an avalanche of low-quality research, and if so, must we stop it?

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education argues that “we must stop the avalanche of low-quality research.” The authors decry the rapid growth of the scientific literature, which (as they argue) puts increasing strain on readers, reviewers, and editors without producing much benefit. They argue that this growth is driven by an increasing pressure on scientists to publish more, and the result is increasing amounts of low-quality publications. To address the pressure on scientists, they propose three fixes, of which one is Ok and two are positively inane. Maybe what we really have to stop is the avalanche of low-quality, non-reviewed opinion pieces published on web pages?

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Excess ambition—the eternal flaw of all PhD thesis proposals

I cannot remember ever having seen a graduate student present a PhD thesis proposal and be criticized for lack of ambition. It never happens. Even the weakest students—especially the weakest students—present proposals that are overly ambitious and that won’t ever get done, and certainly not in the 3-4 years remaining until graduation. In fact, in my experience it is exceedingly rare that a student presents a reasonable proposal, one that is actually doable during the remainder of the time in graduate school. Usually, those only happen when students “forget” to have their qualifying exams and end up presenting their “proposal” six months before the intended graduation date. In those cases, the students know that they won’t accomplish much new between proposal day and defense day, and basically present a proposal that consists entirely of completed work.

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No one reads your paper either

Simon Goring wrote an interesting post a few days ago arguing that no one reads your blog. In his post, he discussed reasons for why you might want to blog anyway. This post prompted me to tackle a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while: Why should you do science? Why should you publish? No one is going to read your paper either.

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Weight doesn't matter

The majority of people on a diet will tell you that they’re dieting because they want to lose weight. If you ask them why they want to lose weight, you’ll hear things like “I don’t want to have a heart attack at 50” or “I have some extra flab” or “I want to get rid of my spare tire” or “I want a six pack.” So people want to be healthy, or they want to look good naked, or both. Importantly, though, none of these goals have much to do with weight per se. What people are actually concerned with is excess fat. And we generally know this, of course. We know that when we say somebody is overweight we really mean the person is overfat. Yet, in day-to-day practice, we don’t use the word “overfat,” we keep saying “overweight.” And as a result, we keep confusing weight and fat, and more importantly, we use the wrong metrics to keep track of our dieting success.

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