• Why I lift weights (and so should you)

    For the first forty years of my life, I thought lifting weights was for meatheads. If you lifted weights, my thinking went, you cared more about your looks than your health or fitness level. Actually, not looks even, just sheer size. I was convinced that my fitness regimen of endurance training (running, cycling, walking), flexibility (yoga), and basic whole-body movements (more yoga) was far superior to stupidly lifting weights in a gym. I mean, look at those guys [1] in the gym: they take a barbell, lift it five times, and then they take a five minute break. Do they even break a sweat? I don’t call that exercise, I call that sitting around on your lazy behind. Only when I started to read up on exercise physiology did I realize that lifting heavy is an extremely beneficial activity. Further, it is likely the most important type of exercise we can engage in, in particular as we grow older. And those five-minute breaks are absolutely necessary if you’re doing it right, in particular if you care more for strength than size.

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  • Mobile apps—the bane of the modern mobile web experience

    Have I ever mentioned that I hate mobile apps? I’m not talking about apps in general. I think it’s great that I can have a calculator on my phone, or skype. But apps that serve as replacements for websites, such as the facebook app or the linkedin app, I hate with a passion. I think they are a step backwards in web development. They degrade the mobile experience for all of us.

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  • How to choose the right lab for graduate school

    Choosing the right lab for graduate school can be a daunting prospect. There are so many issues to consider. So many things that could go wrong. And you have to join the most prestigious lab you can get into, don’t you? Well, let’s consider for a moment what the main point of graduate school is. Graduate school is the time when you transition from being a student to being an independent scientist. It is primarily an educational experience. While in graduate school, you should pick up some subject-matter knowledge in your field. You should become familiar with the most important experimental or computational tools of your trade. You should learn how to choose scientific questions and how to solve them. You should develop general life skills such as how to communicate, how to work with other people, and how to get stuff done on time and to spec. So how do you find the right lab in which to acquire all these skills?

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  • Writing paragraphs that make sense—the topic and the stress position

    When you write a scientific article, you should lay out your ideas in such a way that your readers can follow them easily. Every new concept should flow directly from the previous material. Yet more often than not, scientific prose can be difficult to understand. What is going on? Readers expect certain pieces of information in certain positions in a sentence. Satisfy these expectations, and your readers will find your writing clear and convincing. Violate them, and your readers will be confused. All readers expect more or less the same things in the same places. And writers commonly violate these expectations. The two most important expectations readers have concern the kind of material that is presented at the beginning of a sentence, in the topic position, and at the end, in the stress position [1]. Here I present my take on how to make the best use of these positions to produce clear and coherent prose.

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  • A blog needs a catchy title

    According to Internet Marketing 101, a blog needs a catchy title, a clear brand. Something that readers can remember easily and that evokes associations and emotions. The blog author’s name will usually not serve that purpose well. Even if it’s a cool name. Even if it’s as noteworthy a name as “Claus Wilke.” Therefore, with this post, I’m relaunching my blog under a different brand. Henceforth, this blog will be called “The Serial Mentor.”

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  • Silence your inner critic

    I wrote two blog posts recently that addressed the widespread issue of writer’s block. In the first, I suggested that warming up before writing is a good idea to get you into the zone. In the second, I argued that you need to figure out what the story is before you can write productively. There’s a third element to writing productively. Even if you have figured out your story and have warmed up properly, you may still find yourself staring at a blank page for extended periods of time. If this is the case, you are almost certainly operating with an inner critic that holds you back the moment you want to commit words to paper. You need to silence your inner critic to write effectively.

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  • It’s easier to write when you know what you want to say

    It’s easier to write when you know what you want to say. “Duh,” you may say, “I could have told you that, Claus.” Yes, it’s a pretty obvious statement. But I wouldn’t dismiss its value so easily. When you’re trying to write something, and you get stuck, you need to know why you’re stuck. There may be two reasons: First, you can be stuck because you don’t know what you want to say. Second, you can be stuck because even though you do know what you want to say, you don’t know how to say it. Those two are very distinct scenarios, and they require different courses of action. Can you tell when you find yourself in either? And if so, do you know how to deal with the situation effectively?

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  • Warm up before you write

    In most pursuits of an artistic or physical nature, warming up is standard operating procedure. An opera singer wouldn’t go out on stage without first singing some arias in the dressing room. An olympic gymnast doesn’t step on the balance beam without some serious stretching, as well as a dry-run of her routine on the ground. A sprinter will do some light jogs, stretches, and maybe jumping jacks before the big race. But writers routinely fire up the word processor (or, like in the olden days, take out pen and paper) and attempt to write award-winning prose without any sort of warm up. I don’t think that’s very smart. I believe warming up is as important for writing as it is for singing, gymnastics, or track-and-field.

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  • Do we know anything about nutrition?

    I was pointed to this infographic on superfoods, which aims at summarizing the scientific information we have about the health benefits of specific foods. It ranks health claims about specific foods by the strength of scientific evidence for the claim, and provides direct links to the relevant studies. The first thing you’ll notice if you look at it is that most claims fall well below promising. However, there are a few that are listed as good or strong. Since I’m somewhat of a nutrition geek, I of course went immediately and looked at the claims that are supposed to be the strongest. I was dismayed to find that of the four claims listed as very strong, at least two are rather dubious. Those two are barley and oats. (I stopped reading after that. The other two may well be dubious as well.)

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  • How good is good enough?

    The other day, I wrote a blog post about critical decision points in an academic career. Titus felt that I was perpetuating the belief that being “good enough” is a necessary requirement to becoming a faculty member. My intention in writing the post was actually the exact opposite, to argue that whether somebody is or is not “good enough” is largely irrelevant to their success in academia, and not something they should spend much time thinking about. Clearly I didn’t quite succeed in getting my points across, so I’ll try again.

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  • The axis labels are too damn small

    If I were king of the world, I would decree that every man or woman who releases a software product, for pay or for honor, with the purpose of graphing data, shall, upon pain of death, ensure that the default axis labels, axis tick labels, and legends are printed at a reasonable size, legible to your aging king’s declining eyesight. However, because I would be a fair and wise king, I would also decree that every such man or woman have a one-month grace period to bring their software into compliance. Without such a grace period, I’m afraid all authors of currently available graphing software would have to instantly lose their heads.

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  • Should you list on your cv a paper that is in review or in preparation?

    tl;dr: List papers in review but don’t list papers in preparation.

    I strongly recommend that junior scientists (and even senior scientists) list submitted papers on their cv. The main reason is the inevitable delay between when a project is done and when a paper finally comes out. If I see a cv with no publications in the last year, I don’t know if that is because the person got lazy or because there are five papers in the pipeline that just haven’t made their way out of review yet. If I see a couple of papers listed as “submitted” or “in review” it gives me confidence that the person hasn’t gotten lazy yet. Also, from the titles of the papers, I can get a sense of where the person’s work is going at the moment.

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