• 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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  • From undergraduate to faculty member: Critical decision points in the academic career

    If you’re an undergraduate contemplating an academic career or a graduate student considering the next steps, you may have the long-term goal of becoming a tenured professor at a major research university. At the same time, you may have serious doubts about whether this is the career for you. Are you good enough to be a faculty member? And if you’re not good enough, will you waste years of your life with little to show for it in the end? Even if you’re good enough, is that sufficient, or will you also need an extraordinary amount of luck? By embarking on an academic career, will you be making a high-stakes gamble that may have a catastrophic outcome if you lose? These are serious doubts, and they can make the prospects of pursuing an academic career seem overwhelming and pointless. As a substitute for these overwhelming, larger-than-life questions, I’d like to offer a set of critical decision points and simple rules about how to proceed. I hope that these suggestions will make the path to an academic position more navigable and less stressful.

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  • A year without breakfast

    About a year ago, I gave up breakfast. The truth is, I’ve never liked breakfast. When I wake up, I’m not hungry. Why should I eat? However, breakfast is important, right? Everybody knows, breakfast is the most important meal in the day. Not eating breakfast is associated with all sorts of ills [1]. It will make you fat. It will give you heart disease. Why would anybody in their right mind not have breakfast?

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  • A review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets

    I just learned about this review article that was published earlier this summer in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition:

    A. Paoli, A. Rubini, J. S. Volek and K. A. Grimaldi. Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 67:789–796, 2013; doi:10.1038/ejcn.2013.116

    This is a fantastic article summarizing the current knowledge about ketogenic diets. Read it!

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  • My new job

    Today is the first day that I am officially Associate Chair of the newly formed Department of Integrative Biology. As I am finding out now, this is the worst calamity that has befallen me in my entire not-so-short life. I have never received that many condolences, that many pitiful looks, or that many expressions of sympathy. After I accepted the position, my predecessor, who is a close collaborator of mine and a mentor to me, told me he was torn between warning me of my impending doom and staying silent so he could be free. He ultimately chose his freedom. Most of the colleagues to whom I mention my new position assume I was coerced, likely at gunpoint. Alas, I actually volunteered for the job. Am I delusional or simply masochistic?

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  • Why graduate students get a reasonable deal—A response to the anonymous grad student in the Guardian

    This morning, an article in the Guardian is making the rounds on the academic twitter feeds. The article is written by an anonymous graduate student, and it argues that graduate students are underpaid and that their salaries should be doubled. When reading the article, I couldn’t help but feel that it lacked the careful analysis, logical reasoning, and deep thought befitting of a graduate student. The author is either not aware of or willfully ignores how graduate students are paid and why. I am willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt, though. I recently had a conversation with a senior faculty member at my institution and she also didn’t really understand how graduate students are paid. So here’s the quick summary: per hour, graduate students are compensated better than most postdocs and lecturers. After tenure-track faculty members, graduate students probably get the best deal in academia.

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  • Is consumer software creating a new generation of computer illiterates?

    When I was growing up, computers were a still a pretty unusual thing. As a result, people could generally be subdivided into two types: those that knew their way around computers and those that didn’t. The ones that knew their way around computers really knew things, often down to the hardware level. (I had a book listing the entire operating system of my Commodore, in machine language.) The others pretty much knew nothing, and they knew that they knew nothing. So the world was in order. Everybody knew their place. These days, computers are ubiquitous. Everybody and their dog knows how to fill out a web form or install an app. Yet unless we venture beyond the shiny interfaces provided by the Microsofts, Apples, and Googles of this world we remain just as illiterate as the earlier generation. We just don’t know how much we don’t know.

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  • Writing a scientific paper in four easy steps

    Writing is hard. But writing a scientific paper? Much less so. That’s because nearly all scientific papers follow a simple, four-section outline: Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion. Just put the required information into those four sections and you’re done.

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  • When should you stop doing science and start writing a paper?

    In my experience, most graduate students and many postdocs think of science as a two-step process: First, you do science. You do experiments, collect data, write code, carry out statistical analyses. Then, once you’re done doing science, you sit down and write up your results for publication. Within this mental model, an important question arises: How do you know that you have done enough science? When should you stop collecting data and start writing a paper?

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  • The great weight-loss mystery

    The scientific consensus is that long-term weight loss and weight control is impossible. Yet some people seem to manage. So what gives? The truth is, nobody knows. The science of nutrition and weight loss is still recovering from 40 years of collective delusion, and frankly most scientific studies in this field are not that insightful. (I do have high hopes, though, that the Nutrition Science Initiative is going to be a game changer. Some of the smartest people in the field, with access to very substantial private funding, should make a difference.) In the absence of solid science, I feel that I can freely speculate about why some people succeed and others don’t. So what follows below are my own opinions, poorly sourced and not scientifically proven.

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  • How to approach professors by email

    Today’s advice is written specifically for undergraduates, even though graduate students and postdocs may benefit as well. (I certainly didn’t figure these things out until I was a faculty member myself.) What is the best way to approach professors by email, in particular if you want or need something from them? I’ll give you the most important advice up front: Be absolutely clear about your intentions. Tell me exactly what you want or need from me, and why. This will save both of us a lot of time, energy, and frustration. (Frustration would be mostly on your part, though, when I silently ignore your messages.)

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