Managing your time and expectations

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Transcript Managing your time and expectations

Managing your time and expectations
Daniel J. Jacob
Check out other Graduate Student Forum presentations by same author:
Beyond the Ph.D. (November 2012)
The scientific literature and you (September 2011)
Balancing work and play (March 2011)
How to write an effective scientific paper...and how to deal with the review
process (November 2009)
How to write a successful proposal (May 2008)
Advising and mentoring (October 2007)
Life after the Ph.D. (April 2007)
How to give an effective presentation (November 2006)
How to benefit most from your PhD/postdoc
• Own your research problem
• Have clear idea of scientific value, road to paper
• Do work that’s important to you
• Get the supervision you need
• Don’t neglect communications
• Research is nothing if not communicated properly
• You will be judged by your publications and presentations
• Never miss an opportunity to talk about your research
• Broaden your perspectives
• Understand and engage in what others are doing
• Take advantage of constant flow of visitors
• Develop your professional ambitions
• Embrace high standards, self-improvement
• Find out what you want to be
• Don’t compare yourself to others too much
• Be a team player
• Be generous with help, and ask for help when you need it
• Engage socially with the group
Managing your time well
A PhD/postdoc is about first-author publications – keep your eye on the ball!
Spending a lot of time on courses is not a good idea.
But spending 100% time on your research is limiting and can be frustrating.
So peripheral activities are very valuable for your education and well-being:
TFing, learning about others’ research, service (to group, advisor, dept,
community), working as a team, mentoring, reviewing
• Communication is absolutely fundamental – research is 50% finding, 50%
communicating. See
• How to write an effective scientific paper
• How to give an effective presentation
• Talk about your research to your peers, visitors, family, friends!
• Whatever you do it has to be interesting to you – else it’s not worth it
• Know your work capacity and choose your preferred mode of work. See
• Balancing work and play
Managing your research time
• Spending time on research can be very frustrating. Things don’t pan out,
bugs in code stump you for weeks, time is wasted in blind alleys. To some
degree this is unavoidable. (but it’s all worth it in the end).
• You need strategies to minimize wasted time. Here are some:
• Always be convinced that your work is leading you to something
important. If not you shouldn’t be doing it – talk to your advisor.
• Don’t be stuck! Get help all the time, at all levels. This is a great
strength of the group – everyone is happy to help.
• Don’t wear blinders. Keep on top of the literature in your area. See The
scientific literature and you.
• Don’t procrastinate facing the difficult issues.
• Always look for the fundamentals hidden in the details – because that’s
where the science is.
• Challenge your hypotheses. Learn to recognize when something is not
working out and move on – don’t be enamored with your hypotheses.
• Research is 50% communication – so devote time to that!
• Always have the paper in mind when doing your research – start
writing it very early on!
• Learn from criticism of your writing/presentation style. Be your own
worst critic by putting yourself in perspective of reader/audience.
• Consider English/communications to be your minor.
Setting research expectations
• You can’t be effective at research if you don’t think it’s important. If you don’t
you have to talk to your advisor.
• Always keep in mind the paper to come out of the research. This keeps your
eye on the ball of what is important. Write early and often.
• Timelines and milestones are not very useful. Bullets above are what’s
• There is little point in thinking beyond the paper you’re working on. Priorities
in science develop organically. Get your paper done; then you can focus on
what’s next.
• The PhD qualifying exam asks you to have a grand plan, a fellowship
application asks you for a proposal, that’s a good exercise but like all plans
they’re often discarded as life happens. Your research doesn’t have to
conform to the plan, nor does it have to conform to any plan. It just has to be
important research (let’s see what Patrick comes up with for his thesis title).
• This is not to say that you shouldn’t develop vision, which will be important
post-PhD (see Life after the Ph.D.). Build that during your time here by talking
with people, going to seminars/meetings, etc.
Setting PhD expectations
• A PhD must represent a significant advance in human knowledge
• Don’t be scared by that bar – that’s why you have an advisor. But
realize that there’s a high standard and let it energize you.
• It doesn’t necessarily have to be a unified piece of work
• No one cites PhD theses; what’s important for your career are firstauthor papers.
• A PhD should take 5-6 years and produce 2-4 important papers
• The “PhD thesis” is just stapled papers.
Ownership of your research and dealing with criticism
• Criticism/redirection/rewriting by advisor may make you wonder if you own
your research. Relax, you own it. The advisor is operating on a different
plane of ownership. The research is coming out of his/her shop. You’re an
• Take criticism constructively but don’t hesitate to push back. Learn from
the criticism so you can improve. Again, this is apprenticeship.
• Criticism is hard to take. For now at least, you can learn from the criticism
and improve. As a career scientist you’ll be criticized all the time (usually
anonymously) with less opportunity to improve.
• Beginning graduate students often wonder if their research demarcates
itself enough from others. Don’t worry about it, it’s never a problem. Still,
you should have the title of your paper in your head.
Feeling good about yourself
• Why should you not feel good about yourself? You’ve already succeeded
academically, now you’re just shopping to figure out the best career for you
• If you want to become a top researcher you’re in the right place – but that does
not have to be your aspiration! See
• Balancing work and play and Beyond the Ph.D.
• You most likely entered the Ph.D. program wanting a research career – but your
aspirations can change and the PhD is then a ticket to an alternate career
• Don’t spend too much time comparing yourself to others, and avoid extremes
of one-upmanship and obsequiousness
• You are who you are; there are things you enjoy, things that you’re good at. Use
your PhD years to figure them out and from there your next step in the journey
of life.