Patrick Goymer is taking a half year paternity leave at Nature and so they are looking for a replacement. Here is the announcement. I bet there are few positions that are as likely to help you learn about your field from the big picture side of things. If I were younger I might drop everything and apply. What better way to get out of the details of your project and see what other people find exciting? Along the way, you get to be on the inside of the publishing of a top journal.
I’ve talked to others who have been involved in publishing, in the popular press, and in editorial positions and they all emphasize how valuable this kind of experience is for insight, for collaborations, for seeing across fields.
We’ve had a bit of this kind of experience here in our two weeks as Distinguished Visiting Professors in the Biology Department at University of Miami. I’ll write more about that later, for it has been a great experience. So, think about what you are doing and whether it is more important than a look inside the coveted editorial staff at Nature.
We have ecologists, economists, sociologists, and biologists. We have Marxists, capitalists, artists, and psychologists. We even have the tongue twisting physicists. Why don’t we call ourselves evolutionists? Well, one of us does, D. S. Wilson. Think what you will of his ideas and initiatives, no one would deny he is an evolutionary biologist, as it says on Wikipedia. No one would deny either that he thinks for himself, apparently arriving at the conclusion that it make sense to call himself the short and sweet term, evolutionist.
What’s wrong with the rest of us? Are we worried people won’t realize evolution is part of biology? Does evolutionist sound funny? No more so than ecologist, I’d say. Some fields don’t add -ist to their practitioners. We have historians, not historicists, computer scientists, not computerists, but isn’t it time for us to shorten our name to 5 syllables from 10 and become evolutionists?
A good presentation will have questions afterwards. All too often, the speaker answers by saying “That is a great question,” or something like that. It may seem like you are congratulating the brave questioner for their brilliance, so you may think it is a good thing to do. It is not.
The reason is that this answer takes the listeners’ attention away from the substance of your talk and makes them start thinking about questions, good, bad, stupid, or brilliant, instead. This is not what you want. You want them to think about the material you have presented.
Besides, why would you say this is a good question and that one is a bad one? Of course no one ever says something is a bad question, so if you don’t say good to every question, then when you don’t it seems like they are bad questions. There are questions that are more profound than others, but what you want is for people to keep thinking about the cool stuff you just presented.
Saying “That is a good question” interrupts the conversation. This may be what you want as you struggle for the best answer. But there is a better alternative. Repeat the question so everyone can know what it is. This is particularly important in large rooms. As you repeat the question, you can formulate your answer, keeping everyone’s thoughts on your great topic.
This is one more little way to forge ahead with talks.
What about a program that is interdisciplinary and means it, including various things close to evolutionary biology, and also history of the field? It brings in a tiny class of 15 people or so from around the world to a lovely place not far from the Portuguese beaches. It has lots of outside teachers rotating through. I went last year.
“Research at the IGC (http://www.igc.gulbenkian.pt/pages/groups.php/A=143___collection=article___group=1) revolves around
four main axes: Evolutionary Biology, Quantitative Biology, Integrative Cell and Developmental Biology, and Immunobiology. The
broad‐scoped nature of the IGC research programme favours original approaches to outstanding biological questions that
promote bridges across different disciplines and methodologies.”
Here is a link: http://www.igc.gulbenkian.pt/pages/facilities.php/A=169___collection=article/
Check it out!
A vampire professor will suck you dry. They will rob you of your life essences. Exactly which essence they will remove might vary with professor. Some will suck away all your time. Such a professor will notice when you arrive and leave, but not necessarily whether you are productive or spend your day reading my blog. You may work all night in the lab, then come in at 10 instead of 8 and be criticized. The only way to please this kind of vampire is to be in the lab all the time. Tricks like opening your door whether you are there or not may sometimes help. Weekend time at the lab is mandatory, but must overlap with when the vampire comes in.
Another kind of vampire professor will claim all of your ideas, rather than nurture them. I once read a web page of a professor who said that all ideas anyone in his lab had while in his lab were to be considered his (the professor’s) ideas. Furthermore, no idea had in his lab could be pursued after leaving the lab. Ideas should be shared, coddled, elaborated, enhanced, celebrated, so the best ones can be pursued. Vampire professors want your ideas, but what they want to do with them is not always clear.
Perhaps the worst kind of vampire professor wants your soul. They want your life to center on your work in the lab and your relationship with the vampire. They do not want you to have outside interests, or to develop outside scientific interests or skills. They want your very blood.
Is it worth joining the lab of a really famous professor doing super cool research who also happens to be a vampire? I say no. Research should be mostly fun. Grad school should be mostly fun. But above all, the lab community should be nurturing to you, not to the professor alone.
Garlic won’t help avoid vampire professors. Read their web pages. Talk to their current graduate students. There will be plenty of clues of a vampire professor. They are insecure and you can smell it.
The list of faculty affiliated with a program is a political document more than an accurate document. At my university anyone who is on the faculty and wants to be affiliated with a program may be. Some of the people in the list do not take graduate students. This may be because they are lecturers and do not have labs. It may be that they have retired and yet have not been removed from the list. It may be because they do not have funding. It may be their preference.
My university is not unique in the inaccuracy of this document as a place to look for a potential graduate adviser. I have seldom seen a highly accurate document of this kind. So what is a prospective graduate student to do? You could start with the web pages and publications of the possible adviser. The web pages may also be out of date. They may show a lab of happy people who actually graduated years ago. Dates of publications are a clue.
The lab may still exist and be research productive but not be taking graduate students. You just can’t really tell what is going on from our pages unless you read them very carefully. I’m sorry this is the case, but there is really no other way to have it. Everyone is busy, so it is up to the individual professor to keep their information accurate. Deleting web pages or acknowledging the waning of a career is hard.
So do your homework on the lab group. The only real way to find out what is going on is to talk to a current graduate student in the laboratory. If there are not any, don’t choose that lab, unless it is an assistant professor in the first few years of her career, or is in a small program where everyone doesn’t have grad students, or a medical program mostly run on postdocs and technicians. If you are determined to choose a lab with no graduate students, talk to the professor and ask for the names of former grad students, or of students who have rotated through. I do not want your brilliant career to falter because you were fooled by our web pages.