Thursday, August 09, 2007

Research gems

I recommend this entry by YoungFemaleScientist. Good advice for all of us involved in, or about to go into research.

I think the key to navigating the sea of information is knowing how to evaluate what's reasonable and believable and what's not.

It's really easy to feel overwhelmed by the literature, for example, and not know what to believe, if you're in grad school or a new postdoc in a new field, and you're not armed with the basics.

I really think the least we can do for students is give them the tools they really need. I always say I've forgotten the vast majority of information I memorized for exams in school, but I know the concepts. I went out of my way to learn the concepts I knew I would need, and that guides me. I went outside the curriculum, I read things on my own, I did whatever I had to do. I didn't get perfect grades and I didn't care. But I learned a heck of a lot of useful stuff.

Most of the mistakes I see people making in lab- on a daily basis, mind you- stem from a complete lack of fundamentals.

Or, like what my prof in my sophomore Thermodynamics class said: When in doubt, always go back to the first principles, and work from there.

(Ed: The class was complaining that the cheat sheet for the mid-terms/exam did not include the Maxwell relations. There were many others excluded as well. Of all my undergraduate courses, this made the greatest impression on me. Not because I did well, but because I really felt I earned my 'B' grade. It was very helpful later for my graduate Thermo class as well as my Quals.)

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