How much is too much?

And how little is too little?

It is an unofficial requirement of my program that I need to publish a first author paper before graduating.  Some of my data has been published in another person’s paper (by that I mean I was not the first author, I was the third or fourth author).  Some of my data is unpublishable (Journal of Negative Results, anyone?).  But, I do have actual, honest-to-goodness publishable data.  Not enough for a paper, but I’m working on getting more.

Here’s the problem–when is enough enough?  My advisor and I have been “discussing” this in terms of my paper.  Because until I have “enough” for a paper, I ain’t leaving here.  And there are all sorts of reasons why I need to leave here as soon as possible (not just my reasons, but my advisor’s reasons and the department’s reasons).  We agree on what my paper should be about, but we only sort of agree on the scope.  That is, I put forth what I think is reasonable and will make a nice story and my advisor half-heartedly agrees.

Today, it was my turn to present for lab meeting.  I showed the lab my outline and asked them what they thought.  And one of the things we talked about was whether or not the data I am calling Figure 3 really needs to be or fits in my paper.  But, since this is only a four figure paper, leaving out Figure 3 means I will only have enough data for three figures and is that enough?  On the other hand, if I leave it in, do I need to add more experiments and if so, how many do I add and when can I stop?  And the very wise conclusion we came to was: it’s not clear.


Yes, I do want to have a good paper and a good thesis and so on, but I am weary and frankly, I think I’ve learned as much as I can learn about doing science as a graduate student.  This is not to say I know everything there is about being a scientist.  But there is a limit to what one can achieve as a graduate student.  To really progress, I’d have to move on, go to a new lab, be a post-doc, be semi-autonomous and work and think in a whole new way.  The one thing I haven’t done is write a paper.  And I suppose you could argue that writing a paper is an important lesson.  So, maybe it’s appropriate that I am stuck here trying to get enough data to write a paper.

I also know that writing a good paper is necessary to get a good post-doc.  However, I don’t want to do a post-doc.  As soon as I’m done defending I’m running as fast and as far away from benchwork as my little legs can take me.  I have had it up to here with the benchwork.  That may change after I’ve been able to take a break from it (a real break, not a “I’m going home for the holidays” kind of break), but for now my plan is to high-tail it out of lab and focus on classroom education.

So, I don’t need a Nature paper, or a Science paper, or a Cell paper (and I’d be kidding myself if I thought the data I have are important enough for that kind of journal).  I just need a paper.  A nice, tight little paper that contributes to my field in some meaningful way.

Right now, the point is moot, because I don’t have enough data for a paper anyway.  I suppose when the time comes and I think I have enough data, I’ll call my thesis committee together and see what they think.  Hopefully, they’ll see it my way.