To all the junior grad students out there

For the love all you hold dear and sacred in the world, KEEP UP WITH THE LITERATURE.

There are many good reasons for keeping up with the literature, but the one that concerns me right now is that if you don’t, then when you get to the point where you are writing the literature review for your thesis, you are going to be in hell.

Ask me how I know.

If I have to read just one more paper on this particular topic in my field I am going to run through the lab shrieking and pulling my hair out and talking to little blue aliens so that they’ll lock me up in a psych ward where I won’t have to look at journal articles at all (although, with my luck some well-meaning lab mate will bring me papers to read so I can keep busy).

I really and truly wish I could go back in time and pull aside my younger self and say, “Dude, I know you hate reading journal articles because they are dry and inevitably bore the hell out of you but in addition to being critical to your development as a scientist and giving you insight into your own research and inspiring you to be creative as a scientist it is important for you read these papers NOW because you are definitely going to have to read these papers SOMEDAY and if you don’t do it now, one day will be sitting at your desk with piles and piles of papers sitting around you while you search for a different color of highlighter just so you can have a little bit of variety and you will be wondering how many trees you are going to have to plant in order to offset the amount of paper you have used to  print papers in the last couple of weeks.  It will not be pretty.  It will, in fact, be ghastly and you will wander around the lab moaning about how you should have been reading these papers all along until your lab mates want to strangle you.”

[I would also like to go back in time and tell myself, “Hey, you know that negative control for that yeast two-hybrid experiment that you don’t think you need to do because you’ve essentially done the same thing by having two known proteins that don’t interact?  Yeah, do the control.  Trust me.”]

So, in conclusion, I am in a hell of my own devising.  One that has descended upon me because I was a bad, bad grad student and didn’t keep up with the literature.  Don’t be like me.  Save yourself the pain and agony of having to read all of those papers all at once.  Also, take notes.  Because one day you’re going to try to remember which bit of information was in which paper so that you can cite it properly.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to try to find my green highlighter.  I know I left it around here somewhere.

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Dear Advisor:

Thanks for looking at my figures and figure legends for my thesis/paper. I know you’re really busy right now, so I appreciate you taking the time to help me move closer to graduation (which is, of course, in your best interest since as soon as I graduate, you can stop paying me–just sayin’). I’m glad you think they “look good.” I’m not exactly sure what you mean by that, though, because I was sort of expecting you to give those drafts back to me with your notations and corrections and stuff (written in red ink as you like to do, such that my writing looks like its bleeding–you know what I’m talking about). And you didn’t. I cannot imagine that you think they are perfect as is (particularly since you mentioned that I really need to remember to write in the past tense) and since I can’t read minds, I was just wondering if you were going to, you know, tell me into what you think I ought to fix or should I start consulting the Ouija board?

Also, I’m a little confused why you asked me to give you a draft of the results section “along with the figures” on Monday. What, exactly, do you think the figures I just gave you belong to? Do you think I’m going to change the figures in between now and then (because that’s so not happening until I get your feedback)? Or are you just anticipating you are going to lose the figures in between now and Monday?

Also, just so you know, I’m spending about 80% of my time these days reading papers and writing my thesis and most of the rest of the time working on my last experiment. The fact that the first time you came to see me in lab since impressing upon me the urgency of graduation and I happened to be, at that moment, looking at a list of the best sci-fi and fantasy books of 2008 is in no way indicative of my current work ethic (and don’t tell me you didn’t notice because I saw you glancing at my computer screen; I suppose I should be grateful I wasn’t blogging at the time. That’s all I need–you finding my anonymous blog).

Have fun at your study section!

Your Devoted Student,

Mrs Whatsit

Slow going

So, I’m working on the intro/literature review chapter of my thesis.  Currently,  the way this is working, I write a sentence, need to look something up, read a paper, write the next sentence, look something else up, read a paper.  It’s like taking a walk and needing stop every few feet to read a detailed topographical map.  It feels like I’m moving forward soooooo sloooowwwly.

Now I get why these things take so damn long to write.

January non-fiction book: Bonk

When I did my year end review of books I read in 2008, I mentioned that it was my goal to read 12 non-fiction books this year–one per month. On Last Monday, it occurred to me that January was almost over so I needed to get my ass in gear and pick up something non-fiction. So, I headed to the bookstore and picked up Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach.

I’ve been wanting to read Bonk for awhile. I’ve read Stiff and Spook, both by Mary Roach and both funny as hell, so I figured Bonk would be along similar lines. It didn’t disappoint. Scicurious at Neurotopia has already written a stellar review of the book that I pretty much agree with so I’ll just give you a few of my impressions.

It’s a fast and fun read (which is what I need in a book these days).  The style of the book is such that you feel it’s as though your best friend went and did a whole bunch of research about sex and now you’re talking about it over lunch. (Although, when I was telling R about the book over lunch the other day, at one point she said, “This subject makes me uncomfortable.” So, I guess it would have to be a pretty uninhibited best friend.)  Roach has the kind of sense of humor and curiosity that I can relate to. And she’s not shy about it. If I met a man whose job it was to artificially inseminate pigs I’m pretty sure that there would be some questions in my head that I simply wouldn’t ask. Roach doesn’t have that kind of inhibition. And you got to admire someone who was so curious about a particular study that she went and participated in it herself (btw, her husband must be a saint; if I asked my husband to participate in a study where we have sex while a doctor stands next to us operating an ultrasound machine and giving us instructions, I’m absolutely certain he would look at me like I’d been smoking crack).

So, all in all, I would highly recommend Bonk to anyone looking for some interesting and lighthearted non-fiction to read.  Next on the non-fiction agenda:  The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell.

P.S.  On the fiction front:  still mostly reading vampire smut.  I think I may have a problem.