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076: Should I choose a research focus BEFORE I apply?

Applying to grad school means making a series of difficult decisions: university location, reputation, lifestyle, and program.

But do you need to pick out a specific research topic before filing an application? Is it better to nail down a project and lab before you apply, or is it okay to keep your options open?

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person pulled down by project

075: When Research Sucks

It’s inevitable.  At some point in your research career, you’re going to get that sinking feeling.

Your experiments will all fail, your PI will get on your case about finishing that paper, and your graduation date will drift maddeningly out of reach.

So what can you do when your research starts to drag you down?

Coming Up for Air

This week on the show, we share some practical advice from the Academic Mental Health Collective on ways graduate students can get going when the going gets tough.

Stress, anxiety, and depression are inevitable in your graduate training. At least they were for us!

At the same time, these painful emotions can be a valuable signal that it’s time to step back, take stock of your situation, and ask for help.  There are resources on, and off, campus to help you through the hard times.

By thinking ahead, you’ll meet your training challenges with a tactical plan and a team of supporters to help you through. It does get better, we promise!

The Check is in the Mail

Science in the News brings us the story of a New York court’s $15 million judgement against Sci Hub, the online research paper pirate ship.  We explore the legal and moral implications of the action, and make bold predictions about the future of scientific publishing.

If you’re interested in the history of academic publishing and how we got into this quagmire in the first place, we highly recommend Stephen Buranyi’s Guardian piece titled: Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?

We also celebrate the beginning of summer by breaking our IPA fast. We’re drinking the Nectar IPA from Humboldt Brewing Company. This golden beauty has a sweet start and a bitter finish, sort of like my first marriage!*

(*Yes, this is a total lie, but the setup was perfect and impossible to resist.  Sort of like my first marriage!**)

(**Okay, I’m done.)

income inequality

074: Does Science Have an Income Inequality Problem?

On May 2nd, NIH Director Francis Collins announced a plan to limit the total amount of grant funding awarded to an individual investigator or lab.

According to Collins, “the distribution of NIH grant funding is highly skewed, with 10 percent of NIH-funded investigators receiving over 40 percent of NIH funding.”

The funding proposal would limit an individual lab to the equivalent of 3 RO1-sized grants, and free up an additional 1600 funding opportunities that could go to early and mid-career scientists.

On June 8th, the plan was scrapped…

Addressing the 90%

This week on the show, we cover the contentious and somewhat confusing reversal of Collins’ plan to spur innovation by spreading around the money.

Did the plan change due to criticism from the labs with the deepest pockets? Or was there evidence to support the replacement plan that earmarks money for early-career scientists?

At the heart of this issue, we discuss whether basic research would benefit from a shift in investment strategy.

Do science and innovation advance faster when the ‘best’ labs get all the money, or is there value in making many smaller bets?

Tell us what YOU think in the comments below.

Everybeer

Some beers sing with complex aromas, malty bitterness, and just-right effervescence.  And then there’s brown ales.

This week, we sampled the Legend Brown Ale from Legend Brewing in Richmond, VA.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great beer.  Very tasty.  It just tastes like every other brown ale ever.  If you sneakily replaced the contents of this bottle with some other brown ale, I promise no one would notice.

I don’t know whether that makes us beer snobs or beer newbies.  Either way, we’re just counting down the days before we get back on our IPA kick…

 

 

negative postdoc criticism

073: Stop Telling Me My Project is Going to Fail!

Is your lab is filled with compassionate, positive individuals who offer nurturing support and gentle guidance to help you achieve your full potential as a scientist?

We didn’t think so.

While you may encounter a handful of Positive Pollyannas throughout your career, you’re also likely to run into a few Negative Nancys. Rather than encouraging you to keep trying when an experiment fails, they’ll take every opportunity to throw shade on your emerging research project.

Everyone’s A Critic

This week, we heard from Amygdala (not her real name…), who was getting nothing but discouragement from one of the postdocs in her lab.  She writes:

There is a postdoc in my lab who is tangentially involved in the project that I’m working on. This postdoc has extremely negative views regarding the project. This negative view spans from the amount of time it takes to train animals on this task to the variable results that we get with each animal, etc. While I agree about some points that this postdoc is making and that there is always room from improvement, it’s hard for me to not get down about this project. I’m the one directly training the animals and obtaining the results. Given that training animals takes 6 days a week and at least four hours each day, I’m trying to remain positive and not think that I’ve wasted all of this time. My PI and the postdoc whose project this is remain positive and encouraging. However, the tangentially-involved postdoc is someone who I interact more frequently with.

This is a very long-winded way of asking: How does one remain positive regarding their own project while still showing respect to other people’s views regarding the project? And is it appropriate for people to comment negatively on other people’s projects?

We address her concerns and offer some (hopefully) helpful advice for dealing with negativity from your lab mates.

Cloudy Waters

For Science in the News, Josh celebrates Healthy and Safe Swimming Week with a story about Cryptosporidium in pool water.  It’s a serious water-borne illness that you can prevent by not drinking where you swim.

Or you can get YOUR test strips today!

We also try an unfiltered sour beer from Sierra Nevada.  It’s the Otra Vez Gose-Style Ale brewed with cactus and grapefruit.  

Since the trendy flavors have shifted from intensely bitter IPAs to intensely sour Goses, we predict the next big hit will be beers that taste like cigarette butts and cat urine!

And soon after that, the hipsters will complain about those flavors being ‘mainstream.’ Sigh…

072: Voices from the Front Line of the Science March

We weren’t sure what to expect when scientists planned a protest march on Washington, D.C. and other world capitals.

Would this politicize the scientific process? Would enough scientists show up to make an impact? And what should happen after the march to continue the momentum?

Ms. Frizzle Supports Science

To answer these questions and others, Josh took to the streets at our local march in Raleigh, NC. He wanted to hear from other scientists first-hand about what motivated them to leave the lab and march on the capital.

raleigh science marchThe atmosphere was festive, and the crowd was passionate.  In this episode, you’ll hear directly from the the marchers in their own words.

Some came out of concern over environmental policy.  Some were advocating fact-based governance.  And some came to show their kids that science matters and it’s worth fighting for.

As this episode posts, the organizers of the science march are mid-way through a “Week of Action” to continue the work begun at the march.  Even if you couldn’t join a march on April 22nd, there’s time to get involved.

Join the conversation – email us your photos or stories from the march YOU attended, or tweet them to @hellophd. We’ll share as many as we can on this page or in a future episode.

Science with a Stink

Also in this episode, Josh shares some recent research on the physics of defecation.  Yup, you read that right, so think twice before tuning in…

If you made it this far, you might be interested to read more about the Bristol Stool Scale or to see the equation that explains it all:

In better news, we also sampled the Left Hand Brewing Milk Stout Nitro.  It’s dark brown and smooth and you can finish it in 12.6 seconds, so it’s almost exactly like… oh… never mind.