When we think of scientists, we often think of the lone researcher plodding away at the bench late into the night. We imagine Alexander Fleming scrutinizing his penicillium molds or Einstein pondering the latest equation he’s written on the chalk board.
We go a step further when training new scientists: we ask them to complete an ‘independent research project.’ We tacitly perpetuate this notion of the solitary scientist, making her own success or failure.
The side effects of this lone-wolf approach to research are painfully manifest: projects that stall on a single experiment, money wasted teaching everyone the same techniques, and students who burn out due to frustration, lack of direction, or just plain loneliness.
In Part 3 of our goal to modernize the PhD process, we propose a radical 180º turn from the independent project.
Reading papers is part of the job, but keeping up with the literature can feel overwhelming sometimes. If you’re developing a sense of dread for that stack of papers on your desk, it’s time to learn some shortcuts that will get you up to speed.
Scientists aren’t like other workers. There’s no 9 to 5 time clock with lunch and two fifteen minute breaks. When you’re running an experiment, you have to make a plan days in advance, juggle each step and incubation period, and stay nights and weekends to hit your time points.
That’s hard enough without the constant ping, beep, and ring of your computer and cell phone as internet distractions swirl around you. How are you supposed to get anything done?
Josh and the Giant Peach Tomato Timer
This week on the show, Josh shares a few simple tricks for maximizing your productivity and minimizing distractions.
It’s tempting to keep up with your friends on Facebook and take that call from your SO, but the research shows that as a species, we’re pretty bad at multi-tasking. What can you do to bring focus back to your experiments so you can publish that next paper in record time?
First, you need to know where your time is going. Josh explains how to keep a time-log to document your starting point. Do you spend 40 minutes each morning flipping between email, Twitter, and CNN.com? Have you been taking leisurely ninety-minute lunches in the pizza place in town? And how much time did you spend debating with the guy two labs down about which Game of Thrones character is the most devious?
Once you know where your time is going, you’ll have a better plan to manage it. Josh uses the Pomodoro Technique to stay focused for 25 minute sprints. That’s less than half an hour, but by eliminating distractions, you’ll be surprised how much you can accomplish. Tune in to this week’s episode for a full description of how to get started, and why it’s so important to use your time well.
I don’t know anyone in Stockholm. You must have the wrong number.
Also in this episode, we give some love to the recent Nobel Laureates in Chemistry. Aziz Sancar, Tomas Lindahl, and Paul Modrich won for their work on DNA repair mechanisms, and each one got an early morning call with the good news.
We celebrate with TWO delicious beers from a listener in Madison Wisconsin. She shipped us the threateningly labeled Ambergeddon from Ale Asylum (Madison, WI) and a fall-tastic Oktoberfest from Summit Brewing (St. Paul, MN). The beers were excellent, and Josh realized his dream of receiving free beer from a listener.