....generated some good discussion on publication practices
It is astonishing how many scientists - even well-established ones - don't know how to write. The only book one needs to read is "on writing well" by William Zinsser. What's the excuse?
My takes from this book, relevant to scientists:
1. Writing is a craft, and like any craft it can be learned.
2. Good writing = good thinking. Muddled brains write muddled sentences.
3. There needs to be "joy" while writing. If you feel the drudgery, your reader will too. Usually you will need to force yourself to be joyful. Apparently most good writers do this.
4. In the end all writing is for yourself. Though you want to have a general audience in mind, you cannot write to specifically impress the editor or reviewer (a "rebuttal" may be the only exception). You need to write for yourself.
5. This is the most important thing to realize.....IT'S HARD WORK. Clear sentences are no accident, they are a product of innumerable revisions.
Here's a tip from the wife: "Inspiration needs a deadline...". Amen.
Rather than reading a 1000 articles for advice, its sometimes best to read one good one. If you are looking for a postdoc position, this is the one:
So according to my most recent grant reviewers I have suddenly metamorphosed into an "outstanding established investigator" and richly deserve a rating of "1". They are unanimous on this point, that's the good news. The bad news - the grant still does not get funded. THANKS A LOT....
1) "I don't think I need to say it to THIS audience......". Just don't say it. You're wasting everyone's time, not to mention that you appear patronizing. Or rather, actually you should always say what you were going to say anyway, as you can rest assured that the vast majority in your audience has either never heard of it, or would like to be refreshed before you launch into your Biblical details....
2) "As you probably know....". Same thing as above, probably no one knows, so just SAY IT.
3) "As you can clearly see....." right after putting up a brand new slide. No, no one can clearly see, because you have neither explained the context of the studies nor the exact experiment that was done to obtain the data. Sadly a very common occurrence, particularly in talks by senior scientists......
4) "We were able to show....". Let me tell you how this currently popular sound-byte really sounds like. Though the thing you are showing the audience wasn't really there when you looked the first 1000 times, somehow - after five sleepless nights - the unputdownable postdoc was able to get the data that everyone really wanted to see (and what is on the screen right now). Even if true, this is hardly the best approach. "We saw..." is much better IMO.
5) "In the interest of time, I'll skip these last 25 slides....". One or two is OK, but when you are flipping through dozens of slides on the gigantic screen, rest assured that someone in the audience is having a seizure.
.....and the WORST one....
6) "I want to make this seminar informal, so please feel free to ask questions as we go along....". You can rest assured that there is a career "question-asker" in your audience who is going to stop you every 10 seconds to ask a question that everyone else knows the answer to.
So an alarming trend nowadays for a PI giving a talk is to slap a mugshot of the postdoc/student on the slide - I mean right next to the data. Typically this picture is on one corner of the slide, but it varies - sometimes the PI wants to convey his/her gratitude for their trainee so much that the picture is actually larger than the data...I mean MUCH larger.
Now I'm no expert here, but I have read that if humans are shown faces and something else, they always look at faces. So I can speak for myself that when I see such a slide I find it very difficult not to ponder upon every detail of the mugshot (such sad eyes...hmm...are those eyebrows....now that's some scar, wonder if he got it while biking etc....). By the time I'm done studying this remarkable face (blown up on a gigantic screen, mind you), not only have I missed the hugely important data that this mugshot apparently generated, but my focus on the seminar has also substantially diminished.
For PI's who have a burning desire to show a mugshot in middle of their talk, my suggestion is to NOT show the data on the same slide. Show the picture for a few seconds, then move on to a slide that has the data but no picture....PLEASE!
Got a couple of papers to review as so called "double blind dates" where both authors and reviewers are unknown to each other. Two thoughts:
1. I know who you are, even though your name is not there (and yes it's a nice paper)...
2. Will never work for us because we generally follow up on our own previous work.
So its like a double blind date where all participants are (usually) known to each other from before.... I'd call it a double-blind date of people in the same neighborhood. Is it any better?
Some advantages of having multiple eggs in one's basket (read multiple projects) are obvious. Increased chances of grant funding by "risk-spreading" and a lower incidence of being bored out of your mind, for example. However I just realized that there is another more subtle advantage.
If your ideas are ahead of the field, you would think that there would be more chances of funding and scientific glory. But sometimes its the opposite (no point dwelling into the reasons, plus hard to do diplomatically). But the net result of this might be that you would have to wait 5-10 years (or more) before people realize that what you did was indeed important. In times like these it is really nice if you have something else going on that you can focus; instead of just sitting around and waiting for the field to catch up....
Some old ones Reposted...
8/18/13 - A Classification of PI's - find yours' in the list!
7/6/12 - Way to a "Science paper"
5/30/11 - 20/20 Hindsights
9/30/11 - Evolution of a bizzare, new Idea
11/17/2011 - Rationale for curiosty-driven research...
lessons from a 4 year old
1/28/12 - "GTFM" - hilarious article on grant writing!
The PI Blog
This blog exists because my wife seemed a bit tired of being the only recipient of my random pontifications on life and Science for many years; and gently encouraged me to vent in a blog instead. From time to time, I put down thoughts that occur to me as I naiively stumble through a life in Science - bestowed upon me by accident (literally!). Please keep in mind that these musings are rather obvious things of little or no use to anyone, and are certainly not personally targeted in any way, even though they are obviously derived from my experiences. OK, enough said.