Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The 17 Types of Graduate Student - by GRR Martin

The “16 types of graduate student by JRR Tolkien” was extremely easy to write, and the various characters Tolkien described very nicely matched with various supervisor types. The present post on the “17 types of graduate student by GRR Martin” was much harder to write - partly because characters in Game of Thrones don’t match so cleanly onto student types, and also because all the Game of Thrones characters seem fundamentally flawed. Stated another way, most Tolkien characters are inherently good, with perhaps a few temporary flaws; whereas most Martin characters are inherently bad, with perhaps a few temporary redeeming qualities. Thus, please read the following not as an attempt to describe actual graduate student types but rather to envision the various GRR Martin characters as if they were graduate students. In truth, graduate students have many more positive qualities than Game of Thrones characters.

The Night King (new entry - making it 18 types)

This student says very little - almost nothing in fact. This silence could cause problems in committee meetings, qualifying exams, defenses, and presentations; yet the student has such as commanding (intimidating even) presence, that no one dares to criticize. This student has a remarkable ability to  resurrect old, presumed dead, data and manuscripts, which are rapidly converted into published papers that quickly steam-roll related papers by other groups. The supervisor hopes it isn't all a thin veneer that can be quickly punctured by someone brave enough to challenge the core principles and methods behind the work.

The Khal Drogo

The Drogo is extremely capable in field situations, including managing huge field crews with difficult logistics in uncompromising environments for long periods of time. However, he isn’t very intelligent, doesn’t publish much, and – it seems – would prefer to just stay out in the field rather than deal with committees and reviewers and administration.

The Ned Stark

This student is a zealous advocate of open science, data sharing, pre-registration, systematic meta-analyses, data archiving, open access, and all forms of transparency in science. He is much admired by other students for these stances, even though they would never seek to emulate his puritanical approach. Unfortunately, this warts-and-all approach to writing papers leads to frequent rejections from major journals, which – curiously – only strengthens his resolve.

The Viserys Targaryen

The Viserys is the child of a famous Professor – and he never hesitates to remind everyone of it. He seems to think that his pedigree entitles him to success without much effort – and he is extremely annoyed by rejections from journals and, in fact, any form of criticism. Owing to his obnoxious sense of entitlement, this student could well be kicked out of the department if the Qualifying Exam or Defense committee are too irked by his attitude.

The Jon Snow

The Jon Snow’s current Professor agreed to supervise him at the request of the Chair of the Graduate Training Committee when the Snow’s former supervisor retired pre-maturely. His new supervisor accepted this role on condition that the Jon Snow would fund himself and not take up space or resources used by the other students. The Jon Snow is very hard working, serious (perhaps overly so), and dedicated. He turns out to be a good, if understated, student who will start his academic career at a tiny undergraduate college but ultimately will be recruited to an Endowed Chair at Harvard.

The Daenerys Targaryen

For the first part of her graduate degree, she shared an office with a Viserys and – as a result – suffered from a major case of the imposter syndrome. Once the Viserys was kicked out of graduate school, however, she quickly came into her own and, in fact, (re)discovered a new methodology (three of them, in fact) that have since made her one of the most influential and sought-after graduate students for collaboration. She seems destined for a position at a major research university, although she will face considerable challenges imposed by jealous competitors.

The Walder Frey

This student worked for a long time in the lab of a Professor who advised and funded all of the research. Then, just before submission of the paper, the Walder switched to the lab of a competitor, taking all of the data with him and dropping his original supervisor from all the papers.

The Tyrion Lannister

Supremely intelligent, the Tyrion sometimes seems to squander his abilities and talents in food, drink (lots of it), and various social activities. This joie de vivre is somewhat understandable as his previous supervisor was mean and condescending, never giving the Tyrion credit for any of his discoveries. With a more understanding and appreciative supervisor, however, the Tyrion will cut back on his socializing (if not his drinking) and generate extremely novel and inspiring ideas.

The Littlefinger

From day one (and probably well before that), this student has been relentlessly maneuvering everything and everyone in an effort to maximize his career advancement. He is uniquely effective at twisting any given collaboration in his favor, such that he now has a very good publication record. However, as time as gone on, his manipulative tendencies have become more widely known and he runs the risk of being blacklisted by the academic community. One foresees a rapid demise at some point in the not-too-distant future.

The Cersei Lannister

Deceptively clever, the Cersei is rising quickly within her field, collaborating with important people (although they don’t always seem the better off for it) and publishing many papers (although some say the work isn’t really hers). Rumor has it that much of her success comes from stealing the ideas of other students and undermining the success of her colleagues by providing withering confidential reviews of their papers and grant applications.

The Tywin Lannister

The Tywin has published many excellent papers and intends to keep doing so. He is smarter than most (perhaps all) of the people around him – and he knows it. He has a hard time concealing his contempt for others, even his supervisors. He will go far in academia – but no one will like him - and one day a former student of his could well cause his demise.

The Brienne (of Tarth)

Highly skilled and loyal (almost to a fault), the Brienne will do whatever her supervisor asks of her, quickly and efficiently, without any complaint whatsoever. It isn’t clear that she has the independence to run her own research program, but she is very good at improving the research of those around her. At the same time, her intensity and dedication to principles can sometimes off-put those around her.

The Brandon Stark

The Bran seems to think on another plane. This isn’t so much a book-smart type of intelligence but rather a more intuitive, gut-feeling approach to academics – or so it seems. When he asks questions in seminars, no one understands them – but it is nevertheless clear they are extremely insightful. He sometimes seems to know the outcome of an experiment even before it starts, and he has an amazing recall for the details of past scientific studies – even unpublished ones in which he wasn’t involved. He will only publish once – but it will likely win him the Nobel Prize.

The Jaime Lannister

When the Jaime was a senior graduate student, he blew the whistle on misconduct by his supervisor, who was then censured by the university and has disappeared from academia. Although some laud the Jaime’s action in this case, other supervisors have been reluctant to take him on for fear he will betray them too. As a result, he is a quite jaded and often makes acerbic comments about the whole process of graduate school. Deep down, however, he just wants to do good science – although he has some pretty weird relationships with other students.

The Robert Baratheon

You have never met a person who enjoys living quite so much as the Robert. He is the life of every party and this popularity has carried forward to many collaborations and supporters, generating some outstanding papers. It seems, however, that his hard-living ways might be getting the most of him and he could flame out soon.

The Arya Stark

The Arya was awarded a series of international fellowships and has been away from the lab for much of her degree. On her return, she is much more mature and experienced, having picked up a set of extremely rare and exceptional research skills, although it isn't clear she always uses them for the best purposes.

The Davos Seaworth

This student came from nowhere and, through simple hard work and dedication, has risen to a place of influence within his field. He has exceptionally good advice for other students in the lab and will – occasionally – directly disobey the wishes of his supervisor. Yet, whenever, he does so, it seems he made the right decision after all. He is extremely humble, almost annoying so, and would probably turn down an academic position on the excuse that he isn’t really worthy.

The Sandor Clegane

Another very capable student, he suffers one major flaw – he is terrified of snakes, even though his research is conducted in tropical environments abounding in them. Well, perhaps he suffers several other flaws, another one being his taciturn and blunt criticism of ideas he deems uninteresting and experimental designs he considers flawed. It seems clear that, deep down, he would really like to be a Professor and has the skills to do so; yet his difficult personality might preclude this.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The 16 types of graduate supervisor – by JRR Tolkien

(Genders match the original.)

The Gandalf
Extremely wise – if sometimes inscrutably so – and able to solve your biggest problems, the Gandalf is often absent for long periods of time. And these can often be the most inconvenient times for him to be away. In his defense, these absences are often for extremely important meetings or to deal with problems in his collaborative network. Don’t count on the Gandalf for much day-to-day help with minor tasks but, catch him at the pub, and he will be fun and a fount of wisdom.

The Boromir
He is very good at solving your day-to-day problems, yet he does so reluctantly and seemingly without enjoyment. He is very skeptical of your ideas and will only let you pursue them when your committee guilts him into it. Often brooding, you get the impression that the Boromir might not like you. Indeed, he might be stealing your ideas and publishing them separately – although he will feel extremely guilty about it.

The Faramir
The Faramir had a famous PhD supervisor who is still active, and he has a bit of an inferiority complex about it. He is very sincere and helpful but often tries to adhere to the ways of his previous supervisor, even though they don’t really work that well for his own students. Fortunately, a well reasoned argument can usually shift the Faramir around to your way of thinking.

The Galadriel
The Galadriel is a giant in her research field and, if you are hard working and enthusiastic, she will provide you with tons of resources and moral support. She designs and constructs her own laboratory and field equipment, which is exceptional. However, she doesn’t travel much owing to a dependent husband, and so you are on your own in the field and at conferences. Also, very occasionally, she has this intense look that is very intimidating.

The Saruman
Long past the normal retirement date and having won the most prestigious prizes in his field, the Saruman is not satisfied and wants more fame. He will take a lot of graduate students but will ruthlessly use them to advance his own career and fame. He has a huge lab but will make you work long hours in poor conditions, and yet still try to make you feel like he is doing you a favor.

The Denethor
Nearing retirement, the Denethor is at a famous university but is perceived as one of the lesser lights there. He knows people think this of him but won’t accept it and so routinely lashes out at his students and denigrates them as a way of feeling better about himself. He has a huge lab with tons of money, but he is constantly afraid that the university is trying to take it away from him. Don’t expect much understanding from this type of supervisor.

The Eowyn
A brilliant scientist, she doesn’t get the recognition she deserves. Yet she forges ahead in her research, publishing excellent papers that, sadly, don’t tend to get accepted at the best journals. She is a bit jaded now and, while supportive, seems not to pay much close attention to your project. All her focus is on that elusive first paper in Science.

The Samwise Gamgee
Working at a small liberal arts college, the Gamgee is the ultimate micro-manager, always looking over your shoulder offering help and advice. He has a good understanding of basic lab and statistical procedures but doesn’t seem to have many truly original ideas. Yet the Gamgee is always there for you, offering what (little) funding he has and supporting you in your success and your failures. You sometimes get the feeling that he has come to think of your success as his crowning career achievement.

The Aragorn
Quiet and reserved, this supervisor is the ultimate skill-master. If you need to analyze your data, he can write the scripts. If you need to find that rare species, he is the only one who can do it. He doesn’t publish very much, but the few papers he does publish are very good – so good in fact that they could probably all be in Science. However, he really doesn’t want the hassle and so usually submits to much lower journals – unless encouraged (pestered almost) repeatedly by his colleagues to shoot higher. Unfortunately, the Aragorn doesn’t seem to enjoy his job very much and would probably rather be off somewhere hiking or climbing mountains.

The Pippen
Like the Gandalf, the Pippen is often absent but, unlike the Gandalf, not for work-related purposes. He is usually surfing or fishing or just hanging out somewhere. He sure is fun though, especially when hanging out with his prof buddy from down the hall. Great lab parties, with tons of food and drink and lots of laughter and activities, some scripted and some impromptu. He really wants to be your buddy is constantly trying to get you to smoke weed with him. Unfortunately, the Pippen doesn’t really have any skills to impart and essentially never publishes. Don’t choose this advisor if you hope for a career in academia.

The Radagast
This supervisor is extremely absent minded and really doesn’t pay much attention to you, yet it is hard not to be inspired by his sheer enthusiasm for the world around him. You will be his only student – and, much of the time, he won’t even realize it.

The Sauron
His lab is dark and dirty, and it smells bad all the time. He is in constant conflict with pretty much every other person in his field. You would think no one would be in his lab, but he is so powerful and influential that many flock to work with him – although they don’t seem to be very happy about it. When visiting during your recruitment, he won’t let you talk to his students (save this one really weird guy), nor will he meet with you except by Skype – with the video turned off.

The Elrond
This guy has been around for ages and knows EVERYBODY, often initiating huge collaborative projects. He can really hook you up with the best and brightest people, whose respect he commands. But, having done so, he has seemingly impossible expectations for your project. He is quite aloof and rarely travels but, just when your need is direst, he can show up unexpectedly with a critical influx of cash or equipment.

The Theoden
Early in his career, the Theoden had some very influential papers – but his fame and fortune have faded owing to vindictive competitors in his field. Fortunately, you could be just the person to rejuvenate his career if you have the patience and self-motivation. If you can shake him out of his lethargy, he will invest all his resources in you and plan to finish his career in a last blaze of glory, thus resuscitating his career and showing he wasn’t a one-hit wonder.

The Grima
This advisor has risen to a place of influence not because of any concrete scientific skills but rather because he has a knack for flattering the right people. He is a real creep and seems to have all sorts of unsavory designs on his students. He might even be faking the data in the few papers he has published, which – to everyone’s surprise – are sometimes in very good journals.

The Smaug
He has tons of money but is extremely stingy about it. He expects you to obtain your own funding for everything and then he takes most of it from you. No students have successfully graduated from his lab, yet his arrogance could be his downfall.

Stay tuned for – the 16 types of graduate student – by GRR Martin

Monday, March 12, 2018

My graduate school turns 100 - reflections

The School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington is turning 100. I was asked by the Director, Andre Punt, to provide a short personal narrative of my time there. This blog post is a draft of that narrative.

When I walked out of my last exam in my final year of university, 1991 at the University of Victoria, I cold-called my intended PhD supervisor, Tom Quinn. I gave a long, reasonably well-prepared spiel about my passion for salmon and my desire to do graduate work in his lab. A modest silence followed my monologue and then a “Well, it sounds like you would make an excellent graduate student but, unfortunately, you missed the application deadline by 6 months.” Momentarily crushed, my enthusiasm recovered when he suggested that I come work for him over the fall. Thus began a 7-year stint with Tom at the School of Fisheries; starting with a fall working on chum salmon at Kennedy Creek in Washington, then a winter working with sockeye salmon fry exiting the Cedar River in Seattle, then a summer in Alaska working with the Fisheries Research Institute (FRI - of the School of Fisheries) camps Wood River – at that time lead by Don Rogers as well as at Lake Nerka and Iliamna Lake. FRI has now morphed into the Alaska Salmon Program

Me in 1992 at Iliamna, Alaska.
The next year I met the deadline for application to graduate school, applying at the same time for a graduate scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). In the spring, I received a letter from NSERC denying me the option of taking my MSc scholarship to Washington University on the grounds that it didn’t have a very good fisheries program. I wrote back politely – but without much hope – to first agree with NSERC that Washington University indeed was not well known for its fisheries program but that the University of Washington was – and that it was the latter at which I wished to pursue my studies. All was well regardless as I received an H. Mason Keeler scholarship that enabled Tom to take me as a student and, a few months letter, I received a letter from NSERC saying, effectively, “Oops, sorry, our mistake. Here is your scholarship.”

Having just had a formative and inspiring set of field experiences in Washington and Alaska, I suggested to Tom that I do my MSc on topics similar to those the projects on which I had been working. Tom, as always, listened politely and then suggested I instead work on rapid evolution in Lake Washington sockeye salmon that were introduced earlier in the century. This suggestion turned out to be exceptional as it started my path to being one of the forerunners – along with my office-mate Mike Kinnison – in the study of rapid evolution. At the same time, I met the great – and ever enthusiastic – Fred Utter who helped me do my first genetic work with allozymes – and still, sadly, my only hands-on genetic work. Of course, all was not always smooth sailing, especially when the boat – the Nettie H – I had worked on for the FRI test fishery in Bristol Bay, sank a few months later while crab fishing, causing the death of all on board, including Blake Grinstein, the Captain for my two years working on the test fishery.

Blake Grinstein surveying the test fishery catch.
Having had my MSc project suggested to me by my supervisor, I decided I needed to do a PhD all my own. I therefore suggested to Tom a project at Pick Creek, Alaska, on the reproductive energetics of Pacific salmon. Then followed two extremely intensive summers of field work at the Lake Nerka camp, not only conducting research but also having a wonderful time experiencing – and photographing – nature. 1995 was particularly memorable for probably 50 bear encounters, most of them pleasant and inspiring but some of them rather scary. I continued to work at Lake Nerka until 2000, even after graduating, making it an even 10 summers of Alaska work with FRI. These years included the first research visits to Lake Nerka of Ray Hilborn and Daniel Schindler, both of whom still work there, as well as visits by crazy drunk Soviet fisheries biologists and crazy drunk Norwegian fisheries biologists.

The Lake Nerka camp, early 1990s.
The School of Fisheries at the University of Washington, now the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, was an outstanding experience for me. I am especially appreciative of my supervisor Tom Quinn, who gave me some great ideas, who shaped my manic approach to manuscript editing, who encouraged me to explore collaborations with others independent of him, and who had a knack for filling his lab with an exceptionally synergistic and energetic group of students. Especially formative for me was having my desk directly beside Mike Kinnison, now a Professor at the University of Maine, for 7 years. Although we played Doom and then Doom II with a serial cable linking our computers between 10 pm and 1 am, we actually did research for at least as many hours before that.

While I worked on "rapid" evolution in Lake Washington sockeye,
Mike Kinnison worked on "rapid" evolution in New Zealand
chinook salmon. He helped me. I helped him. I got the better deal!

A 25-year quest for the Holy Grail of evolutionary biology

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