Vietnamen’s Weblog

Time, Chances, Diligence, Intelligence: which is the most important?


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This is the web blog of a man who has the dream of being a researcher in the emerging field, Bioinformatics. I am a Vietnamese, so, I hope to have many more other young Vietnamese researchers doing in this field.

Let’s start from the smallest things, I bring here my collected information, sometimes under my viewpoint and may not correct (please, give me the feedback), hoping to ignite the enthusiasm and interest in bioinformatics.

Notable quotes:

  • “Being a graduate student is like becoming all of the Seven Dwarves. In the beginning you’re Dopey and Bashful. In the middle, you are usually sick (Sneezy), tired (Sleepy), and irritable (Grumpy). But at the end, they call you Doc, and then you’re Happy.”
    – yours truly
  • “What is written without effort is, in general, read without pleasure.”
    – Samuel Johnson

Nice links:

  1. (A graduate school survival)
  2. With RA position: “At the start, you may have to do tasks specifically related to the funding contracts. But eventually your professor must be flexible enough to fund your own specific research program that leads to the completion of your dissertation… ”

    Doing PhD is a business ” If the RA’s cannot successfully conduct the research, then the demonstration will not work in the end and the funding agencies may not be happy. They may choose not to fund your professor in the future, which will bring his or her research program to a halt…If you don’t do your job well, don’t be surprised if your professors choose not to fund you in the future. That means you must treat an RA like a job. You must prove to your professors that you are capable of getting the work done, being a team player, communicating your results, and most of the other characteristics needed to do well in regular jobs.

    Graduate school is different from Undergraduate studying: “Graduate school is not primarily about taking courses. You will take classes in the beginning but in your later years you probably won’t have any classes. People judge a recently graduated Ph.D. by his or her research, not by his or her class grades. And, without any offense to my professors, most of what you learn in a Ph.D. program comes outside of classes: from doing research on your own, attending conferences, and talking to your fellow students. Success in graduate school does not come from completing a set number of course units but rather from successfully completing a research program… I’m not saying that tests and grades are completely unimportant in graduate school. One of the two biggest hurdles in completing a Ph.D. is passing the qualifying exam. (The other is finding an acceptable dissertation topic.) ”

    Initiative: “it is often better to ask forgiveness than permission, provided you are not becoming a “loose cannon”… One of the hallmarks of a senior graduate student is that he or she knows the types of tasks that require permission and those that don’t. That knowledge will come with experience. This privilege has to be earned. The more that you have proven that you can work independently and initiate and complete appropriate tasks, the more your professors will leave you alone to do what you want to do. ”

    Tenacity: “You don’t need to be a genius to earn a Ph.D. (although it doesn’t hurt). But nobody finishes a dissertation without being tenacious…Tenacity means sticking with things even when you get depressed or when things aren’t going well…Part of earning a Ph.D. is building a “thick skin” so you are not so fragile that you will give up at the first sign on any difficulties.

    One lesson I learned as a graduate student is the best way to finish the dissertation is to do something every day that gets you closer to being done. If all you have left is writing, then write part of the dissertation every day. If you still have research to do, then do part of it every day. Don’t just do it when you are “in the mood” or feeling productive. This level of discipline will keep you going through the good times and the bad and will ensure that you finish.”

    Flexibility: “Flexibility means taking advantage of opportunities and synergies, working around problems, and being willing to change plans as required. You cannot order anybody to do anything. In general, you will be in the position of reacting to big events rather than controlling them. Therefore, you must be flexible in your approach and research program

    Events can be good as well as bad. The difference between the highly effective graduate student and the average one is that the former recognizes those opportunities and takes advantage of them

    For example, you may not have as much access to a piece of laboratory equipment as you would like, or maybe access is suddenly cut off due to events beyond your control. What do you do? Can you find a replacement? Or reduce the time needed on that equipment? Or come in at odd hours when no normal person uses that equipment? Or redefine the direction of your project so that equipment is no longer required?”

    Interpersonal skill: “…your success in graduate school and beyond depends a great deal upon your ability to build and maintain interpersonal relationships with your adviser, your committee, your research and support staff and your fellow students. This does not mean you must become the “life of the party.” I am not and never will be a gregarious and extroverted person.

    In both graduate school and in business, you must depend upon and work with other people to achieve your goals

    Students usually look down on politics, but politics in its most basic, positive form is simply the art of getting things done. Politics is mostly about who is allowed to do what and who gets the resources (money, people, equipment, etc.) To succeed in your research, you will need resources, both capital and personnel. Interpersonal skills are mandatory for acquiring those resources. If you are incapable of working with certain people or make them mad at you, you will not get those resources and will not complete your research.
    For example, which group of people did I try my best to avoid offending? Was it my committee? No, because healthy disagreements and negotiations with your adviser and committee are crucial to graduating within a reasonable amount of time. Nor was it my fellow students, because I did not need help from most of them, and most of them did not need me. The critical group was the research and support staff. These include the research faculty and all the various support positions (the system administrators, network administrators, audio-visual experts, electronic services, optical and mechanical engineers, and especially the secretaries). I needed their help to get my research done, but they did not directly need me. Consequently, I made it a priority to establish and maintain good working relationships with them.

    – Give credit where credit is due.

    – Acknowledge and thank them for their help.

    – Return favors.

    – Respect their expertise, advice and time.

    – Apologize if you are at fault.

    – Realize that different people work in different ways and are motivated by different things — the more you understand this diversity, the better you will be able to interact and motivate them to help you.

    – For certain people, offering to buy them dinner or giving them free basketball tickets can work wonders.

    Interpersonal interaction is a huge subject … that these skills are vital to your graduate student career and encourage you to learn more if you need to improve these skills. … ”

    Recommend reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Type Talk

    Organization Skill: “Since academia is a type of business, you will have responsibilities that you must uphold. You will be asked to greet and talk with visitors, give demos, show up to meetings, get projects done on time, etc. If you are not well organized, you will have a difficult time meeting those obligations… There are many different time management and organization skills (arrange the tasks in priority), and you can find many books on those at your local bookstore.”

    Recommend reading: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and lectures from Dr. Randy Pausch (

    Communication Skill: ” Communication skills, both written and oral, are vital for making a good impression as a Ph.D. student and as a researcher…Unfortunately, not all graduate students receive training in giving presentations or writing technical documents (which are different from English essays). These are skills that can be learned! … It’s not easy, but it’s well worth the investment. If you need practice, try giving informal talks at research luncheons, joining Toastmasters, and studying good speakers to see what they do.”

    Confidence is the key to giving a good presentation. And the way to gain confidence is to give good presentations. Here are a few basic points:

    * Organization counts. Within the first few paragraphs or first few minutes, tell me why I should read your paper or listen to your talk. Make it clear where we are going and what we have already covered.

    * Make the text in your slides large enough so that people sitting in the back can read them. For large presentation halls, this usually means no more than 6-7 lines per slide and 28 point type minimum. You’d be surprised how many experts on visualization (especially tenured professors!) give presentations with unreadable slides.

    * Variety retains interest. Vary your pace, tone, and volume. Emphasize the important points. Look around the room. Throw in some video, pictures, or live examples.

    * Don’t stand in front of the screen and block everyone’s view. You’d be surprised how often people do this without realizing it.

    * Point out the limitations of your work. That helps your credibility. Similarly, give credit where credit is due.

    * Make friends with the A/V crew! Running A/V is a thankless, negative reinforcement job. If everything runs smoothly, well, that’s what was supposed to happen so nobody says anything. But if anything goes wrong, the entire audience looks back at the control room. Help the A/V people help you. Always check in early and test the equipment. Tell them what you are going to do in your presentation (e.g. I’m running 3 video segments). Make sure you know how everything works long before you come up to the podium. And thank the A/V crew for their help after you are done!

    Writing papers and getting them published is vital for Ph.D. students who want to get jobs in research after graduation. Your ability to write well significantly improves the chances that your paper will be accepted.

    Finally, don’t forget to communicate with your professors and your teammates. Keep your committee appraised of your progress.

    *** One thing I do (which few others do) is write short (1 screenfull) status reports, which I religiously e-mailed to my professors and team members on a weekly basis. These serve as an efficient way of keeping everyone up to date on what I’m doing. They are also a good way for me to record my progress. If I need to remember what I got done during a six month period, I have plenty of old status reports that I can read. You’d be amazed how appreciative professors and managers are of this simple practice. I also throw in a different humorous quote at the end of each week’s report to reward people for reading it.

    When you are working in the lab and you reach a milestone or achieve a result, let people know about it! Bring in your professors and fellow students and show it off! That’s a win-win situation. It lets others know that you are making progress and achieving results, and you get valuable feedback and advice.”

    Recommend reading: SIGGRAPH page on preparing and giving presentations, and would probably better done through a videotape than a written document.

    Choosing an adviser and a committee: “Your adviser must be someone who can cover your area of specialization and someone you can get along with…And if circumstances change to make another professor a more appropriate match to your needs, don’t be afraid to switch if that is an overall win.

    When picking a committee, you want to make sure they can cover all the areas of your thesis. You also want to make sure that it is likely that all the committee members will be available for meetings! When scheduling such meetings, start by finding times when the difficult-to-reach professors are in town, and then add in the other committee members. ”

    Balance and Perspective: ” There is more to life than graduate work. Keeping your health and your sanity intact are both vital to achieving the primary goal of getting out.

    It’s easy to lose perspective while in graduate school. You are surrounded by so many other smart, hard working people that it is easy to feel inferior and lose self-esteem and confidence. But without an underlying confidence that you do have what it takes to complete a dissertation, it’s too easy to drop out when the going gets tough instead of sticking it through. You got into graduate school because you have already shown to your professors that you have potential and skills that are not typical among most college students, let alone most people — don’t forget that.

    The Ph.D. job hunt: “It is important to have a network, get yourself noticed by other professors and industry people at other sites.

    – One way to do this is to offer to give a talk about your work at another site.

    – Attending conferences and working elsewhere during the summer are other ways to get exposure.

    – Make friends with graduate students and personnel at other schools.

    Make and carry your own business cards. Schmooze with important visitors during major site visits. For about two years, I ran the informal “Graphics Lunch” symposia at UNC. That means I was the point of contact for many speakers who visited UNC and that helped me make contacts.

    – There is also a “star” system that exists. Certain outstanding graduate students can get labeled as “stars” by their professors and that can be an enormous help in getting an interview at CMU or other prestigious locations. It’s nice if you can get on that track but one shouldn’t rely upon it!

    When do you start asking for interviews? You can start when you are able to give a talk about your dissertation work. Don’t be too early or too late, because you only get one chance per site. Academic positions generally have a particular “season” (much like getting admitted to school) that starts in the Fall and ends around April; industrial positions generally don’t follow that. The job hunt and interviewing process can take months; factor that into your time allocation.

    – Don’t interview on the day of arrival, and try to avoid Mondays and Fridays

    Do your homework on each site before interviewing! (know about the place/institution that you want to join.

  3. (How to be a star engineer)


“First, the Ph.D. is the beginning, not the culmination, of your career. Don’t worry about making it your magnum opus. Get out sooner, rather than later.

Second, if you bother to talk to and learn from the people who have already gone through this process, you might graduate two years earlier.”

My favourites:

  1. Andronow + Chaikin “Theory of oscillations” (1949) – Princeton University Press

Written by vietnamen

Tháng Mười Một 26, 2007 lúc 8:31 sáng

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