Some pointers my Prof gave me before I began grad school
Yesterday I visited my university (undergrad) after two years in order to collect documents since I’m moving to grad school. I contacted one of my profs there and asked for advice, as I was nervous about joining research after such a long gap. Here is the advice he gave me:
1. Be truthful to your research. Do not copy down somebody else’s work, even if you know you won’t be found out. Trust me on this, being accused of plagiarism is the worst thing to happen to a researcher and if you are exposed later on in career, your entire reputation will go down the drain.
2. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. He screwed up an instrument and waited 6 months before asking one of his subordinate who fixed it in 5 minutes. Imagine the amount of work he could have accomplished in those six months.
3. Manage your time well. Grad school is extremely demanding and some days you may not have time for sleep. Do not put off important work if you have time else you’ll end up doing it all in a hurry and without quality.
4. Every professor/guide/supervisor has her own unique method of teaching. Respect that and try to adapt. Even if you don’t understand most of what they teach, just listen. You might get a fresh perspective on things.
5. Be in touch with your teachers from undergrad etc. and ask them if you get stuck. They might help you out or at least guide you to someone who can.
6. Choose your topic wisely. Study the trends and know what are thrust areas in your field. However, the choice of guide is a major one. Make sure you understand the ways of your supervisor. Ask around, google his papers etc. and make sure he is not someone you’d hate for the entire extent of your school.
Tips related to Science research:
1. Know that there are more than one ways to solve a problem. However you cannot try them all due to time/energy/resources restrictions (or simply because your guide advises you against it). You need to know your limits and try methods that are optimized to your situation.
2. Be like Feynman. He knew his theory but he was a good experimentalist too. Have a balanced approach and know your strengths. If you are experimentalist, interact with theoreticians in order to get an idea of their approach and vice-a-versa. Your goal is to get the result and understand how you got it.
3. You are in research not only to understand a theory/idea but also to apply it. It is not enough to know your books, you need to be able to solve the problem you are tackling. You won’t find a complete solution because nobody has solved it (thats why YOU are working on it, aren’t you?). You need to create/discover the solution.
4. Every problem in science completes a picture/theory. However not all of them receive the limelight. Find a topic you are interested in and know something about rather than chasing a “popular” one that everyone is talking about.
5. The biggest one: Do not feel inadequate for not knowing everything.
Nobody knows everything. You are in grad school to learn too. When you get stuck, get help/ask around; do not let the fear of being inferior get in the way of learning. You have got brains enough to understand things and you can.
6. Do not rely only on teachers/guides. Often your guide/supervisor will not know anything about the problem you are struggling with and will not be able to help you. In those times, find an expert (if there is) or consult books/papers. You should be able to study on your own, without somebody pushing you or deadlines.
Well, this is all I can remember. I hope it is helpful to those of you who are in a similar situation.