Monday, October 26, 2009

If you don’t like work… (a mini rant)

Why the hell are you in grad school?  One of the new students in my lab seems incredibly lazy.  Sure, this person is fine with discussing project ideas (as long as they don’t involve any actual work on their part or them coming up with ideas from scratch instead of critiquing other's ideas), but if you actually ask them to do something?  A bunch of excuses, blaming other people (while the other people can hear the complaint!), and general lack of doing real work.  When we do work together, this person is full of commentary about how the experiments could be done faster (hint: by not doing them!), how we should blame people who aren’t around when we make a mistake, and general issues with authorities like our advisor or the older grad students who have taken time to help them learn. 

I have to wonder if this person was smart enough to get by in undergrad without working and now expects the same thing will fly in grad school.  Or perhaps this person was the best student in their undergrad class and just likes the recognition for being the best but is not very engaged with the subject material or research questions at hand.  The part that really bugs me is that this person’s undergrad degree would allow them to get a well-paying job that they probably wouldn’t actually have to work that hard at!

Once again, if you don’t like work (actual work, not metaphorical gold stars for being the best,) WHY THE HELL ARE YOU IN GRAD SCHOOL?! 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I can fix that...

I’m currently in an engineering grad program, but my undergrad degree is in a science.  I occasionally feel like I stick out because I am female, but more often I feel like I don’t quite have the right “engineer” personality.  I have been around quite a few engineers over the years, so I do have ideas about what engineers are like!

… know how to use power tools
… do woodworking
… make elaborate electronic devices, for fun
… do their own car repair
… invent things
… have real jobs where they are paid to build things and keep them running
… are comfortable in suits
… drink a lot of beer

Yeah, so I’ve done pretty much none of that.  I was thinking about this today as I fixed a chipped windshield, which is the first car repair I have ever done, and I did a damn good job if I do say so myself.  Perhaps there is hope for me becoming a “real” engineer by the time I graduate.

Monday, October 12, 2009

You and Your Research

Every so often I run across Hamming's You and Your Research, and different things stick out at me every time I find it.  The big take home message of the speech is if you want to do important work, you have to work on important problems.  There are many other tidbits of advice and observations about doing scientific work, and the part that jumped out at me this time is:

    "On the other hand, we can't always give in. There are times when a certain amount of rebellion is sensible. I have observed almost all scientists enjoy a certain amount of twitting the system for the sheer love of it. What it comes down to basically is that you cannot be original in one area without having originality in others. Originality is being different. You can't be an original scientist without having some other original characteristics. But many a scientist has let his quirks in other places make him pay a far higher price than is necessary for the ego satisfaction he or she gets. I'm not against all ego assertion; I'm against some."

Here he is talking about whether or not it's worth it to get worked up about small injustices.  In his opinion, it is not possible to be both a first-rate scientist and a reformer of the system, as trying to do both at once takes too much energy for most people.  I don't know if that's true or not, though it does have striking implications for people who try to be reformers in engineering/science fields if it is true.

He got me thinking about originality: is it true that people who are original in one area are original in others as well?  From his definition originality is being different, or thinking for yourself instead of just taking the usual approach.  Perhaps what he is getting at is that people who question dogma tend to question it in all areas of their life.  But are all types of originality created equal?