Monthly Archives: December 2014

In 2015, talk to your advisor!

I speak with many grad students and postdoc every year, both in informal context (coffee break) and formal occasions  (mentoring sessions at conferences). Not surprisingly, most of them do not speak to their advisors/supervisors. Keeping everything in does not help doing good science, and definitely does not improve one’s happiness   at work.

30 years old people with  a PhD are capable of running complex experiments, but not ready to  talk. We do not get trained in conflict resolution and interactions with colleagues. Suddenly, someone breaks and disappear, or leaves angrily to a new job.

Join this effort in improving academic communication in 2015. Invite your busy advisor/supervisor for a coffee, luring him/her with the perspective of a high IF publication! If your advisor is Prof. Smith, do this ONLY after securing another job!


There is something in everything

Most of our lifetime  is spent  in repetitive, routine activity. Yet interesting. In fact, even the most menial task might teach us something, if seen with a sciency eye. Washing dishes stimulates interesting thoughts on movement, fluid dynamic and surface chemistry. While walking, we can select a channel (i.e., only vision or low-pitch noise) to explore part of the spectrum we do not often think of. Being in a crowd or a noisy environment forces  us to perceive the difference between the single object/person and  the crowd itself.

What is the goal of this exercises? Maximize the objective function with respect to happiness, while stimulating active cognitive process in our mind and body. I am going for a walk 🙂

Do vs. think: the evolution of experiments

Not long time ago, doing was the only  way of seeing something new appearing from the world of ideas. Experimentalists were the most sought after people in science, as they were the only capable of bring new thinking to realization.

Then a third category arrived, the now well-known simulators, those that can bring things to life in a chip, on a screen. I think that the effect of this monstruous innovation in teaching has not been yet explored in its derivation.

Basically, kids are told in School to do things, build objects and play with 3D in real life. Only  a small minority of fully virtual kids is capable of running small simulation and bring objects to life without the mediation of the matter.

Yet, at the university, students are expected to practice on large-scale phenomena, like geology, or very complex one, like molecular biology. And we need to fill quickly the gap, teaching them how to use software to do simple simulations and how to rethink their definition of experimental work. We are still far from the tech-wizards strategic thinkers described in Ender’s game, where simulation  is the main mode of learning. But I think we need to do some steps in that direction.

In my small role as a lecturer, I will start using simple simulation software to support undergrad teaching.  I know it is not a new idea, but it is relatively new in the University where I work. I want to see if simulation can become NORMAL and routinely, rather than a topic of study in itself.

Having a hobby

While interviewing a female student over Skype today, I asked her if she had a hobby or like to do something beyond studying. She answered that she is a pretty average person and does not do anything strange or interesting. So I challenged her a bit more, testing her reasoning and her thirst for scientific excitement. Zero, a flat line.

I  meet lots of these students everyday. The problem is not the grades, is  the attitude. They are gone, ready to take high school teaching jobs and possibly  to damage many students. Or remain in the lay people limbo.

There are no simple solutions, but there are so many things to do and to get involved into. Get  a  project, grow a passion. There are countless chances today, at the cost of few mW of energy and a  library computer. There are no more excuses for leaving your brain at low regime. I will come back to that later, as I get used to write on this small screen.