Friday, December 4, 2009

Dueling Red Pens

Symbolic as a read pen is to editing I actually haven't seen much red ink over the last two years. That's not to say that my drafts don't get marked up like the tattooed man, but typically I see ink in shades of blue and black or occasionally graphite. But referring to contradicting editors notes as "dueling number 2's" or "dueling bic's with chewed ends" doesn't bring to mind the same picture of a well marked manuscript as does the assumption that all edits as made in red.

It's interesting what editing trends can say about your editors. What I find really fascinating is that two committee members with polar opposite personalities also consistently make contradicting editorial notes. While my advisor tends towards removing commas and adding modal verbs such as: may, could, can, and might another committee member takes the opposite approach, peppering pages with replacement commas and striking out verbs to strengthen statements. I could make illuminating statements about how this reflects each persons unique take on presenting research, but instead I find it interesting that I'm somewhere in between. I like my manuscripts to be thoroughly comma-ed and well doused with modal verbs that leave my concluding statements with a clear exit strategy. Does this reflex a certain amount of weakness, or wishy-washiness on my part? I guess in some cases it may be possible that it might, or perhaps it might not.......

Thursday, December 3, 2009

So, now that I've Mastered science, what's next?

Boy that's a question you never stop getting asked, is it? "What do you want to be when you grow up?" With grad school wrapping up I've been applying for, what feels like, every job that comes along that I even barely qualify for. And I'm starting to get called in for interviews. So, just pretending that I'm not going to jump on any decent job that gets offered to me without exception, just pretending that I'll have multiple options for employment.

How do you evaluate a job offer?
I mean there's the obvious issues; salary, benefits, opportunity for advancement, yadda yadda.
But how do you determine if you'll enjoy the work environment?
How do you determine if your future supervisor is the type of person that takes their frustrations out on employees?
How do you evaluate if the ethics of the organization is aligned with your personal values? (if you have some.)
And how do you compare the opportunity to work for a private company to a public organization?

And the most difficult of all; are you supposed to negotiate your starting salary and benefits?
In the past I've read that the main reason for the gap between men's and women's salaries in the professional world is that women start out jobs at lower pay because we don't like to negotiate. But how can I justify negotiating when I feel like I'm not starting from a strong position?

One thing I know for sure, science is much easier that all this life stuff. Being a grownup kinda sucks.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Why a PhD isn't for me

Well, it's the eve of my masters thesis defense and for my last pre-masters blog post I've settled on a somewhat topical topic (can topics be topical? or is that ridiculously redundant). I've been asked a lot over the last few months about continuing school and getting a PhD. I've had a wide variety of inquires about this possible future (some inquires more coercive than others) from professors, classmates, family and friends and there is always a necessity to explain yourself. And the explanations seem to need to be better than "While that PhD assistantship in a remote corner of Idaho studying the viscosity of mud on a rainy day is hard to pass up, I value my sanity and would like to be able to afford to buy a new pair of socks in the next 10 years." So, aside from issues of money, connivence, and sanity I give you my top three reasons (well maybe not the TOP three, but three good ones anyway) why a PhD is not for me:

  1. I want to live where I'll be happy, near home. I want to have mountains and ocean and sun and rain and snow and feel like I have the conveniences of civilization without living anywhere near a mega-city. Professors that are just starting out need to be free to move to the best job, not the best location, and PhD positions with private industry invariably put you in mega-cities.
  2. I have no desire to be a book-keeper or accountant, especially one with no training. It's amazing that without financial training professors are expected to juggle budgets, manage grant money, and find ways to magically make money appear and disappear in different places so that labs can have a functioning staff and equipment.
  3. I want to be happy. It's sad and hard to admit but I don't think many professors I know are very happy. I know a lot of it is connected to current budget crises and the added stress of pay cuts and a uncertain future for the University. I think they are frustrated and unhappy, and kind of stuck because of the massive investment they've made too their programs. It's a lot like the stress of being a small business owner without having much control over improving the situation.
So for now this is it, no Phd for me, just a lowly Masters of Science and a plan to be happy.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I think my dentist called me boss-eyed!?

It's not even worth saying that you hate going to the dentist. It's just understood, right? Even if you're one of those lucky people who don't have to have their jaws dislocated and cranium rattled by drills at every visit (and by the way, bite me if you are one of those lucky people....) There is still the noise, the smell, the uncomfortable plastic chair, the lights that give you eye spots, that damn plastic thing they stick in you mouth for x-rays.... I digress. It is all-together an unpleasant interruption to your day. The strangest thing happened this morning during my dental exam, I swear my dentist called me boss-eyed! It was the damnedest thing, he's not even british. And I think someone would have mentioned it before now if I was....

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A kind of final draft

Drafts are never really final are they? You just stop editing them at some point. I've been exchanging drafts of thesis chapters with my professor and there's alway something new to add, a way of re-phrasing a sentence. It's not at all bothersome. In fact it's a relief to be more than two weeks from that day circled on my calendar, "Draft to Committee!" and be in a kind of final draft. I think that final drafts are really just a myth. At some point we'll say "that's enough, lets move on." we'll have the "sufficient draft". Then the committee will spend their two weeks with it. We'll all gather for the day of torture (or the defense if you like) and then my professor and I will spend another 2 weeks exchanging drafts that incorporate a selection of committee comments and edits until we again decide enough is enough and then we have the "sufficiently final draft" which will be printed, bound and cataloged in both the university and departmental libraries to take up 1 inch of shelf space, gather dust, and be universally forgotten.

Somedays it helps to work at not thinking that far ahead....

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pursuing inspiration

Productivity has been lacking this week in the writing department. It's final draft time for my thesis and after getting a head of schedule last week progress came close to stand still this week. It didn't help that I spent the last two days many miles away from my computer. I stole the husbands day off and employed him as a "volunteer" field assistant at my research site one day, doing the needed fall (and final) maintenance around my study plots. Spend the next (and significantly longer) day at my professors field sites doing that end of season maintenance. I thought today would move me forward, but it seems to be a day of delay, followed by interruption, then a dash of distraction, and a lab-mates thesis defense to round out the afternoon. Not a bad day, but I haven't been able to retreat to that place in my head that makes slogging through another chapter of my thesis a desirable prospect. In pursuit of writing inspiration I cracked open my field notebook and found the passage I wrote so many months ago after long work days spend in only my own company. It's not too bad considering the funny mental state I always get in after that much exhaustion and isolation:

Machete Therapy - Mower broke after about an hour work, so I spent the next 5 or so swinging the machete. It reminds me of a hard up hill backpacking trip. After the first few minutes the pain and difficulty make you think the task is impossible. Then your body melts into the movement, and all is fluid and possible. There were uplifted moments when I thought the task seemed at hand and then....

It really is a vile plant, this weed of mine. Oh to live to see it's pestilent form wiped from the landscape. It makes me question all the truths I've learned in ecology. Surely there can be no balance with this plant, no divine purpose for its existence. There is no ecology I can imagine where its presence would be welcome. And yet I toil in its shadow like a slave to it's robust but chaste nature. A wasteful contradictory plant that makes slaves of man, strips utility from the soil, and defaces the landscape with it's domineering monoculture. What an evil, conniving plant, this weed of mine.

I suppose it's as close to a motivational speech as I'm gonna find this late on a friday afternoon.....

Friday, July 31, 2009

Cryptic clothing requirements

I have a scientific mind. I glory in recognizing interesting ecological phenomenon. I revel in the physics observable in daily life. I unfailingly point out the difference between correlation and causation. I believe in randomization and embrace entropy in all experiences. But I am utterly ignorant about being fashionable. For me the most difficult part of preparing for a presentation, conference, or business meeting is packing clothing.

It is so much simpler to choose clothes for field work. It's all about the utility of the clothes not how the clothes represent you. Dressing to prevent sweating during high physical activity in freezing weather, no problem. Need to dress to prevent heat strain and protect against insect bites while collecting data in a swamp, I know how to dress for that success! But what the bloody hell does "business casual attire" mean? or "dressy casual"? There should be an illustrated guide book for graduate students clothing that I can take with me to the store to help me choose clothes. I can never tell if the outfit I'm trying on is trendy and cute or absolutely ghastly. I think most fashion trends must teeter on the edge of ghastly. What I need is a store without fashion trends. Just very basic shapes and colors that an apparel guide book could catalog and direct the dumbfounded grad student through. And oh, don't get me started on picking out a hair cut....

Thursday, June 25, 2009

This is what's wrong with America

Let me say it again, just so we're all clear:

This is exactly what is wrong with this damn country - Twitterature!

The twits at Penguin publishing have commission two 19 year old twits to whittle  some of the greatest book even written into 20 "tweets" so the inept twits of our society have no reason to learn about literary structure and imagery.  

I hate cliff notes.  

I loath abridged stories.  

There isn't even a word for how awful I think this is.  

It's more than just giving student a easy way to get a C-grade in english classes.  Giving people these short cuts starves their mind of the amazing experience of reading these incredible works of fiction.  It's no wonder they have to focus on books with dead authors, no self respecting author would allow two teenaged twits to condense the essence of their writing into 20 "tweets"!!

I may never purchase a book published by Penguin again.  Whoever is responsible for this decision clearly has no respect for literature or education.

We should all be screaming right now.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Treatment effects

So how's the food experiment going?  Quite well actually.  Like most experiments, it began by building momentum like a snowball rolling downhill until it seemed unmanageable, and then suddenly it all seemed ordinary and easy.  Maybe eating well has been made simple by the spring harvests starting, or the local farmers market, or because of our CSA basket, or maybe anything would seem normal after enough weeks.  But we are closing out the third month of eating a whole foods diet and it doesn't feel like experiment anymore.  In fact diet is all together the wrong word for it because there is such a temporary sense to the word diet.  It's just the way we eat, and I can't see that changing much.

What is really funny as time goes on you rinse through all the rocks in your head that clattered together to form these ideas is what floats to the surface of the water and what sinks.  I guess by that I mean what things have turned into the really important issues for me, and what things I've decided are not important.  Food convictions you could call them.  Things like: do not eat corn syrup in any form.  This doesn't take ice cream or even soda pop of the shopping list, but just forces you to ready the ingredient lists and chose the brands made "naturally".  

Another unexpected conviction is eating things in season, and waiting for that season to come.  I think it just tastes better when you eat this way.  Gives you something to look forward to, and removes the american idea that we can eat any food any time we like.  While out shopping the husband occasionally mentions fajitas, and 'oh how good they would taste'.  And I have to say, 'think how much better they'll taste if we wait for our peppers to ripen' instead of buying the ones shipped to us from some southernly location.  As with most experiments, I'm convinced that I'm right and he's not ready to concede the point.

Something interesting I also discovered is that while making my own bread regularly is an easy routine, tortilla and pasta making is more of an event and paying a little more for the fresh "natural" versions of these at the food coop is worth the time (and mess) I save myself.

So to the meat of the matter, have we been successful in our experiment thus far?  All around I'd have too say yes, though neither of us are by any means perfect.  But this isn't a conversion to some orthodox religion, just a return to the roots of how we were meant to eat food. What are some of the positive results so far?  

The first and, arguably, most important is that neither of us have turned into those irritating people you meet a the super market or farmers market that discuss food choice in a holier-than-thou tone.  In fact very few people outside of our families have any idea just how drastically our eating habits have changed.  

The second big result for me in the loss of 17 lbs while still eating wonderful desserts and never cutting the fatty bits of my meat.  

The third, and most surprising to me, is the change in the speed of my eating.  Even when I'm at my desk half-way-working through the meal, I eat so much more slowly.  Chewing bites longer and resting in between.  I never made a point of it, just realized one day I was doing it.  And funnily enough I watched the husband, and he's doing it too.  I think maybe the food just tastes so good we eat more slowly to make the flavors last longer, without even realizing it.  

Somethings I expected to see changes and haven't were in some little skin and allergy issue we each have.  It's common to hear how connected these issues are to diet, so I expected to see some changes, and haven't.  Perhaps it's still too soon.  

Some of the best surprises to me have been the memories from childhood this has brought to the surface.  Smells and tastes and sounds.  The entirely green flavor of fresh peas eaten in the garden, smell of hot baked bread and pie, sounds of clanking canning jars, burst or sweetness biting to fresh picked strawberry.  Thing I heard, tasted, and smelled many times since childhood, but the memories of them have been repeatedly triggered by some unknown cause this spring.  

Maybe it's this feeling that neither of us seem to be able to shake.  That what we're doing, how we're changing is really important.  Don't know why, there is no reason to need to know how to make food by starting with a few simple ingredients, or with seeds, in this world we've made.  Perhaps I should feel foolish when I see bags of pre-sliced bread, chicken breasts wrapped in styrofoam and cellophane, and pre-washed bags of salad greens.  But instead of feeling like the world's having a joke on me, I feel how important it is to know how long it takes a loaf of wheat bread to rise on a cool morning compared to a hot summer afternoon, the proper way to butcher and de-bone a chicken, and what the right soil temperature is for starting lettuce seeds.  Important too whom?  just me I guess, but still important....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Failing to repeat failure

Does failing to repeat a failure result in success?  Nope, it's just failing twice.  I've been frustrated for the past few weeks since determining that the most exciting part of my field experiment had failed.  I know the adage that negative results are still results and should still be published, blah, blah, blah.  So I planned a field day to set up a duplicate experiment under the same field conditions, essentially repeating my failure so I'd have enough negative results to publish.  And what do you know, I failed again!  Monday I was shocked to discover that the plants at my experimental site had put on two months of growth in two weeks.  The end effect of this mammoth growth is that the field conditions in no way matches the conditions of last springs experiment, so it's not at all possible to repeat my failed experiment.  

I had to scramble to deal with these unpredicted conditions, and have decided to throw logic and methodology into the wind and start a new and different experiment, which I also wont be able to repeat based on my program schedule.  So, the end result will be multiple unrepeated field experiments with uninteresting and negative results.  Yeah for science!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Eating well - budgeting and time

I know every graduate students main concern  with cooking "from scratch" and generally eating well must be the time it takes, followed by the cost.  I thought it would take me too much time to prepare meals if I removed all processed foods from the grocery list, but to my surprise even when cooking more elaborate meals from scratch on the weekend it rarely takes me more than an hour from start of cooking, to meals eaten and dishes washed.  Many days it's a lot less time because I incorporate left over side dishes (or main dishes) into the meal, which shortens prep time.  And there are always lots of leftovers for tomorrows lunch box, eliminating all top ramen consumption. 

Three investments that save lot of time and money, if you can afford them:

1. Crock pot.  

How to use: add meat or veggies or beans, add seasonings and water, turn on and ignore for hours.  Beans are the ultimate  graduate  student food. I know that amanda has mentioned it over at A Lady Scientist but it can always be said again.  Beans are an excellent food source and can be purchased very cheaply from a number of places including in bulk at many grocery stores.  You can't beat the crock pot for good bean soup (don't forget the split peas if you like that creamy stew texture.)  Beyond the beans, start buying meat whole when possible (ie buy the whole chicken, not chicken breast one night and drumsticks 3 nights later) and toss all the bones and leftovers bits in the crock pot with a wedge of onion and few bay leaves and a few hours later you've go the start of a really great soup.  A post doc  in my lab told me you can also use your crock pot to make to-die-for hot breakfast cereal (start it before you go to bed, eat in morning).  I tried this last week and it rocks!

2. Bread Maker.

How to use: Toss in all ingredients (maker usually has it's own specific order for adding these) hit the start button and ignore until the smell of fresh baked bread becomes distracting.  A lot of people would argue that bread is so cheap that this is pointless.  I disagree.  I grew up strong and healthy on homemade bread and you really can't beat whole grain bread with no preservatives for taste and healthiness.  Humans have survived on bread longer than any of us can remember, and it wasn't until modern food industry pumped it full of preservatives and removed all the healthy benefits of whole grain that we started thinking bread was bad for you.  I just got a new bread maker to replace the used one I wore out (after 9 years!) and haven't calculated the cost of any of the new recipes I've been trying, but I did once calculate the cost for a rye loaf I used to make all the time.  It cost $0.40 to make a large loaf of rye bread, 40 cents!  and took me 2-3 mins to set up and toss the ingredients in.  I don't know of any place you can buy good rye bread that cheap!


How to use:  Keep as full as possible for energy savings.  Avoid cheap to free ancient models advertised in the paper because your electric bills will sky rocket!  We have a small chest freezer (5.3 cu ft.) and we keep it full year round.  This is especially good for meat-eaters, and enables you to buy large quantities of meat from local farmers when it's in season, then enjoy for months to come.  If you don't have any farmer friends you can buy from, go to the local farmers market and meet them.  I can tell you that the meat you can buy at the local grocery is not the same in taste or healthiness.  I would categorize a lot of meat for sale at our local chain grocery as processed food, which doesn't fit the food culture I'm adopting.  But if you're of the vegetarian persuasion, fill it with the over abundance of summer harvest.  Cooked squash can be scooped into a ziplock freezer bag and frozen flat, same goes for fresh summer salsa, steamed spinach, and a number of other items.  And if you like to forage (like me) try the same trick with steamed nettles or field greens, acorns can also be frozen whole for later processing.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Thesis writing, what's your method?

I've asked a few people lately about the status of their thesis or if they've already received their degree how the attacked writing their masters thesis.  I've gotten wildly different answers that seem to have no correlation to the achievements or prowess of the student.  I'm wondering is the writing method (by this I mean when you begin, how often you ask for editing, what the timing of reading lit and writing related chapters was, and so on) typically dictated by a persons professor or by personal motivation? And does the writing method reflect a persons dedication or work ethic?  

It may seem trivial to some, but I don't think it is.  Even though few grad students would admit it we are in constant pursuit of approval from our professors and academic mentors, and writing (quality and quantity) is the one standard that all academics are judged by.  Is it much of a stretch to assume that graduate students are also judged by their writing method in addition to the quality of the end product?

I had to laugh when a post-doc who is widely recognized as exceptional told me they wrote their entire masters thesis in the last three months of their program.  Many other people I talk to seem to approach it by reading for 6-10 months, a period of time that overlaps with the beginning of the research project, and then beginning writing after they feel comfortable in their level of knowledge.  This seems logical.  It's not the method I've used (more on that later) but very logical and less time consuming in the long run.

Some people might say there is no wrong way to approach writing a thesis, by I don't agree.  Others might suggest that it depends on the writer and what method is best for their work habits and individual program.  This seems plausible, but I think there is another factor being ignored, and that is the writing method of our advisor.  I think this has the greatest effect on how we approach the writing of our thesis.  And it's funny that our advisors to some degree control our writing method and also judge us on that method.  I can see how for some people this could create conflict and stress, and that should be recognised by the student and advisor so that a compromise on writing method can be reached. 

The writing method that I've been guided to use has actually suited me very well.  I think it may be a bit unusual, but I began writing my thesis the very first day of grad school.  I've been in a constant state of revision since then, and I have to say it feels really good to have so much written, even though most of it will need to be re-written before I am done.  That is definitely the biggest draw-back of this method, writing takes a lot longer, because you are constant re-writing after you've modified methodology or refined your understanding.

But from all my discussions and thinking about thesis writing I have come up with five basic rules for writing a masters thesis (I'm not really qualified to comment on writing a dissertation)
  1. Read first.  Start reading your first day and never stop. 
  2. Go by the guidelines. Get the graduate school guidelines for thesis format your first week (and read them thoroughly)
  3. Write early. Begin writing your thesis before the end of the 3rd month (even if it's just outlining research questions and methods)
  4. Make deadlines. After you've gotten into the writing groove (say 4-5 months into your degree) start making yourself deadlines for chapter drafts (and hold yourself to them even if it means putting in extra hours or putting off other work).
  5. Edit often. Have your drafts edited by your professor as often as you can.  This may be the most difficult of all due to the busy schedule of all professors.   A professor should never take on so many students or extra responsibilities that they can't assist each student in thesis draft editing.  Sometimes a thorough edit (by someone other than the author) is the only thing that can move a draft forward.  Make it worth their time by working hard on your draft and workout the deadlines with them a head of time so that you aren't giving them a draft when they are to stressed to give it proper attention.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Can a graduate student have a healthy diet?

We have a little science experiment going on at my house right now.  It’s a simple enough experiment, the question of interest is: can a graduate student have a healthy (and satisfying) diet?  (or alternatively - Can I kick the top ramen habit cold turkey?)

A few definitions:

 "Healthy diet" - for the purpose of this experiment a healthy diet will consist of whole food products prepared mostly at home (so I can be assured of the ingredients) most of the diet consisting of plants and limiting meat consumption to a side dish status.

"Satisfying" - for the purpose of this experiment I will rate how satisfying this diet is by how easy it is to ignore the grilled cheeseburger smell emanating from the fast food joint I ride past each day.

I never thought it was possible for someone like me (limited budget and over booked schedule) to change my western ways and reject the convenience culture.  I do little things, like shop at the local natural foods store and the farmers market, and I've been raising my own garden since I was 19 years old, but I've never before actively tried to alter my way of eating.  

Attempting to do so while I'm a graduate student seemed like a very dumb idea at first. Economics being what they are this really started as an endeavor to save money, and one of the best ways I've found to do this is buy whole foods and cook from scratch.  Funny enough this is way healthier that eating top ramen everyday, and fits nicely with goals of producing (or foraging for) your own food or buying it locally.  Doing this eliminates processed foods and "food-like-products" from your diet and saves a ton of money in the long run.

This is week two of the experiment, and surprisingly it hasn’t been hard to stick to.  I haven’t had to commit any extra time to cooking or eating, just a little forethought.  I’m much more satisfied after eating, and I haven’t been craving processed foods.  The ease of this type of eating has been a real delight, and actually makes me think that changing my food culture (because that is what I feel I'm doing with this experiment) may be possible.

As an after thought…….

A few good food related things I’ve been reading lately

(I'm sort of always reading this, when I finish, I just start it again.  Yes, it's that good.)

(An unusual book, but well written, scientific and short.  Worth getting from the library.)

(Michael Pollan is always good, not so scientific in this one.  But more logical than any diet, nutrition, or lifestyle book I've ever browsed.  And a good motivator if that's what you need.)

(A short and fascinating article by the widely read Jared Diamond.  This was assigned reading for a biotech class, and I throughly enjoyed it.  I thought it complimented my other current books well, especially "In Defense of Food".)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dirty little secret

Lately I've felt really positive about doing statistical analyses.  Not just on my own data, though that is a lot more fun than class work, but I'm enjoying the class work too.  Lecture is interesting, and I like discussing various methods for analysis with classmates and my professor.  I'm not sure what king of turning point this is, but it  must be significant when something you once loathed and avoided becomes enjoyable.  I'm curious if something in me has changed, or if I've finally progressed far enough in the science for it to be more interesting.  I'm hoping it's the latter, because I'm not sure I'd embrace a personal change that resulted in finding joy in statistics.  I mean it's good to find happiness anywhere you can in life, but stats?  There is something a little unnatural about it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I think that the peanuts and the departments vending machine are meeting weekly to plot my demise.  (Maybe it's not as likely as ninja monkey's, but everybody knows peanuts are wicked evil).  I've generally ignored the peanut recall because I don't have cupboards full of peanut products at home and I assume that anything on the shelf at the grocery store is safe, but vending machines?  can we really trust them?  It wouldn't have been a problem except for that fact that our departments vending machine is old and poorly maintained so most of the letters and numbers identifying the row your snack-product-of-choice occupies have fallen off.  It's embarrassing to admit how often I eat from the machine, let alone how many times I counted rows incorrectly and ended up with stale granola instead of m&m's or Nutter Butters instead of grandmas cookies.  Luckily a quick internet search left me with the reassuring knowledge that the cookies shouldn't kill me (this time).  I always knew the peanuts had it out for us, but now they've recruited the vending machines.  The world really is a cruel place when I have to google my snack food for safety before eating it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Spiritual epiphany

This amazing bolt of insight hit me the other night that I felt like sharing.  I wasn't doing anything special.  It was late, I was done working for the night, so I was knitting on a hat and ignoring an old episode of "House" on my laptop.  I was a little spaced out (which is normal when I knit) and my mind wasn't even on spiritual matters, and then out of left field it struck me: 

Everyone in the world is equally wrong about god, the after life, and everything else that we try to explain in spiritual terms.  

It sounds dumb, but I actually find it reassuring.   To me this means that it's okay not to agree with how anyone has laid out religion or atheism because they are all wrong.  In fact I don't think that we are biologically capable of coming up with the right answer to any of life's big questions.  That doesn't mean we can't try, but it sure takes the stress out of coming up with the right answer.  Like most academics knowledge is of paramount importance to me, so it's weird to be comforted by the realization that in this life I'll never be capable of answering a question correctly.  

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Jack of all trades......

Is the master of none.

It's a problem I've faced for a long time.  Having eclectic interests hinders your ability to become an expert in one thing.  I've been dwelling on this a lot lately.  I like taking a wide range of classes, looking at my project from every point of view, learning as much about other peoples work as I can.  But I overheard a comment from an office-mate the other day and it's been niggling at me ever since.  The comment could be summarized as: grad students shouldn't take many classes, but should instead stay focused on their own project only taking courses that directly relate to our work.  I guess I can see their point but I've always thought of grad school as my opportunity to increase my knowledge about everything, not just to get my own project done.

During a class yesterday the professor said: "the jack of all trades is the master of none."  Now they were referring to the evolution of host specificity in herbivorous insects, not my future as a scientist, but I was still struck by the statement.  It's funny how passing comment like that can stick with you.  Along the same lines, a soils professor I took a class from once said that everyone is an expert on something.  I've never been able to land on anything I'm an expert on.  I know quite a lot about many things, I know just a little about a lot more things, and I know very little about most of the rest.  But I am an expert on nothing.

So what is the point of education?  Becoming an expert in your area? or Learning about everything you can?  Or is there some other reason for all this knowledge that hasn't occurred to me?