They’re a joke. It’s simple. Once you acquire enough background information, classes will not help you. You’re not in graduate school to learn about what someone else has done, you’re there to do something that nobody else has ever done (also the basis for all research).
The above link has some good quips. Here’s one:
“Right now, you need to learn how to think for yourself. This requires active engagement, not passive listening and regurgitation. To learn to think, you need two things: large blocks of time, and as much one-on-one interaction as you can get with someone who thinks more clearly than you do.”
I found this particularly true, especially with the advent of wikipedia and a ton of open access information.
For the same reason, however, I find that when I make tests for my students they find them unusually difficult because I rarely ask for them to regurgitate, but rather to apply the knowledge they have learned. As undergraduates, they are used to answering questions with memorizable answers. Of course there must be a fundamental background to teach them, but this type of learning is flawed. The ability to critically think is far more important than spitting facts.
Here are some more grad student resources, enjoy!
There are a few important phases in a scientific career that cycle on and off fairly frequently. There’s the research, teaching, writing, and presenting phases. For the past month and a half I have been in writing/presenting phase. Sadly, the number of opportunities I did not want to miss caused me to take up an extraordinary number of activities, also leading me to split my time between several things at once.
November 3rd, I gave a poster presentation at the annual conference of the Southern California Branch of the American Society for Microbiology (SCASM). I did well, and won a trip to the 2013 national meeting of ASM. I’m more proud that I earned recognition by one well known microbiologist Dr. Stanely Maloy. This excitement was extremely short-lived, as both the CSUPERB I2P summaries (explained further) and the NSF GRFP deadline approached.
I had assembled a team, and for roughly 2 months we had been working to develop a product for a competition called Idea 2 Product (I2P) to present at CSUPERB and a chance at $5000. It always came second, but it still took up brain space, and most importantly time. The 1 page summaries were due on Nov. 14th at 5pm, immediately after the Biology department’s weekly seminar (4-5pm), which just happened to be given by my PI, so I was determined to attend.
Nov. 19th 5 days later, three 2-page essays were due for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP). Personal statement, previous research, and proposed research all submitted by 5pm. Three letters of recommendation by the 27th. This one was always in the front of my mind. So important. Not only does it provide a 30k/year stipend, it is national recognition. It’s validation that the things you are doing are correct, and you’re heading down the right path into scientific achievement. The money is negligible, I would not even mind an Honorable Mention just to put on a CV. This took up the majority of my time.
Research continued. I was training an undergraduate student to perform some in vitro reactions such that we could push for a short research note to be published before moving on. At the same time I was investigating a new method to analyze my RNA transcript mapping (which didn’t work out). So I moved back to an old fashioned radioactive end labeling method, which I have yet to begin due to the endless load of aforementioned items.
Additionally, teaching the micro lab has been easy, but the grading. Oh dear lord the grading. I haven’t touched an item for three weeks and it certainly shows. Helping students understand primary literature is tedious, but so important. I don’t take this task lightly, and for that reason it was always a top priority. The steady stream of e-mails and students coming in asking for help definitely hindered my extracurricular ability in the last few weeks. Perhaps I should have shut the door and directed them towards wikipedia.
On top of that I am also a graduate assistant for a lab course. Though the work isn’t heavy, it certainly adds to the heap. Preparing things for the class, explaining to them how to set up a PCR (which they should most certainly know at this point in their undergrad careers), it’s all tedious, but I enjoy it. Apparently I enjoy tedious.
In the end, my NSF fellowship application was submitted on time. The I2P summary was sent in 10 minutes late, and disqualified as it slipped my mind during the weekly seminar. I won at SCASM, and received an $1800 travel grant to go to Denver next year. I met Dr. Maloy. I still have to ensure the LORs are submitted on time. And I have yet to touch the pile of poorly written abstracts by my microbiology students.
TLDR; Just because there is opportunity, doesn’t mean you should take it. There are limits to your time, and ability to multitask. Better to do one thing right than 100 things wrong.