One of the questions that I was asked recently is “What do you look for in a graduate student?”
Just as an aside, that vaguely reminds me of a film I saw some time ago where one character asks another “Have you found Jesus?” The answer, of course, was “I didn’t know he was missing…”
But back to the serious issue of what a graduate student should be like. Ideally, I could say many things: honest, curious, meticulous, trustworthy, talented and bright, and the list goes on and on. But the really important trait, that separates the wheat from the chaff–in my humble opinion–is dedication.
Now we’ve had this discussion multiple times over the past year on OT–about what dedication really means. In particular, Jenny’s recent blog extolled the virtues of reasonable work hours, eschewing a 24/7 work mentality. I don’t disagree!
So how do I see dedication? Although some may disagree, I think dedication comes from a willingness to really engage in the science–in a manner that one is willing to keep part of the mind open to thoughts of science even outside the lab.
I don’t mean that every waking second outside the lab needs to be spent planning experiments and reading papers (although a certain amount does help, especially for those early in their careers)–but it is leaving one’s mind open–”on standby” so to speak, that shows me which young scientists are really involved in their work.
Do I have a concrete example? Well these are examples from my own experiences:
I work a lot with membrane tubules and vesicles, that look like this under the confocal microscope:
So during the winter when I looked out the window and saw these icicles, immediate my brain was seeing tubules!
And more recently, as rain pattered down the window on the 7th floor by my office, I was also astonished to see how water drops formed “tubules” and underwent “fission” into vesicles before my very eyes!
Do I expect everyone to have such unusual imaginations to be good scientists? No.
But I do think that a 9-5 workday where science and any vestigial thoughts of it are shutdown down after hours—just won’t cut it in the big leagues.