Dr. A at RESEARCHERS recently discussed having taken an intensive two-week science course where the students and faculty are sequestered in some locale (frequently quite lovely) for at least several weeks of intensive didactic and practical instruction in a particular field/subfield:
In attempts to decode the complexity that is statistical genetics, I enrolled in a 2 week workshop that just ended. That is two weeks I will never get back. Two weeks out of my absurdly crowded schedule. The thing with these types of courses.. is that they cannot possibly cater to everyone. Half of us have a good biology background, the other half were statisticians. Meaning I had to keep my mind from wondering during the derivation of every blood equation (see doodles) and sift through the masses of information to dig out what I need and basically work on grasping that stuff every evening. Needless to say my brain is full. It hurts. I have chi squared distributions oozing out of my pores. Gross.
How useful are such workshops? How much professional development should one be doing? How do you weigh the trade off? I was out of the lab for 2 weeks during a very busy time. Was it worth it? I'm not sure yet.
I have taken three sequestered multi-week field-specific courses during my career. Two as a grad student, and one as a post-doc. These were the kind where you go away to a laboratory in some nice place and stay there with all the faculty and students of the course for as few as three weeks and as many as eight weeks, depending on the course. In the United States, the two most prominent venues for these courses in the biological sciences are held during the summer at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (in Cold Spring Harbor, NY) and at the Marine Biological Laboratory (in Woods Hole, MA).
Taking these courses has been incredibly influential in my career. For one thing, they exposed me to a wide array of new methodological and conceptual approaches that have greatly influenced my science.
Much more importantly, however, have been the professional networking connections I have made. For example, some of the people who I will be asking to write promotion/tenure letters for me I first met years ago at these courses. Some of my best "science friends" are people I met at these courses.
Student and faculty alumni of these courses form subnetworks within particular fields that have a huge influence on career development and advancement. I urge all trainees to take advantage of these courses when available. It is an absolutely outstanding use of your time from a cost-benefit perspective.
Any PI who tells a trainee that these courses are a "waste of time" and that the trainee's time is better spent "at the bench" in the PI's lab is not putting the trainee's best interests first.