Query of the Day: When did you realize publication was key?

Jan 12 2017 Published by under Postgraduate Training

This question is for those who have ever entered a doctoral program in the sciences.

When did you realize that it was really, really important for you to publish first-author papers as a graduate student?


I recall that I really thought that the requirements and goals of grad school were to pass the first year exam (which was a research project presentation), pass the qualifying exam and write and defend a monolithic thesis describing a body of independently dreamed-up and designed research that I conducted myself.

I became aware of a bit of a debate about monolithic theses versus publications in the opinion of various faculty somewhere in my 2nd or 3rd years. So I knew of the idea that some Professors thought that three first-author publications stapled together with a cursory introduction and summary material was superior to the monolithic thesis.

I sided with the monolithic-thesis types and this, I think, let me continue to mislead myself about the importance of publications for my career. I also had career aspirations (right up until about six months before my first faculty appointment started to crystallize as reality) that did not necessarily require a strong publication record from graduate studies. Finally, I had the not-uncommon realization that I was going to have to do some postdoc work after graduate school, and the accompanying notion that postdoc work was when you really got steaming on publications, that let me off the hook.

So my answer would have to be that I didn't really grasp how important first-author pubs in grad school would be until I was late-postdoc and looking to land a faculty gig (and grants). I had probably the first dawning realization midway through my first postdoc. I would have to say that I had no serious understanding of this throughout most of grad school. I had ZERO concept of this as a graduate school applicant and graduate school interviewee.

57 responses so far

  • AcademicLurker says:

    The primary importance of first author publications was made clear to me on day 1 of my first laboratory rotation (which turned out to be the lab where did my thesis).

  • SidVic says:

    Wow, you were a total babe in the woods. Lucky you made it.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Wow, you were a total babe in the woods. Lucky you made it.

    I think this thought nearly every week of my career to date.

  • nvm says:

    Wow, I went into my grad school not interested at all in making a monolithic thesis - when a professor at a time asked me what I thought my thesis would be, I couldn't reply, because in my mind it was something like: well, it doesn't matter, I need to make papers, that's priority, and then somehow I'll link them into 1 book and that'd be it. And pretty much so I did. I'm a bit jelaous now of your success, being myself in the midst of considering an alternative career 😉

  • Emaderton3 says:

    Outlier here. I understood it was necessary to communicate my work, but it was never made to be a "big deal." In fact, I graduated without a single paper (or even a submitted manuscript). I had been there "a while" since my first PI left after two years, and I did another four years with a new faculty member on an entirely different project (including building the lab and equipment I needed from scratch). Somehow, I interviewed my way into a competitive post-doc spot on a T32 at another institution. Interestingly, during the majority of my post-doc years, it still was not emphasized greatly, and many of my papers ended up coming out years after we finished the work until my final post-doc stint with an extremely focused and driven up-and-coming PI--those papers were priority and got out so fast that they eclipsed work from years ago that was still waiting to be submitted by my previous PIs.

  • nvm says:

    Granted, that was in Europe, I'd already had my Master's, which is what you do there, MSc and then PhD, might have added to my system-recognition at the time.

  • baltogirl says:

    I realized this right away in grad school. I just wanted to see my name in print- and have others read about my work. I remember happily filling reprint requests...by stuffing envelopes..

  • David says:

    I only did a masters program, but I was told by my adviser, when interviewing with him and throughout my time in the lab, how important publications were and why he had a minimum # of pubs to graduate (and that it was to both our benefits to have these pubs). Granted, some of this was by listening to him talk to PhD candidates/folks who were intent on becoming professors. He was also a big proponent of sending students to conferences, making them present as often as possible, and making sure that the people who did the work were the first author. In short, I'd say he really understood the game and passed that along (i.e. I lucked into a really good PI).

    During my junior year of undergrad (give or take a year), a very popular TA , one who had won the teacher of the year award at least twice, was turned down for a tenure track position because he didn't have enough grant money. That same year, my department hired three professors and each candidate (there were more than 3 obviously) gave a presentation open to everyone. Before each presentation, the head of the department listed pubs and the amount of grant money for the applicant. The interesting, well spoken applicant with a tiny amount of money was never heard from again. The boring guy with a ton of money got one of the slots (I asked a friendly professor about this and he flat out said money was king). The other two slots went to women that, to my ear, had a combination of interesting and money.

    All this was eye opening for us undergrads to really understand what it meant to be a professor at a research university. When I went to grad school (same uni), my PI made it clear that our job was to do research, not be the best TA that we could be (for those of us on TAs).

    Add it all up and I learned at a fairly early stage that research was king and research was graded by money and publications. At the end of the day I decided being a professor wasn't for me and moved to being a researcher outside of academia.

  • Rheophile says:

    I'm a second-generation academic. I definitely was asking some questions during grad school visits about whether students were just data generators in the group, or if they'd get credit for their work, be able to publish. In retrospect, the questions I was asking were still not the right ones - I don't think I was specific enough about this to really tell if groups were really involved in mentoring the students. But I knew enough to have the "papers are the currency of scientific research" idea in my head, which is already a pretty damn big step up relative to a typical undergrad.

  • 5th year PI says:

    I remember my first lab meeting in grad school where I had done all sorts of experiments that had completely convinced me of something. However, I didn't have any controls, so the data was nowhere near publication quality. Everyone gave me such a hard time, and I just didn't understand why! It took probably another year before I had the eureka moment where I realized that it didn't matter if I convinced myself of something, I had to jump through the hoops to be able to convince others.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    @baltogirl,

    Ah! Those little reprint request postcards, I remember them well. It was always a bit of a treat to have one show up in my mail box.

  • drugmonkey says:

    It took probably another year before I had the eureka moment where I realized that it didn't matter if I convinced myself of something, I had to jump through the hoops to be able to convince others.

    and at what point did you realize that the evidence needed to convince others should be the evidence needed to convince yourself?

  • FB says:

    For me right from the get go. I did an MSc first and was following up on a project of a graduated Ph.D student. I was given his dissertation and papers he published from it as a starting point. The current students in the lab (PhD and masters) had published something too. The idea was if you published papers you'd increase you chances at the bigger studentships and wouldn't have to teach. This was the students speaking here not our supervisor-although I'm sure he had different motives

  • bacillus says:

    Did my PhD in the UK starting in 1982, so monolithic tome was the expectation and papers the icing on the cake. I was lucky in that my PhD thesis was on a recently emerged pathogen so everything we did with it was novel and easy to publish. There were no expectations regarding where to publish. In fact back then the unwritten rule was Europeans publish in European journals and Americans in US journals. For bacterial pathogenesis we had the Journal of General Microbiology, and Microbial Pathogenesis, the Americans had Infection and Immunity and Journal of Infectious Diseases. We read them all, but it never occurred to us to submit to US journals. No one gave a flying fcuk about impact factors back then, though keeping current with the literature was a significant part of daily life using hard copies of Current Contents and Biological Abstracts. I squeezed out six papers from my thesis prior to its defence, but getting published then was a whole lot easier than now. Moreover, papers were far less technically demanding then. You can see my fingerprints on some of the silver-stained gels I published, and crooked axes on graphs due to my inability to use Letraset to transfer straight lines. As for stats, fuhgetaboutit. I'm not sure how my early papers would be received now if I submitted them to the same journals. However, all but three of pubs were positively cited at least once in the past 3 years.

  • WH says:

    First-author papers were the metric for judging our peers at my grad program, e.g., 'So and so already has a first author paper in their third year'.

    Faculty candidate seminars were where I learned where those papers needed to be published for faculty jobs.

  • Larry Moran says:

    I've been a professor since 1978 (Biochemistry). I never realized that it was very, very important to have first-author papers as a graduate student. Still don't. I didn't.

    It may help you get a good post-doc to be first author on a paper or two but it's not essential. It's even less important if you don't want to be a post-doc and have other career plans.

    As a post-doc, I worked closely with three other post-docs. We published four important papers and each of us got to be a first author. I wasn't hired just for the one paper with my name first.

  • Nat says:

    The notion of the thesis as "x first-author publications stapled together with a cursory introduction and summary material"was pretty much the norm where I went. And this is back in 1999-2004. This wasn't obvious to everyone then?

    [x typically was 1-3, depending on the heft of the papers and the extent of one's contribution therein-which was detailed for each multiauthor paper ].

  • GM says:

    I knew it was all publications as an undergraduate and have been acting accordingly since day 1 in grad school (and even prior to that).

    This made grad school a lot less enjoyable than it might have been otherwise, but you have to do what you have to do.

    There is something deeply depressing about the whole thing though -- at some point you just crave spending some quality time reading and learning about new things instead of writing papers and grants. But you feel a deep existential guilt whenever you do that because you know what you should really be doing

    You also being to suspect and sometimes even directly observe that many of the people who are seemingly successful are often intellectually crippled because they were selected for productivity instead of actual intellectual depth and breadth. Then you start worrying that you will turn out like that in the end too.

    Etc.

    As we all know, it's not a healthy environment in science right now...

  • drugmonkey says:

    You can see my fingerprints on some of the silver-stained gels I published

    In this era of concern with faked gels, blots, etc one almost longs for a day when literal fingerprints would ID* who was responsible, eh?

    *yeah, I know all about how crappy fingerprint evidence really is.

  • Luminiferous aether says:

    I knew the importance of first-author papers even before I applied to grad school because of my physician-researcher father! He drilled that into my head even further once I was accepted into a PhD program. The rest is history.

  • drugmonkey says:

    at some point you just crave spending some quality time reading and learning about new things instead of writing papers and grants.

    I have never read a body of literature in so much completeness and depth as when I was in grad school. Part of this, of course, is getting up to speed as a noob. Part of this was the expectation that a monolithic thesis (and the preceding candidacy proposal) incorporated an uber-complete literature review work of deep scholarship.

    I wonder.

    I wonder.

    I think that I developed skills and orientations from that era of my academic life that still stick to me when I want to delve into a topic. I ended up with this belief that at the moment a PhD candidate defends they should be literally the world's expert in this topic. Because they have read so much, so recently and so focusedly on it. (and of course because it is supposed to be this unique self-initiated research program, not just a corner of what the PI proposed in a grant seven years ago :-))

    I worry, based on the writing of postdocs when they join my group, that perhaps this kind of training has evaporated from our PhD programs (also, to be honest, when I read some manuscripts). I feel sometimes as if the kids these days do not know how to read for depth. maybe that is because I set a lab tone that they feel they don't have time. I certainly had a shift from grad school (where it felt like endless time reading the literature was fine) to postdoc (where there were more pressures from various angles, less time to read deeply).

  • Dave says:

    I think I realized after I published my first single-author Nature paper at 15.

  • socscientist says:

    I only realized it in my 3rd year after I submitted my (quite bloated, nowhere near the compact efficiency of an article) MA paper to the committee. I was just happy to have completed my first graduate-level research product, you know? No one had quite communicated to me (nor, importantly, had I asked) that we were supposed to be turning in something publication-quality. One of the members then proceeded to email me with a terse"What exactly was that that you submitted?"-type note, and then offered bluntly that I should really question whether I was cut out for a research career.

    I got on the crank-out-the-first-author pubs bandwagon pretty quick after that, for a while out of spite towards that faculty member. Ironically, that person's tenure case was voted down and they ended up leaving our dept the next year. It's only now as an asst prof and advising my students to be thinking about first-author-pubs, and in the "right" places, that I realize that former instructor wasn't out to get me, but rather trying to help me with that strategically placed swift kick. But wow - back then it sure did burn.

  • Peprof says:

    It took me about a year once in grad school. As I saw how other lab members would pump out papers, I got a whiff of how exciting it was to have your 'own' story to tell. By 1.5 years I was submitting fully typset drafts of manuscripts to my PI (only a few got the green light). It wasn't so much that I knew the importance of publishing from the get-go, it was more like I just caught the fever.

    I also remember being very possessive of my stories and wanting to be the only author (aside from the PI). Now that I'm prof at an R1 I realize how childish that was.

  • aspiring riffraff says:

    3rd year of grad school (right after quals). Of the small group that were my classmates, those that teched after undergrad seemed the most aware of this.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    I have zero delusions that luck has been a major force early in my trajectory. I got involved in undergraduate research because I though the Prof. teaching genetics was cool. That Prof. encouraged me to apply to grad schools. Ended up with a great grad mentor who's lab turned out to be rather prolific in publishing. I had zero idea initially how much that mattered. It wasn't until maybe my 2nd or 3rd year that I figured out those were counting beans.

  • shrew says:

    I got a note of congratulations during my third year review as a graduate student on getting a first-author publication. I thought it was a strange thing for them to like because it was for a small side project, not my capital-D Dissertation Project, and so didn't count in my head. So I had publications long before I realized that people were tallying my publications, sometime around when I started looking for postdocs.

    No undergraduate I've had in years is anywhere near as naive about these metrics as I was even halfway through graduate school. They all know they need research experience and papers. They know that long before they know how to even read a paper, which seems...out of balance.

  • drugmonkey says:

    They know that long before they know how to even read a paper, which seems...out of balance.

    that does seem backward. how are they supposed to know what a paper is before reading many of them?

  • Anon says:

    I "realized" right away that if I wanted to be a professor, I needed to publish and where. Maybe if I hadn't known the importance of publishing (and the stress of knowing it's importance), I would have stayed in science. Didn't get that first author publication until it was too late.

  • cv says:

    I feel sometimes as if the kids these days do not know how to read for depth. maybe that is because I set a lab tone that they feel they don't have time. I certainly had a shift from grad school (where it felt like endless time reading the literature was fine) to postdoc (where there were more pressures from various angles, less time to read deeply).

    I had a similar experience, being told to postpone writing manuscripts in favor of finishing epic thesis. Then re-writing Homeric introduction to thesis because I adopted a perspective too divergent from my advisor's research program. Realized only that my failure to push what ended up being 2 chapters of null data out while doing my PhD would potentially impact my future career.. about 3 years ago when moving to my second (and ideal) postdoc.

  • chall says:

    Back in Sweden where I did my PhD you made your thesis a compilations of your papers, at least 1 (mostly at least 2 ) first author papers and then at least 2 more papers (absolutely minimum was 3 papers total, 5 was the norm at my university). So pretty much after getting accepted into Grad school I knew the expectations on getting my degree. the IF race however, that took another few years... As Bacillus mention, there was that US journal called Infection&Immunity with more IF than regular Microbiology&Veterinary Microbiology, I didn't really get that distinction until going to the US institute for my postdoc....

    "I think that I developed skills and orientations from that era of my academic life that still stick to me when I want to delve into a topic. I ended up with this belief that at the moment a PhD candidate defends they should be literally the world's expert in this topic. Because they have read so much, so recently and so focusedly on it."

    this is what my Professor and the opponent expected of me *and my fellow phd friends. We got to sit through a defense with detailed questions about our own research, context of our research in the world of the field and then some more details on the specific topic even if you didn't do it or touched it but it was in essence part of your topic. I read so many old papers (Lancefield paper from 1930ies) to be able to say I had read them and not just the abstract, not to mention asking all my fellow grad students to ask me questions that I knew I could answer based on the papers I had read.

    When I started my post-doc I was so happy that I had done this. It made the newish field much easier to navigate since I knew that I could pick these things up and dwell into my new topic.

  • Grumpy says:

    6th year of grad school, after I started reading your blog

  • Ben says:

    My undergrad research advisor made that very clear, and the idea was reinforced immediately by my grad school advisor. But in reality, I didn't pay much attention to the idea of publications for the first couple years. I was just having fun doing experiments.

    By the way, and relevant to other recent discussions here, another thing that was made clear to me along the way was that the PhD required a significant contribution to the field. Although there was no explicit requirement for published articles aside from the thesis, just learning a bunch of procedures or doing a series of inconclusive experiments would not be enough.

  • EPJ says:

    I realized the importance of publications while preparing journal clubs on topics related to my phd work, like on the 3d year, and reading/evaluating the corresponding papers published in other organisms.

    It was big effort to understand the material but also realize the need to present it in a comprehensive way to other students and faculty and answer questions on somebody else work. That was a constructive experience. But no constant pressure or demand to publish a certain number of papers within a given time. It was more dependent on the actual work produced that was publishable.

  • jojo says:

    The importance of publication was explained to us during orientation. We were told basically that the expectation was that students would produce several first author pubs, and that the bare minimum expectation for most PhD advising labs was at least one first author pub.

    My PhD adviser further opined that classes, qualifying exams, committee meetings, and even the thesis itself were hoops to jump through. The reason for them was to act as filters to advise students to leave the program sooner than later if they weren't on the right track (so you don't end up with aimless 8th year students).

  • My PhD adviser used to tell us if it wasn't published, it didn't happen, so I knew papers were important from the start. He still wanted us to submit a monolithic thesis (which I did), but writing the chapters based on published work was much easier, of course. I had 1 first author paper from grad school which we didn't submit until after I started my postdoc at National Lab, but I had a bunch of non-first author publications on my CV, which got me my postdoc and NRC fellowship.

    When I interviewed in industry towards the end of my PhD, they were also interested in my publications, but didn't make a big distinction about author position. In a followup phone interview, someone asked me about the status of my in prep/submitted papers (this was at least 2 months after they had seen my CV), and told me that his company wanted to hire people who would be successful, and publications are the mark of success in academia, so they look for them.

    I was lucky--all of my incoming grad students seem to know about first author publications, but I didn't consider the importance of being first author until I started considering moving to full time Fed during my postdoc at National Lab. And it didn't hurt me any.

  • Ola says:

    My experience was very similar to DM. Didn't actually publish a single paper as a result of my thesis work until about a year after graduating (it's a wonder I was able to land a post-doc' at all - thanks old boy network!) Even in my first (short) post-doc the boss was not really clued into the publish or perish model, probably because I was seen to be publishing (albeit the 3 papers I got all stemmed from my prior thesis work). It wasn't really until year 2 of my 2nd post-doc' (year 4 overall) that I really "got it". The key was the boss stating flat out - if you want to get a job/grant etc., you need to get at least 10 papers in the next couple of years. I worked my ass off and made it happen, and the rest as they say is history.

    So, nowadays I make a point of impressing on students from day 1, that as soon as the qualifier is passed they need at least a paper a year to graduate. One of those can be a review article, and some can be middle author, but they're not getting out the door without at least one first author paper in a decent journal.

  • jmz4 says:

    "I worry, based on the writing of postdocs when they join my group, that perhaps this kind of training has evaporated from our PhD programs (also, to be honest, when I read some manuscripts)."
    -Best question I got during my preliminary and qualifying exams (same Prof) was, "Briefly summarize the papers/data that run contrary to your hypotheses/model."

    I think somewhere around 3-4 year of grad school, when I became second author on a paper and everyone started talking about how I'd follow it up for my first author paper. I hadn't realized it was important for grad students (I knew it was important for PDs going on the academic job market). I had thought papers were really more important for PIs, since I had seen my boss lose his funding largely through lack of publications.

  • PaleoGould says:

    I applied for graduate school knowing I needed to get three publications out while in graduate school.
    Despite knowing this and stating it as a goal upfront multiple times, I graduated my PhD with 0 pubs. Go figure.

  • UCProf says:

    To note how times have changed, look at this interview with Rainer Weiss. He's an MIT physics professor who started the LIGO gravitational wave project. He's famous for publishing very little. Like maybe one paper every five years or so.

    There's a story about how Caltech wanted to hire someone to build a gravitational wave detector. They called him, a full professor at MIT, and asked him to send his CV. So he sent it over. He got a letter back saying "There must be pages missing".

    http://oralhistories.library.caltech.edu/183/1/Weiss_OHO.pdf

  • EPJ says:

    I don't know about the subject that UCprof cites, because I don't see much point in making fetishes to drive imagination.

    But it does seem true that up to a point publication number matters. Maybe people need to grow out of the Freud psychology and worry more about why his nephew made money on his uncle's work. That would show learning, which looks like it is a part missing now. It is not the same thing repeating memorized stuff than getting the idea correctly to then apply it.

    Some people may need special lessons for that? you decide.

  • Draino says:

    I realized the importance of publishing during my rotation. For the most part I was mentored by a senior graduate student who had just enjoyed the 2nd author spot on a solid Nature article and was working days, nights, and weekends on his own Cell paper. Everyone else in the lab was shooting for the same thing. The PI didn't have to say anything because that was the lab culture. Well he did say one thing: don't waste too much time on the dissertation because nobody will read it.

  • L Kiswa says:

    Early on during grad school. I knew going in that the objective of the PhD was to make an original contribution (however small) that advances the state of a particular field. My advisor did a good job of teaching us that if something wasn't published, it didn't really plan. So I appreciated the importance of publications early on.

    By the time I started my postdoc, I knew I needed a large number of pubs to be competitive for TT positions. What I did not really appreciate at the time was why numbers of publications were important.

  • Geo says:

    I entered Grad School to achieve a doctorate with the explicit assumption that first authorship paper(s) were absolutely necessary for establishing myself as a scientist. I am surprised that this would elude anyone?

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    I am surprised that this would elude anyone

    This was not mentioned at all by my undergraduate research mentor, and was not mentioned explicitly by my graduate school mentor during my first several years in the lab. I had no academic friends of family to draw advice from. I had heard of "publish or perish," but for all I knew that was my dissertation. During my first year, I mildly offended a fellow lab-mate by saying, "That's nice," to the acceptance of a Science paper--I had no idea that there were glamour journals. I did ultimately get good careerism advice from both my graduate advisor and the senior grad students, but I didn't have a firm grasp of the importance of pubs until my 3rd year. Because of my early ignorance of such things, I make it a point to mentor undergraduates and graduate students early on about how pubs are valued considering their career goals.

  • Jmz4 says:

    ^seconded. I came from an undergrad that was essentially a SLAC and the importance of publications was never emphasized until I had joined a lab.
    Also, volume of publications was never emphasized to be as important as quality (i.e. IF). We also got that lesson by osmosis because all the papers we were assigned to read and discuss at journal clubs were CNS. I honestly think Nature still benefits from a sort of residual affection engendeted in grad schools nationwide, just because the papers were shorter to read, and thus looked upon with gratitude by the students.

  • poke says:

    Wow, this is sort of mind blowing for me. This discussion really drives home the great diversity of publishing norms that exists even within the relatively restricted domain of biomedical sciences (although I realize not all commentors here fall within that group).

    The more interesting question for me the becomes "When did you realize that not all of your peers realized publications were key?", and the answer to that question for me is right now, after >10 years in.

  • Noah says:

    I started grad school in 1995, right out of college. I had some idea that publications were important, because as an undergrad I had been working (and failing) to reproduce an experiment from a paper. In retrospect I was completely worthless in the lab, but my undergrad advisors let me waste reagents and I showed up a lot. In grad school, I quickly became aware that publications were the currency of science, and gradually adjusted from the "monolithic thesis" to "staple your pubs together with a good intro". I was very lucky and published quite a few papers, both as co-author and first author; again, through no particular skills at the bench but because I was willing to put in a lot of work. I'm forever indebted to my mentors for putting up with my worthless experimental skills and giving me projects that I could succeed with if I just put the time in. That has definitely encouraged me to work with trainees that are willing to put in the effort, regardless of background or skill.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Poke-

    One of the best parts of this blog for me is the explication of the diversity, even though we have a very similar career space.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    The more interesting question for me the becomes "When did you realize that not all of your peers realized publications were key?"

    For those who knew pubs were key from Day 1 of grad school, when and how did you learn that?

    I'm going to guess that current graduate students are much more tuned into this than those >10 years out. And I would hypothesize that mentoring philosophies have dramatically changed following the end of the NIH doubling.

  • MoBio says:

    My chair told us quite early on that publications 'are the currency of science' and we were expected to publish first author papers in respected journals (in those days JBC and Biochemistry as it was a Biochemistry department; this was pre-glam-uber-alles).

    There was no minimal publication requirement but 2 first-author papers were generally considered to be the bar.

    The other requirement was that he expected that 'every graduate of Biochemistry should be able to pick up the latest copy of JBC and understand every article in the issue.' I think this was also very sage advice.

  • poke says:

    For those who knew pubs were key from Day 1 of grad school, when and how did you learn that?

    Frankly, this was so pervasive that I have a really hard time pinpointing a single "Eureka" moment. Random recollections:

    In the 1st semester of my 1st science course in undergrad we were taught by librarians how to use pubmed for an assignment that involved finding a primary literature article. I don't recall exactly how it was stated, but it was definitely mentioned that the articles indexed by pubmed, and not text books or other venues, were the primary means by which active, working scientists communicated new findings with each other.

    I noticed at some point that popular press news articles about science typically include the phrase "the study, published today in the journal XXXX, ...". This reiterated for me that being a scientist generally meant doing studies which get published in journals.

    Finally, (and most concrete) when I interviewed a grad schools, the topic of publications always came up. Some programs talked about how well or how frequently their students published. Some said they didn't have a hard and fast numerical requirement for students to graduate with. Others said they did. Some made clear that they valued publications in both "fancy" places, but also in good, solid, field-specific journals. At several schools part of the interview process was a research talk by a current student or faculty member, and in I distinctly remember several of these being prefaced by "so-and-so is going to tell you about her paper that just came out."

  • drugmonkey says:

    The other requirement was that he expected that 'every graduate of Biochemistry should be able to pick up the latest copy of JBC and understand every article in the issue.' I think this was also very sage advice.

    I'm curious if this was part of a "what is the comprehensive exam supposed to be" debate?

    The program I attended seemed to be in constant turmoil over the comprehensive exam that went along with proposing a dissertation topic and advancing to candidacy. Some wanted an exam, these were split into camps of massive take-home essay questions versus more traditional question-answering type of exams. The other major advocacy position was for writing a review article.

    Anyone else experience these debates about "what is graduate education for"?

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    Anyone else experience these debates about "what is graduate education for"?

    In the midst of this now. One program at my institution has a very loose written exam requirement, where anything an individual committee member decides on is fair game. Some members ask for take-home essay questions, some ask for a mini-review, some a mini-proposal. This seems excessive and likely leads to inconsistent standards from student to student. My personal advocacy would be for a grant proposal as the written component.

  • MoBio says:

    @DM: this was not part of the comprehensive exam.

    It was simply his hope and wish that we would be scholars and have enough of an acquaintance with the literature that we could read it!

  • drugmonkey says:

    I think some may turn this hope and wish into more of a demand. As in, "If you get a PhD in -ology from Our University, then it is imperative in my view that you have at least a nodding acquaintance with all* of -ology".

    *that I think is important.

    Some feel that demonstrating breadth of knowledge across all of their -ology at some point in the graduate career is a complement to the demonstration of depth in a sub-area that comes at the point of the doctoral defense.

    I agreed with this when I was a graduate student. Now? I don't know what to think. I can see the "directed careerism" argument much better and am in a position of "against my better judgment, what do they need to compete...". This leaves me susceptible to the arguments of those who would call for writing a review article that might actually be submitted for publication.

  • In my department at ProdigalU, we leave breadth to the undergrad program, and train for depth in the PhD students. There is an exception--when we admit students to our department whose undergrad degree is pretty far from our field (more common now in these days of interdisciplinary research), we ask for some breadth in the grad courses taken. This is spelled out in the admissions letter, so it is not a surprise to incoming students who fall into this category.

    Our department is actually quite flexible on degree requirements. We have no minimum publication requirement (I support this, but expect all of mine to have publications). We have no particular required courses, just a minimum number of courses to take. We don't have a comprehensive exam, but we do have periodic reviews that have an oral exam component. It is too hard to predict what students might need to know in the future. We expect ours to be able to do original research, present the results clearly, and to answer questions about their own work, their sub-field, and the background information needed to understand both.

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