length of grad. student careers

S L Forsburg forsburg at salk.edu
Fri Aug 2 12:37:17 EST 1996

> Mary Songster-Alpin wrote:
> > Yet, I've felt behind from the onset in my
> > graduate program.  Classes aren't a problem at all - I have one B in 36 hours.
> > However, when it comes to original thought - I suck.  

You know, this leads to a related issue (from reading too many
grants and reviews and so on....)  everyone always says, 
well, there's not a lot of original thinking in that proposal, but
it's good, it will work.  Observing this for some time, I have
come to the conclusion that the sort of "original thought" they
are talking about is the 1 out of 1000 type of person who REALLY
conceives of something novel.  But, most scientists don't (except
serendipitously).  What they do is identify an interesting 
problem and use the appropriate tools to solve it. Try understanding
anything about the world if all you have to go on is the few
who make massive conceptual leaps, without figuring out what
goes on in between!  (ah these Olympic metaphors).  

You know, most review committees wouldnt know REAL original thinking if
it bit them on the nose....that's the stuff that is high risk, or
too interdisciplinary, or visionary, for most of us mere mortals to
recognize till it's DONE!  :-)  If you look at a lot of fast moving
fields, the original, novel, creative work almost never is published
in trendy journals, but in the lower tier catagory.  yet those papers
become classics.

What I think Mary might be thinking of is more what I would call
"critical thinking", the ability to evaluate problems and approaches.
Now THAT is crucial to any scientist, hard to learn without practise,
and part of why we go to grad school.  Journal clubs, seminars, 
reading, discussion all help to build it and hone it.  

Susan L Forsburg PhD
MBVL, The Salk Institute
forsburg at salk.edu

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