The Study Dude – Presenting the Mentor

Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants than for you to share your crazy ideas?but not with Mother.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s Study Dude looks at Peter J. Feibelman’s book A PhD Is Not Enough! A Guide to Survival in Science. You need hero-mentors and top-notch presentation tools.

How to Sparkle with a PhD
We all need a mentor.

But, are you serious about a PhD and the tenure fantasy? Then, you need a mentor like you need blood.

I had two mentors: both of them professors. One, a lover of Mother Teresa. The other, Mother. Well, not really Mother. A kind of mother-in-law that disowns you and hunts you down.

Mother Teresa mentor acted as my supervisor, but her inexperience left me in limbo. This beloved mentor let me go because our progress was that of a Windows 10 upgrade?which no sane person wants.

The other mentor?Mother?loved and hated me. I loved and hated her, too. We fought. We competed. We performed psychological warfare on each other. But I dropped her (or she dropped me?) because our progress was that of a Windows 10 automatic upgrade?one you reboot, panicked, halfway through installation. A nightmare.

So, I stood alone in the MA program. My thesis sucked. The PhD dream faded. But, one day, I told myself, I would rise again. And choose a mentor wisely.

Peter J. Feibelman says without a mentor, tenure fades. On top of that, Feibelman shares more tricks on how to succeed beyond the PhD:
– You need ‘science survival skills’ to make it through and beyond the PhD. A mentor is a requirement for most PhD students.
– After grad school, the clock starts ticking: sink or swim on your way to tenure. Fast.
– Present and publish your research. A must.
– No-one teaches you what research problems to choose. Unless you find a mentor, that is.
– Make sure your post-doc supervisor gives you assignments that you can reasonably finish in a short amount of time.
– In your field, read all the literature. Voraciously. Become an expert.
– Only collaborate with others when you both bring something unique. Doubled-up research jobs lead to jealousy.
– Choose a mentor who is not your supervisor or boss.
– Know the scientists you work with in the labs. Make connections.
– Avoid young thesis advisors. Jealousy may arise.
– Older advisors won’t compete with you. Long in tooth, but not short in support.
– Make sure your supervisor can communicate with newbies, meet with you weekly, and teach you how to survive the PhD and beyond.

PhD Presentation? Ticket to Tenure
Did you ever know something so delicious, you couldn’t wait to tell? (Gossip doesn’t count.)

Well, did you ever think something so crazy you thought you could win a Nobel prize? I did. I went off a sedating medicine and the world grew magical?glorious. Every little movement of the world mystified me; I stumbled on what I later realized is called ?motion parallax?: the trick of the eye where the streetlights seem to move faster than the distant mountains when you speed on by.

But I noticed so much more. I called my heightened awareness ?The Garden of Eden.? And I ate from the Tree of Knowledge. So I spent every hard-earned penny of my scholarship on AV material: video cameras, still cameras, and audio devices; and I recorded tens of hours of crazy footage. Then I scheduled myself to present my findings?through multimedia?to the faculty. I invited the entire science department: one scientist plus five-or-so academics sat in the audience.

My time came to dazzle. But, at the get-go, the video projector stuttered. Thus, the crux of my argument?the video clips?went unwatched. Horrified, without even the words ?Motion Parallax? to guide me, I stumbled on.

But the audience grew hostile. A professor shouted, ?Mere trick photography.? Others barked, too, quizzing whether I had copyright permission to use the photos?my own photos. A flash on the screen lit up the room: the video projector started. Yet, the audience still resisted: Did you get copyright permission for the soundtrack? (I did.) And the scientist without background in motion parallax said science knew all that I revealed. You see, I’d lost my audience.

My great idea? Silenced. The moral? Learn how to work a projector. Better yet, learn the art of presentations.

Peter J. Feibelman shows you the craft:
– Get a theme for your presentation (like a thesis, but in language geared for a young teen).
– Say why your field rocks and what your field’s biggest puzzles are.
– Give a historical sketch of your field.
– Reveal where you piece of the pie fits in the cake mould.
– Pretend your audience holds both know-it-alls and know-littles. Cater more to the know-littles.
– Leave the equations for your written thesis. Presentations get boring quick once you pull out an algorithm for cryptography or a T-Test for a multiple regression. (Yawning yet?) Avoid overly technical stuff. It’s dull.
– Turn your presentation into a story. Add an inciting incident, a climax, and an ending.
– Show your excitement for your topic. If your topic bores you, why study it?
– Show confidence. Speak up.
– Fit in your best stuff before time runs out. Rehearse with timers.
– don’t bore with an outline of your speech. Feibelman asks, Would you want an outline of a movie before the movie starts? Nope. Add suspense.
– don’t list all your collaborators. Put them on a PowerPoint page, but don’t read them aloud.
– Say what ignited your passion for the topic, or why researchers swarm to it, or why the public hungers for it. In other words, who cares for your topic and why?
– Avoid animations. Use lots of white space. Use large font.
– Feibelman says your presentation should use one cartoon, a couple of figures, and plain text. [I beg to differ. Most experts on presentations would argue for less text and more visuals. And put the omitted text in a handout at the very end.]

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

ReferencesFeibelman, Peter J. A PhD Is Not Enough! A Guide to Survival in Science. New York: Basic Books. Jan. 11, 2011. Digital.

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