Friday, April 29, 2005

Good advice

My advisor gave me a good piece of advice yesterday: Don't be limited to place-based research. He said that the trend in our field is moving away from place-based studies (not that specific places aren't where you really learn things). I'm not sure where this means our field is moving, though. Are we going towards more modelling (conceptual or analytical) or are we moving towards a focus on instrumentation? Or is it just another way of saying what I'd figured out long ago; we need to be problem-driven, not method (or place?) driven in our science. Just because I'm good at stable isotopes doesn't mean I should select my research based on where I can use them. Instead I should seek out interesting problems and if I can use stable isotopes, great. If not I can learn a new technique (or find a collaborator who knows it). I think taking this concept and applying it to places (i.e. I work in the Northwest) is probably what my advisor meant. But maybe not...I guess I'll have to think about it some more. Any thoughts?

On the subject of advisors, a few more general thoughts...Most of the time I see my advisor less than once a week and it's usually brief. When I first started my PhD I was frustrated by this, because there were so many questions I wanted him to answer for me, especially about how to do things. Now, I occasionally get frustrated because he can't answer my specific questions (my research has moved away from his expertise), but I am also to the point where I just want to work uninterrupted and get things done and find the answers for myself. At the lab last week, my mentor there would check in on me several times a day, and while it was helpful during my problem-filled lab work, I realized how frustrating it would be for me to have an advisor like that now. So I guess that after years of wanting a mentor in my field who could answer my questions, I've hit the point in my career where I don't need one as badly any more. My cello teacher in high school told me once that her goal was for me not to need a teacher any more. I think goal has been acheived, just in a slightly different field.

This is not to say that I've outgrown any need for a mentor. There are still plenty of things that I could use advice on: how to publish, how to write a publication-quality manuscript; how to find a job when I get done, etc...Maybe just scientifically then, my need for a mentor has grown into a need for colleagues.

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