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Tag: grad school

Crafting a CV: Decisions, decisions...

My curriculum vitae - the Latin origin of "CV", a term so ubiquitous in academia and so rare outside (in the US) that it may serve as a shibboleth - slowly evolved out of a résumé that I began as an undergraduate. Trying to break out of the résumé mindset and accept that brevity required of a CV was a challenge. My one-page résumé - chock full of details and action verbs - was reduced to a paltry, unimpressive CV upon entering grad school. A lack of presentations and publications as an undergrad - items inappropriate for a résumé - were the cause. When I was reviewing my professors' CVs in a search for the optimal format for mine, I caught a case of CV-envy.

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Priorities in grad school

I know that I haven't really been keeping up with this blog, and I'm not making promises to myself to keep up with it in any sort of regularly-scheduled-posting way. I will, however, continue to make posts as they come.

The reason why I haven't been posting is that this blog is not (at the moment) a priority for me. Grad school has kept me busy, and there are always lots of projects and people clamoring for time. Making sure that my commitments to other people, projects, and myself are met means prioritizing what I do. If I felt myself swelling with ideas for this blog and wanted to make passionate posts, then this blog would become more of a priority in my personal, relaxation time. If this blog actually had a following and/or had some (even marginal) impact, then maybe I would start to see this blog as a professional commitment.

As it stands, it is neither. And that's okay. Some things are more important than others, and right now research, teaching, classes, and time for me are more important than this blog. I think being successful at school - grad and otherwise - depends on being realistic with priorities and commitments. I guess this could be summarized as:

Lesson 3: Some things are more important than others, and ignoring the less important things can be okay.

There are no deadlines, and this blog will still be here waiting for me when I have more to say.

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Academia is a lot more complicated than "publish or perish"

When talking with people about academia and metrics for success, the adage "publish or perish" is often brought up. Even people far removed from academia seem to have heard it.  However, simply publishing doesn't guarantee success, nor is it the only route to success.

Lesson 2: Academia is a lot more complicated than "publish or perish"

Tenure-track professors need to publish in order to remain competitive for tenure and promotion - and this record of publication typically journal articles. In many fields, books are not highly valued and the reward for undertaking such a large project may not be commensurate with the resources required for its successful completion. Furthermore, at research universities, publishing is only part of the equation: obtaining grants for projects is becoming increasingly viewed as vital to one's career.

Of course, more prestigious journals are valued more than lower-quality journals (though relative merits of journals can be debated). Furthermore, federal grants are typically viewed as more prestigious than state grants and other funding sources because of their perceived competitiveness (even though dollars are dollars, they look better when coming from the federal government). In both grants and publishing, original research that expands knowledge in the field is valued while other ends (such as teaching or service) are not as valued.

While there has been a movement in some places to emphasize the importance of the teaching and service, original research dominates the focus for traditional professors. There are other types of professors (non-tenure track, often with a name like "clinical professor" in many fields) whose duties are dramatically different, often with a decreased emphasis on original research to afford more time for other important activities.

What "publish or perish" comes down to is doing your job well and ensuring that those that make hiring and promotion decisions know it.

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Listen to your advisor

With three years of grad school under my belt and three to go, I feel like I've accumulated a fair bit of experience that would make for good advice to people starting out. I'm going to start posting brief tidbits that have proven helpful to me. All of these will be tagged as "lessons from grad school".

Lesson 1: Listen to your advisor.

Your advisor is an experienced professional in your field and has gone through grad school before. Therefore, it is very likely that they have a pretty clear idea where you were, where you are, and where you need to be for the jobs you want. If they think a project is worthwhile, take the hint and spend time and effort on it. If they think a project is a waste of time, minimize the resources you devote to it. Their goal is to get you to the finish line of graduation, and they have a better idea of what is expected of you than you do. Just listen to your advisor.

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On Elsevier buying Mendeley

[Update: Steve Dennis, a developer for Mendeley, posted a comment explaining a bit more about the data collection and privacy concerns some users have with Mendeley Desktop. It adds some pros and cons about the process outlined here.]

Two days ago (2013-04-08) Elsevier (the academic publishing company that is the subject of some controversy) bought Mendeley (the reference manager and a tool often mentioned when discussing 'open' research). The Mendeley Blog does a quick Q&A covering what changes will take place (they take the position that this will be better for everyone), while the folks over at The Chronicle examine the sale with a slightly more critical lens. Some accounts I follow on Twitter began using the hashtag #mendelete, taking an even more critical stance on the sale. (Someone has even made a guide to exporting data from and then deleting one's Mendeley account - useful, even if just for the exporting data portion.)

While it remains to be seen what changes will, in fact, take place, the simple fact remains that Mendeley is not open source and remains controlled by a company that does not have my (and your) best interests in mind. The most important thing for Elsevier is making money, and, for now, keeping Mendeley operating serves this goal. However, my work is too important to rely on a tool that somebody else controls. (I did a pretty thorough post on my views about this after the discontinuation of Google Reader.)

Now, Mendeley advertises itself as both a reference manager (think iTunes for PDFs) and a social network. This social network aspect has generated a lot of data, and many researchers seem to find it useful. Consequently, Mendeley has integrated their web services and their desktop client so that a single account is required to use both. Yes, an account is required to use the desktop software that would work perfectly well without an online account. Sure, it is enhanced by internet connectivity, but an internet connection is not required to organize my documents.

The login window that appears when Mendeley first launches.
When Mendeley first launches, there is no option to skip logging in.

But, an account is not really required. With a teeny bit of work, the Mendeley desktop software can be configured to work without a Mendeley account. This solution comes from the Mendeley support website, and is used to help people launch Mendeley when there are issues with the software and/or accounts. It is a 'feature' for support, but is certainly not something they advertise. The trick is to add --setting General_FirstRun:false (with two dashes, an underscore, and a colon) as an argument to the program when it launches. I'm doing this on Windows, but as Mendeley is cross-platform, it should ostensibly work on OS X and Linux, too. (Let me know in the comments if it does or doesn't work.)

To add this argument, right click the shortcut for Mendeley (e.g. the one on your desktop) and select properties. Then, add it to the box labeled "Target" outside of the quotation marks. Check out the image below.

Mendeley Desktop Properties window with the Target field circled
Notice the argument is outside the quotation mark and uses two dashes (-- not -).

After clicking Apply, you may need to grant Administrator approval for the changes to be saved, depending on your UAC settings. Adding this to the launcher skips the initial window that asks for your account information allowing you to use the offline features of Mendeley in peace. (You can add an account later by choosing "Tools" followed by "Options".)

Now, this option works with at least Mendeley Desktop 1.8.4, but there are no guarantees about 1.8.5 retaining this same feature. (Though there are many uses for this ability in a support context and removing it would be silly.) I feel somewhat assuaged knowing that I can use Mendeley on my computer whenever, wherever. Moreover, if I ever need to install Mendeley and their servers are unavailable, I can still use it.

I'm not Men-deleting my account. Not yet, at least. I'm still holding out hope that the program will be made open-source, assuaging even more of my concerns. There may still yet be hope according to something I saw from William Gunn, Mendeley's Head of Academic Outreach:

A conversation on Twitter between @TheDougW, @mrgunn, and @MendeleySupport.
Apparently open sourcing Mendeley is still being talked about.

So, open source is still being talked about, and the API is remaining open. These are promising signs. For the meantime, at least, I'm going to check out using Zotero in addition to Mendeley. I've been hearing some good things about Zotero, and it never hurts to have options. As the saying goes, "Two is one, one is none."

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