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PhD project or PhD projects?

Two of my PhD students have successfully defended their thesis in the past three weeks. For both of them, they have accomplished what constituted the biggest project (in term of scope and time) of their life yet.

However, is it really one project or a collection of multiple projects forming a whole, called a PhD thesis?

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Invest in a good manuscript (PDF) management system

If, as starting graduate students, you are following my first key advice of reading on a regular basis scientific manuscripts related to your field of research in general and your project in particular, you’ve probably reach an obvious observation:  you are collecting a large number of PDF files very quickly.

There are, of course, a few more observations to be made:

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Wikipedia and scientific research

Your a physicist and sitting at a conference for which the speaker is a talking about a specialize biology topic. This person is going on and on using words that are clearly no part of a standard dictionary and mostly ending by “ase”. Suddenly two new words: “flippase” and “floppase” (no kidding!). This is where the combination iPhone and Wikipedia is useful. 30 seconds later your up to speed and following again…Sometimes you’ve got to love technology. Wikipedia is great for a first look at a subject. It provides basic definition, secondary links and most of the time numerous references.

But, because there is one, Wikipedia does not replace a proper literature search. Google and Wikipedia are taking a lot of place among the high school students, my children included. Internet is replacing the standard, printed encyclopedia. The point is, sometimes ago I was a judge at a high school scientific competition and we first had to review the written documents related to projects we will have presentations on in the following step. To my complete surprise, the majority of those documents had references only to Wikipedia entries!

At that point, I did not know if this is a wide spread habit since I was reviewing only a limited sample of all the projects involved. Talking with a few colleagues, it seems that I was not the only one noticing. While some kids are doing these kinds of projects for the first time, the diversity of sources should be part of the standard teaching in science classes. One certainly cannot fault Wikipedia, who provide further references…if you scroll down to the end. Furthermore, high school libraries have more than enough materials to cover most basic topics for that level.

Wikipedia should not be the only source of scientific literatures for high school kids. It is in large part the responsibility of the teachers to bring this message home. Not all parents have a scientific background.

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