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About recommendations, guidelines and those who ultimately generate them

Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first base.

– Frederick B. Wilcox

Coming back from attending a major meeting in our field. I find it interesting to notice that the words “recommendation” and “guidelines” were some of the most used. Most of the time this is good and provides a common languages. However, once in a while someone use these words to shutdown an otherwise very interesting work.

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The “me too” works…

Over the last few years, I notice (though it might be anecdotal since I haven’t done a thorough review) that the less original content is present in a poster or talk, the less likely someone is to acknowledge that their work is a remake and seems to simply skip proper referencing. This year, I have seen a perfect (and I mean it!) remake of a work we have published three years ago. The talk did not even had a single reference, not just to our work but to any works…


These talks or posters are basically presented as original, totally new. Is this a failure of the supervisor when attributing the topic or that of the student for failing to do a proper literature review?

Talk with your thesis advisor on a regular basis

Each research group has its own dynamics. In some, entering grad students get a very detailed “charge” list saying for example, there is a group meeting every week, so on and so forth.

What ever those dynamics are, as a graduate student you should learn quickly how busy is your thesis advisor and start planning regular meeting with him/her. Do not hesitate to initiate a request to meet. These, in my opinion after being involved in supervising or co-supervising over 45 graduate students, should happen:

  • At least once a year to discuss the general direction of your research project and, starting at the end of year 2 (PhD), to plan the necessary steps toward your thesis completion 😉
  • Every time you think you are ready to publish a manuscript (but before spending too much time writing it!).
  • Every time you have significant new results (if not presented at the group meeting or if your group does not have group meetings).
  • At least once a month to avoid getting “stuck” for too long (again regular group meetings really help in this regards).

Of course, thesis advisors are also busy peoples, won’t be available for you 24/7 and one of their goal is to get you on the road to become an independant researcher yourself. However as a grad student, you should know that most thesis advisors loved the interaction with students and are available on a regular basis to discuss with them.

The minority of advisors that are consistantly  “unavailable” are usually well-known within their University / Department. It is your task as a prospective grad student to gather this information, to ask your future advisor the tough questions before signing for this significant portion of your life.

Getting a summer job in a research group?

For an undergrad student, applying and getting a summer job in a research group can be a life changing experience. This is when you will get a taste of what doing scientific research, along side graduate students, feels like. For many, this is all the necessary push needed to apply to graduate studies.

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There is no such things as a shortcut

“Short cuts make for long delays.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Last week was the Canadian university football final (Vanier Cup). My University was playing, its 8th final since 1999 (won its 7th!). For the past 10 years, they have been the dominating team of their division. Not bad for a team that did not exist until the middle of the 90’s (and for some was doomed to failure). It is a model of success. Attendance to home games now averaged 15000 peoples. This number is small compare to US college football but is 2 to 3 times higher than most Canadian university program. Of course, this helps the program, money-wise…

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