Category Archives: students

The ten plus ten (plus a few more) commandments of how to be a successful student and scientist

*Update from June 2017: I have added a few extra ‘commandments’ from Twitter and Facebook friends at the end**

This week, three Honours students and one PhD student are starting in my lab. In the back of my mind I have always wanted to pass on my accumulated “wisdom” at the start of their research careers. I haven’t got around to it until now. Earlier this week I put the word out via Facebook and immediately got a response from an old friend that inspired me to write this. Professor Darren Griffin from the University of Kent, UK put together ten commandments for succeeding in academia.They outlined, succinctly, virtues such as persistence, imagination, strategy and just being a decent human being.

I concur and took the liberty of adding another ten – numbers 11 to 20.Many thanks to colleagues past and present including Drs Jane Loke, Nick Wong, Sara Hassan and Joe Sarsero, for their inspirations and suggestions.

11. Network, network, network

Talk to people from outside your group at the water cooler, tea room and at work functions. You will make friends, but importantly, they will be contacts who may be able to help you out some day (see Commandment 12).

12. Beg, borrow or “steal”

You never really run out of a reagent or broken piece of equipment. If you know the right people, you will be able to beg or borrow it when you need it the most. And return the favour when the boot’s on the other foot. And no, don’t steal; it just sounded like a good phrase 😉

13. Say ‘No” to plagiarism

A good idea is worth developing but good text should act as inspiration only. If you like it so much, paraphrase it. If you want to know more about plagiarism and how to check for it, see Turnitin.

14. Write early and write often

It is never too early to start writing your Honours/PhD thesis or your manuscript. Start with something simple such as Materials & Methods. Get feedback and write some more. I also strongly recommend writing the odd blog post. There is no good and bad; there is only read and widely read. Try IFLScience and The Conversation for inspiration. And even Tweeting can sharpen your writing skills.

From PhD Comics

15. Ask

Never be afraid to ask questions, whether of your supervisor, Postdoc or in a seminar. Lab heads respect and notice those who ask questions and there really aren’t any stupid questions. On the subject of seminars, try going to ones that don’t match your area of interest – you may be pleasantly surprised. If you are not, you could always play Seminar Bingo.

16. Discovering why an experiment didn’t work is almost as satisfying as getting it to work first time

Self explanatory.

17. Be honest

If you break something, always ‘fess up. You will be respected much more than if you don’t.

18. Ask not what your institute/department can do for you, ask what you can do for your institute.

Try volunteering at an institute or departmental event. If you ever go asking for funds for a project or a student group and they don’t know you from Adam, you will have less chance at success. Furthermore, volunteering is good for your health.

19. Find a good mentor apart from your supervisor

Whether a shoulder to cry on or just general advice, get yourself one of these. In fact, get 2 or 3. They can be Postdocs, lab heads, inside or outside your institute.

20. Last but not least, look after yourself

Make sure you top up regularly the three things that could save your life one day: exercise, a healthy diet and spending time being mindful (such as taking part in yoga, meditation or prayer). They all change your epigenetics for the better.

From PhD Comics:

21.The Black Jack

Yes, you will hear that being a researcher is not a financially rewarding career and comes with little job security. Both of these can be true but following these commandments should help you be resilient and stay near the top of the pack.

Have a happy and healthy research career!


And a few more from Twitter buddies

  1. Your supervisor is your supervisor, not your boss – Dr Emma Beckett @synapse101
  2. Run your own race, everyone has a unique PhD experience – Dr Emma Beckett @synapse101
  3. Push the boat out as far as it will go, and always be guided by 2 Qs: Is it true, and who cares? – Clare Llewellyn‏ @Dr_C_Llewellyn
  4. Don’t rely on anyone handing you answers on a silver platter. Be curious, ask questions and seek answers beyond the ivory tower. – Nathalie Martinek‏ @Chitananda
  5. You’re LEARNING, everyone knows this, no one is judging you. Seek help as you need it. Don’t wait. – Kristal Sorby‏ @KrisDoesEcology
  6. Be self-reliant ! You’ll need to be … 😉 Belinda Weaver‏ @cloudaus
  7. Always question the ‘facts’ stated by your supervisor – Terence Pang PhD @seriouspalates
  8. ‏ Depending on the topic, read Been Goldacre’s Bad Science. Also do a timeline – Felice Jacka @FeliceJacka
  9. Get into habit of putting together a slide for each paper they read that will go into your lit review – Felice Jacka @FeliceJacka
  10. Read the article ‘A PhD is not a Nobel prize’ – Fiona J Clay (via Facebook)