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Edward Flagg
Department of Physics and Astronomy
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Meta-skills for Graduate Students

You have taken classes and done well, earned an undergraduate degree, and now you want to raise your knowledge to the next level with graduate studies. However, many of the skills required for success in graduate school are not explicitly taught in an undergraduate curriculum. Do you know how to read a scientific article effectively and efficiently? How should you go about finding an adviser? What is the structure of a well-made conference presentation? What are some daily practices that help your research to progress? What is the career that comes after graduate school, and how can you prepare yourself for it?

Below are some resources to help you answer those questions.

General advice for graduate school and beyond

A PhD is not enough, by Peter J. Feibelman; available online at the WVU Library .
The classic pocket guide to making a life in academia. This book is essential reading and addresses all of the areas listed here and more besides.

How to Succeed in Graduate School, by Marie desJardins.

myIDP - An interactive, web-based career-planning tool. An individual development plan (IDP) helps you explore career possibilities and set goals to follow the career path that fits you best. Here's a good explanation of what it does and why you should use it.

Goal setting and best practices

Setting goals and determining how to achieve them is a critical skill in any demanding job. Graduate school is no different. But you need to do more than just identify your goal and say, "Go!" You must also break it down into the major sub-goals that lead to achievement of your ultimate goal.

Some practices are so universal in importance and effectiveness that everyone should do them, regardless of one's specific research project. Here is a list of daily, weekly, and monthly best practices. You should consider your own situation and add to the list.

Reading scientific papers

How to read and understand a scientific paper: a guide for non-scientists, by Jennifer Raff. Also helpful for scientists, since no one is born an expert in any topic. This is a very thorough description of an effective way to read a paper in a field you are not yet familiar with.

How to read a research paper, by Michael Mitzenmacher. A short (two page) guide.

If you are already familiar with the field of research of a paper, and you want to extract the information within it efficiently, then read the paper in the following order:

  1. Abstract.
  2. "Here we show..." paragraph.
  3. Figures and figure captions.
  4. Conclusion.
  5. Return to the beginning and read the whole thing.

Writing scientific papers

How to write a paper, by Mike Ashby

Whitesides' Group: Writing a Paper (also here with no paywall)
G. M. Whitesides 
Advanced Materials16 (15), 1375-1377, August, 2004,  DOI: 10.1002/adma.200400767 

Writing a Scientific Paper: One Ideosyncratic View 
George M Whitesides, 231st ACS National Meeting, Atlanta, GA, March 26-30, 2006, CINF-017.

Making presentations

How to make a presentation, by Edward B. Flagg

Slideshow design and Figure design, from the MIT Broad Institute communications kit

Presentation Counts--Just Ask Galileo, by Matthew C. Thompson

Creating effective presentation slides, by Jean-Luc Doumont

Research Talk 101, by Lucia Dettori

Obtaining funding

How funding works - an intro for students, a presentation given during the WVU condensed matter seminar by Prof. Mikel Holcomb.