Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Academic Maturity

We talk a lot about maturity of a student and it can be confusing sometimes, but is really important. It is probably the single most important factor when hiring a candidate for a faculty position or choosing graduate students so I thought a nice analogy might help.

Here are some potential answers to the following question by students at various levels.

Professor Asks
Why does a smoog cause a bloot to marf?

First Year Student
What's a smoog?

Second Year Student
I think I read a paper about bloots and marfing, and it might have mentioned smoogs, but I can't recall.

Third Year Student
(Quoting directly from paper) Smoogs cause bloots to marf because the amount of ethylene increases.

Professor with follow-up: But ethylene is always being produced, how does a smoog change marfing potential?

Student: Ummm...not sure. Something to do with the ethylene?

Fourth Year Student
Smoogs cause bloots to marf because the cold of the smoog causes bloot to stop producing chemicals that normally neutralize ethylene. The build-up of ethylene then causes the bloot to marf.

Graduating Student
[thinking I don't care I just want to graduate...but answers...] Yes bloots, otherwise known as bananas, marf, or turn black, because when they are placed in a smoog (refrigerator) enzymes that normally reduce ethylene levels are not made (because of low temperature suppression of metabolic activity). Ethylene then builds up causing the bloots to marf.

Yes, as Jones clearly demonstrates, bloots (bananas) marf (turn brown) in a smoog (refrigerator) because the cold suppresses production of enzymes that normally minimize levels of ethylene. Ethylene causes the skin of the bloot to marf. However, Smith showed that the level of marfing has no affect on flavor, which I find rather interesting.

Immature Faculty Candidate
Professor: I see that you are from Professor Smith's lab and have been researching how smoogs affect bloots. What do you think you would like to study when you arrive here?

Immature Candidate: I would really like to continue my research on how smoogs affect bloots.

Professor: Can you be more specific? What is the first project a student in your lab might do.

Immature Candidate: Well, previously we showed that marfing has no affect on flavor. I would like to see if how quickly the bloot marfs in a smoog affects flavor. And then we might measure the chemicals in bloots that produce flavor and see if they change with marfing.

Mature Faculty Candidate
Professor: I see that you are from Professor Smith's lab and have been researching how smoogs affect bloots. What do you think you would like to study when you arrive here?

Mature Candidate: Well, in my postdoc research I showed that marfing has absolutely no affect on bloot flavor, so I don't think that that will be a fruitful research path. Instead I was thinking of doing something slightly different from my work with Smith. I have read several papers by the groups of Jones, Brown, and Black and I think that frooples might also be affected by smoogs. I would like to investigate whether or not frooples marf in a smoog. I also recognize that marfing may not be the only response to smoog exposure. For example, frooples might shrink in size or become more rigid. This has been theorized by Black's group, but never tested. I hope to investigate that as well.

Faculty Candiate that Will Get Hired
Same as above but adds....I have already spoken to Black, who is on the faculty in the Food Sciences Department and we are eager to collaborate on this problem. Also, I know that since Frooples are grown locally here that I could apply for funding from the Froople Association. I know that their grant deadline is in about 6 months and plan to apply. Finally, although it may seem unrelated, I know that Professor Green here in the Agriculture department researches smoog design and I can imagine some interesting collaborations on how we might prevent marfing of Frooples, should it occur.


At 10:47 AM , Blogger Amanda said...

Those are all excellent examples of a pretty nebulous concept. A lot of profs around here talk (loudly within my grad student hearing) about academic maturity, but are hard-pressed to define it.

At 1:29 PM , Blogger Candid Engineer said...

I like your story, although I feel very immature when I say words like 'smoog' and 'froople'. :)

At 5:05 PM , Anonymous sigrid said...

Brilliant, I love this! And now I understand why I got hired.

At 5:59 PM , Blogger Flince フリンス said...


one of your links
Science Mag on H Factor, requires access to the Harvard PIN system.

Might want to change that ;)

At 6:57 PM , Anonymous Zuska said...

Hi-freakin'-larious! Witty and informative! I really enjoyed reading this.

At 2:23 PM , Blogger Hermitage said...

So what level is expressive faces of confusion? I'm really good at those.


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