Tomorrow’s Graduate Students and Postdocs
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Yoda Was Wrong: It’s all About Try
Yoda, legendary teacher of Jedi knights, famously said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” This might be beneficial for training Jedi, but it is misleading for doctoral students and postdocs. For you, it is all about “Try.”
The binary “Do or Do not” frames the world in stark contrasts. Succeed or fail. Fly or crash. Blow up the Death Star or die. For us mere mortals, failure is not that consequential.“Do Not.” It’s the decision not to attempt. Choose against testing long odds. Play it safe.
The “Do / Do Not” choice operates for many grad students. When failure seems to be around every corner, when hard work is unlikely to be rewarded, the choice “Do Not” is much easier to make. The high risk of failure acts as a deterrent. Inaction seems prudent.
“Why apply for that Fellowship/job/postdoc? I won’t get it?” “Why offer to run the local Pint of Science festival? I have never done anything like that before. It is sure to be a flop, distract me needlessly from my research, and incur the wrath of my advisor.” “Why apply for a postdoc as a digital humanities specialist? I don’t have all of the skills that they are asking for.”
Trying and failing is the other way to understand “Do Not.”
Try. Despite what Yoda said, that is the other path.
Setbacks are inevitable. Failure instructs. It guides us as we try again.
Yoda’s counsel was actually somewhat more nuanced than the iconic quotation suggests. Luke was explaining why he could not do the task Yoda had set before him. “It is different,” he argued. It was not the task he had mastered before, so he couldn’t accomplish it. Yoda shakes his head (as you can see in the video clip). He urges to Luke to commit fully. “Do” is “try” with full commitment.
Graduate students should embrace opportunities with a spirit of full-throttle Try. In this stage, you are shaping yourself. You are learning new skills. You are discovering your proclivities and talents. You are testing your limits. You have permission to take risks and push boundaries. Indeed, you are expected to.
Most of the opportunities that enter your sights within your grasp. (Like Yoda, your mentors offer the achievable.) Success might seem inaccessible, but with confidence and a big jump, you just might reach them. And if you don’t, you made your best effort.
“If I honestly try, push myself and really try hard—whether I succeed or not—I am happy and proud of myself. Far more than I’d be if I never even tried.” Dr. Egle Cekanaviciute shared her philosophy with me. This risk-taking attitude has opened up many new worlds. The words of Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman have become her guide: “You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.”
Failure is inherent in Try. When you make a big stretch, and take a big risk, then failure is more likely. It is more common than success.
This requires a shift in attitude. Welcome risk, rather than avoiding it. Recognize that everyone fails. A lot. It is normal. It won’t destroy you or your life. It should not change how you view yourself or your future.
Chutes and Ladders via Flickr Ben Husman under Creative Commons license
Life is not an epic battle, ala the Star Wars saga, it is more like the board game Chutes and Ladders. Sometimes we plod along, sometimes a ladder shoots us forward, and often a chute slides us back. We revisit the same terrain more than once. (Although, unlike the original ancient Indian version of the game, moving forward and backward is not a moral consequence. It is simply part of the journey.)
The recent attention of “CVs of Failure” underscored that we all have more failures than successes. Unfortunately, our efforts and missteps are usually hidden. (I wrote about why grad students should start their own CV of Failure, and provided an outline to get you started.)
Handling failure with grace gets easier with experience. Professional failures are surmountable. Life is a story with many chapters and many possible paths. Failed experiments, failing quals, not getting any of the fellowships or jobs you applied for, or not getting tenure. You can recover from all of them. As my mother is wont to say, “It’s not the end of the world.” Give yourself the minimal time you need to get over a setback. Then get on with it.
It’s Not Only About You
You can’t control everything. There are dozens of exogenous variables that affect the outcome of every situation.
Applying for a job? You can’t determine who the other candidates are. You don’t influence the desires or prejudices of the search committee members. You don’t even know about the competing demands that the Dean is juggling. All of these are out of your hands. (David Perlmutter’s blog post outlines the many reasons why you might not get a job you apply for.)
Your task is to keep trying. Sometimes there are things that you can improve when you try, try, again. Your cover letter is more to the point. Your research has evolved further. Your interview answers are crisper. Control what you can control. Do the best you can. Trust your efforts. And remember that it is not all in your hands.
Another science fiction icon, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.”
 These latter two examples were the actual experiences of Dr. Egle Cekanaviciute, who ran the 2016 San Francisco Pint of Science, and Dr. Bridget Whearty, who was a CLIR Fellow, 2013-15. Both provided input and inspiration for this blog post.
 Richard Feynman, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character
 Star Trek: The New Generation “Peak Performance” written by David Kemper, 1989.
Next summer, Los Alamos National Laboratory will be hosting the 21st edition of the Los Alamos Dynamics Summer School (LADSS). I have attached a PDF flyer that provides information about the summer school, links to more information on the web, and provides instructions for applying to the summer school. Please note that the program has been expanded to ten weeks.
Please see attached flyer for more information.
The DOE Scholars Program introduces students and recent college graduates to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) mission and operations.
Application Deadline: January 3, 2020 4:00 PM EST
Why should I apply?
Being selected as a DOE Scholar offers the following benefits:
- Stipends starting at $600 per week for undergraduates and $650 per week for graduate students and post graduates during the internship period
- Limited travel reimbursement to/from assigned location
- Direct exposure to and participation in projects and activities in DOE mission-relevant research areas
- Identification of career goals and opportunities
- Development of professional networks with leading scientists and subject matter experts
- Be a U.S. citizen
- Be an undergraduate, graduate student, or recent graduate of an accredited institution of higher education majoring in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and related areas.
- Must be pursuing a degree or have received a degree within 5 years of their starting date in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) discipline or have demonstrated interest or experience in a STEM field that supports the DOE mission.
Hosting sites are located across the United States and will vary based on internship assignment.
How to Apply
Applications and supporting materials must be submitted at https://www.zintellect.com/Opportunity/Details/DOE-Scholars-2020
For more information: Visit https://orise.orau.gov/doescholars
DOE has partnered with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) to manage this program.
Please see attached flyer:
*Now accepting applications for:*
Department of Energy DOE Scholars Program
*The DOE Scholars Program introduces students and recent college
graduates to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) mission and operations.*
*Why should I apply?*
Being selected as a DOE Scholar offers the following benefits:
* Stipends starting at $600 per week for undergraduates and $650 per
week for graduate students and post graduates during the internship
* Limited travel reimbursement to/from assigned location
* Direct exposure to and participation in projects and activities in
DOE mission-relevant research areas
* Identification of career goals and opportunities
* Development of professional networks with leading scientists and
subject matter experts
* Be a U.S. citizenship
* Be an undergraduate, graduate student, or recent graduate of an
accredited institution of higher education majoring in science,
technology, engineering, mathematics, and related areas.
* Must be pursuing a degree or have received a degree within 5 years
of their starting date in a science, technology, engineering or
mathematics (STEM) discipline *or *have demonstrated interest or
experience in a STEM field that supports the DOE mission.
*How to Apply*
Applications and supporting materials must be submitted at
January 3, 2020, 4:00 PM EST
*For more information*: Visit https://orise.orau.gov/doescholars
Strategic Education through Naval Systems Experiences (SENSE) Enterprise is searching for talent from all majors and all years. Our projects typically focus on designing, building, and testing systems with a focus on Department of Defense Naval applications. It only makes sense for you to come to our info session to learn more!
TODAY WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 13TH AT 6:00 PM IN FISHER 138.
We’ll have free food, current SENSE Enterprise members to talk to, and more information about who we are and what we do.
Projects you could join this year:
NERD (Nautical Emergency Rescue Device): Continue improving and designing an emergency rescue device that minimizes drowning.
Beach Flag Warning System: Formulate safer beach environments in the Great Lakes Area with an automated beach flag warning system.
NEEC Under Ice Acoustics: Test and further develop a machine learning algorithm that tracks noise sources through ice environments.
SERC Mass Rescue: Create an efficient deployment mechanism for lightweight mass rescue device designs.
Marine Material Development: Develop a new biodegradable, environmentally safe marine material for enterprise and general use.
We hope to see you there!
Unraveling Preferences and Applications of Fructose Transporters
Dr. Marina Tanasova
Department of Chemistry,
Michigan Technological University
Friday, November 15, 2019
I’m reaching out because we’ve run a program with IBM for the past 5 years called The Cognitive Computing Odyssey, and we’re expanding the program this year to include more schools, majors, and opportunities for students.
This year’s program is called The Uncubed x IBM 2020 Fast-Track, and we’re partnering with IBM to help fast-track students through the 2020 internship and full-time application process (full list of available roles here).
As in the past, students who apply and advance will have a point of contact they can always reach out to if they have any questions, don’t receive an assessment, have a competing offer, or encounter any technical issues.
Thanks in advance,
Louie Logronio, Talent Acquisition