Category: Graduate Advising

Yoda Was Wrong: It’s all About Try

Tomorrow’s Graduate Students and Postdocs

———- 946 words ———-

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.”[1]

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.

Full-Hearted Trying

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.”[2]

Embrace Failure

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.”[3]

[1] 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.

[2] Richard Feynman, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character

[3] Star Trek: The New Generation “Peak Performance” written by David Kemper, 1989.

Department of Energy Scholarships – Application Deadline January 3, 2020

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


Apply Now!

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

For more information: Visit



DOE has partnered with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) to manage this program.

The Cognitive Computing Odyssey

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

Uncubed x IBM 2020 Fast-Track
Uncubed | Facebook | Twitter

Study Abroad Information Session – November 6th

Dear Deans and Department Chairs –
Please share this information with your faculty:

The Pavlis Honors College study abroad office will be hosting an information session for faculty interested in learning more about teaching abroad through the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) Visiting Professor Program.  The session will be on Wednesday, November 6th, 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm in M&M 724.

USAC provides affordable, authentic study abroad experiences at a variety of locations across the world with programs focused on business and STEM to health, journalism, language studies and more.
The info session will include a presentation from USAC staff. Interested faculty can apply to teach during Summer 2021, Fall 2021, or Spring 2022.  The application deadline is December 3, 2019. If you are unable to attend the info session but are interested in more information, please contact Vienna Chapin ( for more details.


More about the program
Visiting Professors (VP) experience USAC firsthand and have the ability to expand their own repertoire by giving them the chance to teach abroad, to create new areas of teaching and research with an international dimension, to strengthen links with international colleagues, and to expand their own knowledge of the world. Most returning VPs comment that teaching abroad was one of their most rewarding professional experiences, and many apply to teach abroad again.
VPs do not need to worry about the overall logistics of the program as USAC on-site staff will handle details for both students and faculty, including arranging housing accommodations, the on-site orientation, field trips, and handling any emergency situation that may arise. In addition, VPs have the advantage of drawing students from across the US, internationally, and in some cases even locally, for their courses through USAC’s general marketing efforts.

Candidates must be full-time faculty members in good standing at Michigan Tech who will be on campus prior to teaching abroad (so that they can promote their USAC course(s)) and return to their home university following their term abroad. The minimum credentials for faculty is a master’s degree and many faculty have a PhD.
Faculty can teach one course during summer sessions and two courses during semester programs. Summer VPs are paid directly by USAC based on the program length and number of credits they teach abroad. VPs may bring their families with them.
Summer VPs are paid directly by USAC based on the program length and number of credits they teach while abroad. Details on the stipend amounts are listed in the VP application. Their transportation costs are also reimbursed directly by USAC to the professor.
There are three options for structuring a Semester Visiting Professorship:
  • Faculty Exchange: We encourage the Visiting Professor’s department to consider replacement faculty from one of our host universities abroad to fill the Visiting Professor’s position while teaching abroad for USAC. In the event of an exchange, the exchange professor would teach two courses in the Visiting Professor’s department for a salary of $11,000 paid by USAC, and the Visiting Professor’s department would receive $1,000 from USAC to minimize administrative burdens such as visa processing and assistance in locating housing. The home department will inform USAC of the desired characteristics of the exchange professor and USAC will solicit applications based on these preferences. The home department will review applications and will select the candidate of their choosing. The USAC Visiting Professor will receive his/her regular salary, benefits, and status from the Home University during his/her semester abroad, according to the policies and procedures of the Home University. USAC will need to be invoiced for the $11,000 exchange professor salary and the $1,000 reimbursement to the department by either your office or the VP’s department as we cannot issue checks to individual semester faculty.
  • Departmental Reimbursement: Visiting Professors will receive their regular salary, benefits, and status from the Home University during their semester abroad (according to the policies and procedures of the Home University), and will not be paid directly by USAC. Instead, their home department will receive $11,000 to help defray replacement expenses for the semester of the Visiting Professor’s participation abroad. USAC will need to be invoiced for the replacement costs by either your office or the VP’s department as we cannot issue checks to individual semester faculty.
  • Direct payment by USAC: Visiting Professors who will not be under contractual obligation with their home university during their semester abroad can be hired and paid the $11,000 directly by USAC for teaching the two USAC courses.

The professor applying to teach abroad as well as his/her Department Chair or Dean will select which option best fits their needs.

2019 Idea Pitch Competition

You’ve kicked around that great idea of yours for a while and want to pitch it.  Now is your chance! The Idea Pitch Competition gives students a chance to take their ideas live and do just that. Students have two minutes to share their favorite innovation and/or disruptive idea in an interactive community setting. Present alone or with a team of up to two people. Each pitch will be judged and top teams will be awarded cash prizes!
When: Tuesday, October 15th
Where: Great Lakes Research Center, Room 202
Time: The reception will be held on the 2nd floor atrium at 6:00pm, and the event begins at 7:00pm
If your an interested student please register on the following link:

The Uncubed x IBM 2020 Fast-Track – Applications Open from Sept-Nov 2019

Sep – Nov 2019 | Applications Open
Whether you’re into AI, data science, blockchain, cybersecurity, or IoT, you have an opportunity to put your major to work in ways that impact people’s lives.
From healthcare and finance to government and education, the products you build can help personalize, protect, and predict the world around us.
This Fall, Uncubed and IBM have joined forces once again to bring you fast-tracked access to 2020 internships and entry-level roles within software development and engineering, data science, product management, technical consulting and sales, and more.
The Uncubed x IBM 2020 Fast-Track guarantees that your application is reviewed by a human, shortlists you for recruiter review, and fast-tracks you for assessment – all while giving you a team to reach out to with any questions.