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Getting there SHOULD be half the fun
am 6. März 2000
I have just begun a PhD program in engineering, and find the sobering wisdom contained in this book to be invaluable. The book is actually aimed at freshly minted PhDs, and serves to guide them as they plot an often precarious career in science and/or engineering. Despite this, the book contains a lot of advice that graduate students at the beginning or the middle of their program will find extremely useful. Feibelman is able to say in little over one hundred pages what most academic advisors almost always do not (and often purposely will not) get around to saying.
The first chapter of the book starts out with some scary examples of how freshly minted PhD holders quickly go wrong. The second chapter of the book gives some very practical advice on how to choose the right advisor for you- an often repeated mistake many graduate students make (including myself). The advice in the second chapter serves grad students and post docs equally well, and could almost be interchangeable.
The third and fourth chapters are about the bread and butter of a scientist's life- being able to give successful talks and writing compelling, useful publications. Feibelman tells us here that it is OK to regurgitate known material, to write your research publication as if you were telling a story, and most importantly, to make small, meaningful contributions.
Chapters five and six of the book discuss choosing the right career path after getting the sheepskin and how to shine in your job interviews, respectively. Competition is stiff in academia for positions, as we all know, and the situation is only marginally better in government and corporate labs, but Feibelman gives the new PhD some sound advice. He weighs in on the pluses and minuses of a career path in academe, industry and government, and implores job seekers to be focused, build off of their skills, and know what is expected of prospective hires.
Finally, chapters seven and eight are about grantsmanship and establishing a research program. Feibelman astutely argues that you should draft your proposals to funding agencies well before you begin your first career position. Most people coming out of graduate school will have very little time to even think about what kind of research to do and even less time to plan it out and write the necessary proposals because of the demands and the constraints placed upon them by their jobs- making the aforementioned tip extremely useful. Feibelman also emphasizes in these chapters the importance of focusing in on small, well-defined projects and completing them.
The major weakness of this book is that Feibelman does not tell the reader to choose the type of projects that are interesting to him or her. A career in science and engineering, which may start in graduate school, should be interesting and fun. The book also fails to address the changing face of science- namely issues of globalization, the corporate influence on university research, and the increasing diversity to be found in grad student and post doc populations (women, minorities, and foreign nationals).
No one book can tell you the keys to personal satisfaction or career success, but this handy little volume does give those just starting out, like me, some excellent tips. In general, a student can not go too far wrong when he or she has good mentoring, stable funding, and most importantly, sound advising.
Beginning and continuing graduate students may find helpful hints in the book Getting What You Came For by Robert L. Peters.