Archive for the 'Science Basics' Category



A ‘how to’ summary.

This latest week-long series of posts on ‘how to’ do various things (combined with other earlier ones) seems to have generated a few comments (overwhelmingly positive, I am pleased to see) and have been read by a great many people (hits over the last week in general, and for the specific posts have been way above my normal averages). Between these points and few other things that have cropped up, it seemed well worth adding a short off the cuff summary to what all of this has been about and what I tried to achieve with these posts (and I hope to have more in the future). Continue reading ‘A ‘how to’ summary.’

How to arrange a meeting

Munich, 2007

Flugsaurier: Munich, 2007

As part of the big stream of ‘meeting’ based posts, it seemed worthwhile to talk about how to go about arranging a meeting or conference. This will be the last one the in current run (with a summary / review coming tomorrow after your normal dose of AABQOTW)so enjoy it while you can! The Wellnhofer meeting was in hindsight not too bad, but the sheer number of details, the lack of preparation time (11 months is *not* enough) and the fact that it was in Munich and basically I don’t speak German made it all the harder. I did get a considerable amount of help from my institution but I basically had to do everything on my own in terms of planning and basic execution. If you have a years run up, speak the language of the country you are in, and get some decent help it should be fine. However, a check list and a few dos and don’ts probably won’t go amiss:

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Things to do at a meeting

So you have sent your abstract in and prepared your poster or your talk, but what else should you do at a meeting? This might sound like a facetious question, and the answer might appear to be so blindingly obvious as to almost be insulting, but I think many people waste opportunities at their first few meetings because they are afraid of making a mistake in public, or are even overwhelmed by what is going on. I often see groups of students hanging around together and discover they are all from the same university or research group – you might only get one chance in the next two years to speak to a researcher five feet from you but you spend the time with guys you see every day. This then should provide a few ideas, or at least act as a reminder as to how to get the most from a meeting:

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How to give a talk

rey-symposium_munich_231Although meetings and conferences are about far more than just giving public talks, they are of course a central theme. For the scientist, it’s a chance to present his information to his peers to disseminate his ideas and research, and of course trigger feedback and new research. For the audience, it’s an opportunity to gain access to information and ideas perhaps years ahead of their formal publication, (and some will never be published) and to get access to people and branches of research far outside what they can get in their own institutions of even countries or continents if it’s a big meeting. It seems odd then that I had had to sit through a great many talks that were obtuse, dull, confusing or apparently pointless. It seems a simple enough skill (especially in a profession at the core of which is communication and for which lectures and teaching form such a prominent position) yet is clearly one to be valued and improved if possible. (Image courtesy of Luis Rey).

There are naturally good and bad speakers, and it’s always going to be hard for someone who works on gastralia in theropods to interest someone working on the behaviour of Permian fishes, but the simple errors and mistakes we can at least try to deal with. As ever in these guides, most of this information is simple, straightforward and probably obvious – but enough people don’t seem to realise it so I might as well put down my 2c:

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How to make a scientific poster

Conference posters are in theory really simple – stick a few words and pictures about your work on a bit of paper, print it out, stick it on a wall and be done with it, but I have seen a great many terrible posters that need not have been terrible. As with the rest of this series, many, if not all, of the points raised might seem obvious, but then if so, why are there often so many awful efforts out there? This should therefore at least serve as a reminder and with luck will also provide some advice and hints to at least a few people.

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How to write a scientific conference abstract

Continuing with my “How to” posts (also known by some as “Dave states the bleedin’ obvious”) this time I want to take a few wild swipes at abstract writing. The conference season will soon be upon us, so these next few posts will all be about various aspects of meetings, conferences and symposia. Abstracts are of course critical to meetings and conferences, whether small internal ones, or major international ones. As ever, most of these points should be pretty obvious, but that does not seem to stop endless numbers of people ignoring them and making major mistakes or having their abstracts rejected. I’ll actually be posting about presenting posters and talks in the future, as well as another list of blindingly obvious things to do when you are actually at the conference. Right, onto the abstract:

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How to contribute to a paper

This one is rather off-centre, but my guess is that it might well be useful for some students. I think most people get their first papers published either working alone, or by collaborating with their supervisors or perhaps another PhD student, and thus you are in a familiar environment with people you know well. It can be intimidating to contribute to a paper with a couple of senior researchers or even to try and handle a big research group on your own as a senior author on a paper. While this micro-guide is aimed at the former situation, it should also serve to help with the latter as well.

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Basic advice to budding researchers

In addition to the various ‘how to’ posts that I have put up here in the past (check out the science basics section for those who have missed them), I thought it high time I offered a less directed and more general set of advice for young or aspiring scientists. This is the first in a big series this week trying to add substantially more to the existing ones which I hope will build up into a decent collection of useful short essays on being a scientist.
So here is a more or less random list of ideas, points, tips and hints that I have found useful to stick to over the years. All of them I am fairly sure will apply to pretty much any scientific or even academic field and while most are probably blindingly obvious, the difference between something you know and something you know that you know, or that you do can be profound, so here they are written down…

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How to review a paper

Continuing with the important theme of academic research and publishing it seemed high time I deal with the opposite side of writing a paper which is reviewing one. This should serve as a guide for those asked to referee a paper without much or any experience, and also for those simply trying to get a paper written and get it past the referees – it often helps to know what is going on on that side of the publishing ‘wall’ as it will help you deal with editors, referee’s comments and so on.

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How to edit a volume of papers

With the Wellnhofer volume now with the printers (not long now people – please spread the word) it seemed an appropriate time to revisit some of the basics of science publishing that I began with advice on how to publish a paper and complete a PhD. Now let’s take a look on the other side of the fence from the perspective of the people who deal with those papers. Coming soon will be my take on how to review a paper, but we will start with how to edit a volume.

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Good advice

Some of you may have heard of Jeff Martz who has recently started his own blog (paleoerrata) and has kicked off with a series of posts with advice for aspiring researchers. I must say I don’t agree with all of it, much most of it echoes things I have already written as notes for various putuative future posts for this blog, or just generally match my views. There is some excellent stuff on there and it’s well worth a read if you are a student, interested or even serious amateur or just want to know a bit more about how palaeontology (and academia as a whole) is split up. It starts here, so if you have not done so already, go take a look.

How to complete a PhD

Like the previous post, this is a document I created to help my own students with their work. Again, I think it serves as a useful tool for potential students, I’d appreciate feedback from other professionals, and if nothing else, might be interesting to those on the outside of academia. I am well aware that PhD’s can vary enormously in style between individuals in the same department, let alone in different universities or countries so don’t treat this by any stretch as an absolute. I strongly suspect many of these points are not entirely relevant to people working outside the UK or Ireland or at least would have to be highly modified – the fundamental interaction between students and supervisors is (I believe) rather different between the two. One thing (I think) said by Dr Vector (sauropod supremo Matt Wedel) is that you are not ready to try and do a PhD until you have finished one, a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with. It is first and foremost (for me) about the learning experience – learning how to do research (and all that that entails) not just *doing* the research. How relevant this is outside of palaeo and / or geology / biology is another matter as well. Anyway, enough babbling, here it is:

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