A late update and three PhD tips

It’s a been a long time since I finished my PhD, let alone blogged. Before I archive this blog I feel compelled to post three tips for prospective postgrads.

  1. Before starting a PhD, find a supervisor you get on with. The students I knew who had a miserable time – or quit – had one thing in common: a dodgy supervisor. Try talking to students in department to get an honest opinion.

  2. If you do start a PhD, remember that it isn’t your life. Have hobbies outside of your research. Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and practice good sleep hygiene.

  3. Lastly, give serious consideration to careers outside of research. Leaving academia is not quitting. Bear in mind that life-long academics might not neccesarily offer the best career advice. I’m now a data scientist and whilst I loved doing my PhD and have many fond memories, I have no regrets about leaving academia.

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Nature Chemistry Blogroll: Exposing fraud

Every month Nature Chemistry’s Blogroll column features interesting posts from the chemistry blogosphere. I wrote the column for the November 2013 issue, titled Exposing Fraud. Despite having to submit the copy by 16th September for publication on 24th October, the theme turned out to be quite timely, coinciding with the publication of ACS Nano’s editorial Be Critical But Fair. “The best way to avoid potential academic fraud is through rigorous peer review”—it’s a way for sure, but the best way? I’m not convinced.

Name Change and an Excuse

Firstly, after much deliberation I’ve decided to give my blog a proper name and call it A Chemical Education. I think it fits quite nicely! It’s a lot better than just my name.

Secondly, I haven’t posted anything lately because I’ve been suffering with a particularly nasty bout of RSI. It started whilst I was writing my final year project report and significantly worsened in the last few weeks with a lot of typing on my MacBook’s built-in keyboard. This unergonomic monstrosity hasn’t helped either.

Posts shall gradually resume once my tendons aren’t quite so inflamed.

An Introduction

Hello!

My name is Tom and I’ve just finished my undergraduate degree in chemistry at Imperial College London. In October I’ll be starting a PhD in the Plastic Electronics Doctoral Training Centre. Four years down, another four to go!

Motivation to start blogging

I enjoy reading blogs written by scientists and for quite some time I have been thinking about writing my own chemistry-orientated blog. I’ve always felt that as a scientist I should engage with the public, not just because the tax payer funds a lot of research but because I want others—especially young people—to be interested in science too.

However I’ve had a few reservations, mostly about damaging my career as a chemist. I was particularly worried about putting off PhD supervisors, but since that’s all sorted out now it’s not really an issue. I was slightly concerned that anything stupid I write will be preserved in Google’s cache and haunt me for years to come! After reading other blogging scientists’ opinions on blogging, I now think my concerns were unjustified.

I found Professor Stephen Curry’s talk describing his early experiences as a blogger, Blogging for Impact, to be quite motivational and is worth watching. His blog, Reciprocal Space, is good too!

Stephen T Casper wrote my favourite piece on academic blogging titled Why Academics Should Blog: A College of One’s Own. If you’re an academic, you should have a read. I especially like Alice Bell’s comment that you should “treat blogging as an open notebook.” I think that’s what I intend to do here; it’s something to complement my work and personal interests—a “high quality hobby”—and good writing practice. I also quite like the idea of having a record of my experiences as a PhD student—a bit like Erika Cule’s Blogging the PhD.

Where are all the chemistry blogs?

I’ve always thought that chemistry is underepresented both in blogging and in “popular science” as a whole. For nearly 4 years I worked in the now closed Science Museum branch of Waterstone’s and always struggled to find good chemistry titles.

A few eyebrows were raised at the absence of any chemistry blogs from the recent launch of the new Scientific American blog network. It does seem that most chemistry blogs are written for other chemists compared to other disciplines like physics. I’m not entirely sure why. I might try and do something about that here.

But anyway, I think this is a long enough introduction—time to write something proper!