Guidelines for a successful stay at the CBG
1. An essential component of your stay at the CBG is to contribute and profit from a nurturing environment. This comprises both scientific and social aspects. You should contribute to a stimulating environment by taking self-initiative: This includes, but is not limited to: Active discussions with other CBG members, presentations in group and departmental meetings, willingness to help other members of the group and department, and generally to engage in joint activities and projects. In turn, you are also encouraged to seek for advice from others, use common resources and ask for help when you are stuck. It is your responsibility to make the most of your stay, to learn about the background of your research project(s), to be creative in tackling its challenges and to digest and formulate your results:
2. Aim for good communication! Whenever people work together they need to communicate and the better their communication the more productive they will be. Effective communication is crucial for any collaboration, especially in times when things don’t go as smoothly as you would like. It’s worth reading about effective communication; here are just a few aspects: Try to listen actively, that is, provide feedback on what is clear and what needs further clarification. Conversely, make an effort to explain yourself clearly (orally and in writing) and seek confirmation of having been understood. Sometimes, even the nicest people get upset for reasons that may have little to do with the matter at hand. If you manage to observe this in yourself or others, take a step back; often emotions subside quickly and we can smile at them after a few hours (for this reason it is particularly useful to take your time when responding by e-mail to something that upset you, since you leave a written trace). When a negative feeling persists it is worth discussing it constructively seeking for solutions that are acceptable for all parties involved. Yet, also positive experiences and feelings are of course worth sharing, since they will make everybody feel good.
3. Your scientific success will depend on your output. As a PhD student your task is to produce a thesis, reporting your work on one or several projects. Successful sub-projects should be published as papers in peer-reviewed journals. Your thesis will then be a collection of your papers with a proper introduction and overarching discussion. For post-docs the most easily measured output are your publications, and your chances for an academic career depend strongly and the quality and extent of your publication record. Moreover, also the scientific connections you have established and the way you have presented your research will be an important factor in you subsequent scientific career.
4. Enjoy your work! You have chosen to work in academia, which is a unique working environment. We do not work for direct (remunerable) profit, but try to contribute knowledge and know-how to our society. While the payment may be lower than in industry we enjoy various other privileges: We obtain public and private funding to work at the forefront of technology. We play and tinker without the requirement to generate a product that works perfectly (although we should try and at least report our efforts, see 3). We are free to fail (some of the time) and we enjoy a lot of freedom on what and when we work (c.f. 5). All this is rarely found when working in the industry, and is worth to be appreciated. Most importantly this freedom can be the source of a lot of joy, when you realize the opportunity you are given to work creatively in a nourishing environment (see 1). So make the most of it!
5. You are responsible for managing your time! Your output and enjoyment will depend critically on how well you manage your working time. Think about your goals and your priorities for achieving them. Make a roadmap of your project(s) that includes basic milestones as well as intermediate and short-term goals. Discuss your plan with your supervisor. It can be useful to write-down a list of TODOs for each day or week. Be flexible and adjust based on your results and achievements, without forgetting the big picture. There are no fixed working hours at the CBG, except for group and departmental meetings. Yet, point (1) can only be achieved by being present at the office most of the days in a week. Often new ideas are forged over a discussion at lunch or an afternoon coffee, and you can best interact with other CBG members at work. If you believe your productivity profits from an occasional working at the calm of your home, that’s fine, but please enter it into our group calendar. This also applies to your vacations, which you should take fully (and plan such that they don’t interfere with your work goals, but replenish your batteries).
6. You should take an active role in teaching! Teaching is a great opportunity to pass on your knowledge, to better digest and deepen it (such that others can profit from it), and to practice your communication skills (c.f. 10). The CBG contributes a yearly course (usually in the winter semester) for B.Sc. students which is project-oriented. PhD students and post-docs can contribute as tutors to small groups of students working together on such projects (see our course UNIL BSc course: "Solving Biological Problems that require Math 2013" for more details). This is usually a fun experience from which you can learn at least as much as your students. The course is also a nice way to explore a somewhat new topic or a side aspects of your project, so it is worth proposing projects that are also of interest to you and potentially useful for your research.
7. Be thoughtful about the group’s and department’s resources! We have been fortunate to have rather ample resources at the CBG in terms of space and funding. Still it is our duty to make best use of these resources. This includes trivial things that will cost you no time, but save money, like not unnecessarily wasting ink and paper for printing (always use double-sided printing and think twice if you really need a hardcopy). Also be reasonable with using other material offered for your work and with expenses covered by the CBG/DGM. There are two kinds of significant expenses, which deserve particular attention:
8. Make the most out of conferences and other scientific gatherings! The CBG will support you to attend scientific conferences, since they give you the chance to present your work and hear about that of others. It’s also an excellent opportunity for making new contacts and networking. All this is crucial for your scientific career. Yet, conferences often also incur significant costs. Make an effort to minimize these costs. First, think carefully which meetings give you the most benefits given their cost: There are many good international conferences in Switzerland (like the BC2) and Europe (ECCB, ESHG), which are usually much cheaper to attend than overseas meetings. This does not mean you should never travel to the US or Japan, but a single meeting there could cost as much as two or more meeting that are less far away. So ask yourself whether this is really worth it, given a limited travel budget. Once you have decided where you go, try to book early in order to get the best rates for hotels and flights. Options offered by the conference organizers are not necessarily the best, so make a comparison with tools like skyscanner.com and booking.com. Related to point (2), you should always aim to present your work at conferences, ideally as oral contribution, but otherwise always with a poster.
9. Get yourself a good computer! The cost of a decent laptop is comparable to the expenses for participating in an international conference. Yet, it will serve you on a daily basis for several years, so it’s an important investment. The CBG finances your work computer and you should opt for a device that gives optimal support to your productivity. Since we have a very good UNIX-based computing infrastructure you will generally only require moderate computing power (like that of a decent laptop) and run computation-intensive jobs remotely. Things to consider: If you intend to take your laptop home on a daily basis, opt for one that is not heavy (<2kg). Make sure that your graphics card is good enough to support working with a high-resolution screen (that will stay at work). Solid state hard drives are faster and don’t fragment, so that’s a good investment even if their capacity is generally less than that of conventional hard drives (but you can have one as external storage for large data). There’s no recommendation with respect to the operation system – so use whatever you are the most comfortable with. The same applies to your analysis platform: R has the advantage of being open source and free, while Matlab may have better documentation and debugging functions – so chose whatever suits you best (but do try out different options)!
10. Leave a legacy! Papers (2) summarize your most importing findings. Unfortunately publications rarely provide enough information to fully replicate the results based on the raw data only. You are strongly encourages to produce reproducible research! While papers should be written in a concise fashion, there’s no limit on supplementary and supporting material. When you write code, think about someone (possibly yourself!) having to understand it after some time, so write in a well-structured style, use informative names for variables, and add documentation. If your code could be useful to others, consider uploading it to a depository, possibly with an applications note. Some of the most cited papers are about computing methods that have a broad spectrum of applications. You are also encouraged to use an electronic lab book and/or provide information on your project on our wiki (http://www2.unil.ch/cbg).