Frequently-asked questions (FAQs)

There's a lot more to being a scientist than "knowing how to science". You need to learn the "business" side of science. Here are some frequently-asked questions (FAQs) that may help.

Scientific writing

Never underestimate the power of a well-articulated argument based on clearly-presented data. The power behind the old addage "the pen is mightier than the sword" becomes ever clearer with more life experience. In science, it doesn't matter how valuable your science is if you can't convey its value in written and oral contexts (i.e., published manuscripts and talks, respectively).

Unfortunately, most scientific manusscripts are poorly written because most scientists have been taught poor writing habits. If you think you're an excellent writer, you probably aren't. Sorry, but it's true, and it doesn't do you (or anyone else) any favors to pretend. Becoming an excellent writer has no finish line. If you haven't already, begin your (life-long) journey to become an ever-improving writer. Don't simply accept that you're a poor writer—embrace it.

Quick story:
Early in his career, Dr. Ebbert (pre-PhD) was co-writing a paper with a colleague. He wrote the first draft and sent it to her. When she sent it back, it was unrecognizable—she had changed everything. Dr. Ebbert reacted as many would by becoming defensive. Wasn't it obvious that he was a "great" writer?! His English professors had said so! <ugh...go ahead...face palm right now>

For a while, Dr. Ebbert battled his colleague on many points. Turns out she was right about every one of them. Eventually it hit him: he was not a good writer. In fact, he was a terrible writer. He had to accept it. Shortly after, he embraced it. He decided to learn as much from her and others as he could about writing. She also taught him a lot about how to give a good talk.

Moral of the story: Don't be like Dr. Ebbert. Accept it. Embrace it. Begin your journey to becoming an excellent writer.

So glad you asked!

Writing in the Sciences: One of the best resources I can recommend is a free Coursera course called Writing in the Sciences by Dr. Kristin Sainani. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Sainani's course has top-notch reviews. This isn't your typical course. Dr. Sainani presents some very simple concepts that will immediately improve your writing. I'll give you one spoiler tip: using fluffy, verbose language that confuses the reader isn't actually good writing. The goal is to actually communicate clearly with yyour readers! Have you ever read a scientific paper that was difficult to understand? It was likely written poorly. Only one warning: once you "see" it, you can't "unsee" it, but that's a good thing in this case.

The Chicago Manual of Style & Garner's Modern English Usage: Similar to Dr. Sainani, Bryan A. Garner specializes in proper writing technique, but specifically for lawyers. He has writen many books or chapters, not the least of which is the popular “Grammar and Usage” chapter for The Chicago Manual of Style. Both The Chicago Manual of Style and Garner's Modern English Usage are excellent reference books for writing. I keep a copy of both at my desk. There are lots of other great books however.

General Questions

Here are some general questions and answers.

An R01 is a grant mechanism from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). There are many types of grant mechanisms that have different purposes. An R01 is considered the "big" grant for an individual researcher. It typically provides five years of funding. An R21 is a smaller mechanism for two years of funding. Choosing the right mechanism is a major factor in getting a grant funded.
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