Successful people sometimes talk about their "Big Break." The moment that made the big difference in their life.
What's rare, however, is to see to a successful person who mainly had "Bad Breaks." Meet the great Charles Henry Turner.
Many discoveries about how insects communicate with each other and how they think come from the crazy-creative, shoe-string experiments and research papers of Turner.
Born in 1967 -- right after the Civil War -- Turner was a standout zoology student at the University of Cincinnati and is thought to be the first African-American PhD graduate from the Univeristy of Chicago.
Despite this and a strong early publication record, he was never able to find a University professorship and instead taught high school biology in St. Louis until passing away at 56.
There's not any record of him complaining about being overlooked, passed over, or not having a Big Break. He was too busy. He kept his passion -- stayed the course of the mission he saw for himself.
For 30 years he continued to think to ask out-of-the-box research questions -- like, can insects hear? -- and then design of ingenious experiments to test his ideas. He would then spend his nights and weekends collecting data and writing scientific papers that were published is some of the best journals in his field. Still, no university every hired him.
No big break, mainly bad breaks. Still he didn't complain, he kept working, and he kept his "eyes on the prize."
That seems to be his super power and why 100 years later he stands so tall above those hundreds of nearly forgotten others who were hired instead of him.
There's an inspiring article on him in the Jan/Feb 2024 American Scientist.
Most "How to finish your thesis" advice is pretty obvious -- even if we don't follow it. Sometimes we don't follow it because it seems too difficult. Other times we don't follow it because it's so general, we don't know how to start.
Here's five pieces of dissertation advice I heard that were 1) nonobvious, 2) doable, and 3) specific.
1. “Choose your best friend as your advisor.” I heard this from a Med School professor friend who then said “And choose your older brother to be your second committee member, and choose your favorite uncle to be your third.” We tend to choose our dissertation committee based on who’s most famous. Consider which professors most want you to graduate. [Read more]
2. "Write the first two hours of every day." The guy who told me this, pretty much said it like a command: no email, no breakfast, no class stuff. Before breakfast and before the kids wake up. It sets a productivity vibe for the whole day. [Read more]
3. “You can either read a lot or you can write a lot, but you can't do both.” We can sometimes use reading as avoidance behavior for writing. There's diminishing returns to trying to read everything in a subject area.
4. Write down the 3 specific things you'll finish each day. Better to have three things completed than 20 things pushed ahead an inch. [Read more]
5. Remember: “The ‘P’ in PhD stands for Perseverance.” – The smartest and most talented people in PhD programs aren’t always the ones who graduate.
Tips for PhDs is a how-to community that helps us share our best practices as PhD students, new professors, and independent scholars.
Helpful tools and tips on how to graduate, get tenure, teach better, publish more, and have a super rewarding career.
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