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On PhD advisory committees

Joana, year 1

Joana is quite tense, she smiles a little too much. She brought some cookies for the committee, which I find very nice. I eat a cookie and thank her for the attention. I hope it helps her relax. A few minutes later, the chair of the committee thanks everybody for coming and goes through the protocol: Joana will give a forty minute presentation of her work, then we will discuss her project together, then she will leave the room so that we can speak with her adviser in private, and finally she will come back into the room without her adviser so that we can speak with her in private. “You can start whenever you are ready Joana” says the chair. Joana breathes deeply and she starts.

It is the middle of the presentation. Joana is still answering the question of the chair. Her answer does not make sense to me but I nod reassuringly. I am curious as to whether her adviser will correct her. I met him at a congress but I do not know his supervision style.

“What Joana meant to say is that...”

“A protective micromanager” I think to myself. This...

How to write a cover letter

In the first call for post-docs in my lab, I realized that most applicants did not have a clear idea of what to write in a cover letter. My technicians and I read them all with great frustration. Retrospectively, this is not so surprising, given that nobody teaches you how to write a cover letter in academia. Since it may be useful for the community, I am going to explain how I read a cover letter and what I would like to see there.

What is a cover letter for?

From the principal investigator’s perspective, a cover letter is to get some insight into your motivations.

Several candidates think that the cover letter is the place to argue why you should hire them. Others use it as a chance to translate their CV into English prose. None of this will bring you very far. All you need to do is give enough information about yourself to let the employer know whether you have the profile they are looking for. At the same time, you want to demonstrate a proactive attitude.

Before you write, ask yourself what drives you, why you started this career. Is that ambition...

How to stop sucking and be awesome instead

I recently gave a motivation speech at the CRG/Institut Curie international PhD retreat. There was only one slide and the content was fairly general, so I thought I could reproduce it here. My goal was to motivate people, but also to surprise them a little, especially at the end. Finally, I wish such a nice title were mine, but I have to acknowledge Jeff Atwood. I stole it from his post on Coding Horror (which I also invite you to read).

How to stop sucking and be awesome instead

Think about what we can do today. We can send people on the moon. We can talk to each other any time anywhere on the planet. We can go anywhere in about a day. We can transplant a heart. We can cure diseases that were fatal only 30 years ago. And yet, there is still one thing that we cannot do. We don’t know how to motivate people.

That’s right, we do not know how to make our colleagues enthusiastic about their work. If you watch a couple of TED videos or if you read a couple of books on management, you will see that we...

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