Saturday, April 16, 2011

What Grad School and Professional Research Should Be Like

As I was traveling to Experimental Biology this past weekend with my lab mate and her boyfriend, who is a doctoral student in another health-related department, I shared my thoughts on what grad school should be like.  Naturally, the reaction was a laugh, and a "ha, that would be awesome."

Here's my idea.

As researchers in nutrition or exercise science or other health-related fields, we should first and foremost be setting examples of how to live a healthy life to the general population.  That means the priorities should be aligned as follows:

  • Everyone should have enough time to get at least 8-9 hours of sleep.
  • Everyone should have enough time to cook all their own food, with of course allowance for plenty of reheating scraps, as cooking three meals individually every day is not practical for anyone, even a homemaker.
  • Everyone should have 3-5 hours per week to exercise.
  • Everyone should have 3-5 hours per week to devote to a hobby.
  • And finally, everyone should have one hour at the end of the day for relaxation, prayer, meditation, reading, television, or some other suitable way of winding down.
  • Then, as becoming of a hard worker, the rest of our time should be spent working.
I have no problem with the idea that we should be hard working, but it seems quite frequently this line of work, and many others, expects this at the expense of things that should be taken for granted, like being able to sleep, exercise, eat healthily, and spend enough scant time having fun just to prevent insanity.

As professional researchers and academics, the priorities should be similar, and "publishing" should fall into the last bullet, but with a clear subjugation to maintaining a commitment to transparency, truth, and scientific integrity.  

Of course the way it currently works the entire list often takes a back seat to publishing.

For myself, I do maintain some hobby time, and of course I do blog a bit.  I try to blog about what I have to research anyway.  For example, my choline series was largely a byproduct of a review on fatty liver that will soon be published in a pretty prestigious nutrition journal, which I'll let you know about when its published.  It's also a way for me to wind down sometimes too, even if I have to do research to write a post, because sometimes my mind is going crazy wondering about things, and finding the answers and posting them offers some relief.  And I like to help people, and I hope that's what my blog often does.

In the future, I'd like to own my own lab, have it set up ergonomically, spend 10-20 hours a week in it, and publish less frequent but really good stuff.  And of course, speaking and writing will always be my loves.  And I'd like a family, which would be my first priority, and maybe a big garden or a part-time farm.  Wish me luck!

Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.


  1. If anyone can do it, you can Chris. I work in IT in a clinical research facility, and the focus is always on fixing things that become broken, rather than preventing them from breaking in the first place! I feel if we put even a 10th of the 'new therapy' funding into preventative medicine, we'd see a real return on that investment.

    I share a canteen with many clinicians and it's horrifying what supposed health care givers feed themselves, although working 80 hour weeks what do you expect?

    I wanted to change career to become more involved in research but I'm a little disillusioned with the whole 'industry' now. It seems to be based more on achieving status that actually finding out the truth..

  2. I believe the ancient Greeks might've mentioned something about this, but I don't have time to look it up ...

  3. A big garden and a part-time farm sounds wonderful! Good luck on that publication. Choline needs more visibility!

  4. Can I come work in your lab??? In 6 years I'll be doing PHD work...

  5. Clearly you are currently childless, kids soak up lots of "extra" time :-)

  6. People have this time you speak of they just use it differently. Following the above scenario takes more discipline. For example, people that watch football already use up their 3-5 hrs a week of hobby time in one afternoon.

  7. "cooking three meals individually every day is not practical" - and eating three meals a day is just suicidal - just ask your mitochondria what they think)))...

  8. You're awesome, Chris! Don't lose sight of this idealism! It's relevant to all professions and should be discussed more often. All of this is possible. Time-management and efficiency is the great topic of this century. It should be possible for academics to do the same amount of work in half the time with higher standards of quality, by harnessing information technology.


To create a better user experience for everyone, comments are now moderated. Please allow up to one business day for your comment to post. In order to avoid the appearance of spam, please avoid posting links, especially to commercial destinations, and using all-caps.