Applying for a PhD program in visualization

Niklas Elmqvist provides a detailed guide for finding and a visualization PhD program:

Unless you have a specific reason to choose a specific university (such as a geographic one; maybe you can’t relocate), don’t start from the university you want to go to, but start with the faculty member you want to work with. This is where all that idle web surfing experience can come in useful: you need to become an expert in finding faculty members that have research interests that match your own, and the only way to do so is to trawl their websites and read their papers.

And then applying:

Now, having identified some possible advisors (and don’t just pick one; you never know whether you will be admitted and whether they have funding to hire new students), you should reach out to them. In other words, don’t just apply, but send them an email with plenty of time to spare before the application deadline. Attach your CV, outline your background, and provide some of the above-mentioned commentary on their work and why you are interested in it (i.e., the “hook”). If you have a portfolio or website, link to it. Remember, no form letters!

Useful information here. You might also want to get a sense of flexibility in the department. I was two years into my PhD in statistics until I decided I wanted to go the visualization direction, which was a big switch from my original intentions of statistics education. Focus and interests tend to shift after you learn more.

Once you get into a program, see also my survival guide for avoiding burnout and finishing.

Tags: ,

Conflicts didn’t kill me, but made me stronger

  For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate. ——Margaret Heffernan   Conflicts in research groups are common. Even in a small lab with no more than 10 people, conflicts

Dexter’s Laboratory

As Eva described at Science Studio, it turns out that The Offspring’s Dexter Holland has gone back to working on his PhD in molecular biology after taking some time off to be a rockstar. His thesis is looking at the use of microRNAs by HIV during infections. Holland now as the unofficially required first author paper (PDF link; authored as Bryan Holland) needed to be allowed to defend.

Not only is the name “The Offspring” probably inspired by biology, but the famous lyric “keep ’em separated” was inspired by an experience Holland had pouring plates in graduate school, which you can hear Dexter describe in an interview about his music and science on The Nerdist Podcast.

Filed under: Follies of the Human Condition Tagged: Dexter Holland, Eva Amsen, HIV, Linkonomicon, microRNA, Music, nerdist, PhD, PLOSOne, Podcast, RNA, Science Studio, The Offspring

Advice for those considering and those in a PhD

Readers of the blog will know that I successfully defended my PhD in March. Today, I want to share some thoughts I have on the process for those considering a PhD and for those in the PhD. Deciding if you … Continue reading »

The post Advice for those considering and those in a PhD appeared first on PLOS Blogs Network.

Statistics PhD ranked as best graduate degree

I usually don't read much into job and degree rankings. The criteria are often arbitrary based simply on data that happens to be available. Or, a bulk of the rankings are based on survey answers where the population is questionable or there is a strong bias towards a specific field. But Fortune got PayScale to rank the top graduate degrees and Statistics PhD came out as the best. So boom. I'll take it.

The pay is similar to other STEM degrees but it's the lower-than-average stress that puts Statistics at number one.

Woo hoo. Statistics doesn't suck.

Maybe this is a good time to revisit my PhD survival guide. [Thanks to my ever so proud wife, Bea]

Tags: ,

Why pursue a PhD

Philip Guo provides three practical reasons on why it's worth pursuing a PhD.

Worth considering if you're hemming and hawing about graduate school. Then again, it's just as easy to come up with three practical reasons on why it's not. Let's not get into that though. Yeah, good luck with that.

Already on you way to a PhD? See also a survival guide to finishing.


Posted by in Miscellaneous, PhD



PhD gender gaps around the world

How Nations Fare in PhDs by Sex

Periscopic, for Scientific American, visualized the number of PhDs awarded in various countries. You might expect men to be in high percentages and women to be in low, but it's not always in that direction.

In the U.S., women are going to college and majoring in science and engineering fields in increasing numbers, yet here and around the world they remain underrepresented in the workforce. Comparative figures are hard to come by, but a disparity shows up in the number of Ph.D.s awarded to women and men. The chart here, assembled from data collected by the National Science Foundation, traces the gender gap at the doctoral level for 56 nations. The situation in individual countries varies widely, but as the numbers make clear, there are interesting exceptions to the global trend.

Each view shows a vertical dotted line to indicate where PhDs awarded are an even split between men and women. To the left of that dotted line shows where men earn more PhDs than women, and on the right, where women earn more than men.

Tags: , , ,

Goodbye Vancouver!

The past 4 months have been a whirlwind. On April 16th I successfully defended my PhD thesis, after some minor revisions submitted it on April 18th, and left the country on April 29th. I wouldn't recommend such a tight time line especially if you happen to have a 5 month old baby as well!

My thesis will eventually be accessible (open-access of course) through SFU's library, but for those who are just dying to read it now, can access it here (+ appendix).

I feel obligated to give some type of advice to future PhD students. Unfortunately, I don't have any huge insight, but I would recommend not worrying too much during your graduate studies. Many times, I thought the whole thing would unravel and I would never finish, especially during years 2-3, but all of a sudden things started to fall in place. Every grad student I have ever talked to has always agreed that productivity increases greatly in the last year or two and so you can't worry about how long it took to do X in time Y. I hope I am not giving the impression that doing a PhD is easy, because it is not. It is hard, and different from all other schooling. If you think of an undergrad degree as sprinting, then a PhD is more like a marathon. I was great at sprinting, but learning to be a good marathon runner was a completely new set of skills.

In between all of the moving steps (I don't want to see another cardboard box for quite awhile), I had lots of time to reflect on my past 4.5 years in Vancouver, BC. Although there were some challenging times, I will greatly miss Vancouver and the people that I met during my time there. The first years of my marriage, living far away from family, the completion of my PhD, and becoming a Dad all happened in Vancouver and I will cherish the multitude of memories that accompany each of these milestones.

To end this post, I think I will list a few flashes of memories that are ingrained in my head from the past several years (in no particular order):
  • Driving across Canada and seeing the Rockies from a distance for the first time.

  • Looking out my first downtown apartment window for the first time.

  • Standing on top of the "Chief".

  • Snorkeling in the ocean with my wife along the "sunshine coast".

  • Houseboating on a quiet lake in Vancouver Island surrounded by the most beautiful scenery.

  • White water rafting near Squamish.

  • Walking the sea wall countless times, and every time still being impressed by it

  • The various camping adventures including a jump into a cold lake to escape a never ending swarm of flies.
  • Standing at the peak of Whistler for the first time.
  • The various conferences that included travel to destinations such as Maui, Vienna, Cambridge, UK, and California.
  • The birth of my son, Gavin.
  • The happiness of reading a short letter stating that I had completed all requirements for my PhD.