The hard road
Is doing something an easier way necessarily worse than doing it a hard way? I mean with a lot of things in life you get out what you put in. If you work hard enough you could be an olympic athlete, a world class musician, dancer, artist. But even in those cases, is it hard work, or consistant work that makes the difference? I’m not sure one way or the other, but I’ve typically opted for the hard way. It’s lead to mixed results, but typically I don’t mind putting in the extra effort if it means that I will have a good outcome.
I was thinking about this today when hospital-PI and I were discussing the dataset we’ve collected over the past two weeks. I’m excited about looking at it to see what we’ve got. I’m also excited to double check and make sure the equipment is working the way it should, but mostly I’m excited about the challenge that is ahead. Because I want to do something really unique with this project.
I’ve found that I really enjoy making unique visuals for the stuff I do. I think having a good graph or just good graphic really helps explain what is going on more than the text itself. Not that the text doesn’t add anything mind you, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words and I tend to agree. So I’ve progressively tried to push myself to create new and unique figures for different projects that I’ve been working on and over the years I think I’ve made some pretty good progression.
I wouldn’t say they are as good as they can be, because there’s always room for improvement. But considering where I started, I’m happy with how I am doing. Which is why I got to wondering about why I keep pushing and doing things the difficult way. It’s been a theme really like my scicomm video, which was both goofy, but informative. I’ve gotten compliments on how it came out, but it’s a matter of effort vs. return on effort. I just feel like I’m not seeing much return I guess?
Hospital-PI made a mistake that had me really confused, but then I realized what had happened. He suggested that my publications are diverse, which is a good thing (this I agree was about me), but he then went on to say that I had more citations than some of my colleagues, and I was very confused because despite all the work, my citations per paper is horrid. Like low double digits where others that he was comparing me to had low to mid triple digits. The problem was (I think) he confused my citation count with my labmates, which I’m not going to lie felt good for about 30 seconds until I realized he had made a mistake.
Maybe I’m just feeling sorry for myself, but it is a little frustrating to put all this effort in, without getting any sort of recognition back. Sometimes I wonder if all the extra work I put into this stuff is really translating to anything important. If no one sees a work of art, does it still have value?
Frankly, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. Hopefully things will turn around, or maybe it’s just luck of the draw and nothing personal. I don’t know, but it does feel a little less than stellar to see my papers just sit there, not doing much. Maybe it’s just PTSD from robot paper, but it’s not the best feeling.
Yeah, probably just feeling sorry for myself. I mean I’m still a grad student, I’m sure I can’t be the only one who has this problem or doubts. In any case, a regular reminder to myself to just keep going, which sometimes is all any of us can do.
I forgot to compliment you on the brain figures from the just-published paper! I thought they were a pretty slick way to communicate your results.
It’s completely fair to want your effort to lead to impact, and to feel that you’re doing things that are truly useful with your limited time on earth. But assessing impact is also a hard problem. Weren’t we talking just a few months ago about how reducing everything to a single number (of citations) isn’t a great way to measure the worth of a paper?
Sometimes the things we do are just building a foundation for future returns, and a lot of investment is needed before anything visible happens. Sometimes quality matters more than quantity. (If I judged my blog by the number of followers it has or the amount of interaction it gets, I think it’d be a pretty dismal failure. But I know for a fact that it isn’t.) Sometimes the environment isn’t quite right for what we have to offer, but it’ll be important later or elsewhere. This seems especially relevant to citations – if you’re far enough on the cutting edge, maybe other scientists aren’t ready to build on what you did. You get cited if your work is relevant to other people’s, so seems to me that the best way to rack up a ton of citations would be to chase the current fads – to make a marginal contribution in an area where a lot of others are working. But that’s not the same thing as maximizing one’s scientific impact, is it.
If nothing else, you’re honing your own skills for that fancy paper you might get in Nature someday.
“Anything that is worth doing, is worth doing well” isn’t always a true maxim. Every expenditure of time and energy has an opportunity cost, and sometimes Thing A is necessary but it makes sense to do the bare minimum in order to pour more effort into Thing B. But if you’re confident that there’s nothing better you could be doing … well, then you might as well put the effort in. You never really know what you’ll get back.
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June 28, 2022 at 9:48 am
Thank you! I really like how the videos came out, it’s a shame I can’t host them here, but I think the paper should be fully online here soon. I’ve sent off the final typeset edits so now we just need to pay the bill and it should be up. The still figures do an okay job showing off the 3D brain thing, but the video was the cool thing that really impressed the lab.
All fair points, it was just a tough subject for me. I’m a little sensitive about it I guess, but I’m sure hospital-PI didn’t mean anything by it.
I don’t mind putting in the effort and you’re right it’s good practice for when things do get noticed. I mean it’s such a luck of the draw thing, some people in school-PI’s lab have dozens of citations on a paper, but one student managed to get 500+ I’m pretty sure I told you this, it was just luck really or maybe the topic was really popular. My problem may be just being too niche. I’m hopeful for some of the other things I have planned though.
We’ll see, in the meantime I’ll just try not to focus on the number too much.
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June 28, 2022 at 6:35 pm