Two Online Articles




November 24, 2019


The internet is filled with interesting reads. Some thought-provoking, some inspiring, some enlightening, some just plain fun. Over the past few months I came across two that I would like to share with you.

Article 1: How Margaret Dayhoff Brought Modern Computing to Biology

The first, How Margaret Dayhoff Brought Modern Computing to Biology was published by The Smithsonian and provided a biological sketch of Margaret Dayoff’s early adoption of computation to catalog and analyze biological data, in her case proteins. What are commonplace methods now (e.g., creating a database) were really inspired ways of dealing with the (at the time) mass amounts of information and data and this article was a nice showcase of this incredible researcher.

Margaret Dayhoff was a pioneer of using computers to tackle some of the biggest scientific questions of the day. (Photo illustration by; Photo courtesy NIH National Library of Medicine / Ruth Dayhoff).

Article 2: Should a Ph.D. Be Hard?

The second article that I wanted to share was entitled, Should a PhD be ‘hard’?. This piece, written by Katherine Firth and published on Research Degree Insiders, contemplates what students mean when they are finding a Ph.D. hard. Firth writes that she often finds that students in this position often mean one of two things:

  • “The first group find the PhD ‘hard’ and worry that this means they aren’t smart enough, that they won’t finish, that they don’t belong in the PhD program.”
  • “The second type of student is really struggling. They are finding the PhD tough for the wrong reasons.”

Firth posits that students in the first group often worry about whether they are smart enough or whether they belong. (Note. In my experience this is completely natural and the answers are: they are, and they do.) She points out that many times these students were great students and perhaps haven’t really experienced something that was “hard” previously. Thus they need feedback and tools to help them both persevere and learn from setbacks and failures. While not diminishing the struggles the first group of students face, it is students in the latter group that Firth worries about. These are the students who are finding the fdegree difficult because of a toxic research culture. Her advice for this type of student centers around finding a support structure. She notes, “if you are being bullied or are getting sick because of the PhD, that’s not okay. Find a way to make the PhD hard like climbing a mountain, not hard like being hit with a stick.”

She ends the piece by reminding us that,

A PhD is about sustained intellectual engagement, creating new knowledge, and contributing to the community of scholars in your field, through an extended work of academic writing, and (perhaps) presenting your work verbally to others.