SfRBM Blog

Graduate and Postdoc Training Advice: Specialization is for Insects (thanks to Robert A. Heinlein)

By: Dr. Jack Lancaster (

For those of you who are graduate students or postdocs, it might seem like you’ve been in school forever! However, consider the three major segments of the entire time span of a career as an independent investigator:

  1. 4-8 years doctoral studies
  2. 4-8 years postdoc
  3. 40-50(?) years as director of a lab and the pursuit of whatever interests you

Check out the time differences of training compared to independence: ≈ 8-fold. So as a foundation for your future, what do you want to develop during this initial critical 12% training time?

As much as you can, eschew specialization. In spite of what your institution may have embedded in its training program, the best and most rewarding path is to, as the Biochemist and writer Isaac Asomov advocated, cultivate “A View from a Height”.

Don’t sell yourself short!

So during this critical 12% training period, challenge yourself in the most rigorous pursuits in Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry you can find because this will equip you with the tools to truly understand phenomena on the most defining (molecular) level.

Then, throughout your long career you can apply to any Biological query all these wonderful universal physical concepts that must apply to all of Biology. And the more fundamental and interdisciplinary your skillset, the more puzzles you will be attracted to to solve, and the more significant they will be. And that’s a pretty good description for the successful career of a lifelong “lover of knowledge” (i.e., PhD).

— Published

Category: Education

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