On Becoming a Scientist

Two “nanocourses” for Ph.D. students are the brainchildren of Erik L. Snapp, Ph.D., an associate professor of anatomy and structural biology. “I’d heard colleagues comment that students entering their courses had differing skills,” says Dr. Snapp. He designed a weeklong program to fill the gaps. (Only a handful of other science-oriented schools, Harvard Medical School among them, offer such a program.) This fall during orientation, 22 Einstein Ph.D. students took part in the mandatory program, now in its second year.

“In the mornings it was ‘Experimental Design and Interpretation’: What questions should I ask? What controls do I need? Do the results make sense?” says Dr. Snapp. After lunch, which included philosophical discussions with faculty members, came “Modern Methods of Biomedical Science.” Topics included choosing a journal for publication and “big science” versus lab research. One addition since the program’s debut last fall was an emphasis on practical skills, such as working with data and getting the most out of a lab notebook.

Students enjoyed referring to the intensive course as Dr. Snapp’s “boot camp.” At the end of the program, one student described the course as “a must-have for incoming students! I got to learn loads of new stuff about academic research apart from science itself.” Another student said, “This course ended up really helping me to ease into graduate school.”