Via a hate-tweet ;-)* a bunch of new readers seem to have discovered my old post on how I decide which journal to submit to. That post prompted a really good discussion of how different people make this decision. Maybe the key point that emerged from that discussion is that practices seem to be changing. So that currently, and probably for at least a number of years yet, different people are going to doing things very differently. And at some point down the road, eventually everyone will be doing things rather differently than the way I do things today.
Which at some level is fine. Everybody should do what works for them. But of course, what works for you might not work for the people you train. That’s especially likely to be the case when standard practices are changing. You need to prepare your trainees for the world as it will be in the future, not just the world as it is today, or as it was when you were trained. Ethan White talked about how he struggles with this in the context of changing practices on where to submit your paper, but that’s just one example of the broader issue.
This problem is perhaps especially difficult for things on which others are going to judge you and your students, and on which we all have some incentives to conform to the practice of the majority. Again, Ethan’s discussion of how he struggles to advise his students on where to submit is a good example. But the issue is much broader than that. It also covers things on which no one will ever judge you, at least not directly. Nobody judges you on how you filter the literature, for instance–they only judge you on things like your knowledge of the literature, the quality of the ideas you’ve thought of (which presumably reflect the reading you’ve done), etc.
I have an old post where I asked “What do you wish you’d learned as a student, but didn’t?” The most common responses were stats, R, and programming. I was kind of surprised that “sequencing and other molecular techniques” wasn’t another common answer. Because as someone who doesn’t know anything about sequencing (perhaps not even enough to recognize opportunities to rope in collaborators who do know sequencing), I’m keenly aware that there’s a risk that students pursuing eco-evolutionary projects in my lab might end up with rather incomplete or outdated training in evolution. So far, I’m reasonably confident that there’s still a place in evolutionary biology, or at the interface of ecology and evolution, for people asking and answering good, interesting questions that can be addressed without sequencing. But I’m not sure how much longer that will be true, or be seen to be true. (At some point, even if it remains the case that you can still do good evolutionary biology without sequence data, many people will think it’s no longer the case simply because papers with sequence data have become common. So they’ll start demanding sequence data from you, even if those data would be irrelevant.)
So I guess my question is: how do you train your students so that, as far as possible, they don’t look back later and say “I wish I’d learned X as a student”? Especially in cases where standard practices are changing?
*UPDATE: In calling this a hate tweet, all I meant to convey, in a lighthearted way, is my bemusement at just how strongly the tweeter in question dislikes that post. But from the comments it appears that that’s not how it came across, hence this update to clarify. I’m actually not bothered at all by really strong disagreement with my views, on that post or any other. In calling it a hate tweet, I certainly didn’t mean to convey that I felt offended, or that I think the person who tweeted it is a jerk, or anything like that! Sincere apologies for any confusion or offense caused by my failed attempt at lightheartedness here.