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How to Do Excellent Work in Biology (but not just Biology) / Advice from Professor Dana Dudle, Olin 114

Clear your mind and clear your desk.

If you’re like me, you need to have your work space right.  Move, arrange, and settle yourself into a congenial space where you won’t be distracted. Close all the tabs on your browser that aren’t relevant to your current task. 

Choose one thing to do and do it.

When I am serious about writing or studying, I use the Pomodoro (tomato) method.  Decide on one thing to do; set your timer for 25 minutes. When the 25 minutes are up, stop.  Take a five-minute break, and then come back. Coming back is key! You might need two or three Pomodoro periods to complete what you set out to do.  After four Pomodoro periods, take a little longer break (and then come back again). 

Print articles you are assigned to read, and read them with pencil in hand.

Use a pencil, not a highlighter: this is important.  When I am reading scientific articles, I like to circle the author’s hypothesis, label it (HYPOTHESIS!!), draw an arrow pointing to it (--->>), and rewrite it in the margin in my own words.  On each graph, write “This graph shows . . . “ and say the main point of the graph in your own words.  

Have a paper notebook with you at all times, day and night, lunchroom and gym. 

To me, and to more other people than you might guess, good pencils and special notebooks are part of the joy of existence.  Become a connoisseur. Find yourself a really good, nice-feeling notebook (or two, or three!) and get to know it as a friend. When an idea occurs to you, jot it down.  

Come and chat.

Visit your professors early on in the semester.  You don’t have to stay long or have a lot of pressing issues to discuss.  I welcome visits from students. I’ll lend you a book and make you tea and ask about your classes and hobbies as well as talk about class content or research opportunities.  Getting to know your professors is one of the wisest things you can do at DePauw, and if you do it, your life will be happier. (Side benefit, your professors’ lives will also be happier!)