There is a reason why scientists tend to hold fast to the timeless mantra: “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”. If we’re not reinventing the wheel usually (hopefully!) it means we’ve found ourselves on the precipice of the unknown. There is good news for fledgling biologists like myself: Much of what we need to learn to stay competitive is “old hat” for someone else…and more than ever before that someone is a few clicks away. Grad students increasingly represent the millennial demographic and are therefore strong in the ways of Google Fu…read on to see some novel solutions.
Need help on a statement of purpose or similar essay? Mine went through multiple crowdsourced revisions on /r/biology. After posting, a benevolent commenter continued to help me fine tune it. Here’s a smattering of like-minded folks getting similar feedback.
Stumped by a research roadblock and need highly-specialized advice? Sometimes posting a question on a somewhat-related subreddit is enough to point you in the right direction (which may be a different subreddit). For example, I was once tasked to draw circles around E. coli cells on thousands of time-lapse microscopy images. /r/Biology to the rescue!…kind of…let’s just say we opted for a more
undergrad labor intensive solution.
R is the “industry standard” for most grad students….and its hard. As a result, we’re no strangers to finding dismissive and borderline-spiteful “answers” from bona fide experts in the R-help archives (not linked for your sanity).
StackOverflow is a robust Q&A site for all things programming that has elegantly sidestepped the snark-factor by leveraging an up/down vote reputation system, merit-based community moderation and…/drumroll….badges!
So the next time you’re about to fling your laptop out the window in frustration, try adding “StackOverflow” to your search terms. If you’re still coming up blank, bite the bullet and post a thoughtful question. If you’re a guru, then I implore you to join the crowdsourcing community…depending on your field it could be a valuable “Ace in the Hole” for job hunters.
I’ve had great luck finding support with the graphing library ggplot2 for R. It is not uncommon to find Hadley Wickham, ggplot2’s creator, answering questions directly and clearly. I’ve had similar experiences with Mike Bostock, the developer of d3js. Perhaps you’ve seen some of the flashy NY Times interactive infographics?
On a tangentially related note:
ATTN Green Thumbs: Check out PlantVillage. It’s a DIY agricultural community that shares the merit-based and open source ethos of StackOverflow.