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10 Most Viewed Posts From 2011

10 Most Viewed Posts In 2011

This is me in Koh Chang (Thailand) during Xmas 2011 holidays

Dear readers, thanks for coming to my site. These are the 10 most viewed posts in my blog during 2011. I started to blog seriously from September 2011 and I am quite happy with the amount of readers I got in 3 months.


How To Identify A Social Media Douchebag

Most of those social media gurus/experts are in fact social media douchebags. Learn how to spot them and stay away from them.

The 4 Hour Workweek Guide To PhD Motivation

Boost your PhD motivation using the learnings from The 4 Hour Workweek. Finish your PhD faster. Increase the quality of your research.

Top 7 Things You Need To Know Before You Start a PhD

7 things you are not told before starting a PhD. Ignore them at your peril, you future PhD student.

Motivation Letter Example For PhD And Graduate Jobs

PhD motivation letter sample that you can use for PhD jobs. Use this cover letter for graduate school when applying for a graduate degree.

5 Phases of PhD Motivation Explained: The Roller Coaster Curve

During a PhD, graduate students go through 5 phases of motivation, here is how they work.

Free Template: Cover Letter Template For Scientific Journal Submission

Useful template for when you are submitting a scientific article and the journal requires a cover letter.

Top 42 Books For PhD And Graduate Students

From writing papers, to giving presentations, to grad school humor. The top 42 books for PhD and graduate students. Read them to survive grad school.

3 Websites For Alternative Income Generation As A Scientist

Generate alternative income as a scientist in your free time. Do freelance work using your expertise.

How To Use The Oxford Comma

How to use correctly the Oxford Comma when enumerating items in English.

Kill Procrastination Guilt With The Pomodoro Technique

Beat procrastination guilt and determine when a day was productive enough with the pomodoro technique. You might be more productive than you think.

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Top 42 Books For PhD And Graduate Students

Little Book Worm (Canon G9)

From writing papers, to giving presentations, to grad school humor. These are the top 42 books for PhD and graduate students. If you want to survive in graduate school, you must read these books.

It is normal to feel lost in the vastness of a PhD project. Graduate school is a though place. You need to learn how to write, how to give presentations, how to do research, and how not to surrender.  And you have to learn fast.

Are you a graduate student that wants to know what (today’s) scientists had to do in order to finish at grad school? What they did to become good researchers? How come they didn’t go nuts in the process?

I expect this 42 books for PhD and graduate students to help in their quest for a career in science. Some of these books I have read myself or are in my to-read list. The remaining books have been recommended by very wise people that have survived and endured a PhD.

You will find all your answers in these books. If there is some missing gem, please let us know in the comments section.


Academic Writing Books

The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition

A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations

How to Write a Better Thesis

Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis

The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success

Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition

Dissertations And Theses from Start to Finish: Psychology And Related Fields

Academic Writing for Graduate Students, Second Edition: Essential Tasks and Skills

How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing

On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction


Presentation Skills Books

The Craft of Scientific Presentations: Critical Steps to Succeed and Critical Errors to Avoid

A Handbook of Public Speaking for Scientists and Engineers

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience

Even a Geek Can Speak

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery

In The SpotLight, Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking and Performing

slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations

Confessions of a Public Speaker

Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences


Graduate School Motivation And General Advice Books

The Craft of Research, Third Edition

The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research

Mastering Your PhD: Survival and Success in the Doctoral Years and Beyond

A PhD Is Not Enough!: A Guide to Survival in Science

Advice for New Faculty Members

What They Didn’t Teach You in Graduate School: 199 Helpful Hints for Success in Your Academic Career

Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning an M.A. or a Ph.D.

Advice for a Young Investigator

Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School

Playing the Game: The Streetsmart Guide to Graduate School

Academics Handbook 2nd Ed

From Student to Scholar: A Candid Guide to Becoming a Professor

How to Survive Your PhD: The Insider’s Guide

The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.: 200 Secrets From 100 Graduates

Read This Before Our Next Meeting


Fun Comics

Piled Higher and Deeper: A Graduate Student Comic Strip Collection

Life is tough and then you graduate: The second Piled Higher and Deeper Comic Strip Collection

Scooped! The Third Piled Higher and Deeper Comic Strip Collection

Academic Stimulus Package (Piled Higher & Deeper)

xkcd: volume 0

5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (And Other Useful Guides)

I hope some of these books are useful for you. If you think other good books for PhD students should be included in this list, please leave a comment.

UPDATED: Check the Next Scientist

I have started a new blog to help PhD students and young scientist to do better science, get exposure and grow their academic footprint. All using digital hacks, blogging and social media. Check these blog posts, I think you might find them interesting:

The 4 Hour Workweek Guide To PhD Motivation

The 4 Hour Workweek Guide To PhD Motivation

PhD Motivation And The 4 Hour Workweek

In this post I will describe how you can boost your PhD motivation by adapting the ideas presented in The 4-Hour Workweek book by Tim Ferriss. I have read this book and there are some gems in it that I belief could be used in any PhD project. Focusing on what matters and realizing that you are improving day by day will send your motivation as a PhD through the roof.


What is The 4-Hour Workweek

Income Has No Value Without Time

Most of the people want to make a lot of money to life like rich people, not to buy expensive things, but to do whatever they want whenever they want. Tim Ferriss proposes in this book ways to make more money in less time (ideally in 4 hours a week), so you can have extra cash and more free time. Obviously this is the end result and you should expect hard work at the beginning. At the end you should be running some sort of business in auto-pilot, that will provide the cash and free time for your dreams.

# For your PhD: We will assume you don’t want to give up your PhD (which is always an option), but what you want is to finish it as soon as possible, and/or to achieve with your research the highest impact possible. Ah, I forgot, you would also like to enjoy some free time away from the faculty.

This would be my dream situation, you might have a different one, but since I feel this is quite a general feeling, I will stick to my definition of a successful PhD. Therefore, I will translate the business ideas presented in this book to the life of a PhD student.

In order to achieve this he proposes some mental models and “tricks” to cheat the system.

Wait wait. Tricks to cheat the system? It sounds like this guy is going to sell me some smoke.

In fact, it’s all about definition. Imagine you want to have a house in a tropical island. Are you thinking of “owning” the house or just of “spending” a month a year in a tropical island? I am quite sure it is the second option. Most of the times we want experiences, not just owning the objects.

# For your PhD, definition: What is a successful PhD? I would say, 4-5 published papers in peer-reviewd journals, give 2-3 oral presentations in international conferences, and extending your network. And a written thesis, of course. 

Best Ideas From The 4-Hour Workweek To Use In Your PhD

What Gets Measured Gets Done

Dilbert, measurable objectives

How do you know if your diet is working and you are loosing weight? You weigh yourself with the same scale and check that your wight decreases as you progress on your diet. This is partially correct, if you want to know more, ask me or read The 4-Hour Body.

The point is: if you can measure it, you can change it.

An useful extension of this:  if you can’t measure it, or act upon it, forget it because it is outside your reach.

# For your PhD: You want to be a better scientific writer. This is not measurable. Let’s say, you want to write a page of text per day within 30 days. Now we are talking, with this you can check if you achieved your goal. Add the following to track your improvement:

  • Don’t try to write a page the first day.
  • Write a paragraph each day during the first week.
  • Write two paragraphs a day during the second week, and end up writing 4 paragraphs the last week.
  • Focus on small continuous changes rather than on big sudden transformations. 

Efficient vs Effective

Dibert Efficient

Efficient: perform a task in the most economical matter.

Effective: achieve the desired effect.

The later is more useful, since you can be very efficient at useless tasks. While if you are effective, you achieve what you wanted. Obviously, this book want you to be efficient at being effective.

# For your PhD: It doesn’t matter if you perform efficiently all the experiments in the lab, unless your experiments are sound, new, and bring discoveries to the table.

For the techies, like me, you can have the best task management system, the most automated way to check and reply emails. This does not guarantee that your research will be any good.

Start with good ideas and find the way to turn them into results in the fastest way.

You Are Nervous, Like Everybody Else

Dilbert Failure

This idea is very short. Everybody is nervous, everybody is scared. Your business competitors are also insecure, they think they can loose form you. Even the famous singer panics on stage. Why shouldn’t you?

# For your PhD: Even the biggest professor gets that “funny” feeling in his stomach when he has to give a talk. Am I gonna miss something important? Am I gonna sound like a fool? What if they discover I am not so good?  

These are common feelings, you are not the only one suffering them, so relax, think that with practice you will handle them better and show them what you are made of. 

If you are still with me, let’s move on practical tricks you can use to change your PhD life.

Tricks to scape the rat race

Rat Race

Pareto’s Law, 80/20

This could be the biggest game changing idea in this book. It says that 80% of your actions account only for 20% of the outcome (ouch!), but luckily, 20% of the actions account for 80% of the outcome (yay!).

The message here is two-fold:

  • Eliminate those 80% of useless activities.
  • Spend more time and effort on the 20% of activities that drive the results you want to see.

If you combine these two tricks, expect a boost in your results.

#For your PhD: Practice makes perfect. Writing should be one of your priorities. Write a page a day. By the time you have to write a real paper on that project, you will have plenty of material to start. 

You don’t want to repeat somebody else’s work, or to put too much effort on something that has been proven impossible or useless. Therefore, reading a paper a day can really boost your knowledge and help you to turn into an expert much faster.

When you have more experience you will discover: which kind of papers get more citations, which kind of experiments are more likely to give good results, what kind of abstracts have more chances of being awarded with an oral presentation instead of being sent to the poster session, and so on, you get my drift.

  • Focus on what gets you faster to your goals
  • Remember being efficient is not your goal, you want to be effective.

Parkinson’s Law

I already talked about Parkinson’s Law before. It states that your work will expand to fill the time available for its completion. In other words, if you had a tighter deadline you would have managed somehow to finish on time.

From this mental model it is necessary that you are not a pure perfectionist, since you will have to settle for the good enough.

# For your PhD: Promise your boss to send him that draft in 2 weeks instead of in a month. Submit an abstract to a conference describing not finished research, but the research you expect to have done by the time the conference takes place. Like this, you will have extra motivation to finish that work.

Batching Tasks

There are repetitive tasks that we have to do every day, but that can be batch-processed. These tasks are outside the 20% high-yield group, but still, they need to be finished to keep the engine running. For Tim Ferriss, emailing and bureaucracy are perfect tasks to be batched. Cooking, groceries, laundry, or cleaning are mundane activities that could also be batched.

# For your PhD: Try  to allocate a specific time to read and reply emails, let’s say 30 minutes after lunch, when you are not very sharp with most of your blood in your stomach. You could do the same for paperwork and boring bureaucratic activities, like filling forms and reports. What about that slow Friday afternoon, when not much happens and you are kind of lazy? 

Do the same with the non-work related tasks I mentioned, since they consume part of your free time. You can try to do groceries once a week (Sunday morning is rather quiet at the supermarket), do the laundry and cleaning once, and cook 2-3 meals in one go that are stored in the freezer for those weekdays when you have no time to cook.

Avoid Interruptions

Email, phone calls, meetings, visitors, all these are interruptions that don’t allow you to enter the zone and focus on finishing the work at hand. Ferriss proposes to manage your time like the most precious thing and to teach others how to approach you. You can tell them via auto replies when you are going to check your email and consequently, when they can expect a reply.

The same with phone calls, set phone hours.

Try to skip meetings as much as possible, like this book recommends. They are big time wasters. Propose instead a 5 minute phone call or Skype conference. Sk in advance for the agenda. If there is none, find an excuse. If you happen to attend a meeting, ask for the finishing time of the meeting and remember the chairman that you have to abandon the meeting at that time (in case it gets prolonged).

# For your PhD: Try  to allocate a specific time to read and reply emails, let’s say 30 minutes after lunch, when you are not very sharp with most of your blood in your stomach. You could do the same for paperwork and boring bureaucratic activities, like filling forms and reports. What about that slow Friday afternoon, when not much happens and you are kind of lazy? 

Aim For The Impossible

You are going to work harder and more committed if you expect a big reward. Having an unusually large goal gives you the hit of adrenaline that your motivation needs to overcome the hurdles. Realistic goals are uninspiring.

Imagine somebody promises to take you out to the cinema if you to loose 10kg. Probably not worth the effort. What if he promises a Ferrari California? Now we are talking, you get rid of 20kg no matter what.

Why not to use dreams to motivate us? But they are greedy, silly, personal, and other adjectives. True, but they are your dreams, and you would do anything to achieve them.

# For your PhD: What are your PhD dreams? Why to publish in a journal with an IF of 2.5 when you can aim for Nature? Sounds ambitious, but if you have to work on a Saturday night on some experiments, thinking of that Nature publication will give you energy to push your research forward. 

So you always wanted to go to New York? And coincidentally, the best conference in your field will take place in New York. It is gonna be a hell of a work to produce some quality research to be accepted in such a conference. But dreaming of spending some days in your favorite city will give you an extra boost. 

Since you are in that conference, why not approaching the big shot hoping he will open a postdoc position for you?


Ferrisss suggests to use virtual assistants (VA) to delegate tasks that consume your time, but that most of the people could do. Examples of such tasks are booking tickets, replying to emails in a standard fashion, managing your agenda, etc..

# For your PhD: While you could outsource to a VA in India the writing of 4 academic papers, this would not be very ethical nor wise. The main idea is to get somebody else to do part of your work.

  • Partner with other scientists. Find people whose expertise complement yours, so you can share the load of work. If you are a biologist, partner with some computational biologist and design projects where you test in the lab his in silico hypothesis. 
  • Get undergraduate students. This can be quite an enriching experience in itself, since you can learn to supervise people and you get them to do part of your research, while you focus on other areas.

On To-Do Lists

A current topic of time management. Tim gets it straight here. You should have:

  • a to-do list
  • a not to-do list

# PhD to-do list: 3 tasks ( measurable) that if you accomplish that day you would be satisfied .

# PhD not to-do list: Do not check email except after lunch, do not check other websites, do not let people talk without getting to the point, do not attend meetings without agenda, …, you get the point.

Final Words

There is plenty of knowledge in this book that you can use to boost your PhD motivation and to improve the outcome of your PhD project. If you feel I skipped something important, let me know in the comments. You know other tricks? Share them with the rest.

Get the book

If you are interested in knowing more details you can buy the book in Amazon

The 4-Hour Workweek (hardcover)

UPDATED: Check the Next Scientist

I have started a new blog to help PhD students and young scientist to do better science, get exposure and grow their academic footprint. All using digital hacks, blogging and social media. Check these blog posts, I think you might find them interesting:

Parkinson’s Law and Project Management: Quick and Dirty

Parkinson's Law and Project Management: Quick and Dirty

(Photo: koalazymonkey)

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

This is Parkinson’s Law, one of the mental models used by Charles Munger and others. It comes to say: the amount of time you have to finish a task, is the amount of time you will use. So what is so special about it? Well, a consequence of this law is that if you would have less time to complete the task, you would manage to finish it in less time. The stress of the last minute would stimulate your creativity and you would wade through non-essential work, focusing on what really matters to get your task done. Jackpot!! Now we have a tool to speed up our projects:

Set tight deadlines, you will figure out ways to get the tasks done in time.

So we have in place the Quick part, what about the Dirty you must be wondering? For this part I would like to make use of the knowledge accumulated by a software company, yes, a software company, what were you think of?

Enter 37 Signals

What they do is development of web apps that make project management less painful. They have quite a peculiar approach to software development, it is more like a philosophy, and since they are nice guys (all programmers are nice guys, aren’t they?), they shared their knowledge on the amazing books, Getting Real (Paperback) | Getting Real (Kindle) and more recently Rework (Paperback) | Rework (Kindle).

From the tons of ideas they bring on the table, I would select:

  • Don’t aim for perfect, aim for good enough.
  • Simplify your projects (web apps), reduce the number of features.
  • Produce a prototype fast,  get feedback, improve prototype, get feedback, …

You can ask yourself the following question if you want to implement these ideas:

  • Can I remove this task without my project loosing its essence?
  • Can somebody already use this prototype to give me feedback?
Since they are a software company they get bitchy about features or functionalities of their software. Like Steve Jobs said about iTunes
“We don’t want a thousand features. That would be ugly. Innovation is not about saying yes to everything. It’s about saying NO to all but the most crucial features.
Quite zen, isn’t it?

Good enough, dirty enough

Why good enough if I am a perfectionist? If you don’t believe that it can save some time, think that it can save your life. I would like to finish this post with an example of how life can put you on a really tight deadline and how aiming at good enough can save your ass. The people of Disruptive Thinking give us an extreme situation when quick and dirty is vital, building a CO2 filter during the Apollo 13 Mission.

Try it for 2 weeks, A, set tight deadlines for your projects and B, determine which essential things you should accomplish so what you deliver is good enough. Get your tasks done faster and move on the next thing.