What Is Science (2016)

At UCLA, I had the opportunity to take Psych 189, a seminar class, with Professor Stan Schein. During one class, he had shared how to get into graduate school and in doing so talked about “What is Science?” I’ve tidied up my notes and am sharing them here.

As I’ve progressed throughout my career in software engineering, there are times I think about going back to Academia. It was a good exercise for me to tidy and publish these notes, as it forced me to reflect on if I want to further pursue a life in science.

On graduate school (in America)
Who pays for graduate school education? 1 Someone else does. NIH and other organizations.

You should only go to graduate school if you find science fun. If you get frustrated easily and don’t have the tenacity to work on hard and long problems then science isn’t for you.

Start by asking yourself, “what question am I dying to figure out?”

(How do you get to this question?)
Be curious. Read research articles and papers. Attend seminars. Learn as much as you can about the field.

The more time you spend learning and reading about a field, the more you’ll find yourself finding questions that are unanswered.

(How to pick an institution and program)
Find people researching this question. Read up on what they have done. Maybe you’ll recognize these people from having read so much already.

Next you want to look at doctoral programs offered by universities. You want to find a strong university, which usually means there is a department with multiple people working in this related field. You want to stay away from a department where only one or a few people are studying this. They might leave the department to go somewhere else, and then you’re stuck there.

(On doing science and research)
When your experiments don’t work, rethink your approach.

When you are first starting off in your academic career, design experiments that don’t take a while to find out the results. You don’t want to do a study that takes 3 years to get its results, because you may be wrong and you won’t know. 2

In conclusion, science is about posing a question and then figuring out how to solve it. 3

  1. I’m unsure if this is universally true or not. A google search led to this Reddit thread which suggests it is not universally true and depends on the program. ↩︎

  2. It’s especially demoralizing as a master’s student as it can delay your doctorate. ↩︎

  3. This almost always leads to other questions to be answered. ↩︎