This week, I read a lot of advice: on writing, on grad school, and more. Most of this was written while waiting for a particularly painful MCMC model to sample.

“advice” for aspiring tech bloggers

Author: Julia Evans

I admire Julia Evans’ blog a lot, and it has inspired a lot of my work here. I didn’t know that she had a post giving advice to tech bloggers, but I was pleased to find it today!

Evans takes 1 – 3 hours to write a post, and prefers writing short ones over long ones.

I really like writing short blog posts because I have a short attention span and I find short blog posts easier to digest when other people write them. And they’re less of an investment! Half of my blog posts are less than 500 words, and, looking at them, I’ve gotten a ton of positive comments on a lot of those under-500-words posts. And sometimes I write a thing and nobody really seems to like it and that is also okay.

I am trying to keep this in mind: the paper summaries are exhausting when I spend a lot of time on them, and I think I need to push myself to read them more superficially (unless I’m really into them, which happens a fair amount!).

She also finds that writing about her side projects helps motivate her to do them—by writing about what she does, everyone can learn from it instead of just her! This was good to read, since in my head it was equally plausible that writing about them takes time away from actually doing them.

I came to this piece from …

Why you (yes, you) should blog

Author: Rachel Thomas

Dr. Thomas opens her article with a list of reasons to blog—

The top advice I would give my younger self would be to start blogging sooner. Here are some reasons to blog:

  • It’s like a resume, only better. I know of a few people who have had blog posts lead to job offers!
  • Helps you learn. Organizing knowledge always helps me synthesize my own ideas. One of the tests of whether you understand something is whether you can explain it to someone else. A blog post is a great way to do that.
  • I’ve gotten invitations to conferences and invitations to speak from my blog posts. I was invited to the TensorFlow Dev Summit (which was awesome!) for writing a blog post about how I don’t like TensorFlow.
  • Meet new people. I’ve met several people who have responded to blog posts I wrote.
  • Saves time. Any time you answer a question multiple times through email, you should turn it into a blog post, which makes it easier for you to share the next time someone asks.

This resonates a lot! I’ve found “helps you learn” to be the most relevant so far; writing about something I read helps me to engage with it more, and also makes it more likely that I remember it in the future. Blogging certainly hasn’t saved me time yet, but I actually have gotten a few requests for advice that I’ve considered posting my replies to here.

She suggested, as a way to get started, making lists of links to other things you’ve read and highlighting what you found interesting. Glad to know I’m not crazy!—that’s what I was doing for a long time, and it felt like I didn’t have any original thoughts and was just reproducing other people’s work—but now, in hindsight, I see its value in helping me to form more thoughts myself.

10 tips for research and a PhD

Author: Sebastian Ruder

Dr. Ruder gives 10 pieces of advice for researchers (broadly speaking, not just limited to grad students):

  1. Read broadly.
  2. Work on two things.
  3. Be ambitious.
  4. Collaborate.
  5. Be proactive.
  6. Write a blog.
  7. Keep a source of positive energy.
  8. Play to your strengths.
  9. Intern or visit a university.
  10. Play the long game.

“Read broadly” suggests reading work from entirely different fields, and in particular Ruder prefers to “read 10 papers superficially rather than one paper in depth.” This hints to me that I may want to rethink my approach as I work out my research interests.

“Work on two things” is advice for staying motivated and productive. When one project hits a wall, work on another. He also suggests to collaborate with someone else on one of the projects, so that you can learn from more people and gain new perspectives.

“Be proactive” is what Ruder labels as most important; before conferences, introduce yourself to people that you want to meet. It’s useful to ask people who work in your field for research advice, and such connections may lead to collaboration or mentorship opportunities down the line.

“Write a blog” is what led me to the first two posts summarized here, and it’s no shock that all three of these so far are people’s personal blog posts. This can help you to communicate and explain things clearly (while allowing, in contrast to research papers, to experiment with and find your own voice). It can help to present and share your work, to teach others, and to meet other people.

“Keep a source of positive energy” is one of my favorites; it’s great general life advice. Build a support network and surround yourself with people who follow your ambitions. Find an activity to fall back on, whether it’s a hobby or exercise or meditation.

The above point is related to “play the long game,” where Ruder writes that “the more important outcome of a PhD is a better version of yourself.” Be proactive and kind, diligent and helpful, and people will want to work with you.