[PIG] Protocol for turning people into scientists

1. Title

PHD-R: Protocol for Higher Development in Research

2. Team member names

Adam Mastroianni and Gus Cooney

3. Short summary of your improvement idea

Develop a protocol for turning “people who are interested in science” into “scientists”.

What is the existing target protocol you are hoping to improve or enhance?

PhD programs––the existing training process for an interested young person to try to become a scientist.

What is the core idea or insight about potential improvement you want to pursue?

There are two:

  1. From our own experience and preliminary research, there is very little protocol-ization in scientific training. There are no standards or benchmarks, and no incentives for investing time in graduate students or for improving their training, so programs are ad hoc and succeed entirely based on the virtue and charisma of individual faculty members. That means there’s some extremely low-hanging fruit in developing protocols for becoming an effective scientist. (This is also why we think a useful protocol could be adopted widely––people would be happy to adopt a training approach that works.)

  2. Regardless of discipline, there are some things that every scientist should learn and experience. You should have an understanding of the history and philosophy of science, habitually replicate results you think are important, and should practice using evidence to make arguments. It is possible to absorb some of these lessons just by hanging around the people who already know them, which is how most scientists are trained in practice, but we believe there’s a much more efficient way to do it.

What is your discovery methodology for investigating the current state of the target protocol?

We’ll draw on: information about many PhD programs and the syllabi for their classes (available online), biographies of successful scientists, surveys and interviews with current PhD students and program directors, histories of the development of PhD programs.

In what form will you prototype your improvement idea?

We’ll share a draft of our protocol with experts for feedback (some listed below) and put it online for comment.

How will you field-test your improvement idea?

We’ll run a prototype of the protocol with a cohort of undergraduates during a summer research program.

Who will be able to judge the quality of your output? Ideally name a few suitable judges.

Fiery Cushman
Daniel Gilbert
Nour Kteily
Alison Wood Brooks
Leah Somerville

How will you publish and evangelize your improvement idea?

Adam runs a blog that has ~40,000 subscribers (many from academic science), as well as a Discord with hundreds of researchers who are interested in scientific innovation, so we can reach our target audience immediately. We’ll use the protocol to train our own students, who will go on to train other students, etc., and we’ll maintain a live version of the protocol online for anyone to use.

What is the success vision for your idea?

  1. The protocol jump-starts our summer research program and students end the summer as effective and productive researchers.
  2. Our students use the protocol when they train their own students.
  3. Other scientists build on our protocol and adapt it for their disciplines.
  4. Aspiring independent researchers all over the world use our protocol to begin or supplement their scientific training.
  5. When the history of science is written 100 years from now, people look back at this time and say, “Things really started popping off when we figured out how to turn people into scientists without a lengthy apprenticeship program.”