Dr. House: one cool adviser
Here’s some grad student perspective on pop culture. (Or pop perspective on grad culture.)
Dr. House — the curmudgeon diagnostician and title character of a popular television show — would be a really good adviser.
Don’t get me wrong, the character is selfish, unpleasant, and rude. I wouldn’t want him as my GP. (I’m sure he’d love the NHS.) But if he diagnosed signals of new physics at the LHC instead of obscure diseases in patients, I’d sure want him as my adviser…
Fig 1. I doubt the studio execs would be interested. (Image credits: see below.)
Ok, bad idea for a television show. But I stand by my claim that he’d be good for his graduate students. I recently wrote about my awesome adviser waxing a bit abstractly, so here are some concrete examples of why Dr. House would be someone you’d want to be thanking in your dissertation.
Spends time with you. Sure, a lot of that time is spent belittling you — which isn’t so cool, Dr. House — but at least he’s there. You can’t learn from an adviser if you don’t spend time with your adviser.
Brainstorms. The most valuable thing an adviser can teach his/her students is how to think about research problems. House’s group brainstorming sessions are admirable because he always asks the right questions and dismisses implausible ideas with “the blinding light of reason.” (Mixed with an unhealthy dose of sarcasm.) What I mean by this is that he…
Explains why you’re wrong. House’s team are the Watsons to his Sherlock. They’re wrong more often than they’re right, but House is there to explain their errors. Not just say that they’re wrong, but to explain why — albeit tersely and rudely. The point of grad research isn’t just to find the answer to a question, but to hone the deductive tools to prepare you for every other question you’ll face in your career.
Unorthodox. House’s medical team will break into their patients’ houses, dig up graves, and take risks that would make the board of directors wet their pants (not the UK-US ambiguity). It’s not recklessness, but it’s thinking out of the box towards a goal. Ok, it is also a little bit reckless; but you’ve got to be willing to rock the boat a little if you want to make a splash.
Appreciation for the big picture. House’s patients are plagued by obscure diseases manifested as incongruous symptoms. (He faces a disease-symptom inverse problem, if you will.) Making the diagnosis often requires an only-on-TV combination of wit and drama that boils down to House realizing how unrelated parts come together. Today’s particle theorists are trying to reconcile baryon asymmetry, dark matter/energy, neutrino mass, etc. etc. etc. A good adviser will make sure a student can appreciate how his/her project fits into this big picture.
Appreciation for the human aspect. House delights himself in deconstructing the other doctors in his department, much to their annoyance. While pressing other people’s buttons isn’t ideal for professional development, an understanding of the human-aspect of doing science is important. A lot of the `business’ of doing science is still influenced by who you know (collaborations, for example), and a good adviser will help you with your career as well as your science.
Entertaining while professional [enough]. As rough as his personality may be, House is serious about medicine. It’s one thing to try to `get past’ his personality en route to the medicine; but if one can actually derive amusement from it (this requires a certain thickness-of-skin), then it’s a win-win situation. It’s unlikely that your personality will be a perfect match with your adviser. If you can take those differences in stride, though, you can let them colour your academic relationship rather than sour it.
Image credits: Hugh Laurie from a House M.D. promotional image that’s floating around on the net unattributed (ostensibly to Fox), chalkboard (work of M. Carena) from Fermilab Today.
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