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Top 10 posts for Early Career Researchers: recognizing ‘Best of The Student Blog’

Since 2010, the PLOS Student Blog has served as an outlet for student scientists and postdocs to share their experiences and perspectives on life as young researchers. In 2015, the PLOS Student Blog was rebooted with a new cohort of bloggers that attracted nearly 90,000 visitors to the site, which featured posts on everything from the skin as an immunologic organ— also one of the top read posts of 2015 on the broader PLOS Blogs network — to a scientific investigation into the validity of the old homage “eating everything in moderation”.

Building upon this success, this month we launch the PLOS Early Career Researcher (ECR) Community. The PLOS ECR Community will be expanding the scope of The Student Blog to feature more content geared toward ECRs as well as opportunities for collaboration and early adoption of innovative new practices championed by PLOS as part of our multi-year agenda, including open peer review, reviewer credit, early posting and post-publication peer review.

As the PLOS ECR Community takes off, it makes sense to recognize and reshare some of our top-read posts from The Student Blog that are representative of the ECR Community’s new direction.

1. It’s time for universities to rethink what counts as field school by Liam Zachary, May 2015.

Excavation of Roman villa. Photo courtesy of Capture the Uncapturable on Flickr.
This individual excavating a Roman villa likely benefited had some fieldwork experience. Photo courtesy of Capture the Uncapturable on Flickr.

Student Blog contributor Liam Zachary lamented the many barriers undergraduate anthropology and earth science students face when trying to complete field school – a vital experience for budding researchers and how his experience as an undergraduate shaped his research trajectory as an archeologist. He ends with a call to universities to “… make field schools more affordable and accessible by incorporating them into the curriculum.”

2. My path to graduate school: medicine vs. research by Marvin Gee, January 2014

Marvin Gee, an ECR studying immunology at Stanford University, chronicled a decision-making process familiar to many high-achieving students: whether to pursue medical school and become a doctor, or go on to graduate school and enter research? First published in 2014, the popularity of this post is indicative of the enduring nature of the questions and decision-making process Gee shared with readers.

3. What can you do with that PhD? FAQs about non-academic jobs by Jane Hu, April 2014

After completing her PhD, blogger Jane Hu elected to take a detour from the traditional path for ECRs to pursue a career outside academia and scientific research. For those contemplating a non-academic path post-PhD, Hu shares her insights on everything from how to broach the topic with your advisor to how to look for jobs.

4. Why Every Science Student Should Attend a Conference by Yoo Jung Kim, February 2014

Guest blogger Yoo Jung Kim (at the time, a senior at Dartmouth College) shared her experience as an undergraduate student at the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) annual meeting in Chicago, a conference which embraces the research of both undergraduate and graduate-level student scientists. She concludes: “Science is a cooperative endeavor, and conferences allow undergraduate researchers a chance to explore their field outside of their laboratories and to gain skills early in their scientific training.”

5. Knowledge is where you find it: leveraging the Internet’s unique data repositories by Chris Givens, July 2015

A user shares the music recommendation system's representation of his listening habits over a month. Photo courtesy of Aldas Kirvaitis via Flickr.
A user shares the music recommendation system’s representation of his listening habits over a month. Photo courtesy of Aldas Kirvaitis via Flickr.

Hitting a favorite PLOS theme, blogger Chris Givens shows how data collected through Internet-based companies can lead to unexpected discoveries. Givens highlights two examples using, a popular online music streaming service, and World of Warcraft, a fantasy game with a cult-like following. He chronicles how, using song clips collected by as data, researchers were able to empirically verify the influence of hip hop on popular culture, and quantified its influence. Meanwhile, inventive epidemiologists recognized that a glitch in WoW that created a virtual contagion functioned as a model for pandemics in the real world. This post really captures how, with open data and a little innovation, the world is filled with opportunities for discovery.

6. The science behind science communication by Cici Zhang, December 2015

Witness scicomm in action, from the poster session of 2014 summer internship program hosted by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Photo courtesy of Goddard Studio via Flickr (CC BY).
Witness scicomm in action, from the poster session of 2014 summer internship program hosted by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Photo courtesy of Goddard Studio via Flickr (CC BY).

Cici Zhang introduces a comprehensive look at formal and informal ways that scientists interface with the public to communicate their findings. One of the goals for the PLOS ECR Community is to help build the capacity of young researchers to better interface with the public to discuss the significance of their scientific findings.

7. The final steps of your undergraduate research experience: Peer review and publishing by Nathaniel Omans, March 2014

Publish, or perish! This oft-repeated imperative captures the pressures of publishing and career advancement in academia, but is this something undergraduates also need to worry about? Omans outlines three reasons undergraduate students should be incentivized to go through the peer review and publishing process. Since this post was published, PLOS has collaborated with the iGEM Foundation to create a special collection for submissions for participants in the iGEM 2015 Jamboree, many of whom are high school and undergraduate age students. Read about it here.

8. I switched research groups – and lived to tell the tale, by Anna Goldstein, September 2013

Any ECR can tell you, the relationship you have with your Principal Investigator is vital to your professional development and success as a young researcher. So, what to do when you and your PI have different goals, management/communication styles, or simply don’t get along? Anna Goldstein shares how she successfully switched research groups (and PIs) without leaving science or graduate school.

Tip 3: Think positive by writing affirmations around your workspace. Image by Ignacio Palomo Duarte, via Flickr.
Tip 3: Think positive by writing affirmations around your grant writing workspace. Image by Ignacio Palomo Duarte, via Flickr.

9. Three simple tips to survive grant writing by Jessica Breland, July 2015

Keeping your head above water and maintaining your overall wellbeing in the face of mounting deadlines can be a challenge, as any ECR can attest, but perhaps at no time is the struggle more acute than while writing grants. Jessica Breland, a clinical psychologist and postdoc at Stanford University, wrote a short and sweet guide to keeping focused during the arduous grant writing process.

10. Battling misinformation: The scientific consensus as a gateway belief for climate change and GMOs by Joseph Timpona, May 2015

Harvard University PhD candidate Joseph Timpona examined the findings of a PLOS ONE article that showed the public is more likely to follow the opinion of scientists if they know there is consensus in the field, even on controversial topics. Timpona outlines the “gateway belief model” and applies it to issues such as climate change, GMOs, and vaccines, which are politically contentious topics, but issues that scientists have definitive positions on. This is another great example of how scientific research can address scicomm topics, and how the article lives on past publication.

Featured image: The Young Researchers Symposium brings together early career researchers (postdocs and graduate students) from a wide range of disciplines across Brookhaven National Laboratory to exchange information and practice presenting their research work in a supportive scientific environment. Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory on Flickr (

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