Biocurious is a weblog about biology, quantified.

Analyze this

by PhilipJ on 22 December 2009

I was surprised the read, over at Incoherently Scattered Ponderings, about the difference The Ponderer sees in hiring a graduate student or a postdoc. Of particular interest were the anecdotes regarding a postdoc who didn’t care to do any of the ‘grunt’ work (soldering), or another postdoc who didn’t want to do any data analysis, favouring undergraduates to do both tasks:

A postdoc in my group wanted to “outsource” most data analysis to an undergrad – which we did (I was lucky to have several talented undergrads) – mostly because postdoc did not want to get heavy into MATLAB. In retrospect, this was a mistake, because now every time we/I had a new idea for data analysis, postdoc had to go looking for undergrad, who was busy with classes, etc. When I was a postdoc I did all of my data analysis – no matter how mind-numbing it was (even though I was often grumpy about it too).

We all like and dislike different aspects of our research. In my field, lots of people hate having to realign lasers, or construct flow cells, or from my old life, pull micropipettes. But I have yet to find someone (other than The Ponderer and his postdoc) who doesn’t love playing around with their data, data that is usually only collected after a significant struggle in the lab. Compound this with the importance of being able to trust and repeat the manipulations you do to tease our important parameters from your data, and I can’t understand why anyone would want to hand off the analysis to someone else. I would prefer to analyze data in lieu of basically any other lab task I can think of.



  1. sam    1583 days ago    #

    i agree with you. data analysis is sooo fun: press a few buttons, and make a bunch of numbers into beautiful results! so much easier than actually measuring those numbers.


  2. LM    1583 days ago    #

    I know people who avoid doing data analysis because they aren’t comfortable with doing anything other than a rough check to make sure nothing went horribly wrong with the experiment. I’m with you guys though, I like pipette wrangling but I wouldn’t enjoy passing all my precious data to someone else to analyze.


  3. bill    1582 days ago    #

    I’m with you: that’s just weird.


  4. glacierre    1556 days ago    #

    I don’t know what particular data treatment the postdoc of the story needed. What I do know is that in some experiments data analysis is NOT fun. For example you can try to enjoy reviewing 10 thousand force curves from a single day of force spectroscopy experiment, in order to extract (If you are lucky and it worked!) a sad 1% of them that show your interaction.

    It can easily take you two or three days (at 3 seconds per curve it would be 8 eye-burning hours non-stop), and after all (and that’s the sad part, only after) you might find that your measurements were crap and you have to repeat again. Iterate for a few months and tell me where the hell is the fun!


  5. tim    1377 days ago    #

    I worked in a bioinformatics / statistics group which supported scientists at a university. Needless to say I love data analysis, but some postdocs (scientists, or people in general) have a sort of phobia when it comes to computers or statistical analysis. It is not as uncommon as you might think. Also, with the ever increasing amounts of data being generated by current techniques in the bio-sciences (i.e. microarrays and sequencing) data analysis is becoming a larger and larger task. I think some postdocs just want to spend more time at the bench and less time at the computer. That said, it is never a good idea to outsource work which is of core importance to your group, that’s just common sense.


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