Clichés that drive us batty

Our collective, recent experiences at scientific meetings and local scientific seminars re-ignited a simmering debate: What are our least favorite clichés? You know what I’m writing about – those frequently uttered phrases that rub you the wrong way, that grate on you to the extent that you mostly forget the content of the talk, the proposal, the manuscript, … whatever. Hearing or reading these phrases triggers, in me at least, a long sigh, followed by a feeling of disappointment that we haven’t done a better job of teaching our budding (and experienced!) scientists to express themselves more creatively. My least favorite (most aggravating?):

  • «paint with a broad brush»
  • «low hanging fruit»
  • «I wear many hats…»
  • «drank the kool-aid»
  • any reference to Charles Darwin in one’s introductory statement / paragraph (unless it really is relevant)

Ugh. As vapid as they are, though, they’re not nearly bad as our worst offender: jokes that denigrate grad students. What could be more trite than the (all-too-frequent) acknowledgment that grad students are there to be abused. Need data from FARC-controlled Venezuela? That’s what grad students are for! What’s that? Your research requires data from the vent of an active volcano? Send a grad student! They’re expendable! Ha ha ha! Well, grad students are human beings, and I consider them to be colleagues. Sure, they usually (but not always!) have more flexible schedules than PIs, but that does not give us PIs license to exploit their position as trainees. My charge to those of us who are mentoring the next generation of scientists: stop belittling them.

One other observation emerged that I am not sure I agree with – this phrase rubbed some of us the wrong way:

  • «shedding light on» or «illuminating»

If we strip these words from our lexicon I’m not convinced that we have a perfect replacement. How many other ways can we express that our research will contribute to a continuing synthesis of results? What do you think?