I think it's a combination of opportunity and work style, not necessarily work ethic. In my program, I was the first of my cohort to propose and defend my masters, prelim and dissertation. But, my lab has a history of students that publish lots of papers. There were 2 of us in my lab that graduated together. We both had 10+ pubs and they were not all the same papers.
I think you can see work style play out as you continue through your career and I don't think there is necessarily a right or wrong way to do it. Some labs focus on "big" projects and publish sporadically, yet they publish important papers and are very successful. My approach has always been to have at least 3 projects going and to collaborate heavily. So, I publish frequently (e.g., I had 9 last year). I know people with big labs that have had 30 in one year. I think quantity isn't that important. More important is quality. And, I don't mean necessarily quality journals (though that comes with it), but quality research. Research that makes a meaningful contribution, that other scientists use to support development of an idea, and that answers and creates more questions.
I think as a graduate student, the biggest thing is having data. Use undergrads to run protocols. If you have an idea, write an abstract and a methods section. Get data. Spend a few hours a week in pursuit of data. Have people to help you code things. Present at conferences every year. This will help you form coherent ideas about interpreting your data and serve as templates for papers. This is how labs work later anyways. You hire people to recruit and run subjects and code data. You spend more time creating protocols and writing papers.
Last edited by Jon Snow; 04-29-2012 at 06:30 AM.