Archive for the ‘About the author’ Category

Someone can take, or be recruited, for a postdoc for any number of reasons. For better or worse, my top priority for my postdoc was that it had to be located in the UK or Australia. Living overseas is something my wife and I have always dreamed of doing, and this seemed to be the best time in our lives to have a go at it….and it would by a cryin’ shame if I didn’t use the mobility that comes as a young scientist to our advantage. Because location was my top priority (followed by length of contract; I was not taking a 1-2 year postdoc, which aren’t uncommon in the UK and Europe) I ended up taking a position that was in a lab well outside my area of expertise in a number of ways (both technique wise and model system). The reason I was considered for the position was because my current PI has a started a new collaboration in my field and needed someone that had an appropriate background. So here I am…a mercenary. While the jury is still out as to whether or not this was the wisest choice for my first postdoc, I wanted to put my experience thus far out there in case there are others that might find themselves in a similar position (or if anyone has been in this position and can offer some advice).

First the positives:

1) I get a chance to see a different approach to science and how those in other related disciplines think about scientific problems. While it hasn’t bore any fruit yet, I have always been a proponent of broadening one’s views so as to have more mental and experimental flexibility.

2) I’m learning a great deal of new information both pragmatically and theoretically. Trial by fire is always the fastest way to learn in my opinion, even if it means there may be more slop along the way.

3) I’ll have laid a foundation for truly cross-disciplinary work down the road by establishing connections well outside my field of expertise.

4) I have a LOT of independence to go about doing my own thing, more so than others in the lab do since my project(s) aren’t really at the core of the lab (and see point #2 below). I’ve always been very independent so this appeals to me, but it does have its drawbacks.

5) I should be first author on just about all the papers that come out of the work since there isn’t anyone to wrangle with (at least internally)!

6) Shouldn’t be any issues with taking the findings with me when I leave since it’s far enough outside of my PI’s core work that I don’t think s/he would move considerable resources of the  lab in this direction for an extended period.

 

Unfortunately there are some negatives as well, some of which I didn’t necessarily anticipate in taking the position:

1) It can be quite lonely! Being the only one of my ilk in the lab, I don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of or that I can just chat about the latest cool paper that has come out in my field. The folks in my lab are nice and we all get along, but I miss interacting with my own kind.

2) My PI can only provide minimal guidance on how to approach certain problems, or even on what would be the most important aspects to tackle next. This is not to say s/he is not involved or interested (they are), it’s just a matter of not having the background.  While s/he has given me considerable latitude, it can be a bit daunting to realize the direction of the work is almost entirely in my hands. I suppose this is good practice for when I’m out on my own as a PI, but I wasn’t altogether prepared for this coming in with my freshly minted PhD. But as I said before, trial by fire baby, trial by fire.

3) I won’t have much opportunity for middle author papers. While I know these are not as important as first author papers, they are still publications! Thank goodness I have considerable momentum from the work I did as a PhD student that will provide some middle author papers (and some first ) over the next couple of years to bridge the gap.

4) Getting up and running is a bit slower than I’d like. I came from being a PhD student where I could multi-task like a crazy MFer and be wicked efficient to having to pick up a lot of very new techniques with minimal (if any) guidance.  Needless to say this has been more stressful than I expected, but I’m finally to a point where I can significantly increase my efficiency. I’m just feelin’ the pressure because I’ve just recently started to realize that most of the papers that will eventually come out of my current lab will likely have no middle authors (i,e. I’ve gotta do it all)!

 

It was probably a mix of naivete and hubris that lead me to take the position. Thus far I’m reasonably happy with it, and I’m considering ways to mitigate the negatives. One way would be to search out someone else in the department that is closer to my area of expertise as a sort of secondary mentor. I’ve already identified someone, but am trying to figure out the best way to do this (my thought is to start more informally) as I don’t want to go over the head of my current PI. The other thing I plan on doing is reaching out to the project collaborators more myself (overall the collaborative aspect of the work has been a bit disappointing so far and I’m realizing that I need to be the catalyst here)…but I’m waiting a bit until I have some interesting data to send out to them, which should hopefully be soon.

So that’s it, only time will tell how wise of a decision this was. I’d love to hear from anyone else out there in the blogosphere that is in a similar situation or any advice on seeking a secondary mentor closer to my field of expertise.

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Well, here it finally is, a frothy Friday:

This is a tasty light ale from the kind folks of Bath Ales. It is self described as “bursting with flavour and brimming with condition. It’s smooth yet dry, wonderfully fresh and delightfully zesty”.

I have to say I agree with the description. It’s an easy drinkin’ ale perfect for a summer barbecue. It went well with the baked chicken and mashed sweet potatoes we had for dinner. Perfect for a hot summers day (and by hot I mean around 75F, ‘cuz well, that’s as hot as it gets around here).

There are also three other reasons I have to bring this Frothy Friday to you:

1) I have finally gotten my telephone and broadband setup after moving to a new flat. If I have any bit of advice for someone moving to or around the UK, it is to never use Sky for your telephone and broadband service unless you enjoy frustrating and expensive conversations with kind yet incompetent people. It’s good to be rid of those bastards and back online!

2) British ales are second to none!

3) Most importantly, and as a follow-up to a previous post, I have recently found out that my PI is not moving the lab to a new location. We’re staying put! Now we can settle in, down some ales and get into the business of research and traveling (we’ve got trips to Switzerland, Ireland and Southern Italy or Greece in the works!). Cheers to that!

One of the reasons my wife and I have always wanted to live and work overseas is to broaden our worldview. We have only been living in the UK for approximately half a year, but our understanding of America’s unique place in the world has already changed considerably. Ironically, I think considerable insight into America’s place in the world is difficult to obtain by being born, raised and living in America.

First, I have to start out by saying that as a kid, growing up, I had an overall negative view of the US despite being born and raised there and having essentially no connection to where my family originated. I’m not sure where this sentiment came from (maybe I can blame the media…), but it was clearly there for quite awhile. As I got older my stance softened and until quite recently I was essentially neutral with respect to whether I thought the US was a power for good or evil. As I have became more politically aware in the last several years I’ve started to move towards seeing the US as a positive influence in the world and in the past six months I’ve never felt or believed this more.

I think what has pushed me in the direction of being much more proud of my homeland than I ever was previously has been exposure to the history of Britain and Europe. I was never much for history in high school and always found it boring and pedantic. I always thought of history as memorizing dates, names and places. However, now that I have been exposed to not only the wonderfully and insanely complex history of Britain through my travels about the country, but to the British themselves, do I see that history has never died but that it acts to intimately define our self-identity.

The history of Britain (comprising Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England) is ridiculously complex. There are wars and battles. Subterfuge and intrigue. Kings and Queens. Incest, torture and injustice. It absolutely boggles my American mind, in which we are taught that nothing really important happened until around the 18th century (or at least that’s what I remember).

What amazes me is that Britain’s long history still has a considerable impact on the British self-image. The idea of the British Empire is not entirely gone and on more than one occasion I have heard the US and Canada being referred to as “one of the colonies” in a sort of paternal way. By and large, I think the British feel a very strong kinship with the US and the other colonies than I would have ever anticipated (or even thought of!). I find this quite fascinating because, frankly (and somewhat sadly), the feeling is not mutual. The idea of the UK as kin is quite foreign to me, and I think a lot of Americans. It is as foreign and abstract to me as the fact that the British were our oppressors back in the 18th century. And I think there is a very good reason for this: it is because America is a nation of immigrants and thus, has a very short collective memory. Our family histories are lucky to go back more than three generations, and our collective history is inevitably much shorter. We tend to carry much less historical baggage with us, and this is why I’m amazed at how a long and storied history can shape individual and collective identities as it so clearly does here in the UK.

I think the fact that America is a country of immigrants is immensely powerful. I also think that this unique composition of the US has led to what is arguably the most benign superpower in the history of the world. This is not to say the US is perfect by any means (if the idea of “perfect” can even be defined), but as world powers go, it could be a LOT worse (see Rome, Britain and Germany).

And thus, living overseas has given me much more respect for history, collective identities and the British. I have also never felt more proud to be an American.

Damn Yankees

Posted: April 10, 2011 in About the author, Life in the UK

In keeping with a recent baseball themed post, and given that it is the beginning of the baseball season, I wanted to note how utterly obnoxious I find it that everywhere I look here in the UK, I see New York Yankees kit (that’s UK for gear or stuff for my US readers). Like any honest, hard working American, I despise the Yankees. I will always be a brief secondary fan of the team that is playing against the Yanks. Even if my team loses, if the Yankees also lose, well the day could have been worse. Few things in sports give me more pleasure than seeing the Yankees lose in the playoffs (or not make the playoffs at all!). Whenever I see someone wearing a Yankees hat or t-shirt here in Britain, I want to yell at them “The Yankees suck! They represent all that is putrid about America!” (although I have to say, the Mets have been giving them a run for the money in that category lately).

Now the Brits cannot be entirely blamed for baseball fans here wearing Yankees kit. When I go to the sporting goods stores in the UK, there are very few options when it comes to purchasing baseball paraphernalia (and can you blame the stores? This country is absolutely football (soccer) crazy!). The large majority of baseball hats are Yankees hats, followed by a handful of Boston Red Sox and LA Dodgers hats. But the Red Sox would be a better choice than the Yankees (well I suppose any team would be an improvement, except maybe the Indians)…and the Dodgers, well, one can’t help but feel sorry for them given the past couple of years surviving through the tail end of the Manny Ramirez saga. So there are some options. There is also the internet, so one can buy kit from any given MLB team. At the end of the day, there are really no good excuses for unabashedly supporting the evil empire.

Needless to say, I am proud to walk around the UK displaying my favorite MLB team kit…and who knows, perhaps I’ll make some converts to support a team worthy of an international presence!

 

Origins

Posted: February 22, 2011 in About the author

This is the requisite initial post that let’s you in on a little bit about about me and why I’m blogging. As noted in the tagline (or strap line as they call it here in the UK), I am an American life scientist currently living in the UK for my first postdoctoral position. The “life, universe and everything” quote* is from the title of a book by one of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams. His “Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy” trilogy (which is actually five books, a bit of British humor I suppose) was actually one of my first introductions to British culture as a wee lad. Granted, at the time I didn’t really grasp much of it, I enjoyed it nonetheless. Upon re-reading it again in my early 20’s I enjoyed it quite a bit more and it is one of the few sets of books I will certainly sit down to read again. At the time I didn’t realize the Hithchiker’s Guide was also providing my life with it’s own bit of foreshadowing.

So my intention at the outset is to blog about a variety of topics. I have no intention of this being or becoming a “disgruntled postdoc” blog. Perhaps this may be due in part to the fact that I have only recently begun the postdoctoral part of my career. However, I was never a disgruntled graduate student (I quite enjoyed my experience) and I don’t see any major issues coming about in my current lab or with my current advisor. My advisor and I get along very well and s/he has a style that works well for me.

I intend to blog about life as a scientist in an academic environment with a focus on cultural differences between the US and the UK/EU. I also intend to discuss cultural differences in general that may not necessarily directly pertain to research or science. There will probably be some career stuff thrown in and who knows what else. My intention is also to use this as an outlet for more creative type writing since science writing can be quite bland at times. I may also discuss literature and/or philosophy, two other topics that, while I’m not much of an expert on, I quite enjoy in that small slice of time that isn’t devoted to science or family. Finally, I have always been a fan of hip-hop music (hence the name, and I’m not talking about the crap you hear on the radio…more on that in a later post), a fact that, combined with being an American scientist in the UK, likely makes me a minority of one. So hopefully I can find some like minded folk out there in the wild west that is the internet!

So that’s it! Feel free to comment, even on older posts. I hope to keep things stimulating!

*Sorry! Changed my tagline recently…either way I will be musing about life, the universe and everything!