Archive for the ‘Post-Doc’ Category

It’s nice to see an article about the plight of biomedical sciences in a major news outlet….just wish it was a little more cheery! I’m amazed there are 1300 plus comments on this!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/us-pushes-for-more-scientists-but-the-jobs-arent-there/2012/07/07/gJQAZJpQUW_story.html

The way I read this is: NIH, aided and abetted by naive academics, enticed thousands of bright young American’s into a hopeless career path.  Yea, let’s increase the supply of scientists but do nothing to increase the demand. Oh yea, and don’t forget to drill it into their heads that anything less than an Academic position is failure. That will keep them in bondage longer.

Oye…I realize this is a very cynical interpretation…but maybe I’m slowly starting to wake up from the academic science induced coma that graduate school put me in…not sure yet…stay tuned!

Not Loving the Bench Lately

Posted: June 21, 2012 in Academia, Post-Doc

Lately it’s been a bit of a drag at the bench. It’s a bit odd because I got some very exciting data about a month ago and am in the process of following it up. It could be a pretty sweet story too, as it makes use of a novel technique I’ve spent the last year or so working on and the data it has yielded is quite novel. So I should be excited at the prospect of starting to really hammer out a nice story, right? And I am…to an extent.

However, I find the prospect of grinding through all the nitty gritty experimental details I now need to do quite daunting. Should I use an antibody from Cell Signaling that’ll probably kick ass but cost a fortune or a cheaper one that might work just as well? Should I use this buffer or that? Is this primer’s melt curve good enough, is it efficient enough? Should I isolate cells today, or tomorrow? Why are my fucking cells dying? Blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda. Fucking boring technical hoopla is what it is. I just want to get on with it! Better yet, I want to tell someone else to get on with it! If only I had another postdoc, PhD student, technician to share the burden with.

But this brings me to my bigger question: is this a good thing? In other words, is it good that I’m getting bored with working at the bench?  I would like to be a PI one day and the vast majority of PIs I’ve seen are never in the lab. So it seems that it’s a good thing not to love being at the bench since the job I aspire to consists of no bench work. I still love the science, reading articles, reviewing papers, going to conferences, presenting work etc. But the prospect of actually pipetting all day and grinding out the boring details for the next 5+ years is quite daunting. As Edison said, it is truly 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration! Don’t get me wrong, I certainly understand the need for technical competency if one is to get a lab up and running, and I have confidence in my mad skillz and the ability to pass ’em on…

 

So what say you internet? Is being bored with pipetting and technical BS a good sign if one wants to be a PI? Or am I just turning into a lazy ass bastard?

So you want to do your postdoc in another country? Here are some tips for identifying job opportunities and people to contact.

One way to land a postdoc is to send an unsolicited email to someone to see if they have funds and are interested in you. However, finding potentially suitable employers can be challenging. One way to do this is to use the Web of Science, which should be available through your institution (usually a link in the libraries website database page). From here you can do a search based on a number of criterion, one of which is address. All you need to do is pop in the topic you are interested in one field, and the country you are interested in working in another, and voila! While this isn’t perfect, it’s a good way to start tracking down potential employers.

The other resource that is rich in international opportunities is nature jobs.

Finally, you can look into European society websites that have job listings. These are actually quite useful as they appear to be the number one place specific jobs are listed as best I can tell (e.g, FENS (Federation for European Neuroscience) job market, or EMBO jobs (European Molecular Biology Organization) etc).

When I was searching for my current postdoc, I had an offer through just contacting someone (that I found via Web of Science) and one from a job posting on Nature jobs. I ended up taking the latter offer (partly) because it was for longer (3 yrs vs 1 yr).

If anyone else has any other resources for finding an overseas postdoc (obviously this comes from an American perspective) please leave a comment!

Happy searching!

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.

Five-tool scientist

Posted: April 5, 2011 in Academia, Post-Doc

So with the beginning of the baseball season (which I sorely miss already!) I thought I’d write about something I’ve been thinking about for awhile. That is, the idea of a five-tool scientist. In baseball a player is considered a five-tool player if they can excel at the following skills:

1) Hitting for average

2) Hitting for power

3) Baserunning

4) Throwing

5) Fielding

There are only a small handful of so called five-tool baseball players ever to play the game (e.g, Ken Griffey Jr. and Willie Mays), as most players only excel at a subset of these skills. Since I am a pretty avid baseball fan, I’ve always wondered if one could define a similar type of skill subset that would define various aspects of being a professional scientist (professor?). The point being to define the broad categories of skills one should focus on so as to improve oneself as a scientist (and hopefully land a tenure-track job one day?!). So my first stab at this would be:

1) Publishing consistently

2) Publishing in high profile journals (Say top 10-15 journals in your field. A top 1-5 might be considered a 2-3 run HR, and a Cell/Nature/Science a grand slam)

3) Grant-writing (Like baserunning, this behind the scenes and oft overlooked aspect of being a scientist is often the difference between winning and losing; additionally, like stealing a base, getting a grant funded can depend on the slimmest of margins and is at the whim of a mercurial umpire)

4) Mentoring (It’s what you give to others. A well thrown, on target baseball is much easier for the receiver to handle than a wild toss in the dirt; or no toss at all).

5) Effective communication (Like fielding, everyone’s got to do this at some point in one way or another (unless you play in the American League), and some are more spectacular and flashy than others).

Well, there you have it. Perhaps you agree, disagree, or don’t give a damn? Or maybe you have five better “tools” a scientist should strive to achieve. At the very least I think simplifying various aspects of what it takes to be a scientist can help one focus on those things that will assist in being successful.

Creul. Cruel. Irony.

Posted: March 26, 2011 in Post-Doc

So it seems that the bard of Avon (aka William Shakespeare) has decided to inject some of his drama into my life. Today is one of those days that started out benign enough but turned into one of the few times in my life I will ever experience cruel irony that is more at home on theater stages than in the day to day life of a humble scientist. It’s the kind of shit you see on TV and say “wow, that never happens in real life, who makes this shit up?” Prose is not something I know how to write well, so I’m going to try and communicate my experience via a timeline, 24-hour TV show style:

5:50 am – My wife wakes up early today because she has a 9:15 interview for a job she has applied to. This is the first interview she has been able to land after searching for and applying to many jobs for several months now. The interview is in a town that is about a 45 minute commute from our present residence.  She knows she is one of three candidates being interviewed this week after making it past the first interview screening from the previous week. This is a job that fits her skill set extremely well and would be a nice next step for her in her career path. Both of us are nervous and excited at the prospect of her obtaining employment here in the UK.

7:20 am – My wife leaves the house headed for the bus/train to the job interview. After she leaves I decide to do a little bit of housework, tidying up the place, doing some breakfast dishes, taking out the garbage etc. so that when she returns home she can just relax.

8:30 am – I arrive at the lab after my 30-40 minute walk in which I listened to a recent Science podcast (which kind of suck, but more on that in another post). As soon as I arrive in the lab I drop off my backpack and head to my bench to thaw some samples and get the day started.

9:15 am – My wife begins her interview. I look at the clock and note to myself “my wife is interviewing right now while I’m doing X..good luck my love!.”

9:30 am – I overhear a couple of fellow postdocs mentioning an email and some meeting. After a couple of minutes I ask what they are talking about, and they mention that our PI has sent out an email early this morning asking to meet with several of the postdocs this afternoon. I mention that I haven’t seen the email as I haven’t been to my computer since I got in.

10:00 am – I check my email, and respond to my PI that I can indeed make the meeting this afternoon. I also find out that everyone in the lab has been requested to meet with our PI, some of us in groups, some of us individually at various times late in the afternoon. The rumors start to fly about why our PI wants to meet with us.

11:30 am – I get a call on my cell (mobile) phone from my wife telling me that she thought her interview did not go too well. She had a hard time reading the folks and thought they didn’t like her responses to their questions (more on reading the stoic Brits in another post). Needless to say she was a bit distraught as she really wants this job and we could certainly use the additional income.

1:00 pm – The tension concerning the meetings with my PI have been building for several hours in the lab and it is absolutely palpable. I can’t focus on my work so I stick to doing just menial tasks throughout the day. Many of us have lunch together and can only speculate as to why our PI wants to meet with all of us on such short notice.  Is someone getting fired? Did we do something wrong? Is somebody sick? What the hell is going on? No one knows, and our PI is not letting anything on throughout the day.

2:30 pm – I get a call from my wife who is still a little concerned that her interview did not go as well as it could have. She thought she could have done better, but was thrown off by the stoicism of some of her interviewers. I reassure her that it probably didn’t go as poorly as she thought, as I’ve run into this British stoicism and I’ve found that it does not accurately reflect what the people are thinking. As Americans, we both find it very disconcerting at times that people here do not express any emotion whatsoever, positive or negative, via their facial expressions  (again, more on this in another post).

3:30 pm – The first couple of people from my lab go to meet with our PI. The rest of us hang out in the office area, not knowing what to do and just trying to remain calm. You could cut the tension with a knife.

4:00 pm – The group of people in the lab that includes me goes to meet with our PI. We sit down and s/he explains to us that s/he has an offer from another university in the UK and is strongly considering moving the lab to this new location.

Holy shit.

This is what we were talking about as the most likely reason for these meetings all day, but here it is. Our PI tells us all the wonderful reasons as to why s/he wants to move the lab. Some I agree with, some I don’t, but what the hell do I know about the politics of this stuff. The worst part, the new location is about 3hrs driving time from our current location…not exactly a commutable distance. Most people are upset and angry, but it takes a little while to sink in. I finish up what I need to in the lab, chat with some people about things and head out early around 5:20 pm.

5:30 pm – My wife receives a phone call from the organization in which she interviewed and they offer her the job! She is overwhelmed with joy! With the extra income we can finally start traveling more and have a little better standard of living! Yeehaw!

5:43, 5:46, 5:48, 5:54 & 5:59pm – my wife tries calling me on my cell phone to tell me the good news. I don’t pick up because I don’t hear it ring. I don’t hear ring because I’m listening to the Tical album by Method Man and 36 Chambers by Wu-tang on my walk home. I wasn’t sure what kind of mood I was in after hearing the news from my PI until I left the lab and was choosing some tunes to listen to on the way home. The Roots? No. Tribe Called Quest? No. Turns out I was in an angry mood (Bring da’ ruckus!), and I don’t have The Chronic by Dr. Dre on my ipod (only an old, well worn cassette tape back in the US, but I really do need to get that shiznit on mp3).

6:05 pm – I walk into our flat. Before I can say anything my wife says to me: “I’ve tried calling you five times! Why didn’t you pick up?”…before I can reply she screams: “I got the job! They just called me and offered me the job!” She promptly jumps up into my arms and gives me a big hug and kiss. She then sees the expression on my face, and while I’m shocked and excited for her, I start to break into tears.

If you ever wanted to see the moment a man’s heart breaks, that would be it. It was like a moment out of a sitcom. I couldn’t take it. I told her what my PI told us. I apologized profusely. She was shocked. The blood of our emotions was strewn about the flat. No matter how many times we wash it, we know it will never come clean.

……………………………………………………………………….

Cruel. Cruel. Irony.

What are the fucking chances that within a 1 hour time frame I would find out that my PI is planning on moving the lab and my wife would get an offer for a job of her dreams. While living in a foreign country. With an economy that’s quickly going into the toilet.

12:00 am – Several beers later and after watching a movie with my wife to try and get our mind off things, here I am writing a blog post. Still trying to process things. Considering our options…

WTF…seriously…keep your shit on stage Shakespeare….