Archive for: December, 2010

if I wasn't doing this...

Dec 05 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

originally posted 5 Oct 2010

I'm sitting here in my office contemplating this month's LabSpaces theme, about what I would "be" if I wasn't a scientist. In many ways I find myself in the same boat as Odyssey (though without the super awesome animation). I can't really imagine doing anything else. I wanted to be a scientist (a biologist, even) since I was about 8 years old and I discovered that this was an actual profession.

In any event, I started to consider what it is that I actually do as a new PI, which has made it clear there are some jobs that I will NOT be using as a fallback position. For instance, I would not want to be an electrician, plumber, accountant, secretary, teacher or sales person. Even though I do some of all this as a PI. Somehow it would all be different if not for the science part of the job.

I can also imagine some jobs that seem great but that I would probably hate after about two weeks. Most of these jobs would require me to interact with customers. For instance, I could imagine being a veterinarian. But after the 200th ridiculous request from a pet owner, I would lose my shit. There are also the jobs that would require some talent that I don't have. I could not hack it as a Carribean resort tester, for instance, because I do not have the ability to sit still for even a few hours before I am bored out of my mind. I am moderately athletic, but there is also no chance I will ever be a professional athlete or even an ultra-runner Cry. I also think it would be super fun to be a park ranger. One where I can live on a mountain somewhere far away from people and just run around on the trails all day. I love the 1-2 week backpacking trip. Except that I'm sort of an extrovert and I would eventually go crazy with limited human interactions. So that would probably end poorly.

So, what would I do? Well, I think that I would focus on food. Maybe I would be a chef. A friend of mine just quit her job to go to culinary school and I am a little jealous. And I really like to watch Top Chef. Also, I really like to cook. I am one of those "never use a recipe" sort of cooks. And I like to try to make random things work together. I'm usually pretty good at it, too*. Yeah, I could totally do that. I also think it would be great fun to make wine or beer. I love to drink wine and beer, and that job would have a sort of nice mix of "chemistry" and "cooking". Or I could be a critic. Maybe I have a future as the third reviewer of the food world?

 

 

*based on repeat diners at Chez GZ

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out on the job market (archived from LabSpaces)

Dec 05 2010 Published by under tenure-track OTJT

originally posted 15 Oct 2010

Fair warning: this feels like a kind of rambling post. I have not written about this before, and I'm afraid it is a little awkward. Consider yourself warned, if this sort of thing bothers you.

A while ago, when I was wondering exactly how I was able to so efficiently ruin so many families, I mentioned that I would write about what it was like to be a lesbian on the academic job market. Since National Coming Out Day was last week, I figured that now was a reasonable time to tell my story.

Before I start, I would like to stress that I have had it really, really easy. I do not worry about my safety, or that I will be assaulted because of my sexual orientation. I was not ostracized by my family or friends. I was not prevented from having a job that I love. I have a super partner, and we are raising an incredible child together. I have put off writing this post for a while, because I do not really feel qualified to be a token lesbian assistant professor. I am not convinced that my experience is "normal". But I really believe that it is important for me to be out. Maybe I can be a role model for other folks coming up through the ranks. And that would be great. But I think it has bigger effects than just in academia. I am sure that some people I know are more tolerant now because they know me. It is much harder to generically hate a group of people when you know individuals that belong to this group.

So, there is the disclaimer. Now, where to start. Well, I would never have gone on the market as a lesbian unless I was out as a postdoc, which leads to how I ended up being out as a postdoc. This was sort of an accident, really. I wasn't out when I started grad school. In fact, that is where I finally figured out the whole thing for myself*. Then I started dating a classmate. It wasn't long before our fellow grad student friends figured out what was going on. But, no one ever really had a problem. So coming out wasn't all that hard. I'm sure that the faculty in the Dept. that knew me also figured this out, but it was not a normal topic of discussion. I brought my girlfriend to lab functions and everyone no one acted like it was anything out of the normal. When I took a postdoc across the country, it was not surprising to most that she moved with me. There were exceptions. People that were confused about why another female student in the program just "happened" to be moving across the country to the same place I was going. Generally this was followed by awkward questions. When I started my postdoc, the it was more of the same. When you move to a new city to start a postdoc, the first people that you meet are inevitably in your new lab. And I got along with all those folks. Of course everyone knew about my partner. This trend continued throughout my postdoc. I would go to meetings, you talk with people. I didn't bring up my "situation", but I never lied about it. If people asked me about my husband, I would just say "actually, I'm married to a woman". And there you go. I'm out in my postdoc, out to many of the scientists in my community. But I did not ever have a "strategy" or plan for how this should go. It just happened. And this doesn't seem to have been detrimental to my career, as far as I can tell.

The time had come for me to start sending out job applications. And send I did. I applied to almost every job that was even remotely related to what I do. The only exception was that I did not apply to schools in places that I did not think would be good environments for my family. Places where my parental rights as a same-sex couple would be in jeapordy, for instance. When I started getting interviews was when I had a choice to make. Even though it is illegal to ask many personal questions on a job interview, over the course of a two-day academic interview these questions always come up. Generally over dinner, as folks are trying to get to know you or when someone you are talking to wants to tell you something great about the environment related to the schools, child care, etc. I knew that answering these questions honestly could cost me a job, depending on who I was talking to. I know a couple of folks that are gay academics. The general situation, that I saw, was that these folks were out to some of the people they worked with. But not all. And I heard some horror stories about being on the tenure track. These people didn't feel like they had the option to be out in their Dept. This made their lives harder. I can't imagine having to not talk about my wife or daughter with colleagues. And I didn't need anything extra stress when starting out. So, I decided that if someone was going to cancel me out for being gay, I was going to make them do it at the interview. I would not give them 5 years (or so) to mess with my family and my sanity. When I was asked about my family on the interview I was honest. No one reacted poorly, at least not in my presence. For all I know, the folks that interviewed me already knew. It is entirely possible that any place that would have had an issue with me never interviewed me in the first place. Did I narrow the number of interviews/offers that I got? Perhaps. There is no way to know. In the end, it worked out well for me.

So, I'm out on the tenure track. I am sure that this is the right choice for me and my family. But, like I said before-I am one of the lucky ones. Being out is something I can do to try to make life easier for those that are not so lucky as I have been. But there is clearly much more that needs to be done. The recent series of teenagers that are (or are perceived to be) gay and are bullied to the point that they commit suicide makes it clear that there are too many young folks, in particular, that need our help (I'm not going to link to any names, because I have been told that glorifying the suicides of some can actually increase the liklihood of others). If you are heartbroken** by these events and want to do something, here is a non-exhuastive list of some ideas (please feel free to leave other suggestions in the comments):

1. If you are considering suicide, please don't. Talk to someone. If you don't have someone to talk to try The Trevor Project online or call 866-488-7386.

2. If you are a parent, watch this video. Learn to recognize if your child is being bullied, or being a bully.

3. If you would like to hear the success stories of other non-heterosexual folks (many that had a much harder time than me), check out the It Gets Better Project.

3. Realize that your words matter. Don't make antigay disparaging remarks, and don't sit silently when others do. You may think that these "jokes" are funny or harmless. But they aren't, they are part of a culture that uses homophobia as a tool for bullying.

4. Don't vote for homophobes (one example: Carl Paladino).

 

 

 

 

*I was a little late to the party. I suspect that this was influenced in part by growing up in a big, red conservative state. I don't really think I knew what being gay was until I was in college. All I knew growing up is that that when someone called you "gay" or "fag" that it was a bad thing.

**If you aren't, there is something wrong with you.

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I <3 converences! (archived from LabSpaces)

Dec 05 2010 Published by under academia, tenure-track OTJT

originally posted 4 Oct 2010

I really do! I have so much fun hearing and talking about new* research, and catching up with old friends. But, I haven't been around much this last week. I was not even able to pick my NFL games! Frown At least my Broncos pulled off a win.

In any event, here are some random comments about what I have been up to:

-My brain is a little mushy right now. There were over 80 talks, each 10 minutes long, over the course of 3 days! I used to hate these talks because you can't ever actually hear a whole story. But now I realize that these are just little advertisements, so you know who to track down in the bar that evening. Still, it was intense.

-After I gave my talk, I was hunted down at the bar by a lot of folks. Hooray! Everyone was pretty excited. I even spoke to some grad students trying to find out if I have postdoc positions (YES!). Money mouth

-My liver is a little mushy right now. I was at a small conference, at a location where there was NOTHING to do except the meeting. It was fantastic. Everyone ate all the meals together, there was only ever 1 talk at a time. And there were cocktails in the bar every evening. Many cocktails. The bar is the best part of these meetings. You can walk up to anyone, even the most "famous" scientist in the room and just start talking and next thing you know you have friends in common and probably they will remember your name next time you see them! Also, some of the funniest and most entertaining folks I know were at this meeting. So fun!

-I had a random conversation that actually fits in with a comment storm that I missed out on over at Biochem Belle's place. I was having drinks with one of the Big Names in the field (I told you the bar is the best part), and Dr. BN was giving me, the n00b PI advice. I was basically told to not try to worry about knowing how to actually do the experiments that go on in the lab. As it was said to me, I never learned how to run those big, tedious sequencing gels. And it doesn't matter because no one even uses that technology anymore! Did I meet CPP Surprised?

-I have been going to a LOT of conferences for the last year or so. This was important as I was ramping up my job search. And as much as I really do enjoy conferences, when I am gone it is hard on Mini-G. We had some good quality time this afternoon after I got back, but I still feel a little bad that I left her for almost a week.

-I have so much crap to catch up on. This is going to be a crazy week! But I am really excited about the work right now Laughing

 

 

*OK, new-ish at least

I realize I went a little crazy with the happy faces. I don't even know what this one is: Money mouth But it was so easy!

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should you pay undergrads that work in your lab? (archived from LabSpaces)

Dec 05 2010 Published by under academia

originally posted 26 Sept 2010

A situation with the undergraduate in my lab has me thinking a lot about how access to science, as a profession, is controlled. And whether I'm contributing to the problem.

I have worked with Undergrad for over 2 years (I first hired her at postdoc inst). Right now, she is arguably the most productive member of my newbie group. I hired her to help unpack boxes, organize the lab, make media and solutions, etc. She also started helping me with experiments. It has all been going really well. This fall, Undergrad wants to do research for credit, in addition to her job as a paid "lab assistant". She is organized and responsible, so I have no doubt that she will be able to make this work. Also, she wants to go to graduate school so having some more intensive research experience would be great for her. Especially if we can publish her work.

The problem, for me, arose when I was talking with my new colleagues about Undergrad's situation. I wanted to make sure that there were no hidden pitfalls that may come back to haunt me or Undergrad. Every single one of my colleagues seemed confused that I would ever pay an undergrad to work in the lab. They all assured me that there were dozens, maybe hundreds, of undergrads more than willing to work in the lab for free. Apparently, the standard MO is to have students work in the lab doing the more menial tasks for a year or so and then "promote" the good ones and let them do research for credit. This seemed like a great idea! But then I started to feel weird about having people work for me without pay. Sure, if you are taking research credit there is non-monetary compensation (progress to graduation, research experience, a letter of reference). But what about that first year?

The more I thought about this system, the more it bothered me. Why should only those students willing and able to work for free for a year be given the opportunity to do research for credit? Doesn't this mean that all those students that need to work at a paying job in order to make ends meet won't have this opportunity? Which means that, even if they want to go to graduate school, they will not be as competitive as those students that could afford to work for no money for a couple of years.

I agree with DrugMonkey that we need to make sure that undergrads understand that if they go to graduate school they will get a stipend and have their tuition paid (at least that is standard in my field). But I think that we also need to realize that there are forces that weed out some of the undergrads before they even get to the point of considering graduate school.

But I'm left wondering what I should do? Clearly I will continue to pay Undergrad. I know that without pay she would have to choose between not taking research for credit or find time to get another job. But what about the next undergrad? Am I just naive that I even care about this?

Do you pay the undergrads that work in your lab?

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The scientist-in-training (archived from LabSpaces)

Dec 05 2010 Published by under academia

originally posted 19 Sept 2010

FSP had an interesting post last week about dodging a postdoctoral bullet. Dr. Becca noticed this post in relation to her search for a new postdoc, but what caught my attention was how the comments spun away from what seemed to be the main point of FSP's post and into a discussion about how postdocs are compensated. The reason this I was struck by this is that IRL I have had this same conversation at least 3 times in the past two weeks. Weird!

Fully obvious disclosure: I was once a graduate student and also spent the last several years as a postdoc.

I have never understood folks that complain about how graduate students and/or postdocs have it so bad. Now, before anyone starts hyperventilating, I recognize that there are situations in which people are truly taken advantage of-but these are not the norm, IME. I also recognize that there are times when doing science SUCKS and there are scientists that are douche-bags. I am not talking about any of these situations.

Instead, I'm referring to the folks that complain about the whole system of training scientists in academia. People that are upset that graduate students and postdocs make so little money, that there are way more postdocs than TT jobs, etc. I don't buy it. The main issue I have with this view is that it is often based on an underlying assumption that being a grad student or postdoc is a "job". I disagree.

Let me start with the grad student. Just because you are paid to be a graduate student does not erase the fact that you are, in fact, a student. Someone is paying your tuition and benefits and training you to be a scientist. AND they are paying YOU a stipend on top of all of that! By the time you finish your degree, someone will have forked out at least 300K on your behalf. Postdocs are also trainees, even if they are not tuition-paying students. And again, someone has raised the cash to pay for you to do research and have a stipend. What really gets me, though, is that these are voluntary positions. No one forces you to go to graduate school or get a postdoc. And, if you are an incoming graduate student all I can say is...WTF? Are you complaining because you think that is what everyone expects? Because if you really feel this way I can not understand why you decided to go to graduate school. There are other career paths that may be more appropriate for you.

Now, are there some PIs that could/should be better mentors? No doubt. Are there more graduate students and postdocs than TT positions? Yes! Not all folks that want a TT job land one. Just like not all chefs get to run the kitchen at a fancy restaurant. I don't think that science is a unique industry in this
respect.

I am not trying to claim that the system is a panacea. But, grad students and postdocs are adults. Be proactive and get what you need out of your time as a scientist-in-training. If you are not getting the mentoring that you need then do something about it. Something more than just complaining.

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it's not a pissing contest (archived from LabSpaces)

Dec 05 2010 Published by under academia, tenure-track OTJT

originally posted 13 Sept 2010

I have been a little busy the last couple of weeks, but I have decided to take a break and share some strange observations I have made recently. Also, the f@&#ing website that I have to use for ordering is not functional right now so I can't even get that shit done. *sigh*. Anywho, I am a little too tired to put together well-thought-out paragraphs, so I'm going bullet list on this one.

-So, I have finally managed to meet some other new Asst. Prof. from other dept. w00t! Having colleagues in the same/similar position as a n00b on the TT is great. We shared the few tips that we had managd to figure out and commiserated. One of my new-found holmies, however, has puzzled me. He is constantly acting like we are in some strange contest. I figured that since we are both new faculty, in different departments and different fields, that things would be pretty laid back. Instead, I sometimes feel that he wants to "compare" how we are set up and doing. It is very odd. Right now, my strategy is to pretend I don't notice. Because really, other than this one little tic he seems to be a good guy. We shall see, I guess.

-I have started getting invitations to give seminars in other departments! This is great because it will increase my visibility and also get me introduced to new grad students. Also, it will be fun! Now I just have to figure out how to get invited to give seminars at OTHER institutions and all will be golden.

-I feel like I am getting better at writing grants. Of course, until I get some cash I don't really know how much I trust that feeling.

-My lab peeps are making posters for the Dept. retreat. How freaking awesome is THAT?

-Last week I got to use the fancy new equipment to do a super cool experiment. And it was SA-WEET!!! Today I spent a little time at the bench helping my n00b learn how to do the follow up, which was fun. These data are great: there is the potential that I will launch a whole new super-sexy project. Which, conveniently, is now set up for my first rotation student who starts in 2 weeks! As a rotation project it is the shite! Fun (and straightforward) experiments that can generate data rapidly!

-It is sort of amazing how much more crap has landed on my plate now that the school year has started. I really didn’t expect this. I haven’t been at a University for a while, since I was a postdoc at a Fancy Research Institute. So I’m unfamiliar with the whole academic scene, I guess. Since I’m not teaching this year I figured that it wouldn’t really affect me. WRONG! On the other hand, the energy in the air as the whole thing cranks up again is pretty cool.

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sunday afternoon panic attack (archived from LabSpaces)

Dec 05 2010 Published by under tenure-track OTJT

UPDATE: The comments from the original post are here. I wanted to include them, since some other anxious n00bs might stop by after reading DrDrA's awesome advice.

originally posted 22 Aug 2010

OK, I'm freaking out about tenure. I've convinced myself I will never get it. I have no idea what I am doing. Yes, I realize that only last week I was full of advice for grad students. But this tenure thing is a whole new beast (for me). I'm TWO MONTHS in to my TT job, and I feel like I'm already behind the tenure clock. I guess this is sort of like a "reverse advice" post. In other words, I am going to list some of the major anxiety-producing thoughts that I have going on right now. Any advice is welcome.

The Gerty-Z list of tenure clueless-ness-es*
1. I am sitting here, writing a grant and paper. It is not going well. If I can't even do this, how am I not screwed? I feel like I'm not a very good writer in the best of times. These are NOT the best of times.

2. In a desperate fit of procrastination, I have been reading drdrA's most excellent advice about the tenure track and Odyssey's repost about how many papers you need to get tenure. These seem like great nuggets of useful advice. But I just feel more like I have no idea what is going on. Why are tenure requirements so fucking vague????

3. How do I know if I am talking to my Chair enough? or too much?

4. I'm still trying to figure out how you actually meet people in this place. How does a nOOb Asst. Prof get "advocates" that are senior faculty in other departments? Am I supposed to just start stopping by and sticking my head into people's offices? I assume that other people are busy, and I don't even know what I would say. I don't want to piss anyone off or make them think I am stupid! How do I meet other Jr. faculty? There are none in my dept. I assume there must be others in different departments, but how would I know?

5. I have a rotation student starting in a month!?!?! What the fuck am I supposed to do about that? I barely remember my rotations. Postdoc PI had a way of just throwing people into the lab without a project or even pairing them up with anyone-this never seemed to work all that well. But I have no idea what students expect for a rotation. I really don't want to start off on a bad foot with the students.

6. Am I spending my money too fast? or too slow??

7. Am I doing too little benchwork? or should I be doing MORE benchwork?

8. How do I "pick mentors"? I think that I am supposed to have an official mentoring committee, but I have no idea how to get folks to be on it. This is more terrifying than picking a grad committee by like a million-fold. At least then I had someone (my PI) that helped me choose people who would be looking out for me. What if I step in a steaming pile of department politics inadvertently?

9. I don't know how to collaborate. I really like talking about science with people, and collaborating sounds like lots of fun. But I have never been involved in collaborations. Almost all of my pubs are 2-person affairs. Neither my grad school or postdoc PIs were very collaborative. Should I be collaborating with people? I assume so - but how does that work?

10. There are no other jr. faculty in my dept. The last person (and the ONLY person in the last 7 years) that went up for tenure was a fucking rock-star. There is no way in hell that I will not look shitty by comparison. I am SO FUCKED. *sigh*

*I understand that isn't a word. But I'm freaking out here, so lay off!

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ambition, in grant-writing (archived from LabSpaces)

Dec 05 2010 Published by under tenure-track OTJT

originally posted 1 Sept 2010

When I was writing my first postdoc fellowship, Dr. Advisor told me that there were 2 rules of grant-writing*:
1. use a lot of if-then statements
2. don't be too ambitious.

I took this to mean that I should not propose to do more in the grant than could happen in the 3 years of the award. So I made sure that my proposed experiments were totally reasonable**. But then I get my summary statements and I see the phrase "overly ambitious". Dr. Advisor immediately translated this to "you are fucked". But my score was pretty good and I was funded. Whew! Fast forward to my K99, I also saw the scary "overly ambitious" phrase in my summary statements. In fact, this is held up as the major flaw of my application. Again, I was told that I was screwed***. But, my score was really good and I got funded. Yippeeee!

This is the problem: In both of those applications I thought I was being conservative. I actively tried to avoid being plainly "ambitious" feeling sure that this would prevent me from the "overly" in that phrase. I was actually a little concerned that I was not ambitious enough. My final K99 application ended up being only 1 Aim from the original outline, fer crissake. In both cases, FAIL!

I clearly do not understand what makes an ambitious project.

Fast forward again to this summer when I start setting up my own lab. I write a small application for a pilot grant. The amount of cash is enough for a ~70% of a person-year and a few supplies. I feel like it is a nice little project, sure to generate some prelim data for a bigger grant. I write a project that I think 1 person (me) could do in a year. I'm a little concerned about being "overly ambitious" but it is ridiculous to trim the project any more. I get the reviews back (NIH format). And the verdict is:

(wait for it...)

I could be more ambitious. WTF?!?? This sort of blows my mind. But, they decide to give me the cash so I'm OK with it.

The moral of the story (for me) is that I desperately need to learn about ambition. What is it? How do I know if I have it? When do I have too much?

I feel like this will be an important lesson, for my own grant-writing, and also my future students. If I can't advise them on what is a normal, reasonable project they will get screwed. And I *heart* my future students and don't want to see them screwed.

 

*Dr. Advisor was NOT an excellent example for grantsmanship, but that didn't stop the advice!
**My idea of reasonable is never even close. I routinely spend 3x longer to get shit done than I anticipate. Everything is always more involved than I feel it should be. Why won't the universe just stop fucking with me? I have no idea.
***Why did Dr. Advisor always toy with my emotions? Was it a game, or an attempt to moderate my expectations?

NOTE ADDED IN PROOF: I realize now that this post makes it look like I am batting 1.000 when it comes to grant-writing. Not True! I did not mention the many (and there were MANY) fellowship and grant applications I wrote that were not funded.

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moving on up (archived from LabSpaces)

Dec 05 2010 Published by under academia, tenure-track OTJT

originally posted 25 Aug 2010

Let me start by saying that I don't fall victim to panic attacks frequently. At least, I haven't in the past. But, seriously, thank you to everyone for the encouraging words. I am no zen master, but I am closer to the state suggested by The Tideliar (CHILL THE FUCK OUT). OK, now. Moving on.


Get ready for the 2010 academic job market!

I have been thinking recently about the academic job search. 'Tis the season, after all. And also I have been asked to sit on a panel to discuss "getting a TT job" with a group of postdocs. I have NO IDEA what I am going to say to these pour souls. I sat in a similar workshop last year (it was part of my career development plan for the K99). The air stinks of desperation. I want to be positive, but I don't want to give any false hopes. In any event, I have been thinking a lot about what to tell folks going out on the market this year.

My credentials for giving this type of advice are pretty weak. Sure, I went through it. The past two years I have been pretty attentive to the job market. First as a spectator, then as a full-fledged participant. And, hell, it worked for me (I have a job, after all). But I don't think that there is a formula that will work for everyone. My experience is n=1. Nevertheless, I'm going to share some of the things that I feel like really helped. This year I will see how this whole process works from the other side, so I'm sure after that I will have a different perspective.

Before I start, some disclaimers and crappy statistics: I am speaking from the perspective of someone in the biomedical sciences. Generally, in my field, you have done at least 1 postdoc (probably 5-6 years). To be competitive you must have secured funding (a fellowship) and high-quality pubs. Realize that for every job advertised 200-500 people will apply. The most important thing you have to do is make it into the favorite 1-5% of those (most places will interview 5-8 people). Then you have to have the "best" interview out of those. This post is NOT about the interview process. And I am not going to duplicate drdrA's super advice on putting together a job application. Instead, these are general tips that helped me get through the process.

First, don't fly solo. I was surprised when I started advertising that I was going out on the market how helpful people were (you should have been in full-on advert mode for several months by now!). People, even big wig faculty(!), offered to read my research statement and cover letter and I got really good feedback. I am even more indebted to these people now that I know how busy they really were. Sure, some of these offers were made after a few beers at various poster sessions. But you know what, when I followed up later they were all SO helpful. So, my first and most important nugget of advice: if someone offers to help, take them up on it!

Second (but related), band together with your fellow job-seekers. We had an informal "support group" for postdocs that were going on the market last year. A friend of mine told me how useful this had been when he went out and IT IS TRUE! We set up a Google spreadsheet with all the job listings we could find, we had coffee/beer to bitch talk about how things were going, we went to practice talks. Even if you are applying to the same positions, you are probably NOT competing. In my group, there were many of us with similar credentials but with our interests and personalities there was no real way that we would ever be considered by the same programs. When folks started to get interviews and offers, I genuinely felt happy for them (and vice versa).

BTW, I operate under the philosophy that the more people you can get feedback from the better. Realize that there is not a "right" answer when it comes to the job search. You have to please everyone on the search committee (and most of the other faculty). Even if you don't agree with some feedback, take it seriously. It could be a view that someone in your *future* department shares.

Don't feel awkward about asking for letters from your references. I applied to a LOT of positions. I made some comment about the letter-writing burden to my PI and he set me straight quick-fast. Everyone needs letters. Everyone writes letters. It's part of the business. That being said, make it as easy as possible for your letter-writers. Be organized and as helpful as possible.

OK, this last bit is probably more opinion-based than others (but what the hell, it is my space): don't try to be something you aren't. Now, I really believe that you have to try for everything that is even remotely related to your field, as I indicated in my comments to Dr. Becca . Places can be a lot different than you expect when you go to interview (good OR bad), and you shouldn't limit your options based on YOUR interpretation of one little paragraph in Nature Jobs or wherever. Not to mention that the more places you have to compare the better. At this stage, there is no such thing as a throw-away interview, and you can't get interviews if you don't apply. Whatever you do, make sure that your application reflects what you actually want to do. I may have mentioned I applied to A LOT of positions. It really was A LOT (~100). But every place got the same research plan (and the cover letters weren't very different). I just threw my hat in the ring.

Anyhoo, I think that is enough for now. Please let me know in the comments if there is some aspect of the job search that you would like me to talk about more. I was considering making this a mini-series, since it is on my mind so much right now. I figured that the next one would be a more personal story of my search, and how I dealt with the whole lesbian thing. But I'm open to suggestions.

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Advice for the new grad student (archived from LabSpaces)

Dec 05 2010 Published by under academia

Originally posted 18 Aug 2010

Samia over at 49 percent had an awesome idea: the zomg grad school!!!1 carnival. I think that anyone getting ready to start grad school (or is considering applying) should read it.

I totally meant to write something. I was relieved when the deadline was pushed back. Still, I did not get my shit together. *sigh*

In my defense, it is hard work starting up a new lab.

Anyhoo, I have cracked open a beer and now I will put together my contribution. Background: I would love to take at least 1 and maybe 2 students this year. But only if they are good. 🙂

TRAITS I AM LOOKING FOR IN A GRADUATE STUDENT
1. Act like you are a graduate student. You are not an undergrad anymore. The point of graduate school is NOT to learn answers (or earn "good" grades), but to learn how to ask questions. Realize that you DO NOT already know all the answers, and that you can learn a lot from the people around you. But also, sometimes there are no (known) answers. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES must you argue over points/grades in your classes.

2. ASK QUESTIONS!!! There are no stupid questions. OK, maybe there are. But trust me, the only way you get better is by practicing. So get over it and ask some stupid questions. If you start paying attention, you will realize that a lot of questions can be categorized as "stupid". But people remember the good questions more than the others. Read papers and talk about them with your PI/labmates/fellow grads. Go to journal clubs and seminars, especially those "outside" your field. Listen to (and evalute) other people's questions. Ask your own. As a bonus, if you are engaged it will help keep you awake during seminar.

3. Learn to be critical. In a constructive way. Don't be the jackass (there is always at least one) that rips people/papers apart just to make themselves look smart. This never actually makes you look smart. Learn how to be constructive in your criticism. Find mentors that are constructive AND critical. It is nice to be told that you gave a great talk, but you learn more if someone tells you how it sucked.

4. Do all your rotations, participate enthusiastically and TRY NEW THINGS. Push your limits to find out what you are capable of. Everyone entering our program is required to do at least 3 rotations. Our program is really diverse, so if you do them all in the same field, that makes me think that you don't have much breadth of curiosity. I know that some people know think they know what they want to do when they show up. But try something new. You could be surprised. You could be more convinced that you were right all along. In both situations you will learn something about yourself AND how "science" works.

5. Don't work for a jackass. This is covered by many of the posts in Samia's carnival. I will just reiterate: realize that you are NOT special. If everyone in the lab is miserable, you will be, too. However, realize that after 3-4 years you SHOULD feel like you know as much or more about your project than your PI. This is different than being miserable.

6. Know what you want to get out of graduate school. I'm not saying you have to sign a contract or be inflexible, but many of the decisions that you make now, in your first year, will have an impact on future prospects. The lab and research project that you choose should be different if you want to go into teaching vs. industry vs. academia. Make sure that any prospective PI will be supportive no matter what your aspirations are.

7. You do not really understand what your PI's job is. This may be a little premature for new grad students. But someday you will feel like you PI was just some person in the office but YOU actually ran the project. You will tell people that you were "basically the PI". This may happen when you are a grad student or a postdoc. You will be wrong.

8. HAVE FUN! If you like what you do it will come through. Realize that there will be times that doing science will suck. It may be hard, and nothing will work. Don't get too high when things work, but don't get too down when they don't. Don't take shit personally.

9. Make friends with people in your grad program. They have seen, firsthand, what you are going though. Sometimes you need to sit at a bar and drink some beers and vent. These are the people that know what you are going through. and most importantly:

10. Don't be afraid to be wrong. Good luck!

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