Archive for: April, 2016

Mentoring Junior Faculty

Apr 29 2016 Published by under academia, jr faculty

I'm nearing the end of my run as a assistant prof - which means that I am on the brink of either getting tenure or getting fired.* When I started my faculty appointment, there was a lot of discussion about how to mentor the jr faculty (me). Now I'm looking back on how things unfolded, and I have to say ... I'm not really convinced that the mentoring attempts helped me all that much. Which has started me thinking about how (if) the process could be changed so it was more effective.

First, how it went for me: in my department, each new faculty member puts together a "mentoring committee" of senior faculty that they choose. I picked several folks that I really respected (though I didn't really know them that well). We met once a year to discuss my progress, and then a letter was written (by them) and forwarded to the Chair for my file. The folks on my mentoring committee are awesome, and I know that they genuinely wanted to help me. But, TBH, most every one of our meetings could be boiled down to "Get grants and publish papers, and you will be fine". This is not exactly breaking news. I also had "unofficial" mentors - people who I got to know and who I would visit when I needed advice/sounding board for dealing with the everyday trials of running a research group (this group included many of my formal mentors but also other jr faculty and colleagues from other departments). These conversations were hugely helpful, as they helped me deal with situations in real time.

When I started, I thought that a formal mentoring committee would be super helpful. Now I'm not so sure. I'm wondering if there is a better way to mentor junior faculty. We don't need to hear (again) about how we just need to get papers and grants. We know that. There has to be a better way - but what is it?

Seriously. Is there something you do that is awesome for mentoring junior faculty? Does it ever work, or is this just a useless exercise to make the administrators feel like they are doing something?


*Knocks on wood, crosses fingers, makes sacrifice to gods of academia

16 responses so far

If it doesn't kill you...

Apr 18 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Lab safety is important. Really fucking important. We sometimes use some pretty crazy compounds in our work, and I expect the folks that work for me are trained and astutely follow the rules so that they (and their lab mates) are safe.

But labeling is out of fucking control and does more harm than good. Every fucking thing in our chemical room has some sort of "hazard" label - but it is not all hazardous. I get the "err on the side of caution" argument. But if every-fucking-thing is dangerous it is not always clear what you should actually be careful with.

And then there is the companies that try to profit off of a false sense of security. For example, ethidium bromide, a DNA stain commonly used to see your bands on a gel. Everyone is always told how horrible and terrible EtBr is. Turns out that is a load of horse pucky. The ridiculous hoops you jump through to "detox" EtBr are more dangerous than the actual chemical! But those "safe" alternatives to EtBr?? The ones that cost about 10x more and don't work quite as well?? Actually not safer (based on mutagenicity/toxicology).

Lab safety should be a real, thoughtful discussion. Not a knee-jerk-cover-the-university's-ass stupid exercise in pointlessness.

2 responses so far


Apr 13 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Subtweets are real. Sometime, I tweet about people and don't identify them. It amuses me. But here's the thing. I'm prolly not talking at you. Or about you. So I made a new hashtag to remind folks of this - #DINETAY (Dude, I'm not even talking at you). I get snarky about all sorts of things. Most of them are not you. Get over yourself.

You know who you are.

2 responses so far