Archive for the 'academia' category

myIDP - a test run and quick evaluation

Sep 06 2012 Published by under academia

Today while I was playing on the internet I ran across myIDP, an online career development tool at Science Careers. You can find the article explaining the rational behind myIDP here. According to the myIDP website:

An individual development plan (IDP) helps you explore career possibilities and set goals to follow the career path that fits you best.

I encourage my trainees to come up with an IDP, and I work with them on this. I think it is useful to consider what options there are, but also to make sure that you are engaging in the career development activities necessary to advance professionally. I did not intentionally make an IDP myself (I had never heard of it when I was a postdoc, TBH), though writing my K99 application certainly made me think explicitly about career development and what I was doing to make up for deficiencies (real and perceived).

I decided to give myIDP a test drive to see how it worked.

This schematic from the myIDP website shows the general methodology

First, I filled out the assessments, trying to be brutally honest. IMO this is important if you want a IDP that is worthwhile. There are three lists of questions (skill, values, interests). Then you get a list of career options with "scores" of how well your skills, values, and interests match up. So how well does it work? Well...kinda?

my top five "matches"

In what may be a horrible sign of things to come, tenure-track research PI was not even in the top 15*!! Research admin was #7 (blech!), Research staff was #12, and Industry research was #13. But I actually like my job, and think I'm pretty decent at it. I guess I don't give myIDP high scores in prediction FWIW. I can tell you for SURE I would suck at "public health related careers" and technical support (I really don't have the patience OR technical knowledge). And SALES?! FFS HELL NO. ahem.

To summarize, I think that any IDP has to be, well, more personal. I am not sure that the question sets are really thorough enough to actually start sending someone down one career path or another. But they are a great starting point. It doesn't take that long, and might be useful. I think postdocs should try it out. But then also work with your PI to develop a real, actionable IDP for yourself.

 

*for all I know, this isn't even an option. But if it is then how in the hell is in not in my wheelhouse??!!!

 

24 responses so far

Year 3: put up or shut up

Sep 05 2012 Published by under academia, jr faculty, on the job training

I have started to notice that the density of people on sidewalks around MRU has increased. It is not quite as light in the morning when I get up - soon I'll be running in the dark. The bus is more crowded, and I'm older than most of the other riders. There is no avoiding the fact that the school year is starting up again.

This is my third year on the tenure track.  I'm not going to lie...I'm a little terrified. Looking to those who went before me, I can't help notice a trend. Prof-Like Substance poetically noted that "year 3 licks goat scroti". It was also frighteningly busy for Prof-in-Training. I am pretty sure that I am going to be in the same situation.

I need cute puppies to keep me from panic! This one from @emergencypuppy

My first two years have gone pretty well, I think. I have assembled a pretty kick-ass lab group. My first student is preparing for hir qualifying exam, and I'm proud of how well ze is doing. I'm also terrified of sitting in the room during the exam - not because I think it will go poorly, but I'm sure I will be a total wreck. But I digress. In the lab, projects are moving forward. We published a methods-based paper this year and have a review article in the pipeline. I expect that we will get at least two (and hopefully three) papers with NEW AND AWESOME results submitted this year. I have secured a reasonable amount of funding for my lab, including my K99/R00 award, pilot awards, and foundation money. I sat on a tenure-track faculty search committee, and served as an Early Career Reviewer for the NIH (and I blogged about it!). I have submitted two R01 applications and have another planned for the fall deadline. There have also been some bumps. I had to fire someone (that sucked!), and my first grant was triaged :(, so I will probably be resubmitting that one in the spring.

This year I will definitely have some new things to consider, though. For instance, I start teaching (YIKES!). A big undergrad class. Luckily I don't have to do this alone, and the other profs teaching with me are very helpful and I think (hope?) it will go pretty smoothly. Oh yeah, and I will get to sit on SO MANY GRADUATE QUALIFYING EXAMS! I am also being given more responsibilities (and some leadership opportunities) in the service that I do. This is mostly a good thing, but will definitely be another drain of time and energy. But where SHIT GETS REAL is the money. This is the last year of my R00, so that cushion is going to disappear soon. I need to land an R01 so that the lab can continue to function...and it needs to be soon, before my tenure package goes out for review.  *gulp*

MOAR @emergencypuppy!

And that is how shit is getting real for me. The first couple of years there was the excitement of setting up a lab. Everything was full of potential. But now...well, now potential isn't enough. It's time to cash in on the potential and make something awesome happen.

Guess which one of these guys I'm relating to:

6 responses so far

out on the tenure track - sad story

Jul 16 2012 Published by under academia, queer

There was a fellow, Albert Romkes, who got a tenure-track position at the University of Kansas in Mechanical Engineering. When he came up for tenure, he got approved by his Department and School, but then was denied by the University level administrators (full story here). He was the first and only openly gay faculty member in the School of Engineering. There is no way to know why the Dean decided to deny tenure to Dr. Romkes. Some of the faculty and other members of the KU community feel like he was not treated fairly (there may have been some shenanigans with the "rules" applied by the P&T committee) because of his sexual orientation. KU, obviously, denies discrimination.

Romkes doesn't feel like he was actively tormented as an openly gay faculty member at KU, though it was apparently a little awkward to bring his partner to events. Still, this is what he has to say about the situation now:

"In hindsight, I should have mentioned it in the interview because I could have avoided a lot of misery," he says, "If anybody would have had a problem, they wouldn't have hired me, and I would have been better off. I would have done my work anyway, but at a different place. And I wouldn't have to deal with this issue."

 

h/t @bam294 for the link

19 responses so far

Gerty goes to study section, part 3

Jul 15 2012 Published by under academia, tenure-track OTJT

It is about time! I got a little distracted, but it is time to finish telling you all about my study section experience. In case you can't remember, in part 1 I wrote about how I ended up as an ECR on an NIH study section, and in part 2 went on about what I did leading up to the meeting. Now part 3 - the meeting!

You guys, the meeting itself was exhausting! We started at 7:30 am, and went until 6:00 pm. We were meeting in a conference room with a giant table. Everyone had an assigned seat, and you got a seating chart so you would know who everyone is. The first few minutes are milling about and getting coffee/pastries*, setting up your computer and getting it connected to the wireless, etc. Then the meeting starts with the SRO welcoming everyone and explaining the rules. You all check your COI form to make sure that it is correct. Then she hands the meeting over to the Chairperson of the study section.

The Chairperson then starts the review process. The first grant is announced, and anyone that is in conflict leaves the room. For each review, it basically went the way it is shown in the movie made by NIH. Each reviewer announces their primary impact score. Then the first reviewer gives a short description of the grant and what were the strengths/weaknesses that led to its score. Then the other reviewers add anything that they considered to drive their score. At this time, everyone else is listening and looking over the grant, particularly the Project Summary and Aims but you could pull up the whole grant on your computer.

After all the reviewers spoke, then anyone could ask questions. There were lots of questions. Questions could be about the science or the scoring. For example, you could ask a reviewer why they gave a grant a 1 but had many concerns about the approach. Or you could ask for clarification about what experiments they were (or were not) proposing. Or you could ask about the interpretation of the preliminary data. The reviewers answered the questions (which is why it is so important to make sure they have all the information they need to advocate for your project!). After 10 minutes or so the Chairperson summarizes the discussion, and asks the Primary Reviewer if there are any concerns about animal use or reagent sharing (seriously people, don't forget to fill these sections out). Then the original three reviewers announce their final impact score, which may (or may not) have changed. This sets the "range". The Chairperson then asks if anyone will be voting outside the range, and you have to raise your hand if you are. If you didn't say anything at all during the discussion but then indicate you are voting outside of the range, the Chairperson may ask why. They mostly want to know if it was something in the discussion or something else. Then everyone enters their score on the online form. And then on to the next grant.

The order that the grants were reviewed was based on preliminary impact score. The R01 from ESI were the first group, with the "best" scored grants first. We only discussed the top half, the rest were "not discussed" (aka triaged)**. But every grant was announced and we all had to agree to triage, so if one person wanted to discuss the grant, then it was discussed. After the ESI R01, we went through all the top half of the rest of the R01 applications. Midway through this group we got a 30 min break for lunch (seriously, it was a LONG day). Then we started on the R21 and R03. There were so many R21. SO MANY. After about 10 hours of this, we stopped and all of us went to dinner, which was pretty awesome. The SRO made sure I got introduced to everyone, especially the BSD in my field that were there, which was awesome. The next morning we met again to finish the R21. We worked through lunch, and finished early in the afternoon. It was crazy.

The whole process was fascinating, really. We all know that there is no formula that derives an impact score, but it is really amazing how each grant was evaluated differently. For some grants, the approach was KEY. But there were some where the reviewers noted significant concerns about the approach but still gave it a very good impact score because of the investigator, or vice versa (for instance). Every so often the SRO would interrupt the discussion to make sure that we were following the rules. For instance, we were not allowed to say "This grant would be better if they had controlled for widget frequency". You could only raise concerns. This was to prevent people from assuming if they did everything the reviewers "suggest" that they would get a better score. Because who knows? There were also some times that the SRO would ask someone to clarify their score, if it wasn't clear that they were following the scoring system rubric. This was to try to avoid score compression. There was also a program officer there, but she didn't say anything during the meeting, just watched.

Being on study section was really interesting experience. I think that I knew many of the concepts of what was happening (thanks for folks like DrugMonkey and PhysioProf, etc.). But seeing it in person really brought it all home.

Now all I have to do is translate this experience into my own successful grant!

Do you guys have questions, or requests to expand on something? I don't have a plan for a Part 4, but I am open to suggestions.

 

*apparently this is the last meeting that will have these, though. New rules prevent the NIH from buying food or coffee for these meetings.

**You get notified that day if you are triaged, based on my personal experience. But you don't get to see your preliminary scores for a while after that.

8 responses so far

Say it with me: XX are not inherently "bitchy"

Jul 10 2012 Published by under academia, gender

Today as I am flitting about spastically trying to get shit done before I leave town tomorrow, I was distracted by a conversation on twitter that pissed me off SO MUCH. I don't know how it started, I noticed when someone made a comment about hiring (I think it was Namnezia [ed: OK, so it was apparently ProfLike Substance. My bad - gz]) wondering if the boilerplate diversity statement "woman and minorities are encouraged to apply" actually did anything to encourage women or minorities to apply. A fair question, I think.

And then shit went off the rails. There are apparently a lot of tweeps that are urging their PIs to hire men for open positions in their lab. Not because the XY candidates are more qualified or anything. But because there are already "too many" females. Now, I think that most labs have too few members to make an argument about over- or under-representation (statistics of low n and such). I tried to ignore this conversation - I have a lot of shit to do! But I couldn't resist pointing out that the XX faculty are pretty underrepresented where I am. Other folks chimed in that this was true for them, too. Now this is just another anectdote, I know. But there is a certain amount of hand-wringing about the "leaky pipeline" that I think XX representation in science IS actually a problem*.

So why do the tweeps (many of them XX, btw) feel the need for more XY lab mates? Because "too may XX - more conflict/bitchiness/problems in the lab".

OH FOR FUCK SAKE PEOPLE. Can we stop with this already? Men are just as conflict-prone and bitchy as women. It is just that we hold it against the XX. This is the classic no-win situation. Please, stop this shit. Everyone. It drives me insane to hear WOMEN make this argument. Ladies. We can do better than this.

I think I may have bitched about this topic before.

 

*again, I'm a little swamped so I don't have time to look up the stats.

25 responses so far

Gerty goes to study section, part 2

Jun 14 2012 Published by under academia, grants, on the job training

In this installment, I'm going to talk about what I did BEFORE I even got to study section. Obviously, everything I say (ever) is specific to my own experience. YMMV, etc. If you want to read about how I ended up as an ECR, see part 1.

After I was invited to study section, the real work started. I had to actually review grants! As an ECR (what a convenient acronym!), I had a reduced load. I only had to review about 30% as many grants as the "real" members of study section. At NIH, grants all get reviewed by 3-4 different people, who are cleverly named the "primary", "secondary", "third" and "fourth" reviewer*.  All reviewers that were new to this study section had an "official" training conference call with the SRO to make sure we were all on the same page. We talked about the focus of the study section, the scoring protocol, different grant mechanisms, and how to deal with ESI/NI applications (there was no difference in these two categories, as far as I could tell). We also all filled out the conflict-of-interest form. The NIH had identified folks you may have a conflict with (you work at same institution, have recently collaborated, etc), but you are expected to note any others that may be perceived as a COI.

Then, the scoring. NIH grants are scored for five criteria: Significance, Approach, Innovation, Investigator, and Environment. You can tell they are important because they are always written as proper nouns. Each criteria gets scored on a scale of 1-9 (PDF of scale),  1 is "exceptional", 9 is "poor". And then you list bullet points of strengths and weaknesses - that should justify the score you gave, of course! If you list a lot of weaknesses it will be hard to defend a "3", for example. In order to prevent score compression, you are encouraged to consider a 5 as average. We were all told that if we score something better or worse than 5 we should be able to justify why. In addition to the criterion scores, each grant gets an overall Impact score. The impact score is the Big Deal. There is no formula that derives the Impact score from the criterion scores. Instead, you have to decide what are the most important aspects of the application (both plus and minus). Then you decide what the potential for the proposed research to have a long-lasting and significant effect on the field is. This is the Impact score. Different factors contribute to the Impact score for each application. Some get lifted by the Approach, others by the Significance, and some by Investigator. At least one reviewer writes a paragraph explaining the Impact score that they assigned, so that the grant writer knows what was driving the score.

The point of the ECR program, at least in part, is to groom us young-uns to be good reviewers. Therefore, even though I was third reviewer for all of my grants, I did a full write up for all of them, including paragraph justifying my Impact score. I was expected to have mine done well before everyone else, so that the SRO could look at them. I was NOT given any direction on what to say, but ze looked at my reviews to give me feedback on whether the comments I made were consistent with the scores I was giving, and if I was going into enough/too much detail in each section. I actually found this really, really helpful. I have no personal experience with the new scoring system. The last NIH grant I wrote (my K99/R00) was still from the 25-page format and old scoring procedure.

It was surprisingly hard to give out bad scores! But I do what I gotta do. For each of my grants, I did some literature searches and read up so that I had an understanding of the field. Obviously, all of the grants were in my Field, but some were outside of my own sub-field expertise. This was important to help me figure out what the "impact" of the research might be [HINT: spell out what the "impact" will be when you are writing a grant!!!!] In addition to "my" grants, I read the Aims page of all the grants we would be reviewing (THIS IS WHY YOUR AIMS PAGE IS SO IMPORTANT). Then there were a couple other grants that I read because they sounded interesting, were by folks I knew, or were somewhat related to what I did.

A week or so before the meeting, final reviews are due. After all the reviews are in, you can see what the other reviewers thought of all the grants (except those you have a conflict with). I was Freaking EcstaticTM when my scores were - more or less - in line with what others had to say about the grants. It was also interesting to see what others picked up on, or missed. And it was REALLY interesting how different factors were weighted to come up with the Impact score for each grant. Sometimes, the Approach was the most important thing, other times the Investigator score  was really important, etc. But...these are the preliminary scores! Everything can change at the meeting.... stay tuned for part 3.

(How am I doing with the cliff-hanger here?)

 

*Don't ask me, I don't make the rules. Maybe, "tertiary" and "quarternary" are hard to say.

13 responses so far

Gerty goes to study section, part 1

Jun 12 2012 Published by under academia, grants, on the job training

Things have been pretty crazy, tweeps. I have some good news and some bad news.

First, the bad news: my first grant got triaged :( I am now waiting to get the reviewer comments, and then I will talk to my PO and evaluate whether it is worth resubmitting as an A1 (chance of going from triage -> funded very, very low). Alternatively, I might re-work this application so much that it will go back as a new A0. We shall see.

Second, the good news: I didn't get fired! Woo Hoo :) I got an official letter from the dean saying that I have been reappointed for the second three-year term. At the end of which I must be promoted to Associate with tenure or...not.

But in the last week I have also had the chance to sit on a real-live NIH study section. And I learned SO MUCH. And I want to share my new-found knowledge with YOU, of course. PLS had a great post from when he was on an NSF review panel, so hopefully my experience on this NIH study section will also be useful. Therefore, consider the rest of this post the first installment of the new series "Gerty goes to study section".

I sat on study section as an Early Career Reviewer (ECR*). This is a relatively new program to get young-uns involved in peer review so we will be better peer-reviewers and better grant writers. You can apply to be an ECR (there is an email link at the page linked above), but that is not how I stumbled into this gig. I actually ended up chatting with the SRO of a study section after giving a talk at a society meeting a couple of years ago. We were talking about the new ECR program, and I mentioned that it was something I would really like to volunteer for. Then a few months ago, I got an email from SRO asking if I would join in! Of course I said yes. And that, friends, is how I ended up on study section.

 

*because, right, that needs it's own acronym. Sigh.

18 responses so far

That is DR. Gerty to you, FFS.

May 07 2012 Published by under academia

I was reading an article at the Chronicle of Higher Education today, "The PhD now comes with food stamps". I was prepared to be all pissed off at how governments have repeatedly cut funding to higher education, how some schools have responded by hiring more adjunt or non-TT faculty to teach, and how these faculty get totally shafted. What I was not expecting was to discover that the Chronicle  doesn't think that it should refer to people who have a PhD as "Dr."? Instead, the author referred to the woman in the story as "Ms.".

What a fucking way to kick her while she is down. I don't go around demanding that folks refer to me as "Dr.". But if someone is writing about me in a formal kind of way, they should use the damn honorific. I've been informed on twitter that this is just "style" to keep people from being confused. I do not understand how using the appropriate title is confusing. People aren't actually that stupid. And I'm sure that folks who read the Chronicle can keep up with the titles.

DrugMonkey covered this same issue wrt to MSM dropping the title of Dr. Biden back in 2009. Maybe I'm just a little irritated that people can mistake me for a TA or office administrator. Perhaps it is getting emails addressed to "Dear Sir". But when you are addressing me formally, you can call me Dr. Gerty, thankyouverymuch.

9 responses so far

When to disclose a second body

Apr 08 2012 Published by under academia, hiring

First, just to be clear. I am not talking about when to disclose where you have buried the second body (@Bam294) or thinking about a physics problem set (@eugeneday) or conjoined twins (@BabyAttachMode). I am talking about when you should disclose that you have a partner that will also need a position when you are searching for a tenure-track job.

The other day I was having a conversation with a colleague about their recent job search. If there is one thing that can really get you worked up, it is when your junior faculty search fails. You put in all that work, spent so much time with interviews, maybe had an uncomfortable (or damn unpleasant) faculty meeting, only to end up not hiring anyone. Now, Dr. Zen claims that folks in his part of the woods don't get irritated when they have a failed search. That is not my experience. We aren't upset at a candidate that decides to go somewhere else. But it is definitely not a happy time when we don't hire someone at the end of a search. Searches can fail for any number of reasons. A common reason,  the person you want to hire has several other offers and goes somewhere else. You can then find yourself chatting with a colleague trying to figure out why the job candidate didn't pick your department. Did they have an offer from Super Prestigious Uni? Did another program spend more on a startup than us? Did their adviser tell your friend that they really wanted to leave near a corn field? This is often just idle speculation, but after you put a lot of work into a search sometimes you just wanna know. You know?

Which brings me (finally) to the point of this post. When I was chatting my colleague, they seemed to think that their search had failed because of a two-body problem. Their top candidate had an offer somewhere else that was able to also provide a nice position for their spouse. Now, I don't really know if my colleague's dept. could have found (or even tried) something for the spouse. What caught my attention was that my colleague expressed the view that they wished candidates would disclose two-body problems up front in the job search process, even in the initial application.

My gut reaction is that this is a horrible idea. But I'm just one person. I went to twitter*:

There was a general consensus that no, you should not disclose this in your application. It is not relevant to your ability to do the job, and it is none of the search committee's business. All it could do would be hurt your chances of getting an interview. Dr. Isis put it bluntly, but this view was shared by many:

But there were a couple of tweeps that raised the same argument that my colleague had:

The argument here is that, if you did disclose your two-body problem, that this would give the department more time to come up with a "solution". The corollary is that if a dept. had no chance of EVER solving a two-body problem that they know that they shouldn't bother interviewing you. Because you would never be able to join their faculty. If you interviewed it would just be a waste of everyone's time. This is bullshit on so many levels. First, as I have argued before, IMO job interviews are almost NEVER a waste of time (for the applicant). There is a lot to be gained from interviews outside of a job offer. Second, I think that it is generally not a great thing when a search committee spends a lot of time thinking about IF a given candidate will choose to join their department. It is true that at some level "recruitability" is going to be something that the committee cares about (see above about not wanting to end up with a failed search). But it is not our job, as a search committee, to decide for someone if they want to take a job on our faculty. There are lots of people that live apart from their spouse. I don't have to, thankfully, but I would be pretty pissed if I wasn't offered a job because this was not an option. Who is the search committee to make this decision for me? DrugMonkey also brought up that another problem with gating on "recruitability" or "fit" can be the exclusion of anyone that is at all "different" (read from bottom to top):

It may be that I have not sat through enough searches, but my limited experience suggests that women are more likely to have a two-body "problem" during a search. I cannot explain this (men get married, too!). I suspect that women are more up-front about the second body.

What would you tell a postdoc that was getting ready to go on the job market with a second-body problem? Would your advice be different for a man vs. woman?

For those of us that have to sit on search committees: what do you think is the best way to handle a two-body problem?

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Here is what I would advise my hypothetical postdoc: Bring up the second-body the minute you have an offer, and not a second sooner. At that point, the faculty has decided they REALLY want to hire you. There is incentive to "solve" the "problem". Instead of just avoid it.

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*thanks to all the tweeps that jumped into the conversation!

36 responses so far

imposter? who, me??

Apr 05 2012 Published by under academia

Although things have been crazy the past week or so, but I have been reading with interest the posts about the Imposter Syndrome. The first I ran across was from Scicurious, and then Dr. Isis (and many others by now, but I don't have time to link to everyone--SORRY! I think there is a Carnival going on, so hopefully all the posts will be collected there.)

I have found that starting my own lab is both awesome and terrifying. Is this IS? I don't know. There is nothing more exciting than getting the keys to your own lab. But shit gets real very quickly when you are standing, alone, in an empty lab. Just a big room with empty shelves. So quiet. And empty. You can maybe hear the clock ticking. It's lonely. It is still hard for me to believe that I am not going to crash and burn in this job. My lab is still in the process of getting going. The room isn't empty anymore...but we haven't put out a paper from my group yet. I'm still learning how to be a good mentor. This is especially terrifying, because I have some really good students. If they fail it will be largely on me. My stomach churns thinking about this.

When I start freaking out too much, I try to take a deep breath. Maybe have a drink. And realize that, in the end, all I can do is try. Do the best I can. Write grants, interact with students, try to get experiments done so we can write papers. To carry on Sci's sports analogy (because I like to run, so it works for me): this job is like a marathon. You have to just keep going, even if it feels like you are running into a wall. In the end, it doesn't really matter if you finish first or last. As long as you finish. I don't look at it like a race against my competitors. When I race, I'm trying to beat myself. What is the absolute best I can do? If I end the race feeling like I really did give it my best shot, then I won. I am trying to have a similar attitude for my race down the tenure track. It can sometimes be very hard sometimes to NOT feel like a failure. Or that I am letting someone down. But then I remind myself that I am leaving it all on the track. If I don't make it to the finish line, it won't be because I held something back.

5 responses so far

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