Archive for the 'mentoring' category

appreciation #drugmonkeyday

Sep 23 2016 Published by under awesomeness, colleagues, mentoring, on the job training

As I'm going through the final push through the process of getting tenure, I need to take a minute to say thanks to the folks that have helped me so much over the last 6-ish years.

I've been very lucky to have some really great mentors. I'm not really impressed with formal "mentoring committees", but I have absolutely benefitted from some great people who have helped me along in this journey. People that help me figure out what to do when there are issues managing my lab, or ordering, etc. And there are also those folks that sometimes take me out for a drink and (sometimes) give me a quick kick to the ass. Thank you to everyone!!

I want to take one small moment to shout out to DrugMonkey, who has been so incredibly helpful. If you don't read DM's blog you are missing out. Interacting with DM has helped me so much. I've gotten practical, realistic advice that has helped me learn my way around the NIH funding system. And I've gotten some of the best mentoring out there - advice, encouragement, commiseration.

Thanks, dude.

One response so far

So you wanna do a postdoc...

Feb 23 2014 Published by under academia, mentoring

In my part of the science world, it is very common to do some postdoctoral training. I'm not going to get into whether or not doing a postdoc is a good idea, nor debate whether there are too many PhD's or anything like that. For the purposes of this post, let's assume that you have considered options and have decided that you just can't leave the academic bench yet and that you want to do a postdoc. Now what? Applying for a postdoc is not as structured as applying to graduate school. And I'm sure that the process is different for different disciplines. In my world of the "basic" biomedical research, this is basically how it goes (YMMV, etc):

1. Pick out some potential postdoc mentors.
You need to start this about 12 months before you are defending. For realz. You need to give us PI's a chance to figure out if we have the money and space to add a member to the team. If you contact me and want to start next month you might get lucky - but if you give me some notice then I may be able to juggle things and make something work. Starting early has the added bonus that you can apply for fellowships early and often! woot! 😉

There are a million ways to find labs in which you might want to postdoc. However, IME most labs don't advertise open postdoctoral positions. It's weird. We just sit there waiting for applicants. Maybe there is a announcement on our website (which may or may not be up-to-date :-/). Maybe. So don't be discouraged if a lab you are interested in doesn't seem to be looking for any new fellows. The right fit for you is going to depend on what, exactly you want to get out of your postdoctoral training. Want to learn a new technique? Move your research into a new field or subfield? Transition to industry? Get training in outreach/journalism/policy? Make a run at a tenure-track faculty position? Whatever it is, you need to identify the PI's that you think could help you advance your career.

After you generate a list of labs that you think would be a good fit for you, it is time to start vetting. Figure out how previous postdocs in the lab have done - are they in the kinds of jobs that you would like to have? Talk to people your advisor and anyone else that you trust. Ask them about the folks on your list. Do folks working in the same sub-sub-field think particularly highly of anyone on your list? Does anyone have a reputation of being difficult to work with, or unfair? Gather all the information that you can. Then pare down the list to something manageable. You should try to settle on a final list of 3-5, at most.    

2. Prepare your application.
Ok, there isn't really an application. Just a letter that you are going to send to PI's to tell them you are interested in working with them. More importantly, to convince them that THEY should be interested in having you as a postdoc. This is the key. What can you bring to the group? You don't need to go on about what you did as a grad student (that is why you are enclosing your CV!). Basically, I want to be able to quickly figure out the general area of your graduate research, including whose lab you are in, and approximately when you would want to join my lab. I also like to see some indication of WHY you picked my lab. Finally, explain to me what YOU bring to the table that should make me want to recruit you. How would you make my group better?  Put your letter in front of anyone that will read it. Constructive feedback is your friend. Also, you really don't want to have a typo in your letter.

3. Update your CV.
Your curriculum vitae - you life's work. If this is a mess, I assume you are a mess. Don't be a mess. Your CV should highlight your achievements. Organize it so that you put your best foot forward. There is no standard format for a CV, so you have some flexibility here. You should lead with your name, contact info, education, and research experience. After that the order depends on what job you are applying for. If you want to work in my lab, the next thing I want to see is publications and research funding you have been awarded. I don't need to see a list of research techniques, or a list of all the computer programs you know how to use (and please, please don't tell me how you are proficient in Word. please). If you have special skills, make sure that is obvious. If you are really good with Python or R, I should know that looking at your CV. List things in reverse-chronological order so that your most recent achievements (which are probably the most relevant) are at the top of the list.

The post-doc application CV is the only time I think it is OK to include manuscripts that are "in preparation". There are some projects that work out so that all the publications happen at the end, and you might not have them out when you are applying for postdocs. That can be OK. But DON'T list anything that isn't actually in preparation. If I ask your advisor about an "in prep" manuscript and they don't know what the hell I'm talking about that is bad.

I strongly encourage everyone to always keep the CV up to date. I have a "long-form" CV in my dropbox that I update anytime anything happens. It has EVERYTHING on it. When I need to send a CV for something I simply save this under a new name and cut out the parts that I don't need. Easy peasy.

4. Contact potential postdoc advisors.
Go time! Send an email to the potential postdoc advisor that includes your letter (in the body of the email), CV (attached as a PDF), and a list of references with contact information (can be included in CV or attached as a PDF). Now you just have to wait (sorry!). If you are writing to me you will probably wait longer if there is an approaching NIH grant deadline. If you haven't heard back in 2 weeks, you should follow up with another email asking if there is any other information that they would like to see. If you still hear nothing, then move on to someone else on the list.

And just like that, you too can be a post-doc! Good luck 🙂

6 responses so far

time flies on by

Jul 26 2012 Published by under mentoring, queer, Uncategorized

This week has been a little ... crazy.

First there is only what can be considered a mentoring FAIL. I am writing a review article with a grad student, and I think it is fair to say that I royally botched it. It became clear (a little late in the process) that I had not given my very new graduate student enough guidance. This is not hir fault. My expectations were totally out of whack. So now I have spent the last week spastically writing the thing over, and will have to work to make sure that ze does not feel like a failure because so little of hir sentences show up in the final version.

But then things looked up! My wife sent me a picture of a super-cute fuzzy little puppy. And he gets to come and live with us! YAY for PUPPIES!

zOMG! It's a super-cute puppy!

And finally, today is my anniversary.* Nine years ago, my wife and I stood with a small group of friends by a nice stream, said some nice things, and then had a super dinner. It was awesome. We told Mini-G about the anniversary this morning and her immediate response was "so what are we doing?". It was super cute.

 

*A question that I always get when people hear it is my anniversary is: "Really? I didn't think that gay marriage was legal". Please don't be that person. My relationship is not recognized by the government, but that does not change the fact that today is my anniversary. FFS.

 

 

36 responses so far

Welcome to the lab, Dr. Postdoc!

Mar 21 2012 Published by under academia, mentoring, on the job training

It wasn't that long ago that I was a new postdoc (shut up! It really wasn't that long ago). IME being a postdoc is awesome! You learned the basics of how to be a scientist as a graduate student. Now is you chance to develop your research skillz in a protected and supported environment. It is about as close to a CareBear Tea Party as you are gonna get in this business.

Being a postdoc is not always easy, and I know there are some disgruntled postdocs out there. There can be issues with your mentor, issues with the science. There are always going to be struggles as you work to find your own path and develop your career. It is hard work, and can be scary. You will most likely move to a new city. Maybe you moved to a new place for grad school, but this time you will not be entering with a bunch of classmates. You will be thrown into a fully-formed lab that may already have political baggage and/or a defined hierarchy. At some point you will start wondering what is expected of you. There is no universal answer, because every lab and every postdoc is different. But, here is a list of advice based on what I think helped me when I was a new postdoc and that I hope postdocs that join my lab will follow:

1. Don't assume that you know more than techs or graduate students because you have a PhD. Coming in as a n00b postdoc with a superiority complex will not help you. You will need help from your new colleagues, so don't act like a douche. Be a good lab citizen, and build a relationship with the lab folks.

2. Be ready to learn something new. Maybe you enter a whole new field and have to learn brand-new techniques and approaches. Perhaps you are in a lab that has some overlap with what you did as a grad student. Learn how folks in your new place do things. Realize that there is more than one way to do most things...and yours is not necessarily the "best".

3. Take the initiative. Don't expect for someone to "give" you a project. Find and read the important papers and come up with ideas of your own. Consider advice from your new PI, and people in the lab, but argue for your own ideas and approaches. Own your project. Find fellowships that you can apply for. Apply for them.

4. Get to know your colleagues. Find other new postdocs and get to know them. Actively build a network. You are going to need mentors, advice, and letter writers. You will have to talk to people that are not in your lab (or your institution) to do this. Don't wait to approach people until you need something. Build a relationship from the beginning. This includes other postdocs and grad students as well as faculty.

5. Think about what you want to do with your career. It is great if you want to stay in academia, but try to imagine a Plan B. If you don't want to stay in academia, figure out what you want to do. Then find out what skills you need to develop and find opportunities to do that. This can be teaching, writing, working with policy, interacting with tech transfer, etc.

6. Be realistic. It takes time to get a new project up and running. Science (and career development) takes time.

7. Don't play it safe. Your postdoc is a great time to try a high-risk/high-reward project. Be creative. You can have a back-up, "safe" project, but don't shy away from trying something "hard". Try to avoid the temptation of taking on the easy, obvious, "can't fail" project.

8. Ask questions. Lots of questions. At lab meetings, in seminars, walking through the hallways.

9. Make sure you know what is expected of you. Many of the poor postdoc-mentor relationships that I have seen stem from miscommunications. You need to make sure that you know if there are expectations about how many hours you are in lab. If you want to stay in academia, make sure you know whether you will get to take your project with you (have this conversation early in your postdoc, before it is clear how awesome your project is. Even if it is non-binding and is not a guarantee that the lab will not compete with you).

10. I honestly think that most PI want to be good mentors. Help us out! Be a good mentee.

Please add to this list in the comments! I have no doubt that there are other nuggets of advice out there for the newly-minted postdocs.

16 responses so far

GOOOOOOO Labbies!!

Background info: I played a lot of sports as a youngster, but I was never a cheerleader.

One of the crazy things you have to learn to do when you start up a lab is figure out how to keep people motivated and productive. I am certainly not an expert in this area, and I'm sure that I have made some real mistakes. But, the general approach I have been using is to try to emulate some of the great mentors that I have had. Many of these were not ever my actual lab PI, but they are folks that I have talked to about mentoring and lab management or witnessed vicariously through friends that were in their lab.

So, what did I learn that I am trying to use in my own lab? Well, (obv) everyone is different, so you can't have the same mentoring relationship with all the peeps. But in general, I try to be a cheerleader. This was explicit advice from one of my most-trusted mentoring mentors. I give advice, and try to nudge folks to do what I want. But often I just try to encourage the peeps if they are having difficulty nailing down an experimental result, finishing a fellowship application, or whatever. Because sometimes doing science is hard. It can be discouraging, particularly as a new student. I have good students in my lab. They are smart and work hard. Most of the time I just have to cheer and stay out of the way. This does NOT mean that I am not critical with the folks in my lab. If you fuck up, you'll know. We have discussions on areas in which they need more work. But this is all in the realm of constructive criticism.

I was thinking about this recently because of an interesting interaction I had when I was talking to another Asst. Prof I had called to get a reference for someone that had applied to be a postdoc in my lab. This was the second person I had talked to on the phone about Dr. PD App, and everyone was very enthusiastic. But I was asking open-ended questions and trying to see if there were any red flags (or strengths/weaknesses that I should know about if s/he was in my lab). In the course of this discussion, Asst. Prof mentioned was talking about how independent Dr. PD App was and how s/he had never needed a lot of "cheerleading". This was meant as a compliment to indicate that they were very self-motivated and persistent even when shit didn't go their way. Fair enough-score 1 for Dr. PD App! What was surprising is that Asst. Prof went on to lament about how many of his students did need cheerleading and how this was one of the most exhausting and irritating parts of his new job as the head of a lab.

I totally agree that learning to manage people in the lab can be overwhelming. But..."irritating"? Not so much. I rely on the folks in my lab to be productive so that I can write papers and grants and get tenure. In return, they get an education and a chance to develop as a young scientist. Sure, I didn't have any formal management training before I moved from the bench into the office. It is a lot of work (and pressure), but it is also rewarding. I guess I didn't really mind taking on the role as lab cheerleader.

What do you think - is cheerleading is part of being a good mentor?

 

 

12 responses so far

>happy times, happy mentoring

Jul 07 2010 Published by under jr faculty, mentoring

>I was a little cranky earlier as a result of the endless grant writing. (I mean srsly, I've submitted my 3rd application and I've only been faculty for 3 working days.). But all that is over. I have folks in the lab doing WORK!! (woo hoo) AND the sun finally came out and summer seems to be starting. AND to top it all off, I got to watch the Dutch beat up on Uruguay over lunch.

Since I'm in such a happy mood, I thought that I would share a super website I found: Materials for Nurturing Scientists. This is from Uri Alon's website, and there is some good stuff for Grad Students. And also a link to the New PI forum, which I like. Anwho, it's good stuff. You should read it, IMHO.

Enjoy!

2 responses so far

>mentoring from the sidelines

Jul 03 2010 Published by under colleagues, mentoring

>So, what should you do when you think that a colleague is taking advantage of a graduate student?

First, some background. I moved across town to start my own lab. This has several practical consequences. First, and most awesome, I can move my experiments from one place to another with minimal interruption. But what I want to focus on today is that I already know most of the faculty that are my colleagues. Generally, this is good. I had a super postdoc and I get along with almost everyone in the community. But there are also bound to be kind of awkward times, as these folks have to accept me into the secret faculty club and realize that I know the handshake, too.

This brings me to the current situation. I was talking to  a graduate student the other day. It was a hallway interaction, she had not searched me out for advice. I have known this grad student for several years, and she is one of the superstars in a highly-ranked graduate program. By every metric, she should be graduating. Now. Turns out, her advisor has been suggesting that she stick around for another year or two. In return, she can "take what she works on with her". WTF? That doesn't make sense. Where exactly is she taking this "new project"? To her postdoc in some other lab? We are in one of the biomedical fields where a postdoc is required to stay on the academic track, which is what she wants to do.

As I pressed further, Pre-doc superstar told me that she is the only person in the lab that knows how to work the Magical Data Machine. She is also, bar far, the most productive person in Dr. Advisor's lab. If she sticks around for longer, she will probably publish one or two more papers. But she will have a LONG graduate career. I think that Dr. Advisor is thinking more about his own lab than the career of Pre-Doc Superstar.

I told this student that I thought she should move on to learn something new. That I felt staying in the Grad Lab was not the best move for her, career-wise. I told her that it was not her job to worry about Dr. Advisor's lab, but that he should be more concerned about her career development. I also told her to ask other faculty in the program for advice. I generally get along with Dr. Advisor, though we have had our moments. Hopefully this won't come back to bite me in the ass.

7 responses so far