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

Snarky advice for undergraduates

Sep 05 2012 Published by under linky links

Prof. Snarky has some great advice for undergrads that are working in a lab this year. Go check it out.

No responses yet

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

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

herding cats

Feb 19 2012 Published by under academia, administrative crap, exhaustion

Well, I'm back from another super-awesome conference. This was not my normal crowd, so I made a lot of fantastic new contacts and got some ideas that could start up new research directions for my lab. And there was even some skiing!!! Not that much internet access, though.

Which leads to the downside... I had to do so much work while I was gone! This was the first meeting that I actually had to skip a session to work. Sure, there have been meetings where I needed to get some writing done or read something. But damn! This was crazy. EVERYONE knew that I was going to be gone--and would not have reliable access to email. However, this did not in any way reduce the number of emails I got that required--REQUIRED--my attention within the hour. Like when I got an email asking for something that apparently needed to be done by Friday. I had been working with the administrator on this for weeks--but for some reason s/he had not felt the need to tell me about this deadline. Most of the "emergencies" are concerning our current graduate student recruitment. Somehow (dammit!) I am "in charge" of putting together our recruitment weekend this year. This basically means that I have to get the faculty in my department to sit down and talk to prospective students. Imagine scheduling your dissertation exam...times 20.

sigh. I just got back into town after being gone a week. Right now, hanging out with my wife and Mini-G are top priority. This morning we had crepes and then the first ever sleep-over commenced. We have had so much fun! We went to the playground, made dinner, and watched a movie. There are two girls in Mini-G's bedroom desperately trying to be quiet right now (not very well).

I doubt that anyone at MRU is actually desperately waiting a response over the weekend, but if they are...well, I guess I don't care. This shit will still be happening next week.

 

 

6 responses so far

The most important thing you will ever do

Feb 09 2012 Published by under academia, parenting

When Dr. Mrs. GZ* finally got pregnant, one of the more scary days of my life was telling my PI. I was a postdoc at the time. I had been around a couple of years, and was pretty sure that my boss was going to be cool. But there was a bit of uncertainty. Had I just "ruined" my career? Would my funding go away? And would my j-o-b follow right behind???

I think everything worked out OK. Yes, there were a few months that shit was slow. But I got caught up on my sleep and grouped my poop**. I thought I was pretty efficient before the kiddo. But I have turned it up a notch. I found a way to get everything done AND have a baby in my life. I wrote a K99, it got funded, then I published some papers, went out on the job market, and started my own lab. And hell, I just submitted my very own R01.

Five years later*** I am not sure I have the work/life "balance" thing figured out. Mini-G is awesome, and I can't imagine my life without her. You know what I can imagine? How terrifying it must be to go out looking for a postdoc/other job when you are pregnant.  There is a fantastic, and important post over at Chemical BiLOLogy about this. You should go read. Now. I'll wait.

 

 

I was lucky. My postdoc advisor was freaking fantastic. When I told him my wife was pregnant he gave me a big hug. Then  high-5. It was the most positive reaction I ever got from him****. I know this is not always the norm. I had it good, and if I ever have pregnant postdocs/students I want to behave the same way. I can do these things that make it OK to be a woman that has children in academia. But there has to be more. Right? Because if we want to keep women in the academic world, it HAS to be OK to have kids while you are in the "early" part of your career, especially when you are a postdoc.

Please go back over to Chemical BiLOLogy and add your ideas about how, as a community, we can make it OK to be a #scimom. What projects/programs need to exist to make this a more reasonable career path?

 

*Wow. I need to get a better pseud for my wife.
**Thank you, Namnezia for this hilarious version of "get your shit together"
***HOLY SHIT
****I was told, at that moment, that raising a child is "The most important thing you will ever do".

11 responses so far

finding small pots of cash

Feb 08 2012 Published by under academia, grants

The vast majority of my time and energy as an assistant professor is spent trying to get funding for my lab. Without money, there is no one to do my kick-ass science. Start-up funds don't last forever, and (at least at my MRU) if you don't get an R01 from the NIH you won't get tenure. Even if you don't need an R01 in your gig, if research is a big part of your job you are probably expected to secure some sort of federal funding. So, yeah. You are gonna write applications for the big grants.

But at many places there are other, smaller pots of money that you should also keep an eye out for. These can be called "pilot grants" or "seed money" or "intramural funds". These are usually small grants, IME from 10-50K/yr. They generally last only 1 or 2 years. Just enough to do a fun experiment, develop a reagent, or pay part of a salary. In the first years my lab has cobbled together a not-insignificant amount of cash from the pilot/seed programs around here.

I <3 THE SEED $$!!

The question is: how do you find the seed money and get some for yourself? This is clearly going to be specific to your home institute/MRU. If there are any consortium or project grants around these sometimes will have funds for pilot grants. Some Uni will also use some of the money they earn from licensing IP to fund new pilot grants. You may have to keep your ear to the ground, because these opportunities tend to pop up without much warning. Another great thing is that the money can also show up pretty quickly. I have had less than 3 months from application to budget number, for example.

The applications are generally short. You need to propose a project that you can do in just a year or two, after all. It is not realistic to drop a 3-Aim R01 on a pilot grant. When I write for a pilot grant, I try to make it as explicit as possible how doing the proposed research will set me up to write an R01 (or equivalent) in the future. Most of the seed money sources that I am familiar with really want to know that they did something to start up a new project and that their money has been leveraged into something bigger.

The review of these grants can be internal, or your grant could be sent out to external reviewers. Either way, you will want to be familiar to the folks that have this kind of money and run these programs. You gotta get to know the folks that are running the big project grants in your area. Just like any other area, networking is a Good Thing. Even if there isn't a pilot grant on the line (now), you want these BSD folks to know who you are. Pitch your research program to them, and see what they think is most interesting. I have used these kinds of interactions to get an idea of how folks outside my MRU are gonna respond to different research ideas. And it is helpful to know what outside folks will think are the weaknesses, so you are ready to defend them.

There is almost nothing to lose from applying for pilot grant seed money. IME, junior faculty can be really successful in getting these kinds of funds. In fact, some of these programs are actually LIMITED to us jr. faculty. And it may be that more established researchers aren't going to go through the trouble for such a little pile of cash. But little piles of cash can be a big deal when you are starting out. You can generate some preliminary data, and get some feedback on a future Aim for a Big Grant. So, fellow assistant professors: I say, go for the seed money! Good luck :)

7 responses so far

Sometimes people are just assholes

Jan 11 2012 Published by under academia, gender

The other day my new lab had a happy hour to ring in the new year. I have also just landed a new grad student (WOO HOO) and also convinced a super-awesome high-level research scientist* to join my group. I'm seriously psyched. :)

While my newly-expanded group was all sitting around a table I realized all of the sudden that we are overwhelmingly female. Including undergrads and rotation students right now we are 7 women and 1 man. Weird! When I first started my lab we were pretty close to 1:1 but when numbers are small it is easy to fluctuate pretty quickly, I guess. I'm really happy with my group right now. Everyone is engaged and works together really well. I don't really care how many X or Y chromosomes we have.

Shortly after noticing that my lab had skewed in one direction someone on twitter made a comment about how the gender distribution of their lab was skewed (I'm not sure who started the thread-the first one in my timeline is @27andaphd). As expected with low n numbers, there were labs that were mostly male, and some that were mostly female. No big deal, right. But then the conversation took a weird turn. Someone* mentioned that they were in a male-dominated group and that this was good because they don't like to work with women because "I'm a hard ass". This was followed by @agreenmonster who tweeted:

I have a big problem here. This is an idea that gets kicked around a lot. The idea that women who are faculty are somehow not as rigorous as their male colleagues. And the ones that are competent are mean or psycho or evil and "pull up the ladder" because they don't want junior women to succeed.

I CALL BULLSHIT.

Yes, there are some women academics that are assholes. There are also men down the hall that are assholes. Sometimes, people are just assholes. It has nothing to do with their gender. But there is a common stereotype that women are worse than men. And THIS is the kind of attitude that makes it hard to be a women in the sciences. If you get along with everyone you are "soft" and probably not rigorous. Maternal, maybe. But if you are a hard-ass then you are a "psycho" that is "pulling up the ladder". This is a ridiculous double standard. If this is what you expect from a woman scientist, then this is what you will perceive. It will be a self-fulfilling prophesy And it is FUCKED UP.

There are some shitty mentors out there. Some of them are women. But not all of them. If we only highlight the women that are assholes this leads to a perception that women and men are different. This sets the bar for all women, and it makes the whole academic situation harder. Because now, if you are a woman in academia you might try to behave in such a way that everyone won't think that you are "psycho". Maybe you try not to be aggressive or "bitchy" (the feminine of aggressive, to some). Now you are perceived as less rigorous or engaged. You can't win.

We have to stop this. If you hear this kind of bullshit, call it out. The twitter conversation about this topic ended with everyone agreeing that assholes gonna be assholes. And hopefully convinced some folks that they can't let these kinda statements just fly by without comment.

There is no such thing as a "male" way to do science. There is just culture and the way groups interact. I'm kinda a hard-ass, myself. I've been told that my lab has a pretty "male" culture**. In my group, I expect a lot of people. It's OK to be wrong, because if you are never wrong you are Doing It Wrong. But you have to be willing to defend your ideas and recognize when your arguments fail. Sometimes discussions get pretty animated (even aggressive). But we all understand that, while it is OK to be wrong, it is not OK to be disrespectful. You can tell someone their idea is full of shit, but it's not personal. Attacking ideas is expected, attacking people is not tolerated. There is nothing "male" about that. It is just kick-ass science.

 

*since they have a protected twitter account I won't list them by name here.

**don't worry-I also make sure the person that said this knew how fucked up it was.

NOTE ADDED IN PROOF: Hermie totally scooped me!!! Make sure that you go and read her views on this, which are spot-on.

[edited to remove my html cheating]

32 responses so far

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