Archive for: August, 2011

Smart girls at the party

Aug 31 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I just ran across this website, which may be one of the best things of ALL TIME. It is called Smart Girls at the Party, with the tagline "change the world by being yourself". Now, that already sounds pretty awesome. BUT, if you poke around you will find that it is set up by three super-awesome women: Amy Poehler, Meredith Walker and Amy Miles. They interview women and girls who do cool stuff (like build ROBOTS).

Seriously, everyone go over there are check it out. It is freaking AWESOME.


6 responses so far

Dear postdoc applicant,

Aug 29 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

You are out of your freaking mind. I mean, really, thanks for taking the time to apply to my lab. I need a postdoc and it was great to get your email (yay! someone likes me!). But then I opened your email it went on for EVER. Honestly, I didn't read it. It was really, really long. I just don't have the time (though I did paste it into Word to find out that it was OVER 1200 WORDS!). Still, I would have opened your CV to see what was up. But here's the thing-there is no way that I was going to get to it the day before I was leaving for the weekend. If we are being honest here, and I think we are, even in the best of times it takes me a few days to respond to emails from people that are not either 1) my wife or 2) someone that will be voting on my tenure or 3) an editor of a journal that is reviewing one of my manuscripts. SO, when I got ANOTHER email from you after 4 days (3 of which I was out of town over the weekend) inquiring as to the "status of your application"...well...let's just say that pestering me won't help with your job search.

All I'm saying is LAY OFF. I'm doing the best I can here, and you are not helping your case.

OH, and please tell your friend that sending me 5 emails in ONE DAY about a postdoc in my lab is also a poor decision.


8 responses so far

Sink or swim

Aug 22 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Dr O over at the Tightrope has been recently thinking a lot about what it takes to get a tenure-track job, and whether one needs R01-like cash to land a position at a "top tier" university. And, since she used one of my comments to kick off her latest post, I will respond here.

Now, before anyone gets too wound up, I think it is nearly/totally impossible to define a "standard" for what is required to get a job on the tenure track. Every position and hiring committee is going to be different and trying to say that ANYTHING is absolutely required is an exercise in futility. Yes, you will need to publish and/or demonstrate some capacity to bring in funding $. But there is no formula that will guarantee you get a job. Also, I'm not even going to TRY to get into what "top-tier" might mean.

I digress. What I would really like to talk about is how the "culture" of a department can influence your job. As far as I can tell as a junior faculty*, department cultures can range from Care Bear Tea Party to Sink or Swim. Dr. O, though she doesn't want to judge, comes across as a person that values the Care Bear side of the spectrum. A place where everyone cares that the new assistant professor does well and succeeds, and eventually gets tenure. You know, where student have "great mentors who are respected in their field and actually invest in their students and postdocs". In this world, the Dept. Chair and senior faculty presumably mentor the n00b faculty so that they are gently introduced into the world of the tenure track.

Now, I get why this sounds...comforting. The problem is that it is bullshit. Even in the most gentle environment the transition to assistant professor is tough. AND, it is not necessarily uncomfortable or even unpleasant to be in a more...intense place. Sure, the stakes are high, but that will always be true for anyone that is on the tenure track. Does it really matter if the folks you are competing with are down the hall or across the country? Yes, there are places where more than one junior faculty member are hired for a single tenure track position. Places where tenure is a (more obvious) competition from the beginning. And I get why folks would think that such an environment could be intense or even unpleasant. But many of the places that do this routinely produce totally kick-ass science. This is where big-swinging-dicks are born, by design. These environments that are so intense also chock-full of incredibly smart, ambitious people. They recruit the "best" young scientists on the market, and the junior faculty are set off to prove their mettle with the understanding that resources will not be an excuse for having failed. In other words, SHIT-TONS of CASH and ALL THE EQUIPMENT you could ever need. That doesn't really sound so bad, does it?

The trade-off is that the "intense" places are sometimes willing to take a chance on someone that could be great...but they could be wrong. Because in these environments if someone fails it is not considered a reflection on the entire system. In Care Bear environments these "risky" hires are generally not made. Instead, hiring committees are more conservative because they want to make sure that the person they hire won't fail.

I guess the take home is that everyone has to find a home that is best for them. This is why "fit" is key when doing a job search. Not just for the department, but for the scientist, too. If you are looking for a place on the tenure track, and you have been good+lucky enough so far to be able to land in an "intense" place, it could be FANTASTIC. Or not. Just make sure your expectations match the environment.

But really, from what I can tell it is Sink or Swim for everyone in the end.



16 responses so far

Hermitage's baby-free women in academia

Aug 22 2011 Published by under academic women sans babies

That's right-the Hermitage is back with Round 2 of her super-awesome "Wimminz in Academia Sans Babies" Q&A. She lined up an excellent panel of kick-ass women that will answer all your questions about making it as a female in academia, as long as you don't ask about babies (making them, having them, or scheduling around them). So head over and check it out!

Someday I will learn to embed links from my iPad, but apparently not today :-/

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I suck at saying "NO"

Aug 18 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I won't lie to you. As a brand-new PI, it was kind of exhilarating the first time a student asked me to be on their thesis committee. But the shine has definitely worn off. Because you know what? Apparently I am damn popular. I believe this is the "new meat" phenomenon. Everyone and their dog wants me to sit on their committee. And it is too fucking easy to say "sure I'll be on your committee". I don't want their boss (who will be voting on my tenure) to feel like I am dissing them. And then, next thing you know, you are on like 15 thesis committees*. Which doesn't seem so horrible until everyone wants to schedule their general exam for the same week in October. FML.

SO, new rule: I will only be on 2 new thesis committees this year (I have two grad students). It is too arbitrary for me to decide which students I say yes to on a case-by-case basis. I'm hoping that by setting a hard limit it will be easier for me to say no. And then I will have to come up with a reasonable number that will be my limit in upcoming years. I don't know what the "correct" number is. I just know that I am WAY past it.



*this is, sadly, not really an exaggeration :-/

12 responses so far

but what does it MEAN?

Aug 15 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I am NOT one of the most fashionable folks out there. TBH, most of the time you will find me in blue jeans and flip flops or running shoes. It's how I roll, and I have never had any reason to think that this was a big deal. In fact, I always felt like I dressed pretty much the same (in the range of normal) as my science colleagues. But this last week I was at a conference where I dressed slightly differently. At this meeting I wore a skirt pretty much every day. In part because I went somewhere that I thought was going to be crazy hot and humid (ick!), in part because I didn't have time to do laundry before I left, and in part because I just ran a race and didn't want to put on pants. It happens.

So here is the random observation: I got the impression that folks were a little less...guarded with me at this conference. These are folks that I have known for a while, but this time was different. So now I wonder: was the difference in tone at this meeting due to the fact that I dressed more "like a girl", or that it was a very small conference at a nice place?

16 responses so far


Aug 13 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Hello again! This has been a summer of much traveling for me. In fact, I am currently wedged between a sleeping dude and window on a cross-country flight. I have been getting pretty good at working on planes, and think that I *mostly* have this manuscript revision beaten into submission. SO, going to take advantage of the in-flight wireless, and the last 22% of my MacBook Air battery to catch up with you all 🙂

I have been spending a lot of my conference time schmoozing, as you might expect. This is the most important thing that I do at meetings. I usually have 1-2 scheduled meetings every day with science friends and mentors. Sometimes we catch up on our current collaborations or dream up new ones. Other times I just corner more senior folks in my field to talk about the work that we are currently doing. Getting feedback helps with troubleshooting, can suggest new experiments, or even just give me an idea of what reviewers will most respond to. At the very least, I will get to know if we are working on the same things. I have also had these conversations also lead to invites to give seminars, if we start talking about a project that is further developed.

When I was yet a fledgling academic I sometimes found it intimidating to try to get the more BSD types to sit down and talk with me about my work. It can seem scary to ask for a meeting with someone that you have just met and only know from published work. But you have to get over this! If it helps, try to remember that everyone does this. One way that I find always works to get the conversation started is to get the other person talking about themselves. Maybe you are familiar with a paper from their lab, or they gave a talk at the meeting? Use this as a starting point. Best case: you have a question about what they did then ask it. This is an especially effective way to get them starting to think about your stuff, too. For example: "Hi, Dr. BSD. I'm Gerty, from xxx (add some identifying info so that s/he may recognize you). I saw your recent C/N/S paper on Totally Kewl Science. I was wondering, have you ever considered the role of My Awesome Shit in that?" Of course, this only works if your fields are related. Don't be arrogant or aggresive, but try to start a scientific discussion. Another way into this is: "I saw your recent C/N/S paper on Totally Kewl Science. It is a little outside of my own field, but I thought it was really interesting that ... Can you tell me more about how That Awesome Mechanism might work? Is it related at all to X (A thing I may now something about).

Realize that Dr. BSD may blow you off. That is OK, it still is great that you said hi. In addition to the BSD, it is good to talk to young faculty and senior postdocs. These folks may be more open to talking to you (after all, we are all out there trying to build a network). Some of the best mentors I have now are people that I met as a fledgling postdoc and they were senior postdocs (now faculty a few years ahead of me!). If you develop a relationship with these people they can help introduce you to BSD. Also, when they become BSD themselves then you will have "known them when".

Another important thing is to not limit yourself to talking to people that are working on exactly the same things that you do. Some of the most productive conversations I have had are from folks that only vaguely work in the same field as I do. These kind of conversations can lead to really exciting new collaborations, and fun new ideas for experiments. Also, you may find yourself closer to their part of the sub-field someday.

Finally, when you get back to your home MRU you should follow up with people that you met. If something came up during your conversation, make sure you address it. For instance, when I was on the job market several folks offered to read my research statement when we were chatting at the bar*. Just a quick email that says "hey, it was great to meet you at Meeting Awesome. Your work on Totally Kewl Science is fascinating, thanks for taking the time to chat with me about it. You mentioned that you would read my research statement for my upcoming job search. If you are still willing to help out, I would really appreciate it. Hope you had a pleasant trip home."

As a side note: if folks agree to help you out, be considerate of their time. Don't spam them with emails that just say "thanks!" (one of my pet peeves are unnecessary emails). And don't expect them to be able to read your stuff in less than 1 week (at the minimum). If you send me something to read and you need it back "tomorrow" I will probably not get to it. Just sayin.


*I recommend going to the bar, even if you don't drink. Get a glass of juice or water and hang out. The bar is a great (non-intimidating) place to chat folks up!


2 responses so far


Aug 03 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Blech blech blech. That is my day today. Because right this minute I am waiting for my turn at the dentist. I HATE the dentist. Well, not personally. He seems like a nice fellow, actually. But I hate that I have to see him. No offense to any of you that practice torture dentistry for a living. But I really, really, really hate going to the dentist. I would very much be in lab turning around the latest manuscript before I take off next week. But no. Instead I will lay down and let someone drill away at my teeth for the next hour, then walk around drooling for a couple of hours.  Blech

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