I want to have my pie & eat it too

(by Candid Engineer) Mar 14 2011

I have long loved mathematics. Happy Pi Day, dear readers.

1. Being a postdoc sucks when you are given the autonomy to produce scads of gorgeous data, but you cannot get your PI to publish the goddamn manuscript.

2. Being a PI sucks when you would be willing to spend scads of your gorgeous time publishing a manuscript, but you cannot get your trainees to produce the goddamn data.

3. The solution lies in forming and maintaining a research group of precisely 1.

(?)

4 responses so far

Applying for "nearly sure" funding

(by Candid Engineer) Feb 22 2011

Overheard:

"Ugh, I would never apply for an XX award because the payline is so low*. I only ever apply for nearly sure sources of funding."

Ahahahaha!!! Let me know how that works out for you, superstar.

* The payline of the institute/award in question hovers around 30%.

14 responses so far

A Frogge in the Guest Blogge

(by Candid Engineer) Feb 15 2011

Here at the Scientopias, we've got ourselves a shiny new Guest Blogge. This is a space for some of our non-Scientopian friends to come over and share some of their fine writing for 2 week increments.

This week, we have Paolo V. from Zygoma, who specializes in museum science and natural history. Also on tap is FrauTech, a sassy fellow engineer holding it down in industry. Stop by and check them out!

If you are interested in writing as a guest blogger, we welcome inquiries. Please email PhysioProf at gmail with a description of your existing blog (if you have one) and what you would like to blog about at Scientopia.

No responses yet

The PostDoc Experience: Reinvention

(by Candid Engineer) Feb 13 2011

I love being a postdoc, although I often get the sense that, at least on the internets, I am in the minority. This series of posts is dedicated to some of the more wonderful aspects of this middling, temporary, and underpaid position.
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This is not the real world. This world of the postdoc, where the words "you can't" are rarely spoken.

Armed with a Ph.D., presumed evidence of his intelligence, perseverance, and creativity, a friend of mine foraged into the world of industry some years ago. There, people only wanted to hire him to do exactly what he had done before. Motivated by quarterly profits and complicated investment models, the real world is unwilling to take many chances. No chances on you learning something new. No chances on broadening skillsets, no chances on real innovation.

And that's fine, there are some other benefits in those sectors. But it's not for me. The opportunity to increase my knowledge base, the call of the experimental unknown... giddy up!  Being a postdoc, at least for me, has been like taking a trip to Disney World, and being told to "go play". And just like when you're at an amusement park, you have a choice: you can ride the merry-go-round again and again and again, or you can hop on every ride in the damn park. The former choice is comforting and fun, but the returns are diminishing. The latter choice-  disconcerting, maybe, but thrilling.

It's this opportunity for Reinvention during the postdoctoral training period that is so outstanding:

Candid Engineer reinvents herself. A) As a virgin researcher enamored with gaudy lace, Candid Engineer carried out her graduate studies on Banana Peeling. B) Dr. Candid was thrown for a loop in her new position as postdoc, and did a lot of praying to get her through a transitional period. C) Confident and beautiful, Candid Engineer slices and dices Mangoes for the first several years of her postdoc. D) Maturing in her intellectual desires, Candid Engineer cuts her hair and shifts research focus as a senior postdoc. E) Professor Candid embarks on the Tenure Ambition World Tour (projected).

And you know what? I'm getting it in while I can. Because once I'm an assistant professor, the funding agencies aren't going to want to take a chance on me, and at least for 5 or 10 years, I'm going to have to rely more heavily on everything that I already know. Not that you can't reinvent yourself as a professor, but it appears to become significantly more challenging. This is the time, I say.

17 responses so far

Oh Postdoc, Why so critical?

(by Candid Engineer) Feb 05 2011

During the preparation of a proposal, I somehow managed to draft my specific aims page quickly enough to be able to solicit feedback. Smartly or not-so-smartly, I gave the thing to about ten people- five professors, four postdocs, and a grad student. Unexpectedly, a very clear trend emerged regarding the nature of the feedback:

Sample comments from professors:

  • "Please clarify this one sentence in your background paragraph."
  • "Nice job. Only comment is that this clause sounds funny."
  • "Looks great."

And then there were my postdoc and grad student colleagues. Hahahaha. Their comments were a fucking hoot. Now, don't get me wrong, I got plenty of good feedback from these trainees. It was just that they were so critical about every damn thing.

  • "I hate this adjective!"
  • "I think you should say that instead of which"
  • "I think aim 3 should study eight mangoes instead of seven."

Four out of five trainees returned my aims page covered in red. And the graduate student... oh my. The graduate student went so far as to say he hated the whole proposal. He found it unoriginal, uninspired, and "exactly what he expected  [I] would write". Hahahaha. OK, sez I- I am predictable, and you are retarded.

Makes me think more than ever that those nasty reviews you get on your brilliant manuscript? They really were written by postdocs.

These observations lead me to my hypothesis:

Postdocs are extremely critical of other's efforts because they have not yet realized that there is more than one way to write/study/do something well. They have not done the whole science thing enough times over, they haven't had enough successes, enough failures, to recognize that their way isn't the only way.

31 responses so far

Blot blot, Western baby

(by Candid Engineer) Jan 24 2011

Amusing. I give the idea an A and the execution a B-.  If you get bored, go to 3:20- the bridge is awesome.

Blot blot, Western baby, got no bands, this shit is crazy.

Bad Project- Lady Gaga Parody

5 responses so far

I Work Well With Others

(by Candid Engineer) Jan 16 2011

I grew up in a Ph.D. lab that didn't really do the whole collaboration thing. I had friends who would talk about their collaborations, and I just didn't get it. Who does what? What does who? When does anything actually get done? I experienced confusion and a sense of comfort, knowing that everything was always under my control.

This lab, my current lab, is like another world. I'd estimate that most postdocs in my lab have anywhere from 3-5 collaborations going on at any point in time. I totes love collaborating. So, without further ado, let me present my:

Top 5 Reasons to Collaborate

1. Hands down, positively the best way to learn new skillz. If you show me your banana, I'll show you my mangoes. You know how that goes.

2. Forces you to handle people. Everyone is different, everyone plans differently, communicates differently, works differently. If you ever want to be a PI or really anything other than a working hermit, this is a great way to learn how to set and accomplish goals with others when you are not doing all of the research.

3. Encourages socialization. When you don't feel like pipetting, you can go find your collaborator and "strategize" during a 2 hour coffee break. When labmates ask about your prolonged absence, you can make shit up about your "deep scientific discussions" and "ground-breaking theory development" over hazelnut whipped foam double caramel lattes.

4. If you're having a hard time developing that potential GlamourMag idea, remember that innovative work often is done at the interfaces of science. Period. Do it.

5. When you are feeling lazy or bored with the project, you can wait for your collaborator to do something and then blame the delay on them.

6. Misery loves company.

8 responses so far

Fair Warning

(by Candid Engineer) Jan 13 2011

I am all for calling a spade a spade. I also like to offer fair warning to labmates.

Figure 1: Candid Engineer, circa today.

2 responses so far

Pick Your Superpower: Fuhgeddaboudit

(by Candid Engineer) Dec 14 2010

I often like to ask people (typically at parties, after I've had a few to drink) what kind of superpower they would choose to have if they could have just one. Swirling their swizzle sticks, my conversational partners will tilt their heads to the side, gazing at the ice cubes motoring around in their cocktails.

Superpower?, they'll ask.

Yeah, I know, I'll respond, I live in a fucking fantasy world. Humor me.

And then they'll say dumb shit like breaking stone with your fist or producing infinite quantities of spiced rum. I fucking hate when people don't take my fantasy questions seriously.

I, personally, imagine a life in which I am capable of instant transportation. Oh? Want to travel to Paris for the weekend? Non problem! Need to run into lab at 7am on a Saturday morning to check on your experiment? You're there- and then- oh!- you're back. No more commutes, no more traffic, no more car requirements, no more airfare... and hell, you could take a vacation where every day you went to a different part of the world, and every night you could sleep in your own bed. Sweet.

I've long been convinced that this would be the very best superpower to have.

Today, though, I was talking to a graduate student who had just finished his final exams, flustered about his performance. I always hated, as a graduate student, when people told me that my grades didn't matter, as long as I passed. Of course they mattered, sweet Jesus, how else were people going to judge the goodness within the essence within the academic?

I was such a tortured soul.

Now I'm thinking that maybe a better superpower would be the ability to receive memos from my future self regarding the shit that doesn't matter.

MEMORANDUM

To: Self
From: Self
Date: 8 years later
Re: Your compulsive anxiety over graduate coursework

Your final grade doesn't fucking matter. No one will ever care whether you got an A- or a B- in Genetics as a graduate student. (Except for maybe those L'Oreal Fellowship bullshitters, and who cares about them, anyway). Stop all of the bad dreams, stop waking up the morning of exams, doubled over with nerve-induced diarrhea. Stop the madness!! It doesn't matter!!! It will never matter!!!11!!!

--

Now, this is probably all more important to me because of my anxiety- but I would just love love love if, in the present moment, when someone tells me to stop freaking out about something because it will not matter, that I could just listen. That I could just accept the wisdom wafting over me, that I could just inhale the good air filling my lungs, and just chill the fuck out.

So why don't you tell me what you would wish for. Grab a cocktail first, classy reader, and swirl away.

27 responses so far

Ring-a-ling! It's your Mother-in-Law

(by Candid Engineer) Dec 12 2010

Starting in mid-October, my husband & I enter that blessed time of year when we are mercilessly hounded by his mother regarding all things Christmas.

What you want for Christmas why haven't you two given me your Christmas lists yet I don't like those suggestions, what else do you want your aunt is being crazy again yesterday, I made eight Christmas stockings by hand what does your cat want for Christmas I sure am hungry for some cabbage casserole.

You know, good times.

And because this chatty lady lives far away, most communication comes in via phone call. We, like most people, have caller ID on our land line. And when the phone ring-a-lings, and I see his parent's phone info appear, like a warning, in bold black on yellow screen... I go ahead and don't answer. No fucking way. I value my time and sanity far too much.

But it has recently been suggested to me that I am being too harsh about this. And that surely, my MIL must realize that I never answer when she calls, and therefore must think that I hate talking to her on the phone. It has been suggested that I need to answer some portion of the time as a gesture of goodwill.

So, that has me wondering what YOU all do when the in-law phone rings. These polls probably only apply if you have a land line. The first poll is for when you look at the Caller ID and your partner is NOT home, and the second is for when you are both home, but you are closer to the phone and see the Caller ID first. And please, for special circumstances or further explanation, leave a comment.

When the Caller ID reads "Your Mother-in-Law" AND your partner is not home, what do you do?online surveys

18 responses so far

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