Archive for the '[Education&Careers]' category

I want to have my pie & eat it too

Mar 14 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Etc]

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

Feb 22 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]


"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

The PostDoc Experience: Reinvention

Feb 13 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers], [LifeTrajectories]

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.

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?

Feb 05 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

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

I Work Well With Others

Jan 16 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

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

In Which I am Neither Vicious nor a Sucker

Dec 07 2010 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Etc]

Scene 1:

Candid Engineer is hard at work surfing the internet. An email appears in her inbox:

Dear CE,

I really absolutely must get Experiments X and Y done this week. However, I cannot do them because I am swamped with final exams & other very, very serious obligations. I was wondering if you could take 3-4 days of your time this week and do my experiments for me.

Best regards,
Hard-Working but Clueless Grad Student

Ahahaha!!! Good one, really. Uhh, let me check my schedule... uhh... hmm, no fucking way.

Scene 2:

Supervisor: So, are you sure you want to be a professor?
CE: No, I'm not sure, but I think I'd be good at it & I don't know anything else I'd be as good at.
Supervisor: You would be great in a company- large, medium, or start-up.
CE: Oh no, are you turning this into a patronizing you'd-be-good-at-anything lovefest?
Supervisor: No, I'm not. You'd be a terrible VC. Absolutely terrible. You're not vicious enough.


I'm not too mean, I'm not too nice
Don't give me your mangoes to slice & dice
This princess postdoc has her price.

10 responses so far

Donors Choose Thank-You

Nov 15 2010 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Science in Society]

I'd like to thank all of my readers who participated in this year's Donors Choose challenge. My giving page has thus far accumulated $564 in donations, which have supported 1,000 children through 12+ projects.

Because HP was generously matching all donations provided through the science blogger challenge, those of you who donated should have received an email in the past couple of days containing a unique coupon code for approximately the amount you donated, which you can now use towards any project of your choice. I took my coupon code and donated to several more of the projects on my giving page, and I would encourage you to do the same.

Of particular note is the project Apple-Ka-Dabra, which I would love to see funded. Mrs. S teaches students in a high-poverty region of West Virginia, and she is requesting 8 scientific investigation kits that her high school chemistry students will use to teach nearby kindergarten students. I think this is a fabulous project, particularly because the older students will be interfacing with the younger- it will be a great way to bring the spirit of teaching alive in these high school chemistry students and to foster a sense of scientific community. If you are inclined, the project is only $146 away from completion as of today.

I promised a prize to a randomly-selected reader who donated through my giving page- and the winner is Rad Scientist!! Rad, please contact me through my email (contact page at upper right) and we will set something up.

Thanks again to all of you. Things have been tough around here with too much traveling and too many ailing/dying relatives. I am hoping to resume regular posting again soon.

xoxo CE

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Imposter Syndrome While Doing Good

Oct 25 2010 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Science in Society]

I must confess to you, my friends. When I was asked, along with my fellow Scientopians, to participate in this year's Donors Choose challenge, I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it. Not because I'm not interested in Donors Choose- in fact, I've enjoyed contributing to it for years- but because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to raise a respectable number of donations compared to my blogging peers.

Yes, I have imposter syndrome even while trying to do good. Makes me want to slap myself, really.

But, I decided that I didn't want to leave it entirely to my colleagues to harass the shit out of you and your wallets during this month of giving. Actually, I was just excited to set up a donation page in which I could select projects that touch upon subjects near and dear to my heart.

In particular, I like to drum up chemistry, engineering, genetics, and energy. And I like to choose high poverty schools in red states- why? Perhaps it is a little ridiculous, but for me, the most feared variety of Republican is the one that is not educated in math and science. Therefore, I am trying to catalyze political change in the red states through frog dissection and climate change textbooks. LOL, makes sense, no?

Now, I am no PalMD or Drug Monkey, but my giving page has thus far drawn an impressive number of donations, which is totes exciting. As of right now, 16 of you, my readers, have donated $341 to support an estimated 666 school children. It is interesting to note that, although I am not near the top of the Scientopia leader board for total donations, my giving page has the second most # of donors. There is power in numbers, my friends! Donate $10 a piece to your heart's content, and I will love you forever.

Last week, I asked you to donate in honor of my cat's castrated balls. For those of you who expressed concern, his ball-less pouch is healing quite nicely, thank you, and his antics have not been dampened in the least. He is currently chasing his rainbow mouse around the house with a fervor that I'd consider abnormal for having just lost his reproductive unit. But whatevs.

My husband has been quite impressed by the cash that has been donated in our cat's balls' honor. If you were willing to donate ~$300 for The Candid Kitten's Balls, my husband has astutely wondered how much you'd be willing to donate in honor of his (much larger and still-attached) balls.

Let me wrap up this bizarre post by thanking Beaker Half Full, Cana Ross, Kirsten Tracy, Julia Shelton, Kate Medicus, Rose Szabady, Melinda Hale, Sarah Nichols, Jennifer Greenwood, and several anonymous donors for their contributions to Donors Choose during this past week. As per football tradition, I'd give you a reverberating slap on the ass if I met you in person.

And my giving page is here if you're in the mood.

No responses yet

NIH Peer Review Revealed

Aug 24 2010 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Today I came across this excellent video from the NIH that describes its review process in detail. Thought it could be of help to those of you unfamiliar...

NIH Review Process Revealed

10 responses so far