Sunday, September 28, 2008

Biology in Industry - "Just Don't."

So a while back I wrote that I had given my CV to a friend in industry who offered to show it to her relatively-high-up mentor at her relatively large company, and see what kind of advice she had for me to apply for jobs there (or at other companies).

Well, this was a while ago, before the market crash.

So I finally talked to this friend yesterday. I hadn't heard anything back so I figured her mentor didn't say anything good.

The word back was basically this:

NOBODY should go into biology right now.

ANYBODY who can do ANYTHING ELSE should leave and GO DO IT.

There are NO JOBS right now for biologists.

We're LAYING PEOPLE OFF, not hiring.

My friend didn't want to tell me, but I appreciate that she did.

While I was surprised that her mentor was so blunt, it wasn't exactly news.


Ironically, literally an hour after I had this conversation, a different friend, who has been unemployed for a while, told me she got an interview at a small local company.

And then she proceeded to ask if I could coach her on what to say during the interview, and what to do if she got the job, because the job is MUCH closer to my expertise than hers.

My answer?

Ask google first, then we'll talk about it.

(What I really wanted to say? Uh, NOOOOO????)


She's a really good friend. What could I say? It's not like she asked me to be on a microphone inserted in her ear during the interview.

And when I thought about it, I realized that most of my frustration recently has been working with people whom I didn't think were actually qualified for their jobs.

But you know what? Some of them worked hard and learned fast.

And THOSE people ended up being the ones I DO want to work with. Those are the kind of people I would want to have in my lab.


She also thinks that, while the company sounds pretty desperate and like they'd take anyone willing and able to do the work, it's going to be pretty competitive for this one position.

Apparently this company is interviewing a lot of people in quick succession, because rather than the usual full day visit, they have my friend scheduled to visit for 1 hour.

My guess is that they'll take someone with more experience using these kinds of methods, but who knows. My friend works hard and learns fast.

And she has been working in industry already, so I don't know if that will count for more than someone coming straight out of a grad program or academic postdoc.


So that's two data points. Can't really interpret much from it, unless it's true that big companies are doing badly and small companies haven't been as hard hit?

I'll also say that I would not want the job my friend is interviewing for, unless I were really desperate, because I think I would be bored.

For her, it might be fun since it will be mostly things she hasn't done before. And she loves doing new things.

And she really is pretty desperate at this point.

I told her if she can get it, it would be a good stepping stone, since she could broaden her skills. And who knows, maybe the company will do really well?


Now, if I could just find someone to help me the way I've been helping her. Hmm.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Where to begin? The Search for How To Search

So I've been thinking about it, and unless something really more catastrophic happens in the next few months, I should be starting to apply for jobs.

I had to be completely honest with myself: I think I've been putting this off partly because I just don't know where to begin.

Some of you might recall that when I first started this blog, I kept a log of rejection letters from my first attempts at applying for jobs.

That time around, I basically applied the generic formula my own advisors followed:

1. Put together packages
2. Send out packages in response to ads in Science and Nature
3. Wait

My memory of that time was just that it was a waste.

It was a lot of work, and a waste of time when I should have been working on other things (like publishing more papers in C/N/S journals!).

Funny, though, how re-reading old posts about rejection letters did not make me feel bad. Or rejected. I don't think it's that I fear rejection. So in a way, that was kind of a liberating realization.

But for the last couple of years I've applied to only a handful of places that had a deadline and I knew they wouldn't have another opening in my field for a while.

The only feedback I've gotten on ANY applications has been vague or limited to the single comment: that I need to publish at least one more first-author paper.

Or that, while I was on the short list, someone else "fit better".

Hard to argue that I could do anything about that particular criticism, short of being an apple who dresses up as an orange?

So while that "at least one" paper is not yet published, but the time is ripe for applying, once again my funding is running out, and deadlines for applications are passing me by.

I've met with various people and had them look over my application, and mostly gotten not much in the way of feedback.

Mostly, people are kind of baffled that I haven't had a single interview. Not a one.

And when I say "people", I mean my Department Chair, my advisors past and present, friends who are young faculty at various institutions, and collaborators at various levels (mostly full professors).

The only consistent piece of advice is to get a C/N/S paper in press.

But I've gotten mixed feedback regarding that, and everything else, from both the real world and this blog.

Many people have told me to apply anyway, but I think I'm just reluctant to repeat my past mistakes.

So if I'm going to do it, I don't want to do it the same way.

I should do the following, because I think I can do it now and save myself some stress later, although I can't quite get up the nerve to start just yet:

1. Start calling faculty and committee chairs and talking to them about what they're looking for and if they think I'd "fit" in their departments.

These articles that the Chronicle has been running on "fit" have made me feel like I will never, ever get a job in academia. They really do make me feel like there is no reason to even try.

Just being honest here, people. You want to know why women leave science? Because we feel unwelcome.

Very unwelcome.

2. Start talking to my letter-writers about what they're planning to say in their letters.

If there's one thing I can't confirm, but suspect, it's that certain buzzwords were missing from my recommendations. I also know that at least one person said something inappropriate and incorrect to a search committee chair about my personal life (e.g. implying that mrphd would need a job and that they would have to find him a position).

But honestly, here again, one of my problems is that I fear the people who wrote my letters in the past were not completely honest with me about how much they did (or did not) support my career ambitions.

Or maybe they just meant well and didn't consider the consequences of their word choices?

One of my fears is that if I can really force these people to be honest with me, we'll end up having more of those talks about their regrets, and how they just can't see why anyone would want a faculty position.

And where does that leave me? While I do have some choice about who I ask to write my letters, there's only so many people to choose from.

I read an article the other day about how it's good to choose your letters based on where you're applying, because it doesn't always make sense to use the same generic letters from the same group of people.

I thought that was interesting and made sense, but in academia, certain letters are expected. I know that in industry and in some other kinds of careers, it's not uncommon to get a 'character' letter from a friend or neighbor. But for a faculty position? Don't they have to be from, uh, faculty?

Wouldn't it be considered a bit irregular to get a letter from, say, a former student or a fellow postdoc or a former colleague who is now in industry? Do people ever get jobs that way?

3. Revise and update my Research Plan.

I've been working on this for years. It's quite funny, because once a year when I revise, I've already done half the things on it, even when I thought at the time there was no way I'd be a postdoc that much longer.

Ha ha ha. So I need to update that.

But I'm never quite sure how much detail to put in. I've tried both the Big Idea style, with fewer details, and the more practical what-I'd-actually-put-in-a-grant style, with more immediate plans. And I've tried mixing them, trying to have a clear timeline to show I'm thinking about both now and later.

And since there's nothing consistent about what schools ask for in their ads, some want short (2 pages) and some want longer (5 pages or more). This makes a huge difference in how much to put in. Some also want a personal career goal statement in there along with specific research plans, and some don't.

My impression is that nothing I say in this portion of my application will GET me an interview, although it might PREVENT me from getting one.

I say this because I've seen the research plans of ~10 people I know who have gotten jobs, and none of them were impressive to me. At all. I found them hard to read, sometimes impractical, sometimes full of typos. All of these people got faculty positions anyway.

Ideally, I can see how a really good research plan would make the search committee say, "Boy, we have GOT to meet this person! I can't wait to hear her talk!"

But in practice? It's pretty hard to stand out that much from a pile of 250 or more applications.

The only single example I've heard of someone who thought they got a job because of their Plan was the recent commenter, who heard at her interview that they were impressed with her writing.

If 1 in 10 people who get jobs got them because of their writing, I would probably not be that 1 person.

But I strongly suspect it's not 1 in 10, and that person who got the job at her alma mater? Had more working for her than she realizes. My guess is that someone made a phone call on her behalf.

And hey, more power to you if that's what happened. Right?

4. Revise and update my cover letter.

This is another thing where I've had lots of people look at lots of versions, and nobody ever really had strong opinions about what does and does not make a difference.

Make sure it's addressed to the right person and lists the actual job you're applying for. Nobody likes getting a letter addressed to a different school. Check.

The main piece of advice I got here is to not say anything that will put you in the trash bin right away, and to make sure to put in buzzwords in case it's being screened by an admin/HR person who doesn't actually know anything about where your research fits.

Sound, you know, enthusiastic about the place.

5. Suck it up and send them out.

But for this, I think I have to wait a while longer. My advisor can write a strong letter swearing up and down that my paper(s) will get into the right places, but I just don't know if that would be enough.

I'm hearing that lots of places having hiring freezes right now, not just because of the mortgage mess, but because of state budget shortfalls, people not retiring, etc. The kinds of things that have only been made worse by the mortgage mess.

So ironic that, after all this time, of all the times for me to be thinking about applying, it would be now. If there were ever a good time, this is not it.

I guess one of my big problems here is that I usually follow my intuition, and that is almost always right in science, and always at least partially right.

I don't like doing experiments that won't yield data. My past experiences with job applications yielded experience, I guess, but no data.

I guess I'm worried that this is sort of like trying to use someone else's system to do an experiment in your lab.

You've read the paper, you have your doubts about it, you've pointed out all the potential pitfalls, but your advisor just won't listen.

So you're stuck doing a doomed experiment just to prove that it won't work. Does that get you anywhere? No, not really.

I guess the question, as they say in the Matrix, is choice.

Labels: , , , ,

Hypothetical Money

Okay, so I know absolutely nothing about finance.

But here's my crazy idea, just for laughs.

Houses were overpriced to begin with.

If houses were more affordable, people wouldn't need such enormous mortgages, when there was no hope of ever paying them back.

How many people do you know in construction or contracting? The ones I know have made a fortune and worked only part time. What does that say about how much they're charging?

Nobody can afford a house. So back when Bill Clinton was President, they decided it would be good to get 70% of people owning their homes.

The companies that were going to be lending had plenty of money (and the government had a surplus in case anybody needed to be bailed out).

But fast forward a bit, and look where we are.

It seems to me that this is yet another game of everyone thinking it's fine if they do it, without realizing that if everyone does it at the same time, everyone is fucked.

Materials and Methods:
Everyone assumed that if they needed to, they could just sell their houses and make the money back that way.

But we all know that there are actually more houses than people who can afford them, or in other words, more houses than we, the people, actually need.

So when everyone went to sell at the same time, there was no demand.

From this, it follows that real estate is dependent on artificial demand.

I never realized this before.

If real estate depends on artificial demand, then, housing should be a lot cheaper.

And then we wouldn't be in this mess.

Basically, the way I understand it, imaginary money was lent out, or maybe it wasn't imaginary at the time, but once it's lent it becomes imaginary.

Because the banks don't actually want to reclaim all these houses they financed, because the houses aren't worth anything. What's a bank going to do with a house? Nothing, if they can't sell it.

So I'm totally, competely against the bailout plan. I think it makes no sense.

Why don't we come up with a few alternatives? Why is no one discussing them? Why is everyone so quick to assume that bailing out these companies is the only option?

1. Give everyone a check. Bush has does this before and claimed that it stimulated the economy. Why not do it again now? Even if we gave everyone in the country a $600 check, that still wouldn't add up to $700 billion.

2. Put a cap on housing prices. Anyone who has lived somewhere with rent control can see how having even just a fraction of the places capped can actually improve the economics of the whole place, because now people can afford to live there, eat out, and buy stuff. So why don't we do this for some fraction of houses?

And one final question that I'll never understand: how can it be a "free market" when we're essentially planning to give out corporate welfare?

Makes no sense to me.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Numbers of posts

Following in the steps of FSP, whose book I found encouraging, I went back through today and started tagging old posts.

It's a random time to do this. The grand total number of posts so far is 579, although we've had a lot of extended discussions in the comments, too.

And I agree, the last batch of posts, recently, has been more negative than positive.

And over the course of this blog, there have definitely been waves of creative solutions, and waves of whining. Some topics have repeated, but most have not.

In general, I think my older posts were better written. I had some clever turns of phrase here and there, some cute jokes.

But when I totaled it up, here's what I got:

[And by the way, commenters, when you write a comment you're writing to to ME, so don't talk about me as "she", asshole, and see my past posts on female pronouns. Thanks).]

Approximate number of posts where I blame someone else for my bad mood or job prospects, e.g. my advisor or my mother: 7

Approximate number of posts where I blame myself: 14

Approximate number of posts where I complain about the system being broken, or administrivia, and most often suggest rational solutions to these problems: 30

Approximate number of posts about sexism, women in science issues, affirmative action or international postdoc issues: 65

Approximate number of posts with the general tag "being a postdoc sucks": 29

Approximate number of posts tagged "silly": 52

So, yeah, thanks. If you send one more comment saying that I'm just being negative, fuck off, I won't publish it.

That is all for today.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Read these.

Well, I could look for industry jobs online. And decide they all look like they're concentrated in ~ 3 cities, and none of which look like fun.

Then I could read this post about this post.

And then I could remember why I'm not applying for faculty positions.

Next on the list? Maybe a visit to the campus coffee place?

One of these days, I swear, I'm just going to start walking and never come back. Forrest Gump style.

Labels: , , , ,

Things to do today.

1. Wait for advisor.
2. Wait for collaborators.
3. Look through job ads?
4. Read papers?
5. Plan experiments?
6. Online shopping?

Labels: ,

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Trying to remember how to be a person.

It's Sunday morning.

I'm caught up on sleep, and resolved to try not to be miserable for the next month or two, until some of my current uncertainty is sorted out.

I will know in the next month or two whether I will be applying for faculty positions.


The alternative is to let my current postdoctoral position run out, be unemployed for a while, and hopefully have some kind of new career in mind by this time next year.

And in the meantime, I need to figure out how to be more of a person.

I have had these times, they come and go. Times when I know that, regardless of how I fare in terms of 'success' or science or career, I am a person:

I have hobbies, and character, and family and friends. I live in the world.

Sort of.

One of the things that appeals to me about academia is that it serves as a built-in, more or less permanent excuse to avoid the real world.

I've been thinking about this because one of the things I do when I'm really stressed out is read novels. Yes, it's yet another form of escapism. But somehow "I'm reading a book" just doesn't fly as an excuse the way it did when I was a kid!

When I'm working my ass off, as I have been lately, I have every right to have no idea what's going on in current events, to pay my bills late, to avoid chores and irritating family obligations.

"I have to work" is almost always an acceptable excuse, for almost everything.

(I'm busy fixing the world! I'm being a superhero! Leave me alone!)

One of the weirdest things to me about deciding whether or not to (try to) stay in academia is having to give up this complete devotion to my career. I just can't see myself being anywhere near as invested in working ridiculous hours if I just take a "job" somewhere doing something that will probably bore me.

And I can't quite see how I would fill up my time without working ridiculous hours. At the beginning, sure. But in the long run? What am I going to do, join the Peace Corps?

Right now, everything is up in the air. And in the grand scheme of things, current global financial crises are not helping.

So, as is often the case, I am not just waiting on my advisor, but also on a variety of other things out of my control.

I know from experience that the best thing to do when waiting is to try to spend some time in the real world. Not just emergency chores, but maybe even some other activities that help remind me who I am when I'm not trying to be a Scientist.

Switching gears back and forth is sometimes harder, sometimes easier.

Right now it feels really hard. I don't want to lose sleep over things I can't control.

I don't want to waste my life in waiting mode, when I could be doing other, more enjoyable things (while I wait).

On the flip side, I'm always afraid to relax even just a little bit, because before I know it, I'll be thrown back into the maelstrom. My advisor will email me, or some other crisis will appear out of nowhere and ruin my calm.

This is one of the things I hate about life in academia. No one ever wants to make a schedule and stick to it, and if by some miracle they actually do, they forget to tell me.

All of this means, in practical terms, that I can never seem to plan a vacation.

Oh, for a little control over my life. I have a few hours here and there where I get to decide, but that's all. I rarely even have a full day off with no emails that need immediate attention.

Nothing is really up to me.

I have two things I can control: what I do each day (the minutia). But I can only plan a day or two at a time. Everything else is at the mercy of scheduling.

And then there's the big, looming question that I still can't answer with confidence:

should I stay, or should I go?

I'm looking ahead at nothing but more of this kind of uncertainty and stress, and I'm thinking, what the hell am I doing this for.

Sure, I remember what got me into science. But why I stay will have to be more than that.

And what I'm going to do if I don't stay is another question entirely. Watching the Second Great Depression is not making me feel optimistic about options.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fake it 'til you make it.

Well, ironically enough, this week everyone is excited about my science except me

I'm trying hard to remain objective. I'm worried that if I enjoy getting positive feedback too much, I'll mistake that for enjoying what I'm actually doing.

Basically, I can't decide.

I guess I'm feeling pulled in too many directions.

Obviously I get a lot of negative feedback on a regular basis, and I have to try not to be suspicious when I get positive feedback of any kind.

Case in point: today while I was working on something else, my computer decided to develop a strange new twitch. No matter what program I was using, it kept sending me back to the one version of my CV that I made to submit for industry positions.

Shut up, computer, you're not the boss of me!

So I restarted it. Problem solved. If the universe was trying to send me a message, I say La la la! I can't hear you!

But when I'm getting a lot of positive feedback after a lot of suffering to get to this point, part of me can't help noticing that it feels a little bit hollow.

So is it just me being hollow? Or is it really kind of like putting a ribbon around an amputated limb?

Like, "Congratulations, you're still alive!" ?

And then I saw a quote today about how lots of people get what they want in life, but only the wisest know how to enjoy it.


Meanwhile, I catch myself enjoying things I don't want to admit I actually like doing, because I don't completely adore them. Tedious things that I have to do repeatedly, but in small doses, they are actually kind of fun.

This is one of the hardest things, to me, about science. At least in my field, one of the perks is getting to do lots of different things. It's one of the main reasons I wanted to do science: never being bored.

One of the worst parts, though, is that you often have to do one thing repeatedly until you're thoroughly sick of it, before you can move on to something else.

That kind of defeats the perk, you know?

So it's kind of a career existential angst that I keep returning to.

Some little part of me is still insanely jealous of the few people I know who are starting their own labs this year. Part of me is itching to start applying for faculty positions.

The other part was cruising through the Chronicle job forums yesterday, and um, more than one place I was interested in has a state-wide hiring freeze.

That is also the part that watched CNN this morning, with the market numbers going up and down, up and down, up and down.

I really don't want to be one of those people who keeps taking postdoc positions, even temporary ones, just because they can't find a better job. I don't know how people live like that. I've had enough uncertainty already, thank you very much.

So the good news is, positive feedback and money fears aside, I am planning to make this one of my work-less weekends.

I don't know if it can be entirely work-free, and I can't take a vacation or anything, I still have lots of chores to do that I haven't done in the last week or two. But right now I'm just living for that Saturday-morning-sleeping-in feeling.

Only about 15 hours to go. Might try to watch a movie or something tonight. Gratuitous violence, here I come!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tear 'em down, then build 'em back up.

Oh, the process of apprenticeship is a strange one.

First, you have to strip away all the bad habits of the trainee.

The sloppiness. The tendency to give long-winded answers. The expectation of being treated like a human being. The defensive argumentative whiney crap.

You do this by muscle confusion. You make them jump when you ask, then ignore them for months. Criticize them as much as possible, even when they did everything you asked. Criticize for being too obedient.

Only when they're completely confused and helpless, when they've thrown their hands up in the air and said, "Whatever!", then you can start to imprint the qualities you want.

Organization. Promptness. Brevity. Humility.

Then, slowly, you force them to learn confidence by forcing them to stand up for themselves. Repeatedly.

Eventually they start to argue with you again, but now they do it more effectively.

You are proud. You take credit for their progress, although what you've done was not always pleasant for them.

But it is the way, alas, that it has to be.

Now they are ready to go out and present their progress to others. This is the time when you help them build back up. You praise their good habits to their peers. You pat them on the back.

To them, it seems like little reward for a lot of suffering. If they are grad students, they will get a PhD, and to most people outside, this is the mark of achievement.

Eventually, they will realize it was little reward for a lot of suffering. When they are postdocs, that little pat on the back is all they're going to get. Because by the time they are ready to apply for jobs, the economy will be tanking.

The end.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Procrastinating Sunday.

When I was little, my parents always made me finish my homework BEFORE I did anything else.

I think this was a good habit, in some ways, although it made me panic when I ever had to do something right up against a deadline, because it was so unusual. My parents' panic made me panic.

(It has taken me most of my life to realize just how many of my wrong beliefs came from my parents.)

I didn't really meet any actual procrastinators until college, when I continued my good habits and strongly believed that I was less stressed out that way.

I watched one of my roommates get several Incompletes, and wondered how she could just go about her life like it was no big deal.

I seriously thought that if something like that happened to me, I would die.

Fast-forward a few years, and I live with a life-long textbook procrastinator, who has been a bad influence on me in some ways.

This weekend, for example, I have done some of the things I needed to do, because they were time-sensitive, and blew everything else off.

Until today. I really really need to get some work done today.

But I don't wanna.

I need a break longer than I've had time for in quite a while.

I'm afraid that one of these days I'm just going to plop down in the middle of the sidewalk and cry like a 2-year old.

I keep thinking of that Barenaked Ladies song, "Baby Seat":

When the working week defeats us
If you think growing up is tough
Then you're just not grown up enough, baby

You can't live your life
in the baby seat
You've got to stand on your own
Don't admit defeat

Labels: ,

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Memory tricks.

This morning I was thinking about what happened yesterday with Permadoc and how, when nothing is written down, everyone remembers events differently.

My PI has an interesting habit of memory, which I don't fully understand. My impression is that it's just more convenient to remember some things than others.

It's very convenient to blame having a poor memory when "I don't remember" actually means:

I disagreed/disapproved and therefore disregarded that [statement/event/publication/person].

I find myself wondering whether I should have been a journalist. I seem to have a better memory for things people say to me than they do themselves.

But my memory plays tricks on me, too.

Last week I busted my ass doing this one experiment a few times trying to improve the conditions.

While I was collecting the data I thought it didn't really work as well as I would have liked, and I might not be able to conclude much from it.

But then I forced myself, a few days later, to go over it and decide just how well it worked and what I should do differently next time.

And then I realized maybe it worked better than I thought. But part of me had trouble letting go of my earlier impression - my memory - that it looked awful.

The truth is, I was just in a bad mood while I was doing the experiment, and that carried over to my interpretation of it.

This doesn't happen to me all that often, and in fact more often it's the other way around. Sometimes I'm overjoyed because I thought an experiment worked really well, but when I go back to re-examine the data, I decide it's not that great and I was just happy that it worked at all, because my expectations were set low, and the overall effect is to elevate my impression of the outcome.

I see this all the time with supervisors, too. PI is in a bad mood, or doesn't like the person who did the experiment, and that carries over to a very subjective impression of the experiment itself.

And months later, what will PI remember about the result? Just that the feeling associated with it was "bad".

Conversely, crappy data presented by PI's favorite postdoc gets a thumbs-up, but if the rest of us did an experiment the same way, we're criticized for our sloppy methods and poor execution.

And years later, PI will think that anything this former postdoc did must be correct and very carefully done, when in fact past performance suggests that's probably not a fair assessment.

It makes me sad that scientists can't be more objective. Sort of like my friend whom I mentioned yesterday, who seems to think it's fine for people to discriminate against her but not me. What?? She can't be objective about what she deserves.

I have to keep my promise to myself, and to my data, that I will try not to be too hard on us.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, September 12, 2008

I have a headache.

Had another run-in with Permadoc.

Clarified for myself that Permadoc maintains incorrect memories of events past, wherein every time I was right about something, I wasn't actually right, and the reason why my suggestions fixed all the problems we were having "Is still a mystery."

I love scientists who use words like Mystery to explain troubleshooting success.


Again, I suppressed the urge to confront. I could have argued more. I do have more ammunition that I am actually using.

So yeah, sure, I could "stand up" for myself. But bear with me. Here's my reasoning:

Logic does not work with this person. SCIENCE does not work with this person.

Can't reason with someone who has the rational thinking ability of a doorknob.

I figure, yes I can be scary when I need to. But in this case, I think that aggression will only feed the fire. This is the sort of person who has deeply held beliefs about how women should put up and shut up.

And the PI adores this person, so I won't get any help there.

Better to just move past it, work around it, and not expect any help.

[And will NOT feel bad about pissing these people off. I refuse. If they get in my way, I will not hold back.]

Yesterday I was talking to a friend about this kind of thing, and she said she couldn't believe I still have to put up with it at all.

Interestingly, she seems to think that SHE has to put up with this kind of shit.

She thinks of herself as coming across as too girly. Like she's asking to be treated condescendingly by her mannerisms and manicure.

I personally still think it's unfair and stupid that people judge her on things like that instead of on her work.

But she thinks I'm very capable and come across that way.

(Not that I really fit the scientist stereotype, either.)

No, my friend is surprised that I still have to put up with a lot of people who assume I'm incapable and clueless.

I told her the point is that these are not observant people who look at my work objectively.

They see everything through the gender filter: I'm a girl, so I must be wrong. It simplifies things: nothing I say gets through. They just tune it out.

My friend said she had the same experience at the company where she was working.

But she has been unemployed for a few months now. And her unemployment is running out.

Despite everything, she can't imagine doing anything other than science.

She is hoping that the economy will improve, and then she'll find a new job.

I have a hard time believing the glut of PhDs looking for jobs will be cured by that alone.

All I can do is worry about her, and wonder what I'm going to do when I'm in her position. Except that, as a postdoc, I'm not an employee, so I already know I won't qualify for unemployment.

Quote for the day, from a House rerun:

"If you're right, and you doubt yourself, it doesn't help anybody."

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Death by OverDoc

There are two kinds of OverDocs.

By OverDoc I mean, people who rank above Postdoc, below PI, usually Research Track type Staff but with PhDs.

Almost no one aspires to these kinds of jobs. This is the kind of job you end up in by default when all else fails, the bottom-of-the-barrel backup plan when you have been a postdoc beyond forever.

So the two kinds are:

1) The awesome kind (SuperDocs)

2) The awful kind (PermaDocs)

1. SuperDocs

These people are the unsung heroes of science. They keep labs running, they publish, they are full of expertise of all kinds because they've been doing experiments forever, but they will never be promoted.

They don't want the stress of being in charge, because they view it as a real responsibility. And/or they're viewed as being too nice, too accommodating. They have trouble sticking their necks out.

They usually worship their PI, for better or worse, and will stay on as permanent lab managers for as long as they can.

They often end up going to industry if the lab loses funding or moves to a new location.

Most postdocs are secretly afraid of becoming one of these people. We're not always sure how they got to be where they are, all we know is, it wouldn't be our first choice for a permanent job.

2. PermaDocs

These people are the bane of my existence.

They get paid more than I do, as a regular postdoc, but they work less, don't listen to a word I say, don't have a clue what they're talking about, but PI loves them.

They always say they're going to leave, but they don't.

They hate their jobs, and have no loyalty to anyone. Their main activities at work are gossiping or surfing the web.

They're in academia because it's easy to keep "Flex Time", or even what I refer to as "No Time".

They often work for PIs who are perpetually absent and/or completely clueless.*

They may have PhDs, but in these cases the degree is meaningless.

So I decided to write this post because today I had yet another run-in with a PermaDoc.

I was on the verge of having a meltdown about today's run-in when I realized, you know what, it's not me.

I didn't do anything wrong.

And it's not that unusual for me to be treated like dirt at work by people who arguably should not outrank me. I should be used to it by now! I'm sure I can expect more of them wherever I go, whatever job I end up doing!

PermaDoc is just a lazy idiot, and I already knew that.

So why let it upset me.

In fact, I'm proud of myself for taking the time to choose my phrasing carefully and be the Ultimate Professional when dealing with PermaDoc.

Not that anyone here will reward me for that.

So I'm giving myself a virtual back-pat for editing what I would have liked to have said (something really snotty, actually).

And now, I need to ice my tongue. I've been biting it too hard, and all day.

*My PI is only mostly absent (~50-75% of the time?) and sometimes clueless.**

**I won't try to quantify what I mean by sometimes.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Too tired to post.

Got some suggestions for things to write about, and have some ideas, just no energy.

And I have to go to lab today, too.

Worked a long day yesterday, of course, also. It is catching up with me, since I worked last weekend, too.

I'll write more when I'm in the mood to concentrate on commenting articulately on other people's posts about the oversupply of PhDs, etc.

Mostly I think we should revisit the idea of what a PhD should be, and how not all PhDs are equivalent.

But I'm not going to do that right now. Right now I have to get off the couch, take a shower, eat lunch, and try not to let the football on the tv lull me into a nostalgic nap, in honor of college or high school when I had time to do that sort of thing on a Sunday afternoon. Never could stay awake with football on the tv. Thanks, dad.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Getting fucked over again.

Oh, I'm getting fucked over again.

This was my thought when I got an email this morning from a student I'm collaborating with.

In this case, "collaborating" is a kind word for:

a) babysitting

b) advising and editing because the official mentor does not

c) getting NO credit for these things from the student's mentor or from mine

d) getting buried in the middle of the papers that resulted from my ideas and supervision from beginning to end (so will get no credit from anyone who reads my CV, since they won't know the back story)

e) having to fight long and hard to get any of my suggested experiments included and then having the mentor and student complain that the story is 'stuck' (because they won't take my suggestions)

I'm pretty frustrated about this. The Official Mentor has been hot and cold with me, very friendly for a while but lately I'm getting left out of email discussions (almost everything is over email) and finding out about them after the fact from the student.

The student continues to be willfully clueless, despite my trying very hard to explain how important it is. I've asked explicitly, nicely and repeatedly, that my ideas be credited when they are passed along. I'm emphasized that this is important for my career, no matter how incidental or small, in the grand scheme of things, they might seem. And I always give everyone else credit when they help me, so I expect the same in return.

This means when something works because it was my idea, the student should say

"MsPhD suggested that we try ___, which I never would have tried otherwise. I thought she was crazy because you know, everyone does, but figured I'd do it anyway just to shut her up because I was sure she was wrong, but much to my surprise, that actually fixed the problem."


"I fixed the problem by ___."

This is what I do when someone else gives me a suggestion that works, no matter how stubborn I was being or how sure I was that they were wrong.

So I'm thinking, when the mentor and the student are discussing a project (one that I proposed and have been supervising) with another collaborator they brought in after the fact, I should be part of those discussions, no?

Of course, so far nothing that collaborator has provided (reagents, in this case) has been useful. But this person will get a better slot in the author list than I will, because this person is PI. It's exactly like that only too-true Phd comic about authorship.

I'm pretty sure that part of the problem is the student should be arguing to include me, but instead I am consulted separately. This means that the mentor doesn't realize I'm feeding the student all this information behind the scenes. Especially if the student doesn't say where the information came from.

It has taken me this long to put that together, but I'm pretty sure that's what's happening.

ARGH. I am so tired of these little slights, because it adds up to a lot of disrespect.

The worst part is, I have to continue to collaborate with this student and the mentor for a while longer, at least until the current project(s) are finished.

I had no idea they were like this when we started working together. Funny how people are always super nice and friendly at the beginning of a project, but when it comes down to "Where are we going to publish this?" everyone's real colors start to show.

It's probably at least in part because, like several of my student and postdoc collaborators recently, the student now claims* to be planning to leave academia. So there's no reason to give credit, be nice, and not to burn bridges, right?

Right this moment, I would so love to burn this one to the ground.

Just gotta suck it up a little longer, I guess.

*I've worked with people before who claimed they wanted to quit academia, but then ended up secretly applying for, and getting faculty positions.

Labels: , , , , ,