Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gathering Hiring Data

Please share with us.

If you are in the Biomedical sciences, please take the polls by clicking on the answers.

If you are in another science field (e.g. other biology, physics, engineering, chemistry, etc.) or in the humanities and have something to add, please write it in the comments section and tell us in which field(s) your experience is most relevant.

If you are the Sole Decider for hiring in your department, answer what YOU think.

If you are not, answer what your department's SEARCH COMMITTEE generally does, NOT what you personally believe they should do (if only you had a way to make them understand).

Which single criterion is most important for making the first cut? free polls

If the answer is papers, which usually wins in your searches? free polls

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saturday yawn.

I did not sleep enough or well last night, but I am awake now. I'm afraid this will be one of those hangover-type days. I don't actually have a hangover, but I'm too tired to do much of anything. Which is not ideal, since I need to go to lab for at least a little while.

I am delaying making coffee, which might be the liquid gold of motivation, because the alcohol I had last night is having the most undesirable after-effect of making me feel anxious as I finish metabolizing the last lingering fumes.

I am delaying finishing Christmas shopping and all of that stuff, although I know that I have presents I should wrap, and so on and so forth. If I do nothing else this weekend, I should at least do that (and go to lab, and go to the gym...).

I could really use some boring weekend. You know the kind I mean. When you literally can't wait to get back to work on Monday because at least that is always interesting, there is always something more to do.

Right now I am waiting for the anxiety to wear off, because I know it is just the alcohol fumes and not worth suffering through. I am waiting patiently instead, and thinking that exercise would probably help speed the process if I could just get off the couch and move around.

Oh, couch, I love you. You are always here for me when I want to be horizontal and lazy!

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Friday, December 19, 2008


Overall, I'd say this week was good for experiments, and good for my personal life, but I had a hard time maintaining a positive attitude about career stuff.

Today I did not finish everything I wanted to do, so I have to work part of the day tomorrow to finish today's work and a few hours on Sunday to set up experiments for next week.

Tonight I would like to try to decompress a little after running around all day, but I'm afraid that if I let my guard down at all I will have to admit that I burst into tears in the middle of the day (in the bathroom, at least not in front of anyone) and that I really don't want to be around people or talk to anyone at all.

I would like to do what I did in grad school and have a stiff drink for courage, it always made me feel tough to have a scotch neat, but the last couple of years I've found that most grownup alcohol (wine, beer) tends to make me feel worse, not better (because it's a depressant, duh).

I would like to make a pot of herbal tea and hide at home on my couch, but I promised myself I would try to go out and "have fun", or whatever the kids call it these days, because supposedly that will make me feel "better."

I'm wondering if it would be bad for me to also promise myself I will try for a few hours and if I am too tired/depressed it is okay for me to leave early? Or would that be equivalent to going with a negative attitude and dooming myself to have a bad time?

Lately I'm just fed up with trying to maintain my network, I feel like there are a lot of people I am supposed to hang out with at least a little, and some of them I find very hard to respect.

I used to say about some people that I liked them as people but not as scientists, but the longer I stay in science the harder I find it to talk to people whose work or career strategies I don't respect.

Maybe it's because they're always trying to give me unsolicited advice that they themselves have clearly not followed? Or anti-pep talks about how they assume I'll be happier in industry (not that they would know, they've never worked there?).

I guess I am in one of those moods right now, I don't want anyone to ask me how I am, and I don't want any advice unless it's from someone who has actually been there and done that and can say they found a unique strategy I haven't already considered or tried.

So maybe when they ask how I am, I will just say "I am fine"?

Except most everybody knows I'm not.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Another ho-hum post.

Today went by in a blur. Let's put it this way: the first thing I did this morning was knock over my cup of coffee.

Yup. That was great.

The silver lining? My kitchen table is MUCH cleaner than it was before...

The full moon has coincided with some weird catastrophes that I can't blog about, and since there have been 2 so far I am sort of walking around with the feeling of "third shoe about to drop." I am trying to ignore it.

Then I spent the morning working on my computer, which I don't usually do in the morning unless I'm working on a big project (like my thesis, a first draft of a new paper, or a grant), so that made me feel upside-down.

I spent the afternoon doing Big Science, which was a tiny step in the right direction. Now I have to psych myself up to do Big Science 2.0 next week (since version 1.0 was not quite the whole way there).

Sadly, I suspect that the part where I'm supposed to, as a control experiment, reproduce a published result from Big Journal? I'm not convinced that what they published was, um, real.

I'd really really like to think that it was. I am still kind of in the mode of hoping that I'm doing something wrong and it will all make sense soon.

I don't really think I'm doing anything wrong. At all.

Spent some time wrestling with various stupidities of administrivia and IT suckiness.

And then I was suddenly very, very tired. Like I had all the air sucked out of me. So I came home.

Partly because I'm home earlier than usual, I have the house to myself for a few hours, and it's oddly quiet. It's kind of nice.

My intuition is telling me that the best case scenario potentially within my reach would be to apply for, and in this fantasy scenario, get, a relatively big grant that would pay me, supplies, and a student/technician at least part-time.

If that happened, I guess I could see staying where I am... maybe. But since I can't find anything like that I'm actually ALLOWED to apply for, I'm going to put off the "how" part for now and just kind of muse about the "what" a little more. I guess I am hoping some of my networkees can help me leverage the "how" if I find something attainable.

Reminds me of that Buffy episode where she says "I'm an attain-a-thon!" And then proceeds to compare herself to cookie dough.

Speaking of, I need to get to the gym...

Had a little moment of ick today when I overheard a hint that one of my nemeses may have gotten a job. I was still kind of reveling in having heard how bad the market was this year, that I might not have to hear until 2009 about my "peer" group succeeding while I'm, you know, rotting.

To be fair, this person looks AMAZING on paper and we're not really comparable that way at all. This person has a project to be passionate about, and I respect that a lot. But I also know this person has been a total me-too scientist so far, and has had to get a lot of help doing some really basic things (as a senior postdoc). The thought of people like that becoming professors scares me more than I want to think about. However, I can see why hiring someone who is totally non-threatening in their complete lack of creativity... would be comforting. No competition there.

But other than that, I don't really have anything awful to report today.

I am working on my affirmations. Ho-hum. And now, hi-ho, it's back to work I go.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Not a response to anything, just a post.

Today was, despite all my venting yesterday, a pretty okay day.

My student is improving. That is fun for me and saves me work and time, so it feels like progress. It almost feels like I am getting twice as much done (although the reality is probably not... but I am about 25% less tired).

I am, despite myself, getting some ideas for Christmas presents for people. Some years I am very inspired about this. I don't know why. This might be one of those years. Maybe it's because today I both

a) did an experiment and
b) got data that advances my project.

That always makes me happy. In fact, I can't think of a single time when I got useful, progress-provoking data and thought "yeah, whatever."

Nope, that has never happened.

Not to jinx anything, but I have been on a bit of a data streak the last week or so. I am hoping it lasts. I am trying very hard to enjoy the science part of science for science's sake. And it is mostly working!

It helps that we haven't had so many meetings of the lab. Lately I hate meetings of the lab. Maybe because we have a lot of arrogant little fuckers in our lab right now. I'm waiting for them to realize that arrogance gets you nowhere. It could be a while.

Oh and to answer the person whose comment I deleted (again, this post is really not a response to comments), re: telling people not to join large labs with 20 postdocs. I TOTALLY see where you're coming from with this. I used to think this, too, actually. But it's not that simple. In some fields, there is nowhere else to go from which to get a job.

In fact, there are some fields where the ONLY way to get your papers published and get a job is to go through certain gates, and those gates happen to be guarded by two-headed dogs .... and they are labs with 20 postdocs (or more).

Meanwhile, my visit with my therapist this week was helpful, and progress was made, in the sense that I FINALLY got through to her -although apparently not to everyone who reads this blog- that

a) Most days, I just really really want to keep working on my project.

b) I can't take my project to a "smaller" place, because there are a limited number of places where I could actually do it.

c) Industry is non-appealing first and foremost because I would have to give up my project, and the trade-offs are not worth it to me (more money, but other than that I have a hard time seeing how it's going to be so much different). So that's what I mean when I say lame-ass. Sometimes.

And my therapist was like, OK, I think I finally get it. You don't want to give up your project!

Aha! Houston, we have signal.

In other good news, I am making some progress on networking, I think. In theory I am still kind of on the neverending hunt for a 'mentor', although I have to say at this point I think the likelihood of finding a soulmate type of mentor is about equal to finding a unicorn in the chemical hood, but I guess you never know.

(aside: I think the unicorn reference came from the pegasus skit in Robot Chicken this week. Anybody catch that?)

To answer JaneB's question (although this post is really not a response to comments), no, I am still not applying for jobs.

I am trying to rationalize this by knowing that there's no point in applying until my CV is competitive (I did that experiment already, see the earliest posts from the archive, obviously it does not work or I wouldn't be blogging what I'm blogging...).

And I rationalize waiting because continuing to cultivate my network in the meantime means that I will maximize my chances when/if I do apply.

And maybe the economy will be on the upswing. Or something.

Re: setting a deadline, that has already been set. Not by me. I have been working with a known expiration date for a while, which is, yes, adding to my stress and general state of mind (or lack thereof).

However, I don't see any viable alternatives at this point but to soldier on and try not to worry constantly about what happens when we get to the point of lemming-ness and have to say "What next?"

Today was, in fact, such a good day that I was seriously wondering if there's something to this Positive Affirmation stuff. The idea of changing your negative thought patterns, I can kind of understand it from a cognitive science perspective, that replacing pointless worrying with positive sentiments could be very uplifting.

So I have been practicing my positive affirmations. Want to hear them?

Of course you do. They're things like this:

I deserve to be heard.

I make important contributions to science, and I feel fulfilled.

I floss, and it makes me feel virtuous.

There are some more, but I can't remember them right now. I guess I better practice until they're ingrained in my ears, on my tongue, and the inside of my eyelids.... and to try to shut up the little font person who says yeah, but nobody cares.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Poll of the day.

Random email asking you to contribute to a document (sort of being a survey participant). You won't be an author, but you'll be acknowledged. Do you
a) Insist on authorship and offer to write a chunk of it (need the line on the CV!)
b) Take the offer as is and just do it
c) Decline politely and see what happens
d) Decline not so politely and see what happens
e) Google the person and try to find someone who knows them
f) e and, if it's for real, then a
g) e and, if it's for real, then b free polls

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Response to PiT

PiT wrote a couple of long comments, a couple of posts ago. Here is my response. Okay, so I'm in a pissy mood today. But let's be honest. It's a blog, and I don't have to be nice.


I appreciate that you're trying to be blunt. I applaud that, actually, and encourage you to keep it up.

With that in mind, I'll do the same.

I gotta say, if you've really read my blog, then you know - and so does everyone else - you aren't saying anything new. In fact, I'm kind of astounded at your complete lack of creativity. Is this really all you can come up with?

Because it's like, um, a cliffs notes version of EVERYTHING I'VE ALREADY HEARD AND BLOGGED ABOUT???????????

I never used cliffs notes. And I'm sure as hell not going to start now.

So let's be totally blunt. If you had actually read my blog, then you would know that there's a real possibility that I might be happier quitting science completely than continuing on with any sort of lame-ass bullshit.

Industry lame-ass bullshit or more postdoc lame-ass abusive fucking bullshit. FUCK. THAT.

What's the point, anyway? NOBODY CARES what I have to contribute to science.

NOBODY CARES. NOBODY. I mean, seriously. I don't get one fucking shred of positive feedback on my work for months at a time, and then they wonder why I'm having career doubts.

I mean, Seriously????

And having said that, I will say what else I feel like saying today:

Fuck you, NIH and grad school.

And oh, by the way America? This is the cause of the so-called 'shortage' of scientists in this country.


I'd rather work in a fucking donut shop. I mean, seriously. There's more creativity in designing patterns of colored sprinkles than I see from most employed scientists.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Taking stock of the week and 2008.

So the end of the week turned out strangely productive. I actually did a lot but it didn't feel like much, because it wasn't what I was expecting to be doing.

I had to bonk myself on the head and give myself points for progress. Bonk!

I went to the gym a couple of times.


Thursday my student called in sick, and then randomly I got called to deal with an ongoing problem that has now finally been fixed (in large part, thanks to me!). I should get some credit for this, but I won't.

The actual fixing does matter though, because it means I can finally run some samples that were sitting around for weeks.

...And that experiment turned out like every other experiment I did this week- interpretable, just didn't work the way I had hoped.

I will score myself points for interpretable. Because that leads to, at the very least, not having to repeat the identical conditions. And therefore, actual progress.

I also ran gels, ordered things, and things I ordered came in so I can do more new experiments next week. Yay!

Submitted two things that were due, before the deadline. Check.

Collected more samples for more experiments. Check.

And various other minor progresses like that. Check.


Went out with friends last night. It was really nice, actually. This is one of those when-it-rains-it-pours weekends. After weeks of no plans whatsoever, last night we had two options for going out, same for tonight, and tomorrow night we have a friend visiting from out of town.

Some of these plans can be rescheduled for future evenings, but I do wish it were possible to reschedule things into the long, lonely past that was this year without many outings.


I was also taking stock of what I accomplished this year. Personally, I have made progress (although not in entirely bloggable ways). I've figured some things out that have long been plaguing me. I got some problems solved, I think, once and for all. Which is pretty cool considering some of them have been life-long problems!

And I give myself 2008 credit for starting therapy, even if its ultimate value remains to be seen (and I might not be able to do it long enough to find out, before my position and health insurance are terminated).

Scientifically, I did make some progress. Even if nobody knows about it Officially.

Career-wise, not so much progress, I don't think. It's hard to say for sure because in theory some of the things I've done were long-term investments, but, not much progress in any tangible ways.

But I'm very much dreading 2009. It might be fine. But I had such high hopes for this year, and most of them did not materialize, despite my trying.

I've been enjoying blogging, especially comments from students who say it's useful to read this blog, and other postdocs who say they have had similar experiences.

I'd also like to think that the blog helps educate some of the faculty out there who might not realize how bad it is for us now. I particularly liked a comment I got on one of the last 2 posts, where the person was saying they re-read some of the only science career books out there (A PhD is Not Enough, for example) and how incredibly out-of-date and out-of-touch these books are as 'resources.' And how there's not much else out there, besides blogs like this one.


So I am feeling okay the last couple of days. I did get caught up on sleep, and that did help.

The Sabotage book I mentioned is just one lightbulb moment after another. So I'm really glad I got that and I'm working on it.

I'm thinking about what I'll be getting people for Christmas/Non-religious End-of-Year gifts.

And I'm planning some fun trips.


In truth, I do okay with research as a lifestyle, because it takes very little to keep me going. But I have to have that feeling of being able to make progress, and have some things to look forward to.

I guess I crossed that line again, the one I'm always walking. I really do like benchwork, and I don't mind when things aren't working, so long as I have what I need to keep trying, and not too much pressure for time.

Right now I'm in a little bubble where I can say "fuck it" for a while and just work on the science. I'm telling myself not to worry about whether I get to figure it all out myself or not.

And amazingly, that is actually kind of working for now.

Whether I apply for jobs or not, I just don't want to waste my time.

I'd much rather be doing experiments than job applications, and I really don't want to do applications as an experiment again, unless I can drastically change the experimental conditions. Unfortunately, my past attempts have yielded only negative results, which were mostly uninterpretable.

Right now, I think the magic 8-ball is saying conditions are unfavorable, try again later.

We'll see if we get to later.

Meanwhile, I'm going to try to focus on now. One day, one week, maybe one month at a time. But not more than that. Because 2009 is coming, whether I want it or not.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

See also: the drawing board, back to.

Can't sleep. Thought, eh, maybe I'll blog.

Actually I think I'm just hungry and/or went over my threshold for caffeine tolerance. I guess I should add green tea to my list of "none after 7 pm".

However, the 3 AM last homemade cookie? That I can do.

So my experiments today did not work. But hey, at least I know what went wrong because I did CONTROLS. So I don't mind. Because tomorrow I can try again.

Yes, today was one of those days when I am glomming onto the tiny glimmer of actual SCIENCE because the rest of the day was pure, unadulterated bullshit.

First, I had to listen to the 'campus expert' on a subject explain a technique to me. Basically the protocol is:

a) have too much money
b) buy anything and everything you need pre-made, instead of actually knowing how to do it yourself.

Hmph. Thanks. And you're the expert, huh? What are we, industry now? Aren't we supposed to understand how these things work in academia well enough to do it ourselves for a fraction of the price?

Or is that just another one of my delusions?

And I had to listen to - I know, this will shock you! - a grad student who does not understand controls. And his advisor who, so far as I can tell, does not understand how to train anyone.

My favorite part is how advisors blame the students, as if it's not in any way their job to provide training (or at least foist these clueless students off on postdocs who are capable of training a grad student). In this particular case, I'm pretty sure the student is clueless and/or lazy, but I still don't blame the student for not knowing. When are you supposed to learn these things if no one is teaching you?

I don't know about you, but I learned how to do controls IN LAB. I did not learn about controls in class.

.... Um, nope, not in any class.


And finally. I had to listen to one of the ultimate White Guys telling another White Guy grad student how to go about getting a postdoc position to be successful in his career.

Okay, so are you ready? Here goes:

Find an NAS HHMI* advisor and do whatever it takes to get the recommendation letter.

Ta da! That's the advice. This is science, folks. This is THE 'mentoring.'

The really frightening part of this story was that this same guy said when he gets CVs of people who are 20 years out of school applying for various upper-level positions, he still looks at WHERE they did their PhD and postdoc. WITH WHOM.

Because he thinks that connotes quality better than any other factor.

Yes, and. This particular White Guy is young enough that he will be around giving this wonderful advice to several more generations of grad students to come.

Hearing things like this I think, who am I kidding?

According to him, I should have quit after grad school, because I didn't have a C/N/S paper from the lab of a Famous White Guy from my thesis work. Then maybe I shouldn't have gotten those postdoc fellowships after all? They should have just told me "thanks, take a hike!"? YOU'LL NEVER BE GOOD ENOUGH??

So what I got from this is, not only are generations of grad students being told the exact OPPOSITE of what I would say, even if I had my own lab, clearly there are still going to be PIs who would not want to send their own grad students to do a postdoc with me, as a junior, female, non-acronymed professor.

Not that I'm sure I could stomach having any postdocs of my own, since it would mean propagating this "system" that I hate. I guess I could still try to be the ultimate PI I've always wanted to be, and actually, you know, help my postdocs get jobs and papers and stuff.

Ha ha ha.

In other news, I started reading a book called "From Sabotage to Success" by Sheri O. Zampelli. I think it's going to tell me how to get out of my negative rut. Or something. So far it's really good, actually.

And eventually I hope I will be able to get some more sleep. This is the second night this week I had trouble sleeping. Must be all the languishing.

*(and therefore, most likely MALE)

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