Saturday, February 21, 2009

To say or not to say

Sorry for the potentially too-slow response, but hopefully this will still be useful in the archive for next time.

This post is in response, in case you're wondering, to a comment left on my last post:

At 6:12 PM, Anonymous said...

I need a quick answer!

A girl interviewing for a postdoc in the lab I'm in wants to hear about my "experience in the lab." I am NOT enjoying my postdoc and I hate this lab. I can't possibly endorse this lab, but it's every woman for herself. Should I give her my honest opinion or just tell her what she wants to hear?

So here's what I think. First of all DO NOT just say what she wants to hear! Do NOT lie and make it sound good or even just okay if it is awful!

However, do NOT sound super-negative either, because then she will write you off as a Negative Nancy and not as the Voice of Reason [For the Love of God, Save Yourself Get Out of Here].

In one of the first labs where I worked (as an undergrad), I met a woman from India who became a good friend and mentor. She was a postdoc at the time, and to my eye she was already middle-aged, and therefore ancient (oh, the irony). She was sort of the grandmotherly figure in the lab.

After I had been in the lab for a while, I noticed some tensions among PsychoRedneckPostdoc and NiceFrenchPostdoc (both male), and that their issues were going to get in the way of my (admittedly, in retrospect, impossible) project.

When I finally asked her why she didn't warn me about the Lab Issues when I interviewed for the position, she said I should have known what she meant when I asked her how she liked the lab, and she said I like the project.

What she told me then that she actually meant was,

I hate the lab, I'm miserable here, the only reason I haven't quit is that I like the science I'm doing.

This is a nice theory, and I've blogged about it before. But what if you're more devoted to the task of steering lambs away from the slaughter?

The MsPhD Approach to Hinting At the Dark Abyss

I've found that, when I meet with visiting postdocs, the key is to ask THEM the right questions to steer them into concluding that it's a bad lab. These include things like:

So, why do you want to join this lab?

[note that inflecting on the WHY and the THIS even just slightly can get your point across quite nicely!]

Then, if they give a standard answer, I usually expand on what that part of the lab is really like, and it usually involves some combination of statements of the following:

Well, the best people who really worked on THAT the most and really know how to do everything actually all have their own labs now, so you'd really have to start over from scratch... so why didn't you apply to one of their labs instead of here?


Wow, well that part of the lab is really tight-knit, all the postdocs who work on THAT came in at the same time, so, I mean, they're all really nice, but...

[note that trailing off is a good way to lead people to make their own conclusions!]

I also find that asking postdoc candidates about their expectations is a great way to get them to realize that none of what they're looking for is available here.

E.g. if they say they want a good mentor, or ask how easy it is to meet other women faculty in the department, I say

Oh, you didn't meet her yet? I can introduce you to her.

Or I ask them what it was like where they did their thesis work, what parts they really hated. And invariably they say,

Well, my advisor ignored me and then criticized me and then took credit for my work and didn't help me look for jobs.

Then I tell them,


And they say,


That usually gets the point across.

And you note how I didn't actually say anything specifically bad about my advisor at all? I didn't have to!

If anyone ever asks this poor girl why she decided not to come here, she'll just say she liked the other lab better.

She might not even know herself why she got a bad feeling about the place. But I'd like to think I might have saved an innocent soul anyway.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

More jobs... for men.

Watched the podcast of Meet the Press this morning over breakfast, trying to get up the energy to leave the house.

It did not inspire much optimism to hear, at the end of his interview, the little anecdote from Obama's spokesman, David Axelrod, about a woman whose husband lost his job and how heartbreaking that was.

Uh.... what about HER job? What is she doing, besides writing to the President to complain???

So my question is simple. For the job creation statistics, are they based on assuming that EVERYONE above a certain age needs a full-time job, or are they based on assuming that only the MEN need the jobs?

Because my guess is that there are whole swaths of the country where it's assumed that, as long as the husband has a decent-paying job, everything is hunky-dory.

Then I was looking at, and particularly at this little graphic linked from the washington post, which illustrates quite nicely by the size of the bubbles, exactly how much money is being spent on what. Except, it's not exactly the part I care about.

I would really like to see something equivalent for the NIH budget, and particularly for the part of the NIH budget that is going to be helped by the stimulus.

And then I'd like to see how it's going to be distributed. My guess is that it's all going to go to senior people who are over 60 and have already had a career.

oh and ps.

FYI, to the people who were offended by my comment about the 80-year-old PI who just got 2 R01s renewed, here's a couple of tidbits for you, just to clarify:

1. It's a SHE. Those of you who complained ASSUMED it was a man. That says more about you than it does about me.

2. I'm not bothered that she got the grants, so much as that this was on her 3rd revision, she still has a faculty position despite being more than 15 years beyond the eligible age for receiving social security, and she just effectively bought herself 5 more years of full-time employment.

My point is, there is something culturally fucked up about a career where

1. If you just wait in line long enough, your grants will get funded even if you didn't revise them at all

2. Everyone refuses to retire because they're, what, terrified of being bored? Too poor?

3. Everyone else refuses to make it desirable (or god forbid, required) to retire...

... and yet we have this massive job shortage because the people in control of everything are sitting pretty in jobs they've had for over 50 years.

Just think about that for a minute. 50 years is a long fucking time. These 80-year-olds have had their jobs since they were younger than we are now. Their generation was hired as faculty when they were less than 30 years old.

But hey, more power to her. If she left now, there would be 50% fewer female faculty in my department. And we have a hiring freeze. hahahahahaha

Happy President's Day, everybody.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

will blog again eventually.

Am still reluctant to turn off Anonymous commenting, just because some of my regularly positive commenters are still Anon. But will consider it if the haters are bad enough. Suspect, however, that they enjoy this blog, if only as what they consider a trainwreck.

Have had several ideas for blog posts, usually in the shower, but can't think of any right now and have kind of a headache. Really would rather not be getting sick. Will blog again eventually. That is all for now.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dear Commenters

Thanks for reminding me why I don't really like blogging anymore.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Another poll or two

If you are a postdoc, check one: free polls

If you are a PI, check one: free polls

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Tidbits of rant.

I'm too pissed off to pull my thoughts together, so I'll just make a list and maybe expound on some of these later:

1. I am REALLY angry with my advisor. I don't even have time to be angry right now. But I think "angry AT" is a lot better than "depressed ABOUT". So I guess that's progress.

2. I learned from a friend yesterday that his lab's funding got renewed: 2 R01s with scores in the second-percentile range. His PI is 80 years old.

3. I have a lot of work to do this weekend. I might go to the gym on my way in, just so I will be too tired to fantasize about repeatedly kicking my advisor in the head.

4. Several small pieces of benchtop equipment broke in our lab this week. One was fixed by two different people, then broke again. I'm inclined to think this is the sort of thing that should be replaced, but our advisor has some kind of philosophical problem with replacing things that are cheaper than most of our disposable reagents... even when they are completely destroyed after 20 years of constant use.

5. It's that season again where other postdocs around me are going out on interviews and getting their papers published. One sent me proofs. I can't bring myself to open the file.

6. I've recently been talking to several older women PIs. Let me just mention here that they've basically been no help whatsoever with my career problems.They have no creative suggestions, only things I've already thought of and/or tried. They have taken a very defeatist, basic-survival strategy toward their own careers, and I find it demotivating. They pointed out that the only other way to make it as a woman in science is as a Superstar.

7. I am tired of being an invisible Superstar.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

To the website formerly known as

Dear President Obama and VP Biden,

On your website, you wrote:

Promoting Women in Math and Science: Women constitute 45 percent of the workforce in the U.S., but hold just 12 percent of science and engineering jobs in business and industry. Women also make up just 9 percent of the recipients of engineering-related bachelor's degrees. President Obama and Vice President Biden believe that every student should have equal access to education in math, science, and technology in order to compete on a global scale.

I'm writing to ask what you're planning to DO about this. Your website talks about "promoting" but I don't see any plan of action?

Actions speak louder than words.

Right now, I'm looking at being UNEMPLOYED as a woman with a PhD in Science and >5 years of Post-doctoral research experience.

Where's my promotion?

I'm looking at grants and and university policies.

Here's what needs to change.

1. NIH should allow ANYONE AND EVERYONE with a PhD to apply for ALL GRANTS.

Grant review should be done WITHOUT regard to past performance, depending ONLY on innovation and, if necessary, preliminary data (which, by the way, I have in spades!).

Just in case you don't understand why I'm telling you this, it's because the current funding mechanisms are:

a) Hierarchical
b) Archaic
c) Terribly biased (both with regards to gender and, dare I say it, ethnicity)
d) Exclusive of young people

Don't you like the support of the youth? Well, "young" investigator in science-land is anyone under the age of 40 (or maybe 42, when you get your first real grant in the current system?).


Where do you think the innovation comes from? Those 60-year old tenured professors?

Come on, really?

2. Universities should allow ANYONE AND EVERYONE with a PhD to apply for GRANTS AND LAB SPACE.

Currently, universities are blocking everyone post-PhD and pre-faculty from applying for independent funding. They do this because lab space is tied up with teaching responsibilities, which when you think about it.... really makes no sense.

To put it simply, at universities all over this country, we have faculty who don't teach anything, and researchers with no lab space of their own.

We have thousands of young, hardworking, trained researchers who are all going to quit science if you don't do something about it PRONTO.

Even better, YOU paid to train us. You, the government. The taxpayer. You paid to train us, and now you're going to have to start over from scratch. You know all those articles about how there's a dearth of scientists? There's two things you need to know about those.

1. They're TOTALLY FALSE. There are PLENTY of scientists, we just don't have the resources we need.

2. The fears about having a shortage of actual scientists are about to become true, if you don't act now and do something about it, you'll lose a whole generation (or two) of young people who wouldn't touch science as a career. Wouldn't even consider it when they see the job prospects. And they'd be totally justified, too.

My point being, this problem should be totally avoidable, but NIH and university policies make no sense. Put them together, and the "system", such as it is, was never designed to work as a a system, and instead it works against any kind of national research progress (especially health research, which you claim to care about!) .

You may be wondering why I'm writing this now, when it's maybe too late.

I'm writing this now because I'm hearing two rumors.

Rumor 1. That the Stimulus Plan (the name of which frankly sounds like the economic version of a pornographic fluffer).. wait, I lost my train of thought. Oh, right. That the Stimulus Plan has, in the current (recent?) version, money for >1000 2-year grants.

Rumor 2. That the NIH part of the Stimulus Plan is on the chopping block (thank you, Republiscum who would rather cut taxes, like that's really going to help anything).

If Rumor 1 is right, then you have to make sure these grants are AVAILABLE and ACCESSIBLE to researchers at ALL LEVELS (even women! even non-faculty!).

If Rumor 2 is correct, none of this matters, and you've got your work cut out for you.

Uh, good luck. Have fun running the country




Thank you for your inspiring speeches, they're great. But actions still speak louder than words.


If this isn't sufficiently clear, feel free to contact me via this blog and I will happily explain it to you and your support staff.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Because I'm busy and lazy, a poll instead of a post

Would you say you free polls