Sunday, January 24, 2010

On the latest NIH soft-money kerfuffle

The commenter who writes as "lou dobbs" sent this link to a post Drugmonkey wrote about some things said by Francis Collins in an interview.

Basically, the relevance to postdocs is this quote:

But Dr. Collins said he was looking more at universities themselves, saying that the age bias actually originates with institutions that don't allow their younger researchers to apply for grants.

At first, I thought I couldn't get riled up about this, I'm tired, whatever.

....And then I started writing.

In short, I call bullshit. Nothing is going to change until the funding agencies admit that they have to take the reins.

1. Universities won't let younger researchers apply for grants.

TRUE. But they blame the NIH guidelines, the cost to cover salaries and benefits, and lack of lab space.

2. Faculty won't help younger researchers apply for transition grants, much less allow them to apply for their own funding.

TRUE. They claim the low rates of funding make it barely worth the time it takes for a younger researcher to write the grant, since that is time they can't spend doing the faculty member's already-funded projects. They also refuse to share their lab space to support a younger researcher setting up her/his own project on a bench in their lab.

3. NIH encourages younger researchers to independently apply for independent funding.

BULLSHIT. NIH guidelines match university guidelines. They require certain types of appointments, and they require that the university guarantees "support".

What this means in practice is that universities effectively ban postdocs from applying for funding, because they can't guarantee support to everyone whether or not you get the grant. It's just not practical.

NIH continues to reinforce the catch-22: you can't get the job title without the funding, and you can't get the funding without the job title.

It all seems backwards to me. Seems to me that the university should be allowed to guarantee resources IF AND ONLY IF the grant is awarded. Then the university isn't risking anything.


4. NSF is different, they allow younger research to independently apply for independent funding.

BULLSHIT. NSF has the same rules. They use the same university guidelines requiring appointments and resources.

5. This is true for everyone, so it's fair.

BULLSHIT. What really sticks in my knickers is that MDs can be "independent" a lot sooner, despite having MUCH less research experience.

They're allowed to apply for their own funding, because their salaries will be covered by clinical work whether or not they get the grant.

Does that make sense from a business perspective, if universities are companies?


Does it make sense in terms of research qualifications or potential for progress?


I'm not sure where Francis Collins thinks universities are supposed to get the money to pay PhD researchers' salaries, if not from research grants.

We don't see patients whose health insurance pays a fee. We don't sell a product that is available right now - that's the nature of basic research. Which everyonesays they know is important, except they certainly don't treat us that way.

Meanwhile, we're supposed to believe that it's some amazing privilege to work as overeducated postdoc slaves with no guarantee of future employment past a handful of years.

And families don't want to pay more for college tuition. There's more and more rumbling about online education and the end of the university as we know it.

Personally, I think science has been going to hell in a handbasket for a while. I wonder if Francis Collins isn't just helping to speed the process. Maybe these genome project type d00ds just want all research to be done in private Institutes? This article certainly seemed to imply that NIH wishes universities would be more like the Whitehead.

Lately I do wonder if we shouldn't separate undergraduate education from research centers. It seems nearly impossible to be equally good at teaching and research. In fact, I sometimes wonder if the two aren't mutually exclusive.

But I somehow doubt that would solve our funding issues. Unless it's actually the case that the bigger the university, the more money they waste?

....Yeah, I think that's probably true. In myriad ways.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Go vote for Barbie, PhD!

By way of "Isis, Mattel is taking a poll for what career the next Barbie should have. I voted for Computer Engineer.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Help with a recurring people problem

One of the worst things about being a postdoc is what I call having pseudo-authority.

You have a PhD, yes. But you are a temporary employee, not staff. And everybody knows it.

This means there are often power struggles with staff-type people who are

a) not that into their job, just into the paycheck
b) paid better than you and working fewer hours
c) fully expecting you to fail and leave while they stay on and on and on forever

So, they treat you like dirt.

At least, this has been my experience. Not always- some staff have been very polite and helpful. Others, not so much.

In particular today I am talking about a certain kind of guy (because that is usually where I have problems).

This kind of guy does not have a PhD. He might be a student, a tech, or some other kind of staff. He has always been there longer than I have.

I should say here that I do not always have problems with people who fit this description. I can think of a few who were my best friends when we worked together, who always treated me as a peer and we helped each other out, and I really miss working with them.

Which is probably why I'm baffled when I meet one who treats me like dirt.

I might outrank this guy by two or 9 years, it doesn't matter. He looks at my boobs when I'm talking to him; he is late when we make an appointment; he does not do what I ask him to do, even when it fits word-for-word into his job description; he apologizes about his irresponsible behavior only if it is dire and too late to fix whatever he did or did not do that created enormous problems for me.

I should say here that not all of these qualities mean the guy is going to be a jerk to me forever. I have worked with ones who were disrespectful at first or irresponsible occasionally but mostly okay and I really did believe them when they apologized.

And then there are the ones who always stare at my boobs instead of my face when I am talking to them; who are always late and disregard my instructions as if I never gave any. As if my time is worthless and I might as well have been talking to thin air.

I'm blogging about this as a general concept because it has happened to me over and over again, in various jobs and situations, and I suspect it will continue to happen and I will continue to be upset about it every single time until I figure out what to do about it.

The problem is that I never have any real authority over these guys. In theory they are working for me or with me; they may even report to me. But usually when I finally work up the nerve to complain to my/our boss, invariably it is a guy and he looks at me like I am from Mars.

But That Guy is a great guy, he says incredulously when I try to explain that I feel I am being harassed, and disrespected, and can't get my job done.

At this point, I pause and make a choice. I have tried both the

a) explaining my case just fact-by-fact, as in "here is what happened" with no judgments, just my point of view of what happened when and whose job it was and how an objective person might expect things to work instead of the way they are not working right now

and the

b) explaining my case from the "try to put yourself in my place"* point of view, which would work with a normal person** who might be capable of, I don't know, empathy (even for something he has never experienced himself).

Neither has ever worked. This has happened with multiple bosses, every few years or so, there is always one of these guys who simply cannot treat me like any other colleague, but has to make a big deal about my gender.

So I have tried various approaches to to pointing out how uncomfortable I am and how difficult it is to get my work done.

Always, the man in charge will, instead of apologizing or offering to speak to That Guy, he will give me a speech about how maybe I am difficult to work with, how I need to lighten up or be more patient or ask more nicely, etc.

I should point out that these are the less-sexist bosses. These are the guys who think they are enlightened. And they still do this.

So invariably, I give up, and I simply cannot get my work done. Eventually, I hate going to work, until I can find a way to drop that project or do it myself while avoiding That Guy.

It definitely slows me down.

In fact, if I have to be really honest about what has hurt my career the most, the one people problem I still can't solve is this one.

I have figured out, more or less, how to avoid and/or extract myself from the crappy outright-harassing boss situations. I have figured out how to power down insubordinate students. But it's these in-between pseudo-peers who still manage to completely trip me up. And I still don't know what to do about it.

Of course part of me lives in terror of someday actually supervising, on my own, this kind of woman-hating jerk. I would certainly hope that, if I'm ever in the position to hire anyone, I would have the knowledge of how to NOT hire someone who would disrespect me this much. Men or women.

But in the meantime, I am stuck having people assigned to me whom I did not choose. And I really don't know how to deal with these situations, because they are just subtle enough that everyone just tries to sweep them under the rug.

Eventually, That Guy will get kicked out or leave. It always happens if I just wait long enough.

But I can't wait forever, and in the meantime, I am always miserable and left wondering if it's better to make a formal complaint, and risk the backlash (which inevitably comes, along with whatever hit my recommendation letters must take), or to just sit tight, or to quit.

Because I don't have forever to wait for everyone else to wise up. And I'm just really sick of it. Lately I am so sick of it that I'd say this is one of my two biggest complaints about being a woman in science (the other one will be the next blog post).

*or my bra
**read: non-scientist type of human being

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Response to another postdoc having a hard time

This conversation began as a comment two posts ago, so I am including that here.

At 10:27 PM, Anonymous said...

Dear YFS,

I am in bench withdrawl even though I have yet to leave. What is wrong with me? I felt everything you did, and am choosing to take an opportunity that is away from bench research. I am getting emotional (not to the point of tears), but certainly to the point at which it is obvious to my boss that maybe I should not be leaving. I was doing this mostly for my personal side of things, but with everything we've talked about here, I thought was also for my benefit of getting paid well and starting a life. WHY AM I FEELING SO CRAPPY?

And I totally misunderstood, so this is what I wrote:

Anon 10:27, Oh, this is so sad to me. I actually do sometimes get to the point of tears when I think about this. I think part of why you feel crappy is because it's a huge change, very stressful, and you drank the kool-aid for so long that on some level deep down, even though you know it's not true, you kind of feel like a failure. Also, for me anyway, it's harder to make choices when I feel like people are second-guessing me (and it sounds like your boss really doubts your choice is the right one). Maybe you should have another talk with your boss if this person is genuinely supportive of you (and not just trying to get you to stay and be a slave)? But then, again, that could make you feel worse. My advisors tend to be pseudo-supportive, which I find most upsetting.

Personally, I'm not sure that getting paid well or "starting a life" (not 100% [sure] if you mean all the connotations of that phrase) would make me happy. But at some point it just seems hopeless to continue, and if you're so miserable day after day, something has to change. That doesn't mean the changing process will be easy- it's always a time of mourning, like a breakup. But the idea is that when that period is over, you will feel better. Or so they tell me.

Fortunately for all of us, Anon wrote back and patiently told me I had it all wrong:

HI Ms PhD,

It's anon 10:27 again. I am not sure if I was clear enough in my prior message. My boss has been supportive of me up to this point and has said that I was one of his top postdocs (and he has had 20+) and always talked about "when you have your own lab... ." At the time, I just wasn't listening to it and wasn't even thinking that I was going to stay in research. But, I think that I somehow fell in love with research after the PhD.

I definitely have had the best boss I could imagine; this was after a not-so-good beginning to my _early_ graduate student life. Somehow, things turned around for me: I got fellowships, travel awards, international travel awards, papers, everything that I was supposed to be getting. But then I had a friend who suggested that this alternative opportunity could get me to be nearby my SO. After not landing anything in biotech-- you know there are tons of layoffs going on right now--I decided to do a little bit of interviewing. I got lucky, or so others think, but it is hard to hear any congrats. The good thing is that I am doing a bit of testing the waters and my boss said that he supports me, no matter what I choose. We have spoken a few times; he is incredibly understanding. The problem is that I know I should go and and check out this opportunity. OK, I don't have Science, PNAS, Nature, etc., yet, but I do have some good journals and collaborators that I have been able to network with; this is the problem--things had their ups and downs, but overall, I settled in and become a productive lab member who is trustworthy and committed.

I did everything right that I was supposed to do, but had tight geographic constraints because of my SO. We have been long distance for almost 4 years, so that is what had to change, or so I was trying to convince myself of. It becomes hard to sleep, but somehow, my thoughts are much more organized and I am finding a new sense of driven motivation. I want to think about this as a sabbatical; wish that geographic constraints were not as they are.
The kool-aid never tasted so good as it seems to now....

Anon 10:27,

Well, thanks for clarifying, and sorry I misunderstood. I think(?) I understand a little better now.

Now I think this sounds more like a personal question than a career question.

I have to wonder if your SO understands how hard it is to get a "permanent" job in this business, and whether you do?

You really have to be willing to give up everything else and drag your SO with you if necessary. Would you? Are you?

If you really thought you wanted to have your own lab, did you not discuss that this was your top priority, and how everything else would have to come second? Do you think that now? Can you have that talk now?

Because truthfully that is what has to happen if you want to do that.

Personally, MrPhD and I talk about this all the time. We came to some decisions that make sense to us now, but it's fluid and we may change our minds as we go along. But we're always talking about it. Talking about it helps us be honest, not just with each other, but with ourselves, about what we want, how badly we want it, and to share our observations about it as a choice. For example, MrPhD knows that while I might be okay not having a lab, I would never be happy if I didn't take every chance to try to have one. In fact, sometimes when I am not sure if I can do it, he is the one who says I can and should. (He is also the one who told me to start a blog, so you can see he is very smart and I tend to follow his advice!)

If you're really heartbroken and missing the lab, maybe you should start thinking of not just how to get through the current period as a "sabbatical", but also how to plan your return and eventual takeover over the world? Because seriously, applying for faculty positions is kind of like a military RPG. You have to be at least somewhat confident that you can win, or be willing to die trying.

So I don't know if your SO is totally un-moveable forever and ever, but I have to wonder how much you two have talked about it - maybe not enough, if you're only realizing now that you really don't want to give up on the career you have been working towards for years already.

I also recommend reading The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. I think the idea that women will automatically be happier as wives and/or starting a family (e.g. rather than a lab) is an old myth that keeps coming back like the bad guy in a B movie. We just need to keep killing it and beating back the Larry Summers thinkers of the world. While the gender roles of the 70s are not as obvious today, I think the problem is still there - we have all grown up with these pressures and influences as the silent killers of our aspirations - as part of the air we breathe.

You might not even realize that you were drinking two competing kinds of kool-aid, but that's essentially the problem.

Science tells you to be a certain kind of person- independent and emotionless to the point of being monastic.

Society tells you to be a different kind of person- feminine to the point of having only the desire to please your SO, nurture your aging parents, raise children, and look pretty.

Science is changing, slowly, but it hasn't changed enough yet and it's going to take a while.

Society has changed on the surface, but many of the same expectations and pressures remain, even if they're not in our faces quite so much as they were when we were kids, we still internalized them back then and they haven't completely gone away.

Even if we consciously buck the trend, deep down I think we still feel torn. I know I do, because my family still asks why I'm not settling down into a regular job, buying a house and having kids. I have no intention of doing anything just because my family tells me to, but that doesn't mean I'm impervious to their constantly questioning my life choices. It's just like with work- no matter how certain I am about my results, I have to ask myself why everyone gives me such a hard time, and what else I can do to test my hypothesis. Because the more certain I am, the easier it is to feel like I don't care if I win so much, because as long as I'm sure that I'm right, I am willing to for my career to die trying.

I don't know if that helps at all, but I hope you can come to some honest decisions about what you really want, and soon. Science waits for no woman, and being out of the game only makes it harder to jump back in and not get tangled up in the ropes. But having a supportive advisor (or two) is huge, so if anyone can do it, having that kind of help and a supportive SO are definitely the way to do it.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Dear FSP, you are still my hero

Check out This post from FSP. I had a good laugh.

I also like the one after it, although I am not reading the comments on either one. I can only guess what kind of (possibly deleted or unblogged-about) comments led to the inspiration for these posts this week.

As they say, some days you're the dog, some days you're the hydrant.

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Response to postdoc who needs help

From the last post, there was a comment:

At 1:21 PM, Anonymous said...
Ms PhD, I have a specific question for you... I am a 3rd year postdoc, facing the end of my fellowship in a few months. My postdoc adviser and I have had a falling out and it seems to be irreparable. He refuses to write recommendation letters. Well, I need another postdoc job soon, and how the hell can I get one without his recommendation? I thought I'd be getting 2 papers out from his lab but now it's looking like 0. I'm not really that bad. No one else here has papers after 3 years. Why am I being picked on? He's been contacting my former boss (PhD adviser) and actively blocking me from getting jobs. He suggested I go into teaching or industry. WTF. Suggestions?

Anon 1:21,

UGH. That is a sucky situation, but you might feel better to know it is NOT that unusual. AT ALL. It is actually much more common that anyone wants to admit.

First, your advisor sounds like a jerk, but it really depends on what the falling out was about? You can be vague about it - was it something ethical (you disagreed with your advisor about data presentation)? If it's scientific, that is different than if your advisor is discriminating against you, and/or is a nutcase (not that unusual), or if there is some other extenuating circumstance (advisor is running out of money and can't handle the stress, etc.).

Also, keep in mind that in a way it is better to have no letter at all than have someone agree to write a letter for you and then have it damn you with faint praise. He can't do much worse than that, because if he actually wrote nasty things, that would just expose him as a jerk. But at least he was honest enough to say that he can't write you a good letter - maybe that's a sign that he's not completely without ethics?

Second - what is your relationship with your PhD adviser? Have you talked to this person about the situation with your soon-to-be-former postdoc boss? If not, you need to have a frank conversation about it and find out if this person is able and willing to be on your side and help you out or not. It won't be fun, but you might find out more useful information that will be helpful to you as you move forward.

Third - Even if your PhD advisor can't or won't help, you can probably find another postdoc position if that is what you want.

Most people will take a postdoc to work on their projects. However, most people will NOT take a postdoc to work on their OWN project, unless you have your own funding and/or it fits really well with something that lab does.

Contrary to popular belief, you DON'T need a letter from your former boss.

My advice then is to:

a) publish your papers on your own - send them to PLoS ONE or whatever the equivalent is your field, and be done with it

b) marshall your other resources- any PIs who have helped you, like your thesis committee, collaborators, friends who went off to start their own labs - and get their advice on your situation, get their help editing your papers, and get them to write your recommendation letters.

Ideally you want their letters to address what happened with your former boss, or come up with a scientifically believable reason why you're not in that lab anymore (e.g. "project is going in a different direction; I need more training in X field so I am joining a different lab to learn it").

c) Apply for new positions. You don't have to tell them you had a falling out with your PI (your letters will explain the situation for you, much classier that way), but ideally you want to find someone who will be sympathetic and a mentor.

Fourth, and this is probably the most important, ask yourself in your heart of hearts why your advisor said that about you going into teaching or industry. Was that just a generic put-down or way of telling you they think you're lazy? Was that this person's screwed-up way of being concerned for your happiness? Was it a sexist/racist otherwise closed-minded comment that just reflects how biased he is?

In my case, for example, I had to think long and hard until I realized I had NEVER heard my advisor say ANYTHING nice about ANY female scientist. EVER.

Then I rewound everything I had heard him say about women scientists I admired, and realized he always insulted them, not their science but them as people, saying they were "bitchy" or "crazy".

Then I realized that anything this guy thought about my science or said about me would be coming through that lens: where all women who were not idiots and sex symbols were either bitchy or crazy.

Aha, I said to myself when I realized this. It's not me.

Was this person speaking more about themselves than about you? For example, one of my mentors gave me a whole speech about how I should spare myself the pain of academia, and it really hurt my feelings that she seemed to be saying she thought I wasn't good enough.

On further reflection, however, she was really just talking about how crappy she was feeling that day.

Aha, I said to myself when I realized this. It's not me.

Having said that, some of us impatient, efficient and highly organized types sometimes get hit with this suggestion about industry. It usually comes from people who are inefficient and disorganized. They think if you're in such a hurry, you should go to industry.

Fifth, I will tell you what everyone tells me over and over in this business. It's about perseverance, they say. So if you want to do it, you have to figure out how to stay in the game.

What I've learned from staying in the game is that it doesn't change. This is happening to you now- some variations on this kind of thing may happen to you again, and again, and again. All you can do is try to learn the ropes so you don't fall into the alligator pit.

Good luck and hang in there.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

You'll learn... or will you?

I've been thinking a lot about karma lately, specifically my advisor's karma.

I'd like to think that, although my advisor has repeatedly been wrong about me, underestimated, unappreciated and underserved me, that my advisor can learn.

Maybe not until I'm gone.

Okay, fine. That is more or less what has happened to me before- it's not really until after I leave that people realize all the things I did that they took for granted. They ended up missing me after I was gone.

But there's one flaw in this concept now. The idea depends on my advisor's ability to know quality vs. superficial qualities. And I'm not sure my advisor can learn that.

I was thinking about that this week, as I was looking back over the undergraduates who have worked with me. Invariably, the ones my advisor "recommended" or chose from the batch of applicants were the suckiest ones. They had good grades, sure, but they usually lacked work ethic, did not respect me, and were unable to handle basic arithmetic.

The ones I chose based on my own set of criteria also spanned a range of abilities and level of commitment, but generally they were smarter, more respectful, showed up on time, and worked harder.

Then this week I was assigned two new grad students to work with me temporarily on a very specific project.

One was described to me as being "very good" and the other came with no introduction. Naturally I was very curious to see what was so great about this "very good" student.

Guess which one was more respectful? And actually made a useful suggestion?

Yeah, the one without the fanfare.

The other one is less respectful, but does seem to be good at superficial things.

And this got me thinking about how some people will never get beyond the superficial. They don't know real talent when it's in their own lab.

I was also thinking about this because I have several friends who are extremely talented and hard-working, but their only reward seems to be that their advisors exploit them. Their self-confidence is low because they know they are being abused, and they think it's because they deserve it. No matter how much I try to tell them how good they are, they don't believe me. I realize this is more deep-seated psychology than I can really analyze, but it's frustrating nonetheless.

Another friend is very self-confident, and I really admire her a lot. She has figured out how to get help where she needs it, and in addition she does all the superficial things you're supposed to do because she happens to like doing them - giving out baked goods really does buy a lot of points with people. I don't know if she really enjoys the baking more, or the giving out, or the "points" part. Probably all three.

But that's not why I like her. In fact, I like her in spite of the occasional delivery of free food, which I usually decline anyway.

But I sense that I am in the minority.

One of the things I've really struggled with as an adult is how to find the people who are actually real, not constantly exchanging superficialities (and lying). I think I really expected scientists to be less full of crap than some other professions, but that doesn't seem to be the case at all. In fact, I wonder if the inability to see truth in science extends to the inability to see quality in people, and if this is where the whole mess stems from - falsifying data and false promises => scientists are a bunch of fakers?

Or is it really the case that people like my advisor decided years ago that they couldn't face the truth, so they started constructing these elaborate lies. And now they can't see their way out of them, even if they wanted to.

Maybe the lies of academia select for people who can't tell right from wrong, and this is finally starting to show up in the science itself. Hmm. Maybe I'm not the first person who has thought this, and this may not even be the first time I've written about it here.

I just wish there were some way to teach scientists how to tell quality from superficial bullshit. Lately I feel like everyone around me is so focused on doing the superficial things better that they're missing the whole point.

My point is, I don't care how pretty your data look, if you did the wrong experiment in the first place.

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Friday, January 01, 2010

Short rant and random question about lab meetings

I went to flip the calendar ahead today to see what is cooking for the next two months, and realized it's time for a new one. Whew!

Looking back over the year, no matter how good my multitasking and planning, I realize I still get a lot more benchwork done during weeks when I don't have meetings or seminars interrupting my workflow. This is probably because nothing is really maintained where I work, so inevitably I have to build in extra time for both macro- and micro- catastrophic failures. My favorites include things like:

1. showing up to use (essential equipment) X, only to find that X
a) will not turn on
b) is lying in pieces on the floor
c) is gone (to another building, with the lab that owned it, or back to the company because we never actually bought it).

2. going to grab a tube of (essential ingredient) Y from the freezer, only to find that
a) we have no Y
b) the freezer is defrosted so the Y we had went bad
c) the brand-new batch of Y I just ordered from when the freezer was broken arrived yesterday but sat out at room temp overnight and went bad because I was in another room when it arrived, nobody told me, and nobody put it away (note that it is supposed to be everyone's responsibility to receive orders and put away shared things like Y, so why do I always feel like I'm the only one who does it?)

3. going to call the repair person for X, or for the freezer, or to order more Y, and finding that
a) it is after hours where the repair people's company is located
b) the fancy ordering system is not working so I can't place an order
c) I can send an email to the fancy ordering system repair office but they are gone for the day.

I'm not making this up. These kinds of things happen ALL THE TIME. I blame the "management" (cough, cough).

So I'm thinking, having meetings really sucks when you need uninterrupted time to put out fires, make phone calls, and yell at people. Those weeks (which is most weeks), I really resent having to stop yelling at someone who broke X just to go to a stupid lab meeting where I tell someone how to get their experiments to work, they ignore me, and then we all go back to our benches.

So here is my question for you: when would you rather have lab meeting?

I've been to labs that met afternoons, or mornings, or only very irregularly, or in sub-groups in addition to the main group meeting, and even if the boss was out of town.

I've known people who worked in labs that met at lunchtime and provided food; ones that met Friday afternoon and provided beer; and others that met - I'm not making this up - Saturday mornings. Early on Saturday mornings. (Personally, I think that's unfair for a variety of reasons, so as far as I'm concerned, that would never get my vote.)

I've heard all kinds of rationales for why people do it when they do it:

Mondays you get it out of the way and everyone is fresh; mid-week doesn't interfere with people's weekend travels; mid-day doesn't interfere with dropping off or picking up kids at daycare; Friday afternoon is most relaxed, you can get away with having alcohol, and the meeting can run later (for those who don't need to pick up kids at daycare or take off for a long weekend!). And then there's always the problem of booking a room if your lab is big enough to require more than a small office worth of space.

So when do you think is most productive and least disruptive? If you've visited various labs, say, for rotations or postdoc interviews, did you care when it was? Or is it just that everyone eventually comes to resent lab meeting no matter what time it's held?

Oh and while we're at it, how do you feel about meeting one-on-one with your advisor? Personally, I met with my thesis advisor weekly during much of grad school, and found it was essential for me to keep him informed of my plans and ask him questions (translation: to justify my needing to buy stuff and get his permission to buy stuff) because we only had whole-group meetings very rarely.

As a postdoc, we have lab meetings regularly, but getting a one-on-one meeting with my never-present advisor is nearly impossible and almost never happens (and I'm almost never allowed to buy the stuff I need to do my project).

I'm thinking there has to be a happy medium. I know some people prefer the group format because they find their advisors are on better behavior (aka nicer, more professional) than when they meet in private. But the drawback there is, you might not really get as much feedback. The unprofessional behavior thing is more way prevalent than I would have predicted when I was a grad student, and much more of a problem for women (I know it has been a big problem for me).

oh and happy new year! I bet you can't wait to go to the first lab meeting of 2010!

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