Archive for: August, 2014

They were singin' bye bye academic science

Aug 29 2014 Published by under Academia, grant writing

I tend to have songs in my head that are related to what I'm doing. When I'm biking in the rain with lots of wind and I realize there is no take-out food near my house I sing David Bowie's :"This is not America".

Today's song is to the tune of "Bye bye Miss American pie" and goes like this*:

 

Long, long time ago,

I can still remember, how science used to make me smile.

And I knew that I was really meant

to get those papers and that grant

And then I would be happy for a while

 

But funding rates made me shiver

And with every paper I'd deliver

Rejections on my doorstep

I couldn't take on more step.

 

I can remember tears were shed

when the reviewer said it was bad.

All this combined defiance

is what made me leave science.

 

So bye bye Academic science

I wrote ten different grants, but the funding ran dry.

And grey old boys with their high h-index

singing: "this is not a matter of sex**"

 

* Yes, sometimes the emphasis is a little off. I'm a scientist, not a song writer.

** They mean gender, but that doesn't rhyme.

 

Also, there's many more verses, but I need to patch my last cells and analyze data, so feel free to add in the comments! I'll be singing this all day today ūüėČ

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A conversation with BlueEyes

Aug 28 2014 Published by under Academia, parenting, science

This morning BlueEyes found an old conference name badge laying around the house and asked me what it was.

"It's a name badge that you wear when you go to a meeting."

"What's a meeting?"

"It's where many scientists come together to talk about science and show each other their data."

"Oh data. So it's like a lab meeting?"

"Yes, kind of like a really big lab meeting".

I guess he hears and remembers all the things that we say to each other. Good to know.

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Finishing my super short post-doc

Aug 27 2014 Published by under Academia, industry, new job, postdoc

Just a short update (because husband is away to a conference and even though BlueEyes and Little Brother are asleep, you never know how long that lasts…):

The next two days will be my last two days as a post-doc. My last (and second) post-doc has only lasted four months, because next Monday I will start my industry job. The last days I will (attempt to) patch cells, analyze data that I have gathered myself and sweep the floors of the animal facility. I am sad about leaving some but not all of those things.

I did not take all the vacation days that I still had. For some reason, probably guilt, I have worked my ass off to bring the project that I had only started back in April to a good end. I am however trying to get my vacation days paid, but the HR lady seems to be on a very long holiday. Or is just ignoring my emails.

The end of my post-doc will obviously not be a clean cut from academia. I am still very much attached via papers (3ish), a book chapter that I promised (but may have to decline in the end depending on how busy I will be next) and some remainder of my current project. I will be Seven of Nine for quite a while I'm afraid.

I got a hair-cut yesterday, have 2 pairs of new shoes and enough outfits that don't scream "post-doc in the animal facility all day" to survive the next couple weeks. I'm excited about it!

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Neuroscience for the privileged? An open letter to Carol Mason

Aug 22 2014 Published by under Academia, blogging, meeting, women in science

Dear Dr. Mason,

to my surprise, I read this morning on twitter that at this year's SfN annual meeting it will no longer be allowed to live tweet talks or tweet about posters during the poster sessions. Please correct me if I read the embargo and social media rules on the SfN website incorrectly and this is not what it says.

Last year, I was 37 weeks pregnant during SfN's annual meeting and was not allowed to fly there (and even if I was, I'm unsure if I would have managed to wobble walk around the poster hall more than once). So I stayed in the lab and followed a lot of what happened at SfN in terms of new and exciting science on twitter behind my computer. This year, with a toddler and a baby, and a neuroscientist-husband who is going to the annual meeting, and the fact that I now live in Europe and SfN's annual meeting is a lot further away, I won't be able to go again. I can imagine that there are many more neuroscientists who are constrained by money, time or other logistics and thereby prevented from going to SfN's annual meeting. It seems like this policy particularly affects those neuroscientists that are less privileged. In addition, SfN's annual meeting is so big that even for those who are there, it is nice to be able to follow talks and interesting posters online when attending other sessions.

On behalf of all those people* I ask you to please allow coverage of SfN's annual meeting on social media like in previous years.

With regards, InBabyAttachMode - neuroscientist

*Feel free to cosign this letter in the comments.

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Alternate realities

Today I listened to a talk by someone who I interviewed with for a post-doc position 5 years ago. It was strange to think that if I had chosen to join that lab, those could have been my data. I couldn't help but wonder if choosing a different lab and a different mentor would have led to a different career path.

It also made me think back of this post that I wrote two years ago:

It made me wonder whether if I would ever make the decision to look for a job outside science, and if so, if I would regret all the time and effort put into trying to get data, write papers and get grants? If I would look at it from a distance, would all of this seem ridiculous? Is it worth all those hours and stress and time in the lab to know one tiny detail about one sub-aspect of neuroscience? I guess if you look at it like that it’s not. So I try to do things that I like and I do them in an amount of time that is reasonable. Because as much as I’m passionate about being a scientist and trying to become a professor someday, I don’t want to look back and realize that I've spent all of my time working like a headless chicken.

First, I have come to realize that all this hard work that we do in science, is not at all useless outside academia. Because outside academia, people still care about whether you are able to finish projects, whether you can bring projects from ideas to data to papers and whether you can show the results of for example a successful collaboration by a paper that you published together. Even all the exercise in writing grants that were unfunded has been useful because it has improved my writing and how I get a message across.

So instead of dwelling on "what if", of course there are no alternate realities (well maybe, but not that I'm aware of at least). There are only the choices that I made that led me to where I am now.

And another interesting observation: it was weird to for the first time in years listen to science talks and not be thinking about how I could use this information and what I was going to propose in the next fellowship or grant proposal that I'm writing. It did make me a little sad.

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How I found my industry job

Aug 11 2014 Published by under Decisions, industry, networking, new job, postdoc, science

You know how sometimes when you go a career fair and you see a talk by someone with a great job and they make it seem like they just one day tripped on the street and fell into their great job? I always hate those talks, because they don't give any useful information on how to actually get that job when it's not thrown into your lap. However, I realize this story might sound a little like that too. So for more really useful tips on careers outside academia, go read Scicurious' post, or all these resources from FromPhDToLife.

Here's my story: I always thought I wanted to become a PI, and have my own lab. But already before the 10th fellowship/grant I submitted was rejected I realized that it might be a good idea to think about my plan B (and C, and D). I made a list in my head of the things I liked about my work, and the things I thought I was good at. A list of so-called transferable skills: things you learn during your PhD that are also very useful when you're not staying in academia, like problem-solving, networking and writing. I also made a list in my head of jobs I thought I would like. And I googled a lot to see what kind of jobs actually exist and what they mean (like: what is a "medical science liaison"?). Whenever I talked to people that got a PhD and left academia, I asked them how they did that and what kind of job they had now. And I guess the boldest networking thing I did was to set up a phone call with someone who worked at a company that I was interested in, with whom I connected through LinkedIn for an informational interview. This person told me about the various jobs they had for PhDs and asked me to send my CV. And then I didn't hear anything anymore.

But then I got this new post-doc job and I thought I was just going to do this second post-doc for a while and apply for more grants and try to establish my own research group at the university that I'm at now. Until I saw a job add for an industry job that asked for almost exactly my profile at the company I had the informational interview with. Waaahh!! The only thing was that they asked for a year of industry-experience, which I obviously didn't have. So I called the recruiter and they told me to apply anyway. So in the midst of starting my new post-doc job, I frantically put together my industry resume. I was extremely fortunate that I knew someone who works in a very related company at a position where they are responsible for hiring people who was willing to look at my resume and help me improve it. On top of that, I sent my resume to a couple other people for feedback (thanks tweeps!).

And ...drum rolls... out of more than a hundred letters, I was one of the few people chosen for the first round of interviews. Now, I'm not going to pretend that I know anything about the complex world of recruiting and interviewing. I have no idea on basis of what I was chose for the next round and eventually for the job. I did read a whole lot online about interviewing, the kind of questions you can expect, and all sorts of other articles in order to be as prepared as I could be.

I totally realize how fortunate I am to step right from my post-doc job into my new industry job next month - without having to move even!

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"It's not a competition"

In retrospect, I think this was the best advice that my graduate advisor gave me. I had just told him that my boyfriend - who was a graduate student in the same lab - and I were having a serious relationship, and one of the first things he said was: "Always remember that it isn't a competition". For years I have wondered how something that is so measurable in terms of papers, impact factors, grant money, etc can NOT be a competition, but now I think I understand. If you're constantly focused on competing, especially with your spouse, it will take away the fun and the joy of science. If you see it as a competition, you won't help your spouse with things, like thinking about experiments, or proofreading their grant. And if you see it as a competition, quitting academia means losing the competition, instead of gaining a new job. The fact that academia is so competitive makes the "two body problem" even more of a problem, because how can you be happy for someone if they are also your competition?

So I'm very glad my graduate advisor gave me this advise, even though it took me nearly seven years to understand its importance.

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Who is science's UCI?

Aug 06 2014 Published by under Academia, life in the lab, role models, science

One of the commenters on Drugmonkey's post on the suicide of Yoshiki Sasai says the following:

I fear that in some subfields, like in Lance Armstrong's bicycling world, the fraud is driving out the real science, and so we can't be as confident that "scientific understanding" will win out (at least, in anything less than the long term during which the moral arch of history also curves towards justice). That's too long.

I agree that there are many parallels between these two types of fraud: the years of doping that Lance Armstrong did, made possible by a huge web of lies and people wanting to believe in this heroic story, and the way people want to believe in "heroic science". The kind that gets you on the cover of Science, gets you the huge grants and gets you the SfN selfies like RXNM pointed out.

It made me wonder if, in science, there is a body like UCI - the cycling union - that fights fraud (although in the Armstrong days it seems like maybe the UCI wanted to believe in the heroic story too). Is there something like that? And if not, do we need it, and what would it look like? Because we can all say that we need to reform science in order to diminish fraud and make sure "scientific understanding" will prevail over the desire to become a science hero, but are we actually doing that? And what would we need to do?

 

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Quitlit anthology

Aug 01 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

After I wrote my post about why I chose to leave academia, I fell into the rabbit hole when I started to read more of the #quitlit, as the genre is called, that is out there. I started to compile a list of links, until I discovered that there is already a huge list of links right here in a google document. But here are some interesting ones for your weekend-reading pleasure:

You should know why science will fail.

How I learned to stop worrying and quit my PhD.

What's in a name? ... outstanding, excellent, world-leading

The 'system' failed me. It should have failed me sooner.

And last but not least, a very insightful post by Melonie Fullick about why this is even such a big thing, to write blog posts about choosing a different job.

And now I'm going back to the lab for my last month in this post-doc job. It feels in a funny way almost like being an undergrad again: knowing exactly how much time you will spend in a lab and which experiments you will do on which days. Let's see how many cells I can record from in my last month as a post-doc!

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