Archive for the 'advice' category

I wrote a piece for the POSTDOCket

Jul 23 2018 Published by under Academia, advice, postdoc, science, travel, two body problem

I wrote something for the POSTDOCket about , the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) newsletter:

Spending time abroad as a postdoctoral scholar is widely considered to be a beneficial to an academic career– at least it is seen that way in Europe. At the same time, it can provide useful experience when transitioning to a career outside academia. Labs in the United States are generally seen as the most desired destinations for a foreign postdoc position. However, when you want a job in your home country afterwards, being abroad may seem like a disadvantage because it is harder to maintain your network and you may feel overlooked for an available position compared to somebody who stayed nearby. You may feel like you’re stuck abroad.

You can read the rest here!

One response so far

Reader question: conference, baby and looking for jobs

Last month, I received the following question from someone who found my blog and has the following question:

My wife and I will both be attending SfN 2018 in San Diego with a ~3 month old.

I found your blog post and was intrigued by your insights.

I was wondering if I could ask you for some further advice given your
experience.

To give you a brief idea, neither my wife and I nor I have any idea
how to be parents yet. Furthermore, we will both ideally make contacts
at SfN that lead to ideally both of us having employment. (My wife is
looking for tenure track positions, whereas I would take a postdoc or
industry position, depending on a variety of complicated factors.)

Personally, I grossly underestimated how much work a baby is before I had a baby. Taking a baby to a conference means that whenever you're not working and would otherwise be relaxing and/or networking (I know, for some people networking is not at all like relaxing), you're now taking care of a baby. However, there are so many people who make this work, so why couldn't you?

In a subsequent email he's even more specific in his questions:

Related to your original post wherein folks assume that mom with baby
wants non-serious baby-gush fun time instead of serious science, have
you ever heard/seen a new father going to posters/talks with baby in
arms? If so, does the same effect hold?

I'm still not sure if this was my own insecurity at the time or that more people share the feeling that once you're holding a baby, everyone assumes you want to talk about the baby and not science (please comment if you have experienced either one!). I think that many conferences, including SfN get more and more welcoming to babies and children and that it will hopefully be more and more normal to be a parent AND a scientist at the same time.

I happen to be a tall-ish white American man, whereas my wife is a
non-white female from not the USA. I am totally willing to carry
around new baby in an attempt to help her avoid having people assume
it's just a baby-gush social fun time event because she is interested
in learning everything she can about a new direction for her research.
On the other hand, I wouldn't want folks to think my wife was somehow
a "bad mom" for leaving infant baby with dad for a while. (I do not
trust that even well-educated, most probably liberal, most probably
wealthier academics to perceive a woman fairly. As an example, at SfN
one year, I witnessed a prominent PI explicitly ask one of his
postdocs why she wasn't drinking alcohol at a social event as 'there
could be some problematic reasons for that'. I can only assume this PI
meant that it would be a problem if this postdoc was pregnant, which
is completely inappropriate.)

Great that you're willing to step in to take more than your fair share of parenting to give your wife the chance to network. I would certainly hope that people don't assume that she is a bad mom for doing that, and at the same time I wonder if a place that has an attitude like that is somewhere you would want to work...

We are also curious to know how you approached social events after
hours, such as the Presidential Gala and other dinner/drinks events,
as these have yielded leads to jobs and other important social
connections before. Most of these events appear even less
infant-friendly than the main floor.

I have brought a baby to a social at SfN and that did not go very well. My baby was kind of overwhelmed and fussy, so less than ideal. If I would want to be sure I would be able to go there and have the opportunity to network, I would go without baby. If you can't manage to get childcare (bring a third adult?), I would decide to split the nights and each go to separate events while the other watches the baby, but perhaps other people (and other babies) feel very differently about this.

Do you know if SfN have anyone designated to serve as a point of
contact for parents who bring their kids? (Maybe they should?)

What are the statistics on doing SfN with kids? Maybe there should be
a social event just for parents who brought their kids?

I'm personally not going to SfN this year and as far as I'm aware there are no SfN-sponsored events for parents with kids, but I'm sure many more parents are bringing their kids and will walk around the posterhall with them. And then there's the lactation/baby care room where you will likely find many fellow parents. So perhaps all the sciparents out there who read my blog can practice a secret handshake to get in touch with each other?

Also, please add your wisdom and experience in the comments!

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On finishing papers after leaving the lab

Yesterday Michael Eisen tweeted this. I replied that I had actually finished 2 papers from grad school during my post-doc and 2 post-doc papers in my next job. In all honesty, I also still have an unfinished paper from grad school. So how did I do this and what factors are important in determining whether you'll be able to finish that paper after leaving the lab?

I think what helped me most is to make it non-negotiable with yourself whether those papers are going to be finished. They just have to get finished. Think of it as brushing your teeth: you don't ask yourself each day whether or not to do it, you just to it and that makes it take much less effort than to continuously negotiate with yourself whether to do it or not. And especially during the transition between grad school and post-doc, I just HAD to finish those papers because I knew that getting them published would make me more competitive to obtain a fellowship (my long-time readers may know that I never actually got a fellowship or grant, but still). After transitioning into industry it was a bit different, but in my current job I can still use published papers as a sign that I was productive, collaborative, etc during my post-doc.

What worked best in my experience to finish papers while in another job, was to allocate an hour in the morning to work on the paper and then switch back to my actual job. I would probably do this 1 or 2 days a week so progress was generally slow. Every now and then I took a whole day of, for example to write the discussion, which is really not something I can do in an hour here and there but requires a longer stretch of attention. With the generous amount of vacation days where I am now, this was something I could afford every now and then to get the paper finished. Also, sometimes I would work evenings or weekends on an unfinished paper, but I'd like to keep that to a minimum.

A big determinant in whether or not you are able to finish papers after leaving the lab is whether your co-authors are cooperative and also want this paper published. If they need to play a big part in getting it finished and for some reason don't do their part, this is clearly outside your circle of influence and will make it hard to get it done. So before you start taking days off to finish a paper, it is wise to make sure that everyone is on board and agrees on who does what.

And I want to finish by saying that while I believe it is do-able to finish a paper after leaving the lab, if you are the grad-student or post-doc that leaves, I think it is also okay if you decide not to finish a paper. If getting the paper published is not going to bring you much, and the costs of putting in the effort outweigh the benefits, then just don't. But in that case, I would be clear about that because there are few things I dislike as much as revisiting decisions and keeping half-finished things in the back of my mind and/or harddrive.

What about you? How do you deal with unfinished papers after leaving the lab?

2 responses so far

Formatting your resume as an infographic?

Mar 28 2018 Published by under advice, industry, life in the office, new job

Via a recent Naturejobs  article about whether or not you should do a post-doc, I landed on an older article that suggests that for jobs outside academia you should/could format your resume like an infographic. Over the course of last year I re-formatted my resume to fit on just one page, and it looks a little like this example with a bar with things like education, courses and keywords describing my personality on the left and my current job and employment history with just a few bullet points for each on the right. Now the resume infographic is clearly a next step, and while I really like how they look and appreciate the creativity in showcasing what people have done, the comments underneath the article already suggest that not everybody is a fan of trying to stand out with your resume.

What do you think, is it worth the effort to turn your resume into an infographic and are there sectors where this would make you positively stand out? Or is it a bad idea overall?

5 responses so far

On calibrating how we talk about feelings

The other day I had a bit of a conflict with someone at work and I talked to somebody else about it to get an outsider's perspective. One of the first things they advised was:"you should try and step in their shoes and see it from their point of view". I immediately thought to myself:"I wish THEY would step into MY shoes and understand how I feel". Of course I didn't say this and the reminder to look at the situation from the other's point of view did actually help me in understanding what the conflict was about. But this experience also made me realize that the only way other people can put themselves in my shoes is if I express myself well. And that led to the realization that for everybody the range in which they express their feelings is very different (see figure for a very rudimentary illustration). One person might easily share it when they are not feeling well, while another person will put on a brave face and pretend they're doing okay. And then when a third person asks both people how they are doing, the anwer "I'm okay" can have a very different meaning.

Some people are rather sensitive to where somebody else sits on scale of Feelings Expressions, while for other people, this may need to be made more explicit. Personally, I've come to realize that I am on the top scale in the figure, and I don't easily share if I'm not feeling well. At the same time I hope that if I say "I'm okay", people will immediately understand that I'm not too well. And that obviously leads to disapointment on my side.

Wouldn't it be nice if there was an easy way to calibrate these scales before entering into a conversation...?

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Is this career advice helpful or harmful?

May 17 2017 Published by under advice, industry, life in the office, mentoring, new job

As most of you know, I like my current job but am also looking to climb the career ladder within the company that I work for. Recently, a really exciting position opened up and I have expressed my interest in that position to a couple of people. The person who would be my manager in that new position even revealed that I was on her list of people that she thought about to fill this position and she gave me advice on how to tailor my resume to apply for this position (it will be advertised internally and externally). However, the person above her has indicated that they are looking for a profile that I don't entirely fit.
I have also talked to my manager about it and he basically told me that yes, I should apply to show my interest, but also that he thought I was too junior for this position. He told me that he was afraid that if I would get the position, I would fail. On the one hand I agree with him that it is a big step up, because it is a complex job with many interactions with different people inside and outside of the company plus managing a small team and a budget. I don't do many of these things currently, so perhaps my manager is right. Or is he just trying to make me not feel too disappointed when I apply and don't get this position? But mostly, I feel a bit demotivated by his comments and I continuously wonder if they are actually helpful or harmful? And would my manager say the same things to a man...?

13 responses so far

Why do you work hard?

Most academics work hard, whether it is the amount of hours you spend in the lab or the efficiency and focus with which you dedicate yourself to your work. And having spend the last 2,5 years outside academia, I don't think this is much different for people outside academia. If I look around the company I work for, many people put in more hours than stated on their contract and work hard. 

But lately I've been wondering why we all work so hard? When I was in academia, I worked hard because I wanted to have my own lab one day, and I knew that for that I needed papers and funding. I worked hard for a long-term goal. And even though I liked doing the work, on many days I did not like the work and purely did it because of that long term goal.

Now, being outside academia, I don't have such a clear long-term goal, and I especially didn't have one when I had just transitioned outside academia. I have been working less hard than in academia, or perhaps I should say: I've been less obsessed with the feeling that I have to work hard. But I'm still working more and harder than I technically should. And I'm trying to get a clear view for myself why I do it. Is it because I hope it will get me higher up in the company (yes, I think), is it for external recognition (yes I guess), is it because I like doing the work (yes, on most days), is it because this is the example my parents have given me (yes, both my parents worked hard and outside of their official working hours)?

What about you? Why do you work hard? Or do you like your work so much that it never feels like hard work, but rather like being allowed to play around all day?

More recent discussions on this here, here and here.

7 responses so far

Some peace for your mind in these tumultuous times

Jan 17 2017 Published by under advice, new job, personal posts

It is the week of the inauguration of the orange overlord and I realize I have not written anything about that here. As someone who doesn't live in the US nor is a US citizen, I don't feel it is my place to comment on US politics to an audience of mostly US people. It feels like trying to explain how MRI works to an audience of MRI experts and before starting knowing that you might get it wrong. At the same time, I'm concerned and sad about the next four years for the US, and as a result the next four years for the climate and the state of the world. And I'm also concerned about our own upcoming elections with a Trump look-a-like who shares many of his ideologies.

So what have I got? Not much I'm afraid, but I wanted to share it anyway. Like I wrote in my new year's resolutions post, I've been meditating using the Headspace app and I really like it. I had tried meditating before, but never really got into it. I always kind of felt like I was faking it when I tried sitting at home and it was hard to establish any kind of practice that I kept up with. Until I tried the Headspace app*.

As you see, the graphics are nice and you can see why I keep up with it: you get stickers for the consecutive days that you use the app. Yup, I meditate for virtual stickers now. Headspace starts with a beginner series of guided meditation that gently teaches you how to recognize thoughts and feelings without judging them. It then continues with different packages of guided meditations on various themes, like patience, creativity, mental health, etc. I like the level of "guidedness" and the voice of Andy, the person who narrates them.

But -judging from the internet- this is people's biggest peeve with Headspace: it costs money. I've doubted for a while if I wanted to pay nearly $100 per year for a subscription but in the end I decided that I would and I agree with one of the commenters in the Reddit thread:

If you compare it to attending a yearly meditation course for 20$ a week it is cheap.

If you compare it to free mediation practice it is really expensive.

If you compare it to one night of fun and drinking I would suggest that you decide for meditation (with or without headspace).

I'm only 15 days away from my next virtual sticker and am definitely experiencing changes, although they are not huge. When I started my new job thing last week, I noticed that where normally I would only realize my level of stress when my shoulders would get really tense or I would get a headache, now I realized much sooner:"I'm really nervous about this". This realization did not change my level of anxiety much, but it did allow me to take a couple breaths and relax my shoulders. Which I'm sure will not hurt over the coming week and months to follow.

*This is not a sponsored post.

4 responses so far

How to create a culture of openness in a team?

I'm currently involved in 2 different projects, and without sharing any more detail about what they entail, I've noticed that the teams differ a lot in terms of openness of the team members. With that, I mean to what extend people dare to voice their concern and be critical towards each other and towards the project. To me, this is not very different from the situation in academic labs, where sometimes there is more room to be critical and share new ideas than in other cases. For example, how do you deal with results that don't fit the story that the lab is building?

But how do you create such a culture of openness? If I compare these two teams that I work in, I see this as the main difference: In the open team, a lot of the tasks are shared, even if it may seem unnecessary to share this much. Meetings are larger, because more people are included. Sometimes people join who don't seem experts on the topic, but this also means that they can think out-of-the-box compared to people who have been working on something for a while. In the not-so-open team, people tend to get their own little assignment from the team leader, that they then need to report back on once finished. Sometimes the different team members aren't aware of what the others are working on, or where they are in the process. In the open team, the way of working leads to the feeling that we are all working on something together, whereas in the not-so-open team it sometimes even leads to an us vs. them kind of feeling.

When I read the piece on Theranos in Vanity Fair recently, I realized that this was almost an exaggerated description of the not-so-open team that I work in:

Holmes [Theranos' CEO] had learned a lot from [Steve] Jobs. Like Apple, Theranos was secretive, even internally. Just as Jobs had famously insisted at 1 Infinite Loop, 10 minutes away, that departments were generally siloed, Holmes largely forbade her employees from communicating with one another about what they were working on—a culture that resulted in a rare form of executive omniscience. At Theranos, Holmes was founder, C.E.O., and chairwoman. There wasn’t a decision—from the number of American flags framed in the company’s hallway (they are ubiquitous) to the compensation of each new hire—that didn’t cross her desk.

And the end of the Theranos story warns what can happen when you create a culture like this. Just to add: the team that I work in is by far not as siloed as the situation at Theranos, but reading this and comparing the two teams that I work in makes me realize the value of being open and being able to share your opinion and ideas.

And then to end: what can you do as a team member? Personally, I try to continue to share my opinion in the not-so-open team, even if that is often not met with enthusiasm from the team leader. I try to catch up with other team members and share what we are working on - sometimes outside the scheduled team meetings. But working in these different teams also makes me realize how difficult it is to change the culture within a team - as a team member at least.

3 responses so far

Yesterday was #drugmonkeyday!

Sep 24 2016 Published by under advice, blogging, mentoring

Yesterday was #drugmonkeyday: a day to celebrate and be thankful for everything DrugMonkey has done for the online science community and beyond. However, yesterday I wrote a navel gazing post about running my first half marathon and then spent the day at the side of the playground because Friday is always my day off (I work 4 days a week like so many people (M/F) in this country). So I tweeted about it, but didn't take the time to sit down and write this post until now.

I started reading DrugMonkey's and Dr. Isis' blogs when I was a wee grad student in my homecountry. A lot of what they were writing was literally very foreign to me, even though I had spent 6 months as a research assistant in a lab in the US during undergrad. I don't really remember how I ended up reading science blogs: whether I googled something and found them or whether I found them through the early days of twitter. I only started to appreciate the usefulness of all this information when I went to interview for post-doc positions in the US and when people said things like:"I have 2 R01s from NIDA and NI triple A" that this sounded like more than a couple random letters in a row but that I actually understood the meaning.

Fast forward a couple years and I was a disgruntled postdoc (a DrugMonkey term) who just had a baby that did not sleep well. I felt alone in the lab full of people who could spend whatever time they wanted on both science and drinking, while my time was spent running experiments and trying to get my baby to sleep. I started my pseud twitter account and a blog shortly after and found other sleep deprived post-docs, among tons of other interesting people. From a long-time lurker, I started to become part of this community and DrugMonkey played a big part in helping me become part of this.

I remember riding back home from the lab and checking my blog stats (my husband was driving by the way) to see that they had suddenly exploded from 2 people a week (or month) to over a hundred in an hour. DrugMonkey had tweeted about something I had written, which caused this sudden uptick in traffic.

And aside from everything that can be learned at DrugMonkey's blog, lets not forget about all the encouragement on twitter!

...while thinking about a good way to end this post, the time for #naptimescience and blog writing seems to be over in this house. Thanks DrugMonkey and happy belated drugmonkeyday!

 

Links to many other #drugmonkeyday praise in this post.

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