The Plight of the Post-Doc


Notes from Experimental Biology

I think it's safe to say that I've probably eaten more Baja Fresh in a 30-hr period than any normal-sized person ever should.  But it was that or Sbarro, so...   .

Anyway, carnitas overdose aside, I had a very nice trip to Anaheim.  When I wasn't compulsively checking the PC-compatibility of my Mac-designed presentation or arguing with my circadian clock about what time it was, I bounced around the exhibits and talks, spending a solid amount of time in the Career Resources Center.  And I gotta say, the EB CRC kicked the SfN CRC's ass so much it wasn't even funny! There were at least 3 or 4 workshops going on at any given time between 8 am and 4 pm, plus a job board, plus a private area for interviews, plus people who would critique your CV.  In addition to the expected topics like "how to write a great cover letter," "the NIH peer review process," and "how to give a dynamic talk" (hot damn was that one packed!  You'd think it had never occurred to anyone to label their x- and y-axes before, the way they were all scribbling furiously), there were some unconventional (and, it should be noted, poorly attended) workshops as well.

I went to the "social media and career development" workshop because I am kind of a crazy social media junky, and was curious to hear how all of my internet friends could help me get a job.  Sadly, I was not impressed.  I mean, here was this guy, trying to explain Twitter to people, and he hadn't thought to put a screen shot of a Twitter feed in his presentation?  People (especially in the scientific community, it seems) are absolutely clueless about what Twitter is for besides reading about what Ashton Kutcher ate for lunch, and hearing nothing but "well you see, you follow people and see their tweets, and people who follow you see your tweets" is not all that helpful.

Oh, how did my talk go?  I think it went pretty well.  I was a little nervous, and kept saying "channels" when I meant "receptors," but I think in general I was clear and told a good story.  I'll admit, though, it was not the easiest thing in the world to present my former advisor's data.  It's not that I didn't know it well enough or anything, it's just that on a certain level I couldn't own the work the way I can my own.  There was a mediated discussion after all four parts of the symposium were finished, and I pretty much completely BS'd my way through my answer to what was, frankly, a not-all-that-answerable question (DrugMonkey, I truly hope you'd left by that point!)

The best part of the whole meeting, though, was a long chat I had after my talk with one of my contemporaries, a post-doc who left my lab for a second post-doc just before I arrived, and who's just accepted a TT job offer.  We talked lots of science, and then some jobby stuff, about which he had some interesting things to say.  First, he's currently in one of the departments that had an opening I applied to, and he said that they got 1200 applications for that position, and that the people who got interviews had 7-8 years of post-doc experience.  So I'm thrilled to hear that the 7-8 year post-doc is the new 4-5 year post-doc--just like 35 is the new 25, yes?  Along those lines, he also said something very wise.  He said "Look, if you get a job tomorrow, it's not going to be as good as the job you'd get in a year or two."  This is totally true, and made me feel significantly better about my situation.  Do I want the job that awesome-ish me could get now, or the job that super-awesome me could get after a couple more fancy papers?  Door number 2, please!

Finally, when I asked him how he thought I fielded that discussion question, he said "I think it was an appropriately verbose and evasive answer, given the question."  Hahahaha!! I am going to be such a good scientist!!


One night only!

We are pleased to announce that Dr Becca will be making a rare West Coast appearance in the coming days.  Though this limited engagement--just 32 hrs on California soil--will be her Experimental Biology meeting debut, her performance talk is rumored to be one celebrated for years to come.

I am so excited, you guys!!!  I gave my talk to my department yesterday, and not only was it exactly 25 minutes, but everyone said it was super clear and well put-together and interesting.  Since my post-doc work is loosely related to my grad advisor's (whose place I'm taking, in case you haven't read the backstory), I was able to squeeze in a little of my recent work, which I think will cause much eye-widening and ooh-ing and ah-ing, and possibly opening of the old department checkbook, if you know what I mean.

Oh, just kidding.  Sort of.

I have to say, one thing I'm really impressed with is how many career-oriented resources there are for young scientists.  I mean, they've got workshops going on all day, every day for people just like me!  Topics include:

"NIH K awards"
"Formula for grant success"
"Social media and career development for life sciences"  (I KNEW there had to be a way to cash in on all that twittering!)
"The job talk"
"Ten ways to get lucky in the job search"
"Developing your personal statement/elevator pitch"

There's also a whole symposium on Sunday afternoon about non-traditional careers like publishing and regulatory affairs, and another on the ins and outs of the peer review process.  This, I think, is pretty great, and I'm really looking forward to checking some of them out in between posters and mentally rehearsing my talk for the gajillionth time.

And speaking of my talk--if you happen to find yourself at it (and I'm confident you'll know if you are), do come say hi after!  Do not, however, blab my last name all over teh interwebs.

See you in Anaheim!


Have you hugged your post-doc today?

I'm speaking metaphorically, of course; everyone knows that scientists are socially challenged and very rarely engage in human contact.  But if I may reiterate the sentiments of Dr Isis and Scicurious, there is a way you can do something great for that special post-doc in your life--be it yourself, your future self, your current PhD-holding trainee, relative, friend, or significant other--write your congressperson!

President Obama's FY 2011 budget includes a 6% increase in trainee stipends, which, while modest (especially in light of what we actually make), would be a significant improvement over the last 4 years' budgets, in which stipend increases were either 0% or 1%.  We are long overdue for this raise, but the budget still needs to work its way through appropriations in order for these changes to become a reality.

So here's where you come in!  Write to your congressperson and tell them how important it is that our country invests in its young scientists.  The National Postdoctoral Association's website has all the information you might need to do so, including links to all the appropriations committee members and a form letter in case you're not sure exactly what to say.  But I highly encourage you to write your own letter, with feeling!

Think of it like a hug for your post-doc.  A hug made of money.


Ph.Dishes - Meat Stock, and saving the environment

I really really really wanted to write a post for biochem belle's excellent Scientiae Carnival on Sustainability this month, but re-working my former advisor's talk for this upcoming meeting on top of an evil, not-going-away cough has me not quite capable of putting thoughts together in a coherent way.  Or maybe it's just all the Nyquil?  I'll admit, too, that when I hear the word "sustainability" I first think of things like grass-fed beef and supporting local farmers and whatnot.  You know, the environment!  And how it relates to food.

So on that note, I'm going to tell you how I make meat stock, which is useful not only for actual soup, but for things like risotto, chicken marsala,  and red wine mushroom sauce as well.  What does this have to do with the environment?  Well, you can make stock almost exclusively from things you were just going to throw away, so it's like recycling!  You will need:

1. A carcass.  Any kind will do--the bones from a chicken or turkey you recently roasted, lamb leg bone, pork shoulder bone, etc.  Shrimp heads, leftover beef, anything, really!
2.  Your veggie discards freezer bag.  This takes a little planning, but starting TODAY, every time you peel a carrot or take off the outer onion layer or chop the tops from celery, put it in a freezer bag.  If you don't cook with these things enough for this to be all that realistic, just go buy the veggies. 
3.  Some fresh herbs.  It doesn't really matter too much what kind; I usually just throw in whatever I happen to have in the fridge.  But that said, I'd recommend dill, rosemary, parsley, sage, etc.  Pretty much anything but mint.  If you live in NYC, I highly encourage getting your herbs from FreshDirect (if you can't make it to the farmers market, of course!)--they're super cheap and you get like 5 times as much as you get in those crappy plastic containers at Whole Foods or wherever.

So you throw it all in a stockpot, dump in a ton of kosher salt and grind a bunch of pepper over it, fill the thing with water, and let it simmer for maybe 2 hrs.  Here's what it will look like if you're using the pork shoulder you smoked a couple of weeks ago:

You may want to stir it once in a while, but it doesn't need a whole lot of attention.  Plus, the kitties will keep an eye on things for you:

When it's finished, let it cool a little and then pour through a colander into tupperware.  You can freeze it if you like!  Toss all the mushy veggies and herbs, conscience clean that you at least used them before throwing them out.  Also, you'll never have to buy bouillon again!


The latest in lab fashion

Today was my birthday (NO FOOLING), and I officially have the coolest boyfriend anywhere, because he got me this:


He chose the Pearl Station patch because it's where Dharma researchers purportedly observe, record, and report the behavior of the button-pushers in the Swan Station, much like I observe, record, and report the behavior of my rats.  However, as we learn in the final episodes of Season 2 ("Live Together/Die Alone"), the reports actually just end up in a big pile in the middle of the island somewhere, never to be read.  Much like my papers, but the island in this metaphor is PubMed, or the internet or something.