Archive for: August, 2012

There is Life After the Bench

Aug 30 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I take career development very seriously, and spend a fair bit of time on and offline talking to postdocs who are looking for help in moving their careers in new directions. I was one of them once (and may be again one day, who knows?), and I was incredibly fortunate to have a great mentor help me transition away from the bench when my lab career sputtered and died.

I am kind of a LinkedIn evangelist and also attend networking meetings with a couple of local groups, some science focused, others not so much. At one of these last year I met a local postdoc and we got to chatting. We've gone for beers a couple of times and I've done my best to offer ad hoc advice when it's been asked for; nothing formal, just offering experience and perspective. I wasn't convinced that hir mentor was taking hir career development seriously, and worried it was dead-end tech position that was being held to postdoc standards: you spend all day doing scut work, but are still expected to produce real data and papers and so forth...I firmly voiced my concerns once and left it that. This person seemed happy just puttering along, until recently.

I received an email from hir about how hir position was gradually being undermined from within the lab and how hir relationship with hir mentor had gone from indifferent to bad (as I expected when hir productivity was necessarily so low). There was a great position at local hospital being advertised, but zhe wondered if the job was beyond hir reach because of being stuck as a postdoc/tech for so long and not getting as much clinical experience as might have benefited hir.

Although I didn't know anyone in this department at the hospital I went on LinkedIn and saw someone only once removed my network who worked there. And in addition I was directly linked with a former colleague who knew this individual personally. I was able to facilitate an introduction and then an informal meeting between my postdoc friend and the person recruiting at the hospital. The meeting went well and my chum was encouraged to apply for the position. We spent quite a bit of time on hir resume and cover letter - after all, no one outside the lab gives a damn how good your western blots are, they care about your experience in delivering output on time and under budget, for example.

Fact: Most postdocs do not appreciate all the "soft" (non-bench) skills they possess that should be nurtured at the same time as patch-clamp technique JUST IN CASE you need your Career "Plan B".
Fact: Most mentors do not appreciate all the "soft" (non-bench) skills that should be nurtured at the same time as patch-clamp technique JUST IN CASE their postdoc needs Career "Plan B".

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I got an email this morning and this is what it said:

"I just got offered the job! I would like to thank you for all of your help. I don't think I could have done this without you."

This makes it all worth while. There is Life After the Bench.

9 responses so far

Postive Discrimination

Aug 24 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

From the BBC News site:

"Two people are dead, including a gunman, and up to eight others are wounded in a shootout near New York's Empire State Building, officials say. The gunman was reportedly killed by police, and officials said eight others were wounded in the rush-hour incident in the heart of Manhattan....Some of those hit by bullets may have been accidentally hit by police, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a news conference. But he said their injuries were not life-threatening and they were expected to make a full recovery...One woman, Aliyah Imam, told TV station Fox 5 News that the gunman was "shooting indiscriminately at people"."

The gunman was shooting indiscriminately at people? And so were the fucking police by all accounts! This happens far too often - Officer Smith, in the heat of the moment, whips out his police issue Glock and starts shooting off rounds *towards* the perceived threat. When one learns to shoot and takes carry permit classes one is taught that everything that happens to your bullet, from the moment it leaves the barrel to the moment it impacts the "Bad Guy", is YOUR responsibility. And without constant training (and possibly even then) you WILL fire wildly under pressure, you will not be in your Weaver stance, you will not think "front site". You WILL grab the trigger and keep grabbing it until you're out of ammo. And all those bullets are your responsibility.

I wonder how much practice time, and live fire time and shooter-drill time those cops had. And I wonder if any of them will be held responsible for their bullets? Actually, no I don't.

8 responses so far

New & Early Stage Investigator

Aug 22 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

It is a much remarked fact that the age to first award of substantial independent funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been steadily increasing, such that "new investigators" are now, on average, in their early 40s before they get their first major research award (typically an R01). To this end the NIH put into place some new rules to help weight the review process in favor of meritorious new investigators. This lead to much hand wringing and foul crying because it meant that very established and experienced scientists could claim NI status just for not having had an R01.

For example, one might be a Research Associate Professor within the lab of a Greybeard or Bluehair and be made PI on a "new" grant, even though the work was to be done within the lab of the aforementioned senior faculty member. (As usual, I defer to the expert commentary of M'Learn'd Colleagues Drugmonkey & PhysioProf for more cogent discussion of these issues.)

To help out the poor unwashed masses of junior scientists a bit more, the NIH then brought in the Early Stage Investigator policy, which weights in favour of scientists who are less than 10 years from the completion of their terminal degree (PhD or MD).

here lies the rub, my friends, I am just a year out from that ESI cut off. It will be ten years next August that I graduated from my Alma Mater with my PhD (although, like most scientists I count the date of my successful defence and the great moment when my PhD advisor (a man who looked strikingly like Bill Murray) left the conference room where my committee had debated my performace and said, "Congratulations Dr. Brooks" with an enormous grin on his face. I admit, I burst into tears and gave him a hug).

So, given that the clock is well and truly ticking here, my current plan is to apply for an R21 this fall, and an R01 next year. Both should fall under the NI and ESI categories, because even if the R21 is funded it is not counted as a major award for determining NI status.There are two deadlines I can aim for with the R01 in 2013 to maintain the ESI status: February 5th and June 5th. Can I submit in February and then significantly re-write and submit as a new grant in June? Then if (when?) the February submission ricochets out without review, I have a bit of time to take any comments and tweak a new submission for June?

Now, I've worked on many, many, many grants over the last four years since I left the lab. I've contributed to old and new format R, U and P mechanism awards. But - I've never actually had to write a "whole" grant myself. and it needs to be a palpable hit to count if I'm to get my (assumed) resubmission in in time.

I won't be writing alone - I have a very good team of experts I work with and we'll craft this together, but the ideas, and the bulk of the work will be mine. They'll contribute some technical portions and language but that's all. It's going to be a busy few months I think...I'm debating cancelling our Christmas vacation to the UK...

9 responses so far


Aug 20 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

You know what's really, really, really annoying?

Finding a grant application announcement that PERFECTLY fits some directions your group is moving and getting all excited and calling collaborators to ask their opinions and the small print and realizing you've missed the fucking deadline.




You know what's really, really, really AWESOME?

Finding a grant application announcement that PERFECTLY fits some directions your group is moving and getting all excited and calling collaborators to ask their opinions and the small print and realizing you've missed the fucking deadline...and then one of your collaborators emails you to point out that in your sleep-deprived zombie state you misread the deadline information and there is still 2 months to go!

And then your Vice Chancellor (my boss) says, "Of course you should apply! You should be PI, not co-PI. You need this. Do this and I can get you on the tenure track."

4 responses so far

No spare time

Aug 15 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I was going to write about the broohaha over at Freethought Blogs and Thunderf00t accessing an email listerserve he was removed from. But then I thought, what an odious little toad he is, but I don't have time. Plus, he's an odious little toad and it's not worth it.

So I thought I'd write about a post PZ Myers has at Pharyngula on a Boing Boing article by Maggie Koerth Baker about fundamentalist Christians decrying mathematics (set theory - great article and worth reading). I like PZ Myers & blog and I am kind of a firebrand atheist myself, but I thought his analogy to mushrooms missed a fundamental point in the argument about fundamentalist Christians and their blinkered beliefs. But...I don't have time

I had and have a bunch of things that I want to write about, some serious (see above), some infuriating (see more above), some less serious and some even fun. Some about careers, some about networking and the value of a professional network. Some about events I've been to along these lines.

None of which I have the time or energy to do. I think the lack of sleep is making me into a zombie. I love being a father and husband, but I wish I had more time.

8 responses so far