Various Lies

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I am teh awesome

I fucking totally rocked the conference. I gave, possibly, the best presentation anyone has ever given in the history of standing at podiums terrified out of their fucking minds talking about shit they don't quite get.

And then later they opened the free bar.

And I got shit-canned with senior faculty and CEOs.

And then we played poker till 3am.

And I took their money.

It was teh bestest conference evar!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On conferences...

I have just been invited/nominated/designated to give a talk at a conference in two weeks time. A summit no less, held in between my institute, two or three others and a national lab.

One of the speakers pulled out, and into this pregnant pause my name was thrust. The conference coordinator called my boss/co-director asking for suggestions and he put my name up there. Very flattering, and a testament to my great hair and fragrant persona, no doubt. But a little bit...nerve wracking.

Now, I have been a scientist for a while, over a decade in fact. I've got a PhD and years of advanced training. I've published scholarly articles, and not so scholarly articles. And I've been to loads of conferences before, but I've always done poster presentations. I've deliberately avoided platform talks due to a thick vein of moral cowardice that runs through me, like a...a...Colorado River of self preservation through the Grand Canyon of my soul...

...I like that...nice bit of metaphor on a cold and rainy Wednesday morning...

See, scientists can be real dicks, especially to other scientists. Folks get very territorial and defensive and your average scientist is not the most socially adept person anyway. So, it always struck me as better to avoid the limelight, especially seeing as I have no intention of trying to get famous and run my own lab and stuff. It's sucked a few times as I've sat in the audience watching peers or supervisors give talks I should have done, knowing I could have done it better and handled the questions at the end just as well. But, it always seemed for the best, in the long run.

And now my finagling, and wheedling and downright begging has come to an end. Something in me snapped, I must admit. My name was put forward and something weird happened...I said, "Great! I can do that!". Damned pride. Damned, insufferable pride. At the same time my name was put forward, someone else (my other boss) suggested the name of one of our clinician scientists, and I thought, "look, fuck off! She is a clinician, runs a busy surgery in town and works with us part time. I'm the fucking Project Manager of this shower, this is my fucking job!"

And there you have it.

So, After 11 years of bench work, 4 and half of which were spent in postdoctoral training...after these years of training as a neuropharmacologist with a molecular genetics background...I'm giving a talk at a conference...on Bio-fucking-Informatics.


Which I have exactly three months of experience in. I know next to nothing about software design, programming, application interfaces, database administration. I'm not sure what php, lateX, C++ are, let alone how they work, when you use them and why. And I have to stand in front of a specialised audienced, at a conference and talk for an hour. An hour!

this could be very interesting. I wonder if I can put Visene in the soup the night before...cut the attendance down a bit...

Now I have to write my biosketch...this is going to be a colourfully embroidered patchwork of wankery, to say the least...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Thoughts on careers, Re-redux

Over at Nature Network, on The New York Blog, Caryn Shechtman discusses her experiences and thoughts after a recent career advisory fair. As is typical of these, Caryn points out the discussion was steered primarily towards to the academic career search. I think that’s sad, but common, and it makes it very hard for young scientists to grasp the possibilities offered away from the bench. Over at Training Professor, the inestimable PiT discusses something similar.

Some of the things both talk about are very near and dear to my heart; I’m an advisor to our Postdoc Office, and am developing a career development package with our Postdoc Advisory Council right now. I’m also a member of the Board of Directors of a large charity that works with junior scientists, so believe me when I say I take the thesis of training and mentoring junior scientists very seriously. I made the decision to leave the bench last year, and it wasn’t easy. Part of that is the cultural dynamic that if you can’t make it to faculty, you’re a failure. This is a pervasive and pernicious untruth.

There are between 60-90,000 postdoc scientists in the US, and only ~20% will go on to become full time tenure track faculty at major/tier 1 research institutions. About 60% of that 60-90,000 say they want a FT-TT position. Spot the disconnect? the biggest reason for this gap is not the quality of scientists nowadays as some assert, it’s just that there aren’t enough jobs: an increasing candidate pool coupled with a lengthening age-of-retirement.

It is especially vital nowadays that young scientists formulate and focus their career aspirations early on, in order to be as competitive as possible when the time comes to take the next steps in their career. Over at Nature Network there’s a very nurturing environment that can be incredibly useful as a career guidance resource. There are senior faculty who blog and post regularly, as well as those of us who have moved away from the bench, those moving away from the bench and those went away and then moved back again.

As a PhD student you have a different set of concerns than you will as a postdoc (if that’s where you go). But now is a great time to think about where you want to steer your career and start building that into your program. If you want to go onto a traditional postdoc the path is fairly clean, but if not, what other skills might you need in the “real world”. and that argument extends to postdocs who find themselves looking at non-bench jobs for whatever reason. You have to find a way to encourage your mentor to help you develop, or find ways to develop, alternative skills.

The best western blot in the world is no good if you want to work for the Discovery Channel as a science advisor!

At my University I work closely with our Postdoc Office in developing schemes to get our postdocs any additional training they might require. Do you need teaching skills, communication skills, editing skills, writing skills? What else?

It can be hard breaking down the traditional barriers, especially if your PI is of the opinion that your hourly productivity is the sole determinant of his/her future success (a common fallacy). Making the moves can be emotionally challenging too.

As Christie says in her close, “it seems you just have to put yourself out there, try your best, and hope you get the job.” True, but maximise your chances for success by developing an Individual Development Plan (IDP) and putting together a mentoring committee to help you define, plan for and reach your goals. Then it doesn’t have to be such “a random and try-as-you-go process”.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Gone but not forgotten

Damn, now I remember why I stopped running a personal blog. Where do I find the time?

I have plenty of friends who blog, and some blogs I like to follow, blogs with nicely prodigious authors...

Anyway, update (for my sanity):
Work is going well. Not as overwhelmed as last week, which is nice. Got a troublesome manuscript out, albeit a couple of days late. That's a nice feeling, and I rewarded myself by bumping myself to second author. I wrote the fucking thing!

Looking at my "to do" list I see only 14 things, two of which are non-work related, so that's more manageable than it's been for a while. Some things can't be tackled until the Current Bastard of a Project is finished. I'm not working on the CBP (thank fuck) so I can ignore the screams, late night phone calls and mayhem that are ensuing as computers-meet-people-meet-disaster happens as predicted. Those items are more of a "wishlist" than a to-do list right now.

The non-work things are OK too. The main one is part of the charity I "work" for. We have a noisy member, who in genuine Comrade Lenin style wants to overhaul the entire postdoctoral training "issue" and thinks we are the right voice for him. Part of the problem is his ideas, at root, are good, but his methods are insane. He cannot stand criticism and balks at being "ignored": i.e. discussion is proceeding through regular channels, as it must when a committee of a dozen volunteers works on behalf of 90,000 constituents with such august entities as the National Institutes of Health and the Federal Government. If he doesn't get an immediate reply to one his brash and antagonistic emails or forum posts, he starts ranting even louder.

He has already pissed off the chair of the committee he serves on, and he thinks is a good thing because it highlights what he sees as the shortcomings in the system. As opposed to highlighting his naivete. Unfortunately, has the potential to do a great deal of harm. We have the backing of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the NIH, the National Science Foundation, The Sloane Foundation and indeed such individual personages as Dr. Elias Zerhouni, former head of the NIH. If left unchecked he will damage these relationships. I'm curious how to handle him because i really think he will try and form his own "organisation" and that would be bad. Guilt by association and all that.

Home life: Moving house this weekend is psychically killing me, thankfully Musicgirl is doing all the packing right now. I hate moving, but I am eager to be out of my shit hole apartment. I wish I could just take a day off and get it over and done with. Weeks, time in general, progresses very slowly right now, and I won't be moved in properly until the weekend. And my former housemate has taken it upon himself to invite himself down for the weekend...indeed, week.

On top of all that I have a cold/bug thing. Typical of someone like me, I work and play myself into the ground on a semi-regular basis. I was OK, but had a hellacious weekend (celebrating payday, finally), and burned out. I feel like shite, but not having interchoob access at home, indeed, not currently really having a home, means I have to come to the office and deal with shit.

Speaking of which, time for a teleconference with the Board regarding our recalcitrant member...