Various Lies

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

There be dragons...

I've just bumped into a friend of mine. Haven't seen him in ages, probably a year at least, not since a mutual friend left town for pastures new. (Field application specialist I think, biotech or there abouts.) This bloke works nearby, nice guy, good scientist. Married to a scientist. Both of them. Scientists. Working at the same institute. Them and my friend, the FAS, started about the same time.

I've been in this town for 6 years this week. I've known them for most of that. What's wrong here?

"Hello mate! Not seen you in ages."
"Yeah, I think not since Mike's leaving party, right?"
"Yeah, bloody hell, that was a good night out. What, a year ago last September wasn't it? 18 months at least?" I'm boisterous, louder than normal. I want to know what's going on in his head. It's the Tidelinterogation. I have an ulterior motive: he's in a good lab, and so is his wife. They're both very talented scientists and I want to know what's next. How is our sister institute prepping people?

The blogosphere has recently been all flutter about the archetypal disgruntaldoc and how a postdoc doesn't prepare you for anything and yadda fucking yadda yadda. Guilty as charged. My post based on a long chat with an unhappy postdoc inspired Prof-Like's query and I forced him to wear the meat pants again. Clearly they ain't doing him any damage, and neither is the feeble gnashing of the disgruntdocsphere.

But the feeble gnashing of the disgrunts is making noise out in non-blog land...and I fear that link might not work because it's to a LinkedIn chat on a closed circuit.

Scientists are human too and no one wants to see their dreams taken away. It's the basis of most decent tragedies, TV, stage or otherwise. But it happens. As M'Learned colleague has spake:

Academic Science is not Care Bears Fucking Tea Party


"So what's next? What are you guys planning? You've been here a while right?"
"Yeah, four and half years. So we've got at least six months left. We're planning and stuff. Y'know." At which point he is fixed by the steely and unhappy glare of a furious Tideliar. "Six months? So, what are you going to do? Academia? Industry? Bench? Non-Bench? Regulatory Affairs? Curator? Instructor? Policy Advocate? Legal Affairs? Tech-Transfer? Tenure track? Science Writing? Professional Development? Academic Administration? Editor? Research Communication? Librarian? Research Assistant Professor? Technician? Director of Animal Welfare? Informaticist? Teacher? Fucking Bartender? What are you doing?"

A laugh. A shrug, and disarming grin, "Well, I probably can get another year out of my grant. So maybe 18 months," For you, think I, what about her? "So maybe academic, maybe industry. Y'know. Thinking about it. Networking."

A shaft of light! Networking. "So, you're going to conferences, shaking hands, publishing, giving guest lectures, offering to review manuscripts? At least...right?" Right?
"Yeah, y'know. A bunch of emails." That confident, empty grin once more.

I've been there. Get your fucking arse into gear. Just because you got a bloody doctoral degree doesn't mean you're owed a job. Rememeber the fear you had about looking for your (first) postdoc appointment? "Am I good enough?

Amplify that by 70,000. Seventy Thousand.

Because that's how many postdocs in the US are competing with you for every damned job. You're on a treadmill and it's speeding up.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The good fight

Now, I had it in my head to have a talk about another thing that had happened to me, and had, by coincidence, and nothing more so help me FSM*, happened to a friend of mine. However, someone has had the temerity, and so help them FSM for their forthright attitude, which I cannot help but admire, to challenge me on something I think an adult could reason without recourse to challenge***.

Now I want to preface this by making clear the loss of any life is an awful thing, because this blog post involves an interaction between me and a MediaHound that concerns a recent, local loss of life. Not just a car crash, RTA, but a fatality.  I can only imagine the pain these families are living in.   I also appreciate all the hard work our local NewsHounds do to keep regular Joes like me up to date and clued in with everything that might affect us. Like a major fatality crash nearby. Important for two reasons, one opening us up to the shared pain of loss, and one a simple matter of local infrastructure.

There was a crash, in Arkansas, involving a TDOT vehicle. And people died. Our local NewsHounds posted about this on the Twitters, and, I guess, being as voyeurostic as they hoped I'd be, I looked at the photo....

But it's a picture of a (T)DOT truck with dented side panels. There is nothing but a picture of a truck. And of course the usual interchoobs commentary. And suddenly I am struck with regret for my own voyeurism and...something more...

Why the FSM would a news channel have this on their Facebook page? It seems cruel and unnecessary to do this. The corollary is why are we driven as conusmers to look at this: Because they provide us with content we demand**.

Its just a dented truck - it adds nothing to the story, it brings no new information to the situation, it in fact, I dare to suggest, does nothing at all but runs the risk of inflaming opinion.

I expect, by definition the news media to give me information. There was no information in this photograph, other than the pointed statement of here is a dented truck.

So to this I tweet,

 (I also 'broke' the URL so it couldnt be followed directly)

and with all due respect @3onyourside, the twitter feed of the news agency WREG, wrote back to me (bystander @friend redacted).

And this is wonderful, (and the point behind this post)! I don't believe them for an everliving second, and I think it's utterly disingenuous for them to suggest that they are absolved of any criticism of voyeurism just because 'they' were passing on information. However it is just my opinion. And thanks to  media provided by 21st century technology, I get to express my ire and they (or at least George Brown

) gets to respond:

Now, I still call bullshit and hold my NewsHounds to higher standards. But WREG, and its representatives, got to talk to me directly and rebut/address my criticism. Now if that ain't a good thing about living in 2011, I don't know what is.


**which sells advertising traffic

***Dude. WTF. Really?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Things I hate

I don't mind getting beaten* in a poker game, but I'll be damned if I can be sanguine about trip kings getting out-kicked on the river by a fucking boat of sevens full of kings.

Son of a bitch. Son of a godamned lucky river rat bitch.**

Who fucking calls all in with a fucking King Seven? Who?


(* may contain traces of LIE)
(** I would have been one of two players left in the game)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Postdocs, what are they good for?

A postdoc is best served, by definition, by gaining skills needed after a doctoral do...something...[needs citation definition]

In life science n00b postdocs expect to train for faculty status. You have your freshly printed PhD in hand and everyone (except the postdocs) at your graduate lab has been telling you that if you apply yourself as a turbo-gunner real life growed up scientist you'll be a Principal Investigator one day. This is a simple fucking fact - no one tells graduate students that they're embarking on career path with a ~20% chance of success*. And at postdoc level we add to this is fallacy, because not only does gaining more/perfecting bench skills prepare you for nothing more than a technical post, the simple math of the job market should tell you that you have at best a 1 in 10 chance of securing a good research-based PI position. But then again, who looks at the stats?

Your postdoc should prepare you for PI status by simply exposing you to the daily reality of running a lab. If you have the druthers and wherewithal to cotton to this you'll really be OK. Alas, that is rare and increasingly so because postdocs are, today, ten-a-penny and ultra low overheads make them a cost effective labor option** No one is teaching you, because after all you're a postdoc and should be self-sufficient, personnel or budget management or how to write a grant or how to appeal to an editor when the curse'd third reviewer chimes in with impossible demands. No one explains how to negotiate a start-up, or balance the three/four tiers of the tenure track. They don't demonstrate how to say no to increasing committee obligations despite a pressing need for 'time' to write grants.

You learn nothing as a postdoc, except how to be a good technician. To save your PI time and nervous energy by generating data as quickly and efficiently as possible.

So, bearing in mind these happy truths, what the fuck are you doing as a postdoc? Training to be a tech*** or taking the bull by the horns and driving...DRIVING...your career in the direction it needs to be?

*In my career to date, in academic life science, I have met only a small percentage of graduate students (10% maybe) who were pursuing their degree with the deliberate and explicit intention of pursuing a non PI career track.

**a postdoc earns ~$40k/yr + ~10% indirects = $44k. A tech earns $50k/yr + 40% indirects = $70k/yr. Now think about your NIH modular budget and add inflation over time.

***This is an excellent and under-rated career option - technician or research associate/RA prof is an excellent and under rated career move for technically excellent PhDs who love the bench and hate the 'drama' of running a lab