Archive for: November, 2011

Ecology and Evolution job wiki

Nov 30 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

One of the hardest thing about the job search is the waiting. You send your application materials out there into the void and you wait. Sometimes you hear back in a good way, but often it is just radio silence. In most places, HR demands that you have a person hired before sending out declines, in others you can do it in stages where the certain "nos" can be sent earlier than the maybes. When I was applying for jobs I got some rejects 10 months after I had applied and about 40% of places never send you anything at all. It's a bit maddening.

But in year two of my postdoc, someone directed me to the ecol/evol jobs wiki. This is an invaluable source of information for those of you out there sending your aps. Occasionally you will stumble across a job you were not aware of, but more than that you get an idea of what stage all the searches are at. People update each job as they hear back and I was amazed at how effective this was. For every application I sent in, there was someone out there who had submitted to the same place and had information to add that I did not.

Waiting with no information is far less preferable to hearing you are out of the race and being able to move on, IMO. So go obsess over each pending application!

4 responses so far

Making time

Nov 21 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

There's no greater commodity in my life right now than time. Between having two small kids and this job with its combination of deadlines and random fires, days speed by in a hurry. That's why finding time to fit new things in is often so tough - because something else has to give. Is it time with the family? Time spent getting that manuscript out or drafting yet another proposal? How about sleep? You don't need that as much as you think anyway.

But increasingly it has been obvious to me that I need to get some exercise. I've tried and failed to incorporate an exercise routine into my week at least a dozen times in the last two years, mostly because it gets sacrificed when something else comes up. I currently view it as a luxury, not part of my day, and I'm working to change that.

So what to do? I needed something that would be weather proof, because there is nothing worse than having progressed waylaid by a week of crappy weather. Running hasn't worked out for me for that very reason... And the fact that my knee sounds like a nutcracker. Instead, the plan is swimming. It hasn't been pretty, but I can be in the pool before 8am and head to my office afterwards. I don't get my early morning time to settle in and get myself sorted before everyone else shows up, but something has to give and it's not going to be time with my family.

We're going to see how this goes, but sitting all day behind my desk is not doing my ass any favors. I need a change and I need to get my fitness up. I'm hoping this makes it happen.

32 responses so far

Nature tells women they're "special"

Nov 17 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I'm sure many of you are, by now, aware of the totes hilarious "futures" piece in Nature, written by Ed Rybicki and published under the guidance of editor Henry Gee. I would suggest you go comment on it, but Nature has closed down comments.

If you haven't seen it yet, you might find interesting a few commentaries on the piece, which I've linked below. If you are a man you can click on the links, but for the women out there I'm sure you will just come across these posts in your wandering shopaholic alternate universe.

I'm sure I've missed a couple, feel free to post them in the comments.

Paul Anderson
Kate Clancy
Anne Jefferson
Janet Stemwedel
Christie Wilcox

4 responses so far

2012 jobs

Nov 17 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Based on the extremely uniformed and biased sampling of the job emails I get sent to my inbox, I am getting the impression that this year's job market is a little better than last. I've even seen a few jobs out of the UC system, and few state university systems are in as bad shape as the UC system. I realize that the market is not what it was a few years ago, but there feels like a small surge this year.

Am I imagining things? What are those of you on the market seeing?

13 responses so far

Must... fight... bad PI... trap.

Nov 16 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Three and a half years. That's how long it's been since I could legitimately claim to be doing bench science. Of course I've done the odd experiment here or there in my own lab, but my trips to the lab for work are rare. And some things you begin to forget a bit.

Just a couple weeks ago I was talking with a person in the lab about how great it would be to have These Data for an upcoming proposal. We talked about how to get These Data and off they went. Weeks have passed and as I started writing yesterday I thought "I wish I had These Data, I wonder want happened with them" and so I found the person work on the data to inquire.

It turns out that to get These Data they had to track down Those Data and write a program to wrangle Them Data and the initial analyses with All Data didn't make sense, so they had to be troubleshot with Some Dudes. Some Dudes found a bug and had to overhaul That System, which meant These Data needed to be collected in a slightly different way. They were and we are now close to having These Data, but they are not ready just yet.

No problem, that is how these things go. But when I first realized that These Data weren't available yet I recall being slightly annoyed about it. I mean afterall, we talked about is a couple weeks ago!

And herein lies the trap of the not-in-the-lab PI. It's easy to forget that everything takes longer than you expect when it comes to lab work, especially if it is collaborative and you sometimes have to rely on other people. There's always something, in addition to random attacks by lab gremlins, and it likely has nothing to do with the dedication or work ethic of the person tasked with collecting These Data.

It's good to remind myself of this from time to time, along with all the various set backs I experienced during my tenure as Bench Scientist.

10 responses so far

What the...?

Nov 15 2011 Published by under [Science in Society]

As recently as last week, things did not look good for congressional support for the sciences. In a Nov 9 policy statement, AAAS pointed to both a house and senate budget proposal that would have cut science funding, particularly NSF, by a considerable amount (PDF comparison of the bills HERE). The house was bleeding NSF for a 12% cut and the senate wanted 14.2%. In light of recent changes, it looked like we were going from worse to worser ("bad" having been so last year).

While I am not usually one that thinks DC listens to the people much, eying those budget numbers actually made me write my senators and reps. A budget flatline is bad enough, but those kinds of cuts make it clear that our leaders in Washington doesn't see science and technology as way into the future - a message I find ominous.

But suddenly things are different today. According to a press release from the NCS Alliance there was an 11th hour negotiated change.

Last night, Congressional leaders released their final plan for fiscal year (FY) 2012 spending for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a multitude of other federal agencies. The conference report, which represents the compromise between the House and Senate passed appropriations bills, would provide NSF with $7.0 billion, an increase of $173 million above FY 2011, but significantly below President Obama’s requested budget. Research and Related Activities would receive an increase of $155 million above last year. More details will be provided in an upcoming policy report.

Although the increase is not huge, it is an increase. Certainly this is good news for science and perhaps those out there who were spurred to write the congress peoples on behalf of the community, were heard. Whatever happened, I'll take it.

4 responses so far

Getting the week started

Nov 14 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

Because you can never have too many bizarre videos set to good music.

One response so far

The hammer that breaks the camel's back?

Nov 14 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

It seems as though I'm the only person on the internet who hasn't weighed in on the horrific Penn State case. I hardly think I can add anything to the outrage that is rightly directed at everyone in the athletic department and above who knew about what was happening and did nothing. I can simply hope the victims get what they need to process the failures of the adults they trusted and the ones they never knew, but should have protected them.

Can there be anything positive to come out of this horrible saga? Maybe.

Maybe this makes a few universities think about the power their athletic programs have. Maybe the ADs and Coaches of Major Sport of Choice get second-guessed a little more frequently. Maybe universities begin to question, at least a little, the impact of major collegiate sports on their campuses.

No one should be beyond question on a university campus. There are no gods that walk campus sidewalks. How many football scandals do we need to realize that the mini empires run at universities across the country are built on ego and exploitation? In the best of times it is "just" the majority of major sport student athletes who never graduate and at the worst of times we see the unimaginable.

Will it matter? Can change be pulled from tragedy? Don't color me optimistic.

One response so far

Lunatic Fringe?

Nov 10 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

It will be no secret to my readers that I do work that is on the outer fringes of what NIH funds. I would consider NSF to be the main funding body I can submit to, but like any forward looking individual, I've moved in various directions that allow me some funding flexibility. Given that I am within a stone's throw of an NIH institute or two, I have lobbed a few forays their way in the form of an R15s (A0 and A1 revision) and an R01 (pending). Surprisingly, I got damn close to the funding line with that A1, despite the A0 being triaged. I also have no idea how the R01 will fair in a few months.

I sent in the R01 because, in repeated discussions around the bloggosphere (I'm too lazy at this hour to track down all the links from Drugmonkey et al.), the general consensus is not to waste your ESI/NI status* on a capped budget like an R15 or R21. Fair enough, why use your one time advantage on $300K total in direct funds over three years when you could be using it to pull in an R01 at $250K/year in direct for five years. Massive difference, right?

But here's where it's different being the square peg in a round hole world. Unlike a lot of people whose work is right in NIH's wheelhouse, I could spend a career chasing the pot `o gold at the end of the R01 rainbow only to realize that it is always just beyond my grasp. The average age of a new investigator R01 for people doing NIH science is around 42 (NIH ppt), which is almost a decade older than I am right now. So do I bang away at the R01 or assess my situation differently? Perhaps realistically.

R15 funding is along the lines of an NSF grant, though on the low side. But landing a couple of R15s to go with our NSF funding would be a Very Good Thing. Would an R01 be better? Of course, but if the odds are much longer**, why not shoot for the attainable now in order to establish myself before aiming for the big one? I need cash now, not in a decade, and the R15 funding rates are higher than the R01s. I can do a lot of damage even at $100K/year. Certainly more than I can do at $0K/year.

And so I go back and forth on this issue all the time on what strategy is going to work for me, at my institution with my resources, expectations and doing the NIH-fringe science I do. If I can "launch" with R15-sized funding in the next few years, do I focus on getting that or keep my hand in the R01 pond? Amazingly, me ceiling at 2:00 am doesn't have the answers.

*ESI = Early Stage Investigator, which gives you a bump in fundable score for ten years post PhD.

**Whether or not the R15s are judged with the expectations of an R01 is an area of debate and I get the impression this is study section dependent.

15 responses so far

Let's take that sports analogy a litte further

Nov 09 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Many of my readers will be familiar CPP's favorite training analogy, relating academics to baseball. I think, however, that there is another sports analogy that applies to PIs, and that is of a NFL quarterback.

Besides the obvious management stuff, a really critical skill to learn is having a short memory for bad plays. This is particularly true in the granting game with present funding levels, where you need to shake off a bad review pretty rapidly. Learn from it and move on, striving to not make the same mistake twice. In particular with NSF, where the panels are constantly changing, it is critical to take the main points from a review and incorporate them, but dwelling on the minutiae and each negative comment is a waste of time.

Hit the main points of the summary statement (since the next panel will be given just that document) and identify the places where "that reviewer didn't know what they were talking about" and clarify them. Above all, don't get down on yourself about a bad review, keep churning out the data to show you can do it and get ready for the next series with a clear head.

One response so far

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