Archive for: September, 2012

NSF learns the art of FWDAOTI

Sep 12 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

For anyone paying attention, you'll be aware that NSF Bio has been going through some changes. First, they pulled the rug out from everyone and announced they were going to a single proposal cycle per year with a preproposal round. We're now 9 months into that and different groups, including ESA, are making noise about this change.

I've opined in the past that NSF went to the extreme this year to shock the system so that they could eventually land somewhere in between the old and revised proposal cycle. Much like a labor negotiation, the two sides start at the poles and move closer to a middle ground.

There are those who think that the ESA letter has resulted in NSF releasing a new survey on the preproposal process. But I think NSF was hoping all along to get a response from the community.

Take a look at the survey. If you're a parent you will recognize the technique immediately. There's two questions in the survey. To paraphrase, they are: 1) Do you like the shitty option we jammed down your throat or do you prefer what you were used to? 2) If you prefer 2 deadlines, are you willing to do the work necessary to sustain that model?

Classic parenting. Choose between an acceptable and unacceptable option under the agreement that you will meet my terms to make the acceptable option happen. They're not capitulating to the demands of the PIs, they are just kicking the community in the ass to get people to do what they want you to do.

NSF Bio PIs, welcome to Federal FWDAOTI!

[UPDATE: As noted in the comments, it is possible that the survey was created by the people who spearheaded the ESA letter. On close inspection, the email urging people to look at the survey is non-specific about the origin, but sent by Sarah Hobbie who was involved with the ESA letter. That the ESA folks would word the survey as they have is even more ridiculous than if NSF did it.]

17 responses so far

A reader poll on reading

Sep 12 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

I've noticed recently, to my dismay, that my literature reading habits have changed rather substantially in the last 12-18 months. Rather than keeping up with the literature proactively, I'm trending towards reading mainly when I have to (writing a grant or paper) and not nearly as thoroughly as I once did. This is troubling to me on a couple of levels, but comes back to the balance of what takes up those hours in the day you spend working. Perhaps it's time to block out some hours to devote to reading...

11 responses so far

Should I apply? Should I interview? The answer is always yes.

It seems to me that jobs may be on the rise this year, simply because I get about a daily inquiry from someone in my life about whether or not they should apply for X position or follow up on Y job lead. My answer is always the same.

If there is even the slightest chance that the job in question puts you in a better situation than the one you are in, YES. YES. BY ALL MEANS YES.

Now obviously there is a cost to applying for jobs. It takes time and interviews take even more. But if you are on the job market, or considering it, there is a reason (advancement, change of scenery, family, colleagues, creepy colleagues, etc.). In that case, you owe it to yourself to explore the options. Time after time people say something along the lines of "I would go there if xxxx, but I don't think that is possible" before they have even applied. This drives me crazy because people take themselves out of the running before the race even starts.

Rule #1: Make the hard decisions when they need to be made. You don't know what is possible at a job until you negotiate so don't decide whether or not you would be interested before you've even applied.

Rule #2: When opportunities present themselves, check them out. I have watched several friends of mine stumble into jobs that they had not previously considered, which turned out to perfectly fit their lives. By simply returning a phone call or agreeing to a meeting, they struck gold because they didn't make an a priori decision that something wasn't right for them.

Rule #3: Let the search committee decide if you meet the criteria. Don't exclude yourself based on what YOU think THEY might be looking for.

It always amazes me how many people talk themselves out of a job they haven't even applied for! If you need a job or want a better one, do the legwork and kick some tires. No one ever got a job by not applying.

16 responses so far

Do bloggers make bad leaders?

Sep 06 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Becca brought up an interesting point in two posts (1, 2) of the comment thread of the last post. The main point of both is summarized as:

Frankly, I've never read a profblog that makes me want to work for that prof. Lots of the profblogs I read make me want to take the person out for a drink, pick their brain even more, talk science, talk life, become friends in meatspace... work with them, sure. Work for them, not so much. Maybe I don't want to work for anyone, or maybe blogs in general can run toward the whinging side, and whinging is not a leadership trait.
That said, I think the whining does make the internet better (humanizing profs is good; it's presumably therapeutic for the writer; people know they aren't alone, ect.). If we assume people make a good faith effort to remove identifying details, I think it's good.....Some people lead well with a very personal touch, and some people lead well only with an 'all business' approach. There are differences in groups, and especially between individuals in these things. Probably the people who's blogs I read are a mix. But something about the blogging process lends itself toward revealing a side of someone that is not usually their strongest as a leader.

Becca partly answers her own question. Part of blogging (at least for me) is sharing some of the job's ugly underbelly for the benefit of others. I've spent a decent number of posts (especially around year 3) expressing some of my unhappiness in this job. At the time things were tough and I wanted that to come across to those following. Did I turn around and portray those same emotions to the people in my lab? Hell no.

One thing many PhDs and postdocs complain about is that they never see what the job is all about because their PIs don't show them how the sausage is made. In a lot of ways that is entirely intentional because showing you're scared shitless that the next grant is going to be triaged is not a great leadership trait. Trainees don't want to know you can't sleep because you're worried about how you're going to pay them all come summer or whether you'll have the money to get the data your experiments suggest you need. For better or worse, the PI has to come across as confident, especially in the face of crisis.

So, when you're reading PI blogs you're often getting more reality than the people in the labs being run by those bloggers.

19 responses so far

What you won't find here

Sep 04 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

I generally write about pretty much anything that happens to be in my head at the moment. This should be pretty clear to anyone who checks up on this space on an even semi-regular basis. I generally like to post about my experiences with funding agencies because I think that can be helpful to people dealing with similar issues. Just browsing the last month or so, I post about family, teaching, random sciencey stuff and even mentoring.

But there are some topics that I don't touch on. Specifically, I avoid topics where I criticize anyone who works for me. Why? It's simple, really.

How would you feel if you found out that your boss, who is a key player in your training and future in your career, was using a public website to openly and in a detailed way, complain about your perceived weaknesses? What if they were comparing you to lab mates and even posting a poll about which one of you were likely to succeed? Or maybe they describe you as petulant and childish.

Worse yet, what if word spread about this website and many in your department read all about what a fuck up your PI thinks you are? How would that effect your relationship with your advisor? What about with other grad students? Other faculty members? Could it jeopardize your credibility in your department, or even your degree? It probably depends on how much has been written and what was said, but there is certainly no ignoring it.

The fact of the matter is that using a pseudonym is a pretty thin veil when it comes to one's identity. Every once in a while someone puts the pieces together, a blogger gets outed at work and the shit hits the fan if they had been writing things that might be politically problematic.

Of course, when you're in the power seat, it's just some trainees who get burned, amiright?

57 responses so far

Labor music

Sep 03 2012 Published by under [Et Al]

No responses yet

Poll: Grad student misconceptions

Sep 03 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

For many, the academic year is just beginning. In addition to the undergrads flooding campuses, there is a new cohort of grad students making their way into the labs of many universities. Like their undergraduate counterparts, there is huge variability in the level of preparation of these students. Some will know exactly what they are getting into and others expect undergrad 2.0.

I'm curious, on this day of rest for many, what my readers see as the most common beginning grad student misconceptions. For you grad students, what were the things that surprised you in your first week as a grad student? For Postdocs and PIs, what is the thing that you have to often disabuse your new students of?

20 responses so far

« Newer posts