Archive for: June, 2016

Learning to be a PI

Jun 14 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

My postdoc is learning a little bit about what its like to be a PI. He's got three different papers he's working on, including one last one from his PhD. He has a fellowship proposal to write, on a topic that is a bit distant from what I do, using the same techniques, but answering different q's. Its a good start towards independence, but it means more new literature for him. (He picked and explored the topic - his choice). He's got experimental commitments to my R01 which pays his salary. He doesn't complain (at least to me), but he has admitted to being a bit overwhelmed.

But when I asked about postponing a set of experiments, experiments that will be arduous and time consuming, he immediately started giving me reasons why we shouldn't. Because the work in my lab - whole animal behavior/biomechanics/neurophysiology - requires many pairs of hands (a single experiment is a minimum of three bodies, but 4 works much better), his buy-in important. His reasoning about this was good. It certainly would be better for him, short-term, to postpone the experiments and work on more pubs. He could probably get another 2-3 from data we already have.

Some of the differences between a senior postdoc and a junior faculty are subtle and along a continuous axis of scientific maturity. If you're running your own project as a postdoc and taking results to the PI once a week, then running a project on your own in a jr faculty lab is often only about available resources. But one of my favorite past posts was "what do you own?". Its an old post, but here's the nut:

When you become a postdoc you own the project. Maybe you own part of a grad student’s career – because what happens to them reflects back on you in ways that the work of an undergrad doesn’t.

When you become a TT person (or sometimes, in some very big labs, a senior postdoc fellow, who is figuring out a non-TT career), you own the lab or your part of the lab. You all of a sudden own the careers of a technician, and any trainees you’ve got. What they do reflects on you. And what’s more you own your career, in a way that wasn’t really so obvious when you were a postdoc and you just owned a project.

When one is at the point of leaving a postdoc, one is most intensely, and rightly so, concerned with owning one's career. With your first job, the goal posts didn't just move back, but they moved to a different golf course, with new sand traps and ponds and a whole different crowd of people waiting to see What You Are Going To Do.

One sign of professional maturity, or leadership if you will, is being able to take a step back from the immediate and intense concerns to look at the bigger picture. Of course its just one sign, and there are 16 other ways to fuck up.

4 responses so far

Quote of the Day: I wish I believed (life would be so much easier)

Jun 13 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies. ― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan    

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Having someone to have one's back

Jun 08 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Hillary Clinton's victory speech tonight, after the primaries in California and NJ, contained lots of good words.

Tonight's victory is not about one person.

It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible.

and [my emphasis]

And I learned about those persistent problems and the unfinished promise of America that you're living with. So many of you feel like you're out there on your own, that no one has your back. Well, I do. I hear you. I see you. And as your president, I will always have your back.

And it brought tears to my eyes. Not because I think Hillary will have my back either figuratively or actually, I'm not naïve.

I don't think I've never had anyone who really had my back. Maybe one former partner when I was very ill. But in my career? No. The very idea of someone to have your back was a thought just not thought.

Things do change. They really do.

One response so far

The Scientific Life: insights from engineering

Jun 07 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

One of the things engineers (who build things) say is:

Good, Fast, Cheap: pick any two

That is, if you want  the engineer to build something for you, you can have it done quickly and very good, but it will cost you. If you can only afford cheap, then it will either be done quickly, but not so good, or slowly and better.

Being a postdoc (or even faculty) is similar:

High-cost city (Boston, NYC, SF), Lifestyle, Post-doc position: pick any two

Money goes a lot further in the heartland of America, but that's not New York or San Francisco or Seattle. The NIH scale for postdocs is a living wage, above the median for a family of four in these areas. It just may not be the living you had in mind.

 

9 responses so far

quote of the day

Jun 07 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

There are two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you've made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you've made a discovery. --Enrico Fermi

Bonus quote, for the days one goes to that  kind of seminar:

Before I came here I was confused about this subject. Having listened to your lecture I am still confused. But on a higher level. --Enrico Fermi
 

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It was the third of June, another sleepy dusty Delta day...

Jun 03 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

I was in junior high. This was, even to me who mostly listened to Motown at the time, a powerful song. Listening to it again takes me back. Someone said this song is like Faulkner in its ability to evoke this time and place.

This version is from the Smothers Brothers show. And that was a long time ago.

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quote of the day

Jun 01 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

For struggling postdocs everywhere:

We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done. -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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