Archive for: August, 2017

Be nice to other people's graduate students

Aug 31 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

On general principles, and that you might learn something from them, but also because they grow up.

I got this email:

This is Small Dog, we met back in 2015 in Chicago when I was a grad student with OtherLovelyBigDog and you came to give one of our seminars. We also may have chatted briefly after your talk on the last day of Society Meeting last year?

Anyway, I’m writing because I was recently asked about presenting at a meeting on bunny hopping in NicePlaceinEurope. I won’t be able to attend but I recommended you as a speaker given your current work on bunnies. One of the board members for the meeting, Dr. European GrosseChien, has told me that the meeting organizers would be delighted to have you come and speak. Your expenses would be covered.

Small Dog, it seems, has landed a very luscious and prestigious postdoc with other BigDog. I remember him as being a very interesting student with whom I enjoyed talking very much.

And for the suspicious/paranoid amongst us, his field is sufficiently different from mine that I have (and will not) get his papers or grants to review. He's just being a Good Guy.

One response so far

Why can't a woman be more like man?

Aug 30 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

Why can't a woman be more like a man?
Men are so honest, so thoroughly square;
Eternally noble, historically fair.
Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.
Why can't a woman be like that?

- music by Frederick Loewe; lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

Came across this gem of an evaluation today- at least I'm great? [sorry for picture quality, can't get wordpress to cooperate]

— Allison Kerwin(@AllisonKerwin) August 29, 2017

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Input from Cathy on Realities

Aug 30 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

Direct from Cathy: (see here to learn who Cathy is). Some small editing to remove identifications. The rest in quotes are her words, put here with her explicit permission.

First, the good news:

General update: we had our clinical research faculty and lab meetings this morning. After last week’s one-on-one and the blazing success of THE AGENDA, he tasked me to create these magical pieces of paper for these two meetings, as well. I did so and after these were done, he took me aside and told me that producing these documents “showed real leadership”. Gotcha.

Which lasts only so long:

The second thing he wanted to discuss was the direction of my next proposal (the KL2).

Cathy was invited to put in for a spot on a KL2. A KL2 is Mentored Career Development Award, "to support newly trained clinicians appointed by an institution for activities related to the development of a successful clinical and translational research career" and is related to the K12 which is an institutional training award, similar to a T32.  These are very good gigs, if you can get them.  The money is awarded to the institution, which selects trainees to be part of the award. They are internally competitive, but not at the brutal levels of individual F & K awards. It pays some salary, which for clinicians means protected time from clinical duties/income generation. But, from Dr. Ifix:

He [said that he] is going to move his research direction away from me if I do not submit the proposal to be in line with his research. He was that blunt about it. Bunny carrot chewing research it is, then. It’s a year, I’m the PI and will do all the writing, he’s one of two mentors, it’s still good research, and it’ll be FAR easier to get a project funded that doesn’t have actual, purposeful roadblocks.

This is a decision on her part. It's not what we would like from a mentor, but Dr. Ifix does pay her salary. She also had this to say:

There is another way of looking at this, too. I'm not competitive for the types of jobs our older PI thinks I could drop into. When I started at [this MRU- note she started before Dr. Ifix was hired], I got zero start up money and was tasked with mentoring lots of little projects (most that produced no important outcomes) in an environment that was a scientific desert.

She was given a hard money position to do exactly this, help others get research going. She knew this and had her eyes open. We talked at length about it back then. She felt it was the best she could do when she moved back to the place she is now (for family reasons).

Because of that, I don't have a strong history of publications or awarded grant money. Right or wrong, I wasn't hired to do that and it's the reality of the situation. In an job market with a glut of phds, I don't look good on paper and wouldn't rationally expect to be close to the short list.

This is part of her reasoning on why working to make this job go is worthwhile to her.

What I have in this position is an ego [Dr. Ifix] that, while frustrating, is actually a bit manipulable. As I'm not competitive for jobs, I'm equally not competitive for independent NIH funding. A shot that I might have would be to join a larger effort and spin off that. In one sense, if cards are played well, what I have is a name/position I can utilize to get my (and Postdoc's) ideas funded from inside a system that wouldn't normally have provided funding to two under-performing phds who should be mid-career attempting to do translational research without clinical connections from hospital appointments that aren't tenure track.

A bit brutal in assessment, but trying for honesty. Knowing her record, my perception suggests that it is not as bad as she paints it. That's partly my role: reality check on self-assessment. We've talked about this.

Finally another bit from Cathy, her reasoning on why to stay, why to try and make it work, in response to some of the commenters:

There is another aspect of this that may not have been considered by the anonymous poster (because why would they consider something for which they have no knowledge): This place is an incredibly supportive environment for employees. I mean this – it’s like 180 degrees off from the Old MRU where we were together.

She has repeatedly told me this. She feels that outside of Dr. Ifix she gets respect. She feels that the infrastructure makes it easy to do the work she does. And, shockingly:

 Dr. Ifix has been getting TONS of negative feedback from other employees (research and clinical).I know this because HR has approached me (more than once) to ask if I’ve been experiencing any of the same issues reported elsewhere. I’m not *certain* what would happen with my position if he moves on (and it does look like he’s interviewing), but he’s not my first chair (first one retired). The thing that would suffer would be my ability to get funding, but so far external funding isn’t a requirement for my position (it would be for advancement). Obviously, it’s better for me to have it, so I’m working in that direction, and I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket (e.g., I’m also working on a small project with one of the other faculty in a different division that may lead to funding). But from the position of the Division (sans Dr. Ifix), having a phd to help bolster and monitor resident and medical student research projects is a plus (sponsoring these is a charge from the Department and most of the clinical faculty don’t want to invest the time) and I’m working for very cheap.  It’s a lot of “ifs”, but attempting to up-root my kids, potentially dropping their tuition remission, and all the other challenges you mentioned in addition to loss of the interesting research – it’s not worth it to me. Particularly since there isn’t a good place for me to land that I’ve been able to identify.

For my part, I continue to listen, brainstorm on alternatives, and generally remind Cathy just how damn good she is (and she is). I am sure she will survive. and thrive.





2 responses so far

More thoughts on Cathy (part 4): Answering Sam's question

Aug 29 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

The comments to parts 1-3 are very good. Go read them: here and here and here. One of the things that is clear to me is that there is a bimodal response to these posts, and to Cathy's situation in general.

One set encourages Cathy to look at her situation and make the changes she needs, because Dr Ifix is a sub-acceptable PI. The other set perceived part of the point that I was trying to make: she's already chosen. She's already looked hard at the problem and decided to stick it out. And, what she and I were working on is the: what's next. How to cope. How to make it better. How to survive. I share that here because some of those strategies spill over into other situations and useful. I am writing this because these are things I wish I had tried harder when I was at MRU and working with the chair from hell. Of course, it may not have made any difference in that situation, and things are very good, for me, now, so move along...

But the replies that encourage introspection and fighting complacency represent people who not yet, or who have mentees or trainees who have not yet, made the decision that Cathy has. And Sam's question, so aptly worded, about threading the needle? This is perhaps a subgroup? These are people who are suspicious that they might be entering or living a Cathy-like situation and don't know how to assess and decide, select and sort, and figure out: what the heck do I do?

So this post: please add your suggestions on what to do, how to decide?

To begin with, one cannot ignore examining the context, community and the general twirl in place and look around at one's situation. But, equally, if you do this every day, you will see only the ectoparasite on the bark of the tree, let alone trees or forest. Scheduled annual reviews with supervisors/bosses as well as with trainees help. But one should also do this with a good friend. Ask yourself (this from my dear friend Gloria, who did this for me 30 years ago):

  • What have I accomplished in the past year (6 months)? What have I learned and how have I changed?
  • What do I wish I could have done?
  • What would I like to accomplish in the coming year?
  • What is going to get in the way of accomplishing things? What am I afraid of?
  • What is my motto for the coming period of time?

Do not get bogged down in lengthy answers. Do not get mired in having to answer completely. Say what comes into your head (in a safe place). This is a place to abandon the project well before the asymptote. Write down your answers. Keep them. Go back and look at them.

Here is a website I like and use, called 10Q. It's set up around the Jewish High Holidays, but you don't have to be Jewish to use it. Here is their blurb:

10Q emails you a question a day for 10 days. Afterwards, you send your answers to the secure online vault. One year later, your answers are unlocked and returned and the process begins anew. 10Q turns 10 this year following a decade of over 50,000 participants.

You may want something that unlocks more frequently than once a year. But I like the structure, and it gives an opportunity for introspection for which, sometimes, it is hard to make time.



6 responses so far

Some follow up points (uh, part 3) to The realities of academic jobs in this less than perfect world (part2)

Aug 29 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

Anon had a good comment (here) that included:

Sure, everyone needs to decide for themselves what they are willing to put up with and how far is too far to compromise. But if this were my former trainee, I would be asking her, what, exactly are you getting from this position that you couldn't get somewhere else?

A postdoc is not and should never be looked upon as an end within itself. If Cathy is unable or uninterested in making the leap to PI after 5+ years of postdocing, it might be time for her to implement Plan B.

I started answering this in comments, and it grew into a blog post. So.. here you go. (this info is with Cathy's permission, with some details changed to hide identities).

Anon, your points are good. And they may be appropriate for some (significant) subgroup. But they may not be, are not, where Cathy is now. If Cathy was in her 30s and single and childless and generally responsibility free, yup, Plan B is in order. And even if she could hit two of those four, it would be ok. But she's not. She is in her late 40s-early 50s. She has teenaged children, and there are child concerns that would make moving more significant than just moving. She has a spouse who has a near ideal job, and one that pays very well. They are in a mid-sized mid-west city that suits both of them, and have a good network of friends and support and community. Needless to say there are not a lot of other academic games in town. She and I have talked about this over the years since she left my lab.

Further, Cathy is not a postdoc. She's a non-TT professor, with skills that do not immediately translate into industry. So The research is beyond interesting to her, its compelling and she has made a strong commitment to it, in terms of being able to Make A Difference In The World (which is something that is important to her).

So when she asks what she gets out of this, her answer is not just "a job", but "a job I really love, in a place I'm not willing to leave, with great benefits, both from HR and intellectual".

No position is perfect. None. I've had enough to know that is true. And the decision about when it is time to leave or leap or pull the trigger or even slink out of town in the middle of the night, is not just tough: it is a multivariate equation, with a matrix of personal weights that vary from individual to individual. I used to laugh (when I was young and foolish) at colleagues who said "I will only take a job in New York City or San Francisco". What kind of academic are they, I'd think? But now, I am not so quick. There are things that are important to each of us that means maybe we only want to live in Big City, but also there are lots of folks who only want to live in Small Town America. Hell, I changed jobs, as an academic, when the chance arose, to go live where my aged parents were so I could take care of them. I also know that the older you are, the harder and harder the moves get. Physically, psychologically and professionally. Let alone the burden of finding a job in your 50s.

And while the commenter, and others I respect, say that a post-doc (or non-TT position?) should not be an end in itself. I am not so sure. Yes, there is potential for abuse. Yes, such a position is not as secure, as well paid, etc. But there are people who do not want to be a Bigdog PI. Ever. They are content, for whatever reason that is different from you and I, to be an "extended postdoc", to be a research professor, to be a glorified tech into their 40s and 50s and 60s.

Part of the point of my post was that Cathy has already decided that the job is worth it to her. We had a long, long talk about this. We had a long talk about options. She is well aware that a non-TT job is not as secure as a TT job. I think that if a TT job was available, she'd jump on it with all she's got. But that's also assuming that any department would consider hiring a 48 year old or a 52 year old as a starting TT professor.

Part of my discussions with her, and these posts, are when that decision has been made, the decision to stay, what do you do next? It is a worthwhile effort to ask the question about staying, to look hard at stay or go, but we all have to understand that each person will answer it for themselves. And with that answer, my goal, is to figure how to make it work.


6 responses so far

The realities of academic jobs in this less than perfect world (part2)

Aug 28 2017 Published by under professionalism in science, Uncategorized


Part 2.

Part 1 is here. Probably reading part 1 first will help you understand the cast of characters.


One of Cathy & postdoc’s complaints is that Dr. Ifix lectures them on what they know and do best: how to write a paper (each of them has many more pubs than he does), how to test a hypothesis, how to organize a lab notebook, how to do a bibliographic search. I’m not saying that we all don’t have stuff to learn and improve on. But this is every lab meeting, every interaction.

Their meta-complaint was that he wastes huge amounts of their time, when they’d rather be getting either different input or be able to just get back to work.

So I asked them both a couple of questions at this point: How much time? Hours a day? Two hours a week? How much of a burden to plaster a smile on your face and sit through it? Is this the difference between a 20 min a day commute and a 40 min a day commute?

Then, why is he doing this? It is likely part of his insecurity. This is His Lab! He is a BigDog! He may be fixing <insert deity of choice here>'s mistakes, but he still doesn’t have that R01. He knows this. He wants an R01. He needs to be not just a triple threat, but an externally validated, successful triple threat. There are other Big Dogs in the hospital with whom he must cope. There are the ultra-big dogs who have a lab of more than 3-5 people. And that’s who he wants to be. And the idea that someone who works FOR him knows more than he does is not something with which (I am guessing) he can easily cope.

So what can you change? What can’t you change? What can you live with? I think a one hour lab meeting and a one hour personal meeting each week is not a lot. Just about everyone has at least that much burden. As a tech/postdoc/res asst prof, there is a place between antagonizing him and being a boot-licking sycophantic toady. The former will, in the short run, make him angry and unpleasant, and in the long run get one fired. The latter will in the sort make one irritable and unhappy, and in the long run get one fired.

So where from here?

But you can’t change his insecurity. You can’t make him respect what you know by insisting, in those meetings: I know this! I AM GOOD at this! and worst of all: I know this better than you. In fact, insisting like that will only make things worse, make him more defensive. No matter what you say about what you can do, he is not going to hear it. You have to speak the language he will hear.

Again: you must speak the language he will hear.

One of the things I was frequently told (by people who had some minor investment or affection for me) when I was working with the chair from hell, was “manage up” and “manage from below”. I had lots of trouble with this, as it felt like I was giving in to his problems. It felt like I was making all the compromise, and it wasn’t meeting half way, but me moving 99% of the way. My thoughts were: I wasn’t wrong, why did I have to do the things that this idiot wanted? It took a while to see that it was again, a case of: do you want this job? If you do, here are the things you must do to keep it, even if it feels like you are going 99%.

And that was a lot of what was going on for Cathy. She was angry and frustrated and not a little contemptuous of this jerk who had the power, but didn’t know the stuff.

Step one was to repeat I want this job. This is not as bad as the alternatives as I see them, as I have chosen them.

So we talked a lot about specific, small things to actually do. Concrete steps.

First, start with papers and weekly meetings. Dr I was not, and is not, going to be in the lab hands on collecting data. Not gonna happen. But he can’t give up enough control to even ask “what was done”, it has to be as if he did it.

My advice: each week, the meetings that happen with Cathy, or various small lab groups (Cathy & postdoc, techs, etc): never show up without a written agenda. Have a piece of paper with 2-4 bullet points. Fewer and it won't be the meeting, more and it will be overwhelming, and he will stray. Write them down, keeping people out of them, and stick to the science/logistics. That is don't assign people to tasks, or stray into areas he considers PI Prerogative. For example:

  • talk about intro for Paper B
  • discuss problem with bunny husbandry (impact on data collection).
  • Hours that the med student is working
  • Results for Paper A

One page, 2-4 lines. Hard copy.

Then, for each bullet point, an additional page (this is knowing that Dr. I likes paper copies of things, if not, this could be electronic). A list of sub-points that pertain to paper B. The premise of paper B, then results, graphs, or maybe a table. If you can work in the NIH words (premise, justification, innovation) do so. He'll see this. He'll get it. Not more than a page, laid out with sufficient white space and color coding and the works. At least 12 pt, if not 14. A copy for Dr I, and for every person in the room. Let him mark it up, and you add what he says to your copy.

For the husbandry problem it could look like:

  • Baby rabbits are being born dead
  • We got vet to autopsy, there is X problem (include picture of lung tissue?)
  • Solutions for this are:
    • increase humidity (upside: easy, downside: least likely to help)
    • change food (upside: easy, downside: expensive)
    • drug YYY (upside: most likely to work, downside: very very expensive for this many bunnies)

In short, manage the meeting to be about content. You can determine the content. Unlike the chair from hell, Dr Ifix didn’t need to talk about himself, he could stay on topic. And if he did wander, and did start lecturing on the difference between the materials section and the methods section, then let him do it. And do not let your body language say otherwise. Do not, as I mistakenly did, abruptly bring the discussion back to content. If you can ask a genuine question that redirects, do so. Dr. Ifix is not stupid, if you act or speak as if you think he is an ass, he will know that. And then you lose.   

If Dr. Ifix becomes angry or irritated or caustic or any of his other responses, you've lost. Period. Repeat after me: you are not going to win a fight with this man. If that feels like too much compromise, or too much giving-in, then maybe you don't want this job that much. I am not saying you have to sit on your pride, that you have to be subservient, that you have to be submissive. But confrontational will not work with this person.

This reminds of something from one of those leadership classes I once took, where they classified people (which is another set of objectionables, but here, it's a bit useful). One kind of person was "military". Military minded people have superior officers, to whom one listens and obeys, and grunts, whose job it is to listen to and obey you. While academic/hospital medicine is changing, there are still lots of people with this mindset. Such people are not interested in discussions. They are interested in having their orders carried out.

And as you work towards managing the meetings, start managing the manuscripts. Yes, Dr Ifix thinks he can write better than the postdoc. Develop a calendar for writing. Outline by this date, Intro by that one. Ask him to assign people to schedule. You can ask “may I do this part?” or even “I’ll do this part”. Focus on the writing, the paper, the content.  Make it clear that you are interested in the job. It may be clear to you, but you need to make it clear to him.

Now, in Cathy’s experience, this presented another problem. Dr Ifix  wouldn’t let anyone else do a first draft. And this became an issue because he wouldn’t get it done either.

On to part 3....

12 responses so far

The realities of academic jobs in this less than perfect world

Aug 25 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

A former postdoc, let’s call her Cathy, had ulterior motives, and invited me to come give a talk where she is now a research assistant prof (i.e, non-tenure track). She is in a hospital, not even a medical school, but one with a large research portfolio.

Cathy is bright and hard working. The time she was in my lab was successful for both of us, but more than five years ago. She left my lab for this job, even though I had money for a longer time, largely because of family and circumstance. I understood why she made the choice she did, and supported her. We’ve published a couple of things since then, and have stayed friends.

Five years into the new job, She still loves the specific science, and her position is less secure than tenured, but given her successes more secure than just another postdoc. But, but, but …

She is essentially a junior faculty in someone else’s lab. She is not The PI, or really a PI at all. The PI is a surgeon (danger Will Robinson) who actually has several different Important Things to do, including being a surgeon and division director and head of a research entity within the larger complex.

So Cathy invited me to visit and give a Big Important Talk and as a side effect, impress the heck out of Dr. I-fix-the-mistakes-that God-Makes. Unfortunately, Dr. Ifix was called into emergency surgery to save a life and didn’t make it to my talk. I did have a chance for a private meeting with him, but lots of time to talk with Cathy and another postdoc in the lab who wanted mentoring and advice.

The situation is a hard one. Dr. Ifix has a large ego. Dr. Ifix doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. He got a senior-ish K award, whilst faculty and now thinks he knows grantsmanship. He didn’t do a research fellowship, and has done some research, and has had some mentoring. But Cathy has more publications, experience, and the research chops. He just can't accept that.

There are lots of ways in which this makes for problems for Cathy. She’d be happy to be left alone and do the research, which is interesting, and challenging and all she needs. But, funding rears its ugly head, and Dr Ifix has yet to score an R01.

She showed me the proposal they sent in, and there were problems I could see off the bat. For example, a list of definitions of stuff like “rabbit” and “hopping” as part of Significance. There is a figure at the top of the Specific Aims, a figure that demonstrates a simple process that first year med students master. He thought R01's were 6 pages, and she kept saying, no they are 12, but he didn't believe her till the end. Then, he wrote about 3 pages of extra experiments the night before.

The complaint of Cathy & postdoc was that they can’t just write the proposals, do the work. Dr Ifix believes he knows better, and needs to manage everything and doesn’t have the time to do it, even if his ego wasn’t getting in the way of understanding what is good and fundable and publishable here.

So when talking with Cathy & postdoc, I started at the beginning: do you want this position? “There is no magic bullet that will turn Dr I fix into the mentor you want to have” I said. “Given who he is, do you want to stay here? Or is what you really want is to look for another position?”

That’s an important place to start. When things are not good, and there are limits on the fixability of the situation, ask yourself: do I want to bitch and moan, do I want to make it better, or do I need to move on? It's a cost benefit analysis.

Postdoc will move on. Inevitably. But Cathy can look at the situation, which involves a spouse with a not-movable job, children, and salary reality and local alternatives.

Then the next step is to understand what can change and what cannot change. This guy is not going to wake up and say: I have not appreciated you, and I am sorry and I am going to become a really good person and start really mentoring you today. In fact, if there are problems, Dr I fix is going to blame Cathy before he looks at himself. (contrary to what the song says). Getting angry, pointing out his mistakes, will have less than zero effect. It will only make Dr I fix angry and unhappy. If he puts a figure of a basic concept (hopping is up and down) in the middle of the specific aims page, and cannot hear that 1) this is a waste of space 2) irritating if not insulting to reviewers and 3) not some great and novel idea he has that will change grant writing ForEver, he is not going to hear anything about authorship, content, or things that Cathy actually knows and does well.

These are the problems. Are there pluses? Yes. In some ways Dr Ifix is not a bad guy. When Cathy has kid issues, its fine to come late, leave early. He thinks being a Mom is good, and admires her work ethic. The salary is good. Cathy perceives this, and was quite insightful at understanding what is good and what is bad.

Cathy, here, and each person in a similar situation, has to make the decision about where the point when you have to say “enough” is. So the first question is: are you there? Do you want to keep this job, if this is the best you can do, in the situation? Can I  tolerate this?

If yes, then you look at working with Dr Ifix as part of the job, like a long commute, living in a less than perfect community, a small apartment in a big city. The next step becomes: what can be made better? what can't? How do I preserve my sanity?

There are two next points. One, the general point about compromise, reality and not being either a superhero or an angst-filled YA protagonist who Fights the Establishment. The other is the more specific points that Cathy & I & postdoc discussed on how to make her situation work.

And those my friends, will be the next posts.

7 responses so far

Clarity of vision

Aug 24 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

The ability to see things clearly is cool water on a hot day. The ability to separate out one's own insecurities from the reality of science is hard, but valuable. Dealing with one's mentor takes a lot of both. Dealing with one's mentees takes both.

Some days I find it is the past mistakes, when I couldn't see clearly, that bother me the most, not the current issues. Why didn't I just X or Y or even Q.

But I didn't, and time flies like an arrow (fruit flies like a banana), in one direction. As a teacher in my high school used to say in busy crowded hallways: Travel, kid, travel. Move on, move on.


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Knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t know

Aug 23 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

One of the most valuable things in the world is knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t know. One of the most inadvertently self-destructive is making a mistake about what you know: Not knowing what you don’t know, and not realizing what you do know.

It is easy to think you know something. Sometimes it’s a big thing and sometimes a little thing. I remember, as a grad student, visiting Manhattan, with another grad student. We did it cheap – a bus ride crashing with a friend who was a postdoc at Columbia, a splurge for theater tix but walking and walking and taking the subway. On the last day, walking through Central Park, I had a feeling: I know New York. It felt good, and comfortable and exciting all at once. And my immediate next thought: idiot, of course not.

Sometimes when you are in a place, as a student, or a postdoc, or even a junior faculty you think you know it. Remember your undergrad institution? You thought you Really Knew It. Actually, US Universities try and promote that feeling, it encourages a sense of belonging and ultimately, donations. Of course, you did know things, about the major, about the classes, which bars were good for conversation, and which coffee houses were the most generous with real cream. Or quiet. Or glamorous.

You knew the profs. Who taught a good class, and who was an ass, at least the undergrads in their lab. You knew who had money, and who had power. Or at least you thought you did. Years later, you sometimes learned how superficial that knowledge was.

That’s the trouble with figuring out what you don’t know. You know a little bit and it’s easy to mistake that for knowing more. Sometimes you don’t have a clue about the neighborhood a block away from the subway stop. Or, you may have a sense that there was some place you only looked at, standing on the corner, glancing or studying, or even trying to memorize, down the block. But if you don’t get off the subway at the five stops between Here and There, you wouldn’t have a clue whether it’s one or 10 neighborhoods that you missed. You didn’t know if there were even stores, or restaurants, or dance studios in the neighborhoods you didn’t know existed.

In doing research, there are lots of places and things we’ve not seen. There are the content parts. In the olden days, one could major in biology, and taken a series of first or second year classes and get a sense of th breadth of biology. Now, I gather that half of the majors never had a botany class, or even evolution or ecology. Clinicians may have seen down the block to see the neighborhood called “research”. Smart ones say, ah, lots of buildings there. Irritating ones say, yup, big buildings of brick and I know what’s in them, because they’re just down the block from the place where I’ve been hanging. Good ones actually walk down the block.

[aside: yeah, yeah, Not All Clinicians, not all scientists, everyone knows an example or counter example. Folks, we are talking trends here].

My twenties-ish step-ish children think there is nowhere to live but New York. I admire them because they have built lives that they want to live. They work hard, and play hard and love life. And they think there is nowhere to live but New York City. When I pointed out that they had never lived, as adults, anywhere BUT New York, they said “yes, but I know”.

So take a moment and question what you know. It’s hard, but. I’ve written the concluding “but” here and erased about 16 things. But, you will have a richer life. But it will save your from being embarrassed. But you will make better decisions about the things you do know. What the heck. Yes those  "buts" are important, and justifications for trying to figure out what you don't know.

Me, I’d always rather know. Period.  Even if it’s ugly and embarrassing and points out my mistakes. Long held and long repeated mistakes. I’d always rather know.

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One more marvelous thing about my postdoc

Aug 22 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

I was off giving a talk elsewhere (and lots of thoughts about that to follow in the next few days). I came home to an ugly paper rejection from a mid-tier journal (don't bother resubmitting and don't give up your day job). It was a paper I thought was tight, and short, and good. It was the first paper of the new project.

And... of course followed the inevitable thought: I am a lousy scientist and They all know it.

Then I talked with my postdoc. Who looked at the reviews and his first comment was: I already hate reviewer one. And then he said: "these are silly comments". And then "hey, reviewer two liked it. And obviously the editor didn't." and finally "what shall we do next?"

And my spirits lifted and we shall resubmit.


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