Get ready to (Neuro)rumbl!

(by Dr Becca) Sep 26 2014

It is peak faculty search season, folks, and you might be wondering what you can do to ensure that the beautiful foliage of your application package is seen by as many eyes as possible. Well, look no further than Neurorumblr, your one-stop shop for all the hot gossip on all the neuro-related jobs out there. There is a sweet interactive spreadsheet with important deadlines and links for each job, and space for you to add any info (say, if you hear interviews have been scheduled) you might have as the season progresses. In addition, there's a growing list of conferences, a discussion forum, and an impressive list of links with advice of all kinds.

Neurorumblr is the brainchild of Adam Calhoun, and boy do I wish this thing had been around when I was on the market! So go give him a high-five, and then...go rumbl!

3 responses so far

Guest post: how to get out of uncomfortable situations

(by Dr Becca) Sep 17 2014

Today we have a guest post from good friend of the blog, MyTchondria, who has an SfN-related story to share. There is a lesson here, people.

Why Namenzia is My Hero

As SfN14 approaches, I eagerly await the silence that will envelop my building as the neuroscience masses flock to DC for the gathering of the hive mind.  I’ve attended a lot of SfN meetings but this year I couldn't bring myself to do it financially or emotionally.

This would have been the first year for me where the impact of #RipplesofDoubt had settled in for me and, coupled with my massive loathing of Nature’s year of multi-tiered failures of misogyny, bias and arrogance, I had sincere concerns I might end up in stabby-pants prison.

The stories of assault, harassment and bullying of women in science this year were written about with such pain and eloquence that their truths were undeniable for those of us who had experienced these things in the field, bench and in our professional social lives. I know quite clearly that I have been part of the problem - guilty of taking my history and putting them into a tight little ball deep in my innards that would surely cause cancer one day.  Making the guilt worse was what turned out to be my totally unfounded hope that harassment would end with my generation of female scientists. These hopes were soon dashed when a neuroscience trainee detailed harassment at SfN in a new lawsuit filed this summer against her mentor and other BSD scientists.  All very depressing things. But I find hope in last years #SfN13 banter and wanted to share the utterly hilarious and totally reflexive behavior of last year’s “Official Winner of #SfN13*” @Namenzia.

One of the most compelling and annoying hobbies for new Twitter folks is trying to put a pseudonym with an in real life person (by the way, don’t do this). Last year, I sat at a table as a particularly drunk follower tried to figure out who I was. I told her where I was, but in the time that it took her to find ‘me’, Nam had taken my seat as I squashed in with @gertyz.

Said drunken scientist arrived on the scene and proceeded to plop on @Namenzia’s lap. No sooner does her arse hit his quad then Nam immediately jumps up with both hands in the air. The unceremoniously dislodged woman was left holding the chair for dear life as Nam professes at the top of his lungs “I WANT NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS!!” He then dashes into the crowd, leaving @gertyz to applaud.

This, my friends, was a master class on how to deal with inappropriate interactions.  There is no doubt it won’t work for all interactions, I get this, but damn, it sure was brilliant.

*Official Winner of #SfN13 selection was made by a jury of two scientists at the time of the event. Therefore ‘scientists say it’s true’. Alert the press and update your CV, Nam.

32 responses so far

Orange is the new BRAIN

(by Dr Becca) Sep 05 2014

Now that my fall semester is officially under way, I feel like it is only appropriate to officially look forward to that blissful week in November when I get to cancel class. Neuroscience, baby! And since 2010, with the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience comes BANTER, a little party I made for you and you alone. No really, it will just be the two of us. Is that creepy?

Just kidding, it will be you and 149 of  your closest internet friends! This year, we are super lucky to be sponsored by Faculty of 1000 and F1000 Research, so if you happen to meet one of their folks at the party, be sure to show them your deepest gratitude!

So if you're in DC for the meeting, do stop by Churchkey after your socials or lab dinners (we've made it late to avoid conflicts as much as possible). Tweet me (@doc_becca) to let me know you're coming, and follow the attendee list so you can see who you might run into. More details below in this awesome flyer I made. No printing! Social media only.

Oh, but um....there may be t-shirts.


See you in Washington!

One response so far

ScienceCareers to postdocs: Think happy thoughts!

(by Dr Becca) Jul 22 2014

Quite a week for ScienceCareers, eh? After their editor or whatever doubled down on his sentiment that moral indignation over the objectification of an oppressed group on his magazine's cover was just so BORING (tweets now deleted, can't imagine why), we now get this: "Happy Thoughts May Help Postdocs Handle Stress."

Are you for actual serious with this?? The article describes a new study--and I use this word lightly because it's based on a one-time survey of 200 postdocs--that found less anxiety and depression in folks who self-reported more frequent positive emotions. So, not only do we have a clear correlation vs. causation issue here - who can say that it was the positive emotions that prevented the development of clinical symptoms and not vice versa - but it belittles the many real stressful problems that postdocs face that cannot simply be "thought" away.

The real money quote is this:  "When we suggest that people need more positive emotions in their lives, I know it sounds kind of frou-frou, but it’s actually a very simple practice.” OK. a) I don't think you know what frou-frou means (frilly or ornamented, not fluffy or insubstantial, which is what you probably mean and you'd be right). b) No, it is not simple. Postdocs have personal, financial, and professional stresses on a daily basis. They are busy as fuck. To suggest that watching a sit-com or going for a run can change that reality not only presumes they have time for something like that, but has very strong undertones of "stop complaining and just change your attitude."  This is a dangerous message to convey to a population of people who are already worried about being smart enough, published enough, networked they have to worry they're just not happy enough? Uh, yeah, they're probably not happy enough. But it's not because they aren't caught up on the latest season of Veep

One final note - this isn't really a new idea at all. People have been trying to convince us that thinking about being happy will make work less stressful for almost 80 years (White et al, 1937)!


9 responses so far

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is not an actual trail

(by Dr Becca) Jul 03 2014

Last week, J and I returned from a much needed getaway in a red mustang convertible. We spent the weekend cruising the beautiful landscape of eastern Kentucky, stopping occasionally to sample a delightful local spirit or two, and then took back roads all the way home to NJC. It was a great road trip. America the Beautiful, etc.

If you enjoy 1) whiskey; 2) learning things; and 3) seeing beautiful rolling hills and horses, I highly recommend a visit to Bourbon County, KY, in a mustang convertible if possible. In preparation for your trip, here are some things that might be good for you to know:

1. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is not an actual trail, it is a marketing concept. If you're imagining that there's some 5-mile stretch of winding Kentucky road somewhere that would allow you to zig-zag from distillery to distillery in an afternoon, you're highly mistaken in your imagination. In reality, there are two primary clumps of distilleries - one in Frankfort, and the other in Bardstown - about 45 min apart from each other (I suppose "Kentucky Bourbon Clumps" did not quite pass muster with focus groups). Moreover, the KBT officially consists of only 8 distilleries that collectively produce most of the American whiskeys you've probably heard of. However, there are plenty of smaller craft distilleries in the area as well, and some larger distilleries, like Buffalo Trace, that for whatever reason are not officially linked to the KBT.

The yeast room at Four Roses

2. It is pretty much impossible to get drunk (or even driving impaired) while visiting the distilleries. Probably one of the first things you'd think when planning a trip to the KBT is, OMG all that bourbon! How will we get around? Should we hire a party bus or something? But you needn't worry. They have it all figured out already. First, you can't go to a distillery, do a tasting, and leave - you have to take a tour, which lasts anywhere from maybe 30 min to an hour. The tasting comes at the end, and you'll get maybe 2-3 TINY tastes, so that all in all for one distillery you've probably had a total of 1/2 an oz of liquor, max, which is a third of a shot. Then you have to do it all again at the next distillery, which is a minimum 15 min drive away plus waiting for the next tour to start, so you're looking at around at least 1.5 hours in between very small amounts of alcohol. Relatedly, you will probably get to fewer distilleries in a day than you imagine. We did 3 the first day and 2 the second.

3. Visit a mix of large and small distilleries. Distilleries come in all shapes and sizes, and the five-and-a-half we went to each gave us a different experience. I say "and a half" because we tried to go to Woodford, the Lexus of Distilleries, but it was swarming with people and had over an hour wait for tours, so we bailed and went to Four Roses instead. The "Hard Hat Tour" at Buffalo Trace was by far the most informative about the whiskey-making process, and is great if you really want to see everything and get a kick out of cool old industrial stuff (like me). They also do this cool trick with their White Dog where you rub it on your hands a couple of times and smell the different elements each time it's exposed to the air. Wild Turkey has a brand new facility that completely lacked character and their tour was kind of boring, but their gorgeous new visitor center somewhat made up for it (see pic below).

View up to the "Angel's Loft" or something at Wild Turkey.


4. For tasting, the small distilleries are way better. We had this vision that at all the distilleries we'd get to taste some rare new thing that was fresh out of the barrels, but at most of the big distilleries it was like, "here's a taste of our most widely available product." Yawn. In contrast, the small distilleries delivered. The Willett distillery, which makes Rowan's Creek, one of the best bourbons on the planet, was our favorite. Our tour group was small and our guide seemed genuinely happy that we were there. They also have the most stunning still I think I've ever seen (pic below). And as a bonus, we got to taste their hot off the presses 2-year rye, which was easily the best thing we drank all weekend. It's not sold anywhere, and we took home two bottles. We also visited Limestone Branch, a one-building operation so new their bourbon hasn't even aged the requisite 2 years yet, but we had a great visit with the distillers, who were super down-to-earth and shared their "Sugar Shine" line of spirits with us.

The gorgeous still at Willett, inspiration for their bottle shape.

All in all, a truly awesome trip.  And now, alas, back to science.

3 responses so far

Fuck "descriptive"

(by Dr Becca) Jun 13 2014

It's been a shitty few weeks. After a gazillion paper rejections and two funding "fuck you"s, all whilst working to make a June grant deadline, I do not have the energy to write my full on manifesto right now. But I would absolutely love it if someone could post in the comments a compelling argument for why "descriptive" is considered an a priori flaw in scientific inquiry. Isn't all science descriptive?

If you have ever uttered (or written) the words "You have to have a hypothesis. It doesn't matter if you're right or wrong," then what you are saying is that it is valuable to know the outcome of the experiment being proposed regardless of what that outcome is. And if that's the case, then why does there need to be a hypothesis in the first place? Why is it not enough to say, "I want to see what happens to X when an animal does Y" or "I want to know how groups A and B are different on measure C"?

A hypothesis is supposed to be an educated guess, right? But if there's no data out there to base that guess off of, what's the point of making something up?

45 responses so far

Does a "services rendered" model apply in academia?

(by Dr Becca) Apr 10 2014

So this is in response to a bit of a kerfuffle that, as far as I can tell, started with Dr24hours on twitter Tuesday night, picked up again Wednesday morning, and resulted in a  post over on his very worthwhile blog Infactorium called "Unpaid Work in Academia."  It concerns the exceptionally common scenario in which a trainee--be it an undergrad, grad student, or post-doc--moves on to the next phase of her career before every last data point she collected has been published. But it should be published, and so who's going to do the work to make that happen? In a nutshell, 24's argument is that if said trainee is somehow forced to write up all remaining manuscripts after she is no longer receiving a paycheck from the PI who supervised the research in question, then that trainee is being exploited.

I have a number of different thoughts about this.

First of all, yes. Nobody should be forced to do anything they don't want to do and that isn't required by a contract that they've signed. But let's talk for a second about the plausibility of being forced to write a manuscript. The only way I can imagine that this is something that actually happens in academia is if former PI threatens not to write any letters of recommendation for the trainee until the papers are in and published. That is a super shitty thing to do as a PI, and personally, I do not see this approach working well for either party in the long run.

But my primary question is, who needs to be blackmailed into writing up their own work?

I take issue with 24's implication that manuscript preparation is something you do for your PI, like a service rendered. While technically, yes, the legal tender direct deposited into your checking account each month is loosely related to the fact that you show up to pipette every day, and your PI is the closest thing to a boss you have, this work is also yours. Every time your name appears on a paper, all those western blots and recordings and dose-response curves define who you are as a scientist. To be clear, I am not arguing that these things are rewards or currency or take the place of real money. But they are important nonetheless, and they are not things that you simply give to your PI in exchange for US dollars, either. These things are a part of your narrative, and if your goal is to stay in academia, your narrative needs to have a bunch of papers in it. You should want these papers to be published, and care about them representing your work in the best way possible.

The question of whether you should be paid to work on these papers after you've formally started a new job is an interesting one, and I'm not sure there's a clear answer. If your job while in PI's lab was to carry out a project, was writing the manuscript a part of that job (meaning it was your responsibility to get it done while employed), or do you consider your salary/stipend to be payment only for whatever you happened to get done during your official employment? Because with the exception of technicians, academic positions are not hourly, so how do we define what counts as "above and beyond?" Grad students, post-docs, and PIs work (a lot of) non-traditional hours. Putting aside the issue of whether stipends and salaries should be higher in general, where do you draw the line? Should we be demanding time-and-a-half for any work we do outside of business hours? Should we put a monetary value on every assay and ANOVA? Some of my best science ideas have come to me during spin class (seriously, I have no idea why) - can I ask my university to reimburse my gym membership? Who do I charge for my time spent writing peer reviews?

My point is this: for better or for worse, what constitutes "work" in academia is nebulous (especially re: the concept of "percent effort" on grants, but that is another topic for another day), but if you're planning on staying, it is in your best interest to get yours done (it is also in your best interest to have a conversation with your PI on mutual expectations). Whether you push to get it done before your paycheck stops or do it after (while you are technically on another time clock) doesn't change the total amount of work you do or the amount of money you will earn for it, because that is simply not the pay structure of academic science.

(As an aside, I'll share this: I wrapped up all my post-doc publications before starting my TT job, and was then criticized in my first departmental review for not publishing anything, which could have only happened by writing up leftover post-doc data. So it is sometimes in your best interest to actively "save" some things to work on during transition times).

If, on the other hand, you are leaving academia, you have to be OK with leaving your work behind, too. Tell your former PI "Sorry, this isn't my work anymore. Give it to someone else." If your PI threatens to withhold LoRs if you don't do it, then that PI is most certainly a dick. Can't argue there. But it is also not worth buckling to your shitty PI's demands in order to get that LoR--you have to let it go. You have a new job and new supervisors who will write you LoRs in the future, and unless you were literally chained to the bench for the last few years,  you should know some other senior academic folks who could write an LoR in place of your PI.

Like in many other areas of life, I think there's a healthy dose of good faith to the way academic relationships work. I would never use my position of power to blackmail trainees into doing their work, but I also hope that they will work hard because they care about what they do. If they don't, I would much rather they just hand it off anyway - it's most likely best for everyone.

35 responses so far

Yep, it's hard - a guest post from iGrrrl

(by Dr Becca) Apr 03 2014

I love when excellent blogging leads to more excellent blogging, and I don't even have to do any of the blogging myself! Inspired by the amazing Potnia Theron's thoughtful post on the relationship between rejection and depression in academia, the brilliant and wise iGrrl had some thoughts of her own, which she has graciously put into sentence form for all of us. This is important stuff, folks. Read.


I had previously worked as a tech at the school where I matriculated, and one of my former PI's collaborators came up to me at the 'welcome new grad students' reception with a Why are you here? expression on his face. When I told him I was entering the neuroscience program, he said, "Ah! Getting your union card, I see." He was so right about the end product, but the process? When we're long past it, it's like childbirth: you forget how bad it is.

Being a student again was a shock. I'd gone back for my PhD at 30 after a peripatetic early adulthood. The intensity of that first year, the sense of how high the stakes were, of being molded into something very new and different, can be easily forgotten. I hated the more senior students who dismissively said, "It's fine, you'll get through it." I figured they'd just forgotten, like childbirth. I swore on a stack of Stryer; Kandel, Schwartz & Jessel; and all those journal articles I'd photocopied to read for class that when the next crop of grad students came in, I wouldn't feed them that dismissive line. I would tell them the truth: First year of grad school sucks, and is hard. Plenty of them thanked me for it, for recognizing that what they were going through was insane and hard.

And that's true, but the rest of graduate training is hard, too. I won't argue for a kinder, gentler PhD program. To survive in academic science, you have to learn to be in charge of your own education, to realize that you will be judged harshly for the rest of your career (grant review sheets, anyone?), etc., but you also have to find ways to deal with the self doubt and depression. It may be that not everyone experiences it, but most admit to experiencing some level of both after their second beer.

We joke that the only praise in academe is the absence of criticism, and that feeds into the problem that smart, competent people often have, which I'll call the anti-Dunning-Kruger effect. True Imposter Syndrome is the more extreme example of this, but it's that constant feeling that you're not measuring up, but you're not exactly sure what the standards are, or that they are unobtainable. There is no better way to for smart people to get depressed and self-doubting, and when the culture is that your work is your life and your self, research setbacks have an outsized impact. This changes with time and perspective, as Potnia Theron recently blogged, but when you're in the middle of it, well, let's just say that most of us deal with cortisol excess.

I spent years in grad school where I was angry all the time. The anger was a mask for depression. Lab work did not go well my first three years, and I had to switch projects. Having to throw away all of that work = life = self was infuriating and depressing. I started looking for other avenues to get any kind of positive feedback, so I developed on-line relationships in a tech community and wrote a terrible novel*, but those activities were 'distractions' from research. The combination of oblique comments from others and my own self scorn (born of buying into the work = life = self) just made everything worse.

I would never have finished my PhD if I hadn't taken two weeks completely off, visiting friends who were not scientists, learning to scuba dive, and hiking Oregon mountains. I went back with a sense of perspective that work was work, that the love of science was a part of my self, but not the whole thing. I was reminded of the world outside the hermetic bubble of graduate training, and that perspective allowed me to get out from under the anger and depression, buckle down, and get my union card.

*After writing a novel, writing a dissertation wasn't scary. So, no, I don't consider it a wasted effort w/r/t my time in grad school.

14 responses so far

Does it matter what your Ph.D. is in?

(by Dr Becca) Mar 17 2014

My Ph.D. is in Neurobiology. But when I applied to grad school, I applied to both neuro and psych programs, not really giving much thought to what my diploma would read a few years down the line. As it turned out, I was accepted to several neuro programs and zero psych programs, so my fate was sealed early on. But would it have made a difference in my career trajectory?

My general feeling is that there's quite a bit of overlap among the life sciences. In grad school, it was not at all uncommon for a single lab to have grad students from multiple programs -neuro, pharmacology, molecular bio, etc. Friends from my grad program have gone on to faculty positions in various departments as well. But despite the seeming flexibility of a Ph.D. in biomedical science, I see a lot of hand-wringing these days in applicants over whether they should get a degree in X vs. Y. Obviously, coursework will vary from program to program. But after that, how you define yourself as a scientist is up to you and the research you do through your graduate and postdoctoral work. To me, that factors far more into whether a search committee considers you a good fit than the official field listed on your degree.


29 responses so far

Very competitious*

(by Dr Becca) Mar 06 2014

I have a very clear memory of one of my postdoc lab's post-SfN debriefings--all of us bleary-eyed, with piles of coffee-stained, semi-legible notes in front of us (this was before iPads, can you IMAGINE???). We went around the table, each informing our PI (who had obviously been too busy hob-nobbing to see talks or posters) about the exciting things we'd learned. The thing that struck me at this particular meeting was the student who said, "well, there are a lot of people studying [broad trendy thing that she'd only recently become interested in], which is BAD."

But is that actually bad? I mean, I get it, nobody wants to be scooped. But are there not enough research questions about broad trendy thing to go around? If you realize that some people are already working on the basics of a hot new topic, maybe this is your chance to jump ahead and do the cool stuff! Get a little creative, right?

I realize this isn't everyone's attitude - some people love competition. The secrecy, the anxiety, burning the midnight oil to ensure that they are first to publish the Big Story. But as a new-ish PI, I don't have the time (the tenure clock ticks louder every damn day), the money, or the person-power to get into these kinds of races and risk losing. I would rather spend my time thinking of new questions to answer.

One of my grade school teachers had us do an exercise in which we had to imagine we were alone in a room with nothing but a paper clip. She had us write down 10 things we could do with the paper clip. Then 10 more, then 10 more. As you might imagine, the last set was far more creative and interesting than the first - demonstrating to us that our brains are capable of nearly bottomless ideas, when they're forced to keep thinking.

There's an idea that's been kicking around in my head for a few months, as I've tried to envision a way to get my grants funded by more than just NIMH. I've been pretty excited about it, as it would represent a real new line of research for me and the lab, and the plan has been to submit an R21 for the June deadline. I knew that in a general sense, it was a bit of a hot topic, but I think I didn't realize quite how SMOKING HOT it was until recently, and I'll admit, my heart sank a little when it hit me how many groups that are bigger and richer than mine are working on similar questions with similar approaches. Waaaaah, I am not as original as I thought!

But then I said to myself, self, is that all you're capable of? If you feel this ruins your whole plan, perhaps you're not meant to branch in this direction after all. Stop moping, and work your way down the idea list, which is only going to get more interesting and awesome. Science is the paperclip exercise, on repeat forever. If you think you're out of ideas, I'd say it's time to turn over the reins.

*I realize this is not an actual word, but for some reason when my brain thought of the word "competition" it made me think of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," and there you have it. I kind of like it, actually.

9 responses so far

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