Archive for the 'Postdoctoral Training' category

When your labors benefit the next person in line

Feb 04 2013 Published by under Mentoring, NIH Careerism, Postdoctoral Training

Fascinating topic raised by @rxnm_ on the twitts today:

Hard to be excited that my work helped someone else get money they can use to pay me to continue being a temp. #postdocalypsenow


I am not ungrateful and don't think PI's don't deserve grants on their own merit. It is just hard to feel it as a shared success.

This is one of the realities of the training arc. When you are a postdoc in a lab, part of what you are doing is servicing the grant game. Whether you realize this or not. You are going to be expected to work on topics related to the lab's current funding (in most cases, biomed, ymmv, etc, etc). In this your work will be included in progress reports and in future grant applications as well. Your ("your") papers will be used by the PI to support her reputation as a productive scientist. To shore up the appearance that when she proposes a given research plan, by glory some cool stuff will get published as a result!

But the NIH grant process can be lengthy. Submit a proposal in Feb/March for review in Jun/Jul...Council review in Sep...and first possible funding Dec 1. And we all know that means no budget, Continuing Resolution and good luck seeing your money until late Feb, early March. If the grant doesn't score well the first time, it must be revised in Nov, reviewed in Feb...Council in May..for funding in Jul. Eighteen glorious months.

So chances are very good that the hard work of the postdoc will end up in tangible grant support results for the laboratory that only the PI is going to "enjoy". Well, and the techs. And of course any more-junior trainees....and....FUTURE POSTDOCS aaaaarrrrrghhhhhhh YOUR COMPETITION!!!!!!! arrrgggghhh!!!! dammit!

How many postdocs think about the labors of the prior trainees when they enter a laboratory on a funded grant? And how they are benefiting from the work of those prior individuals? How many late-stage postdocs who are starting to feel pretty damn exploited when that grant based on their work, that they wrote half* of, gets funded just as they are leaving**? I wonder if any of them think about the grant that funded their first three years in the lab...

**leaving for a professorial job, no biggie. but what if there has been a great laboratory shrinking due to grant loss and the timing is such that the new grant comes in too late for the current postdoc?

37 responses so far

Why are postdocs so dismal at simple mathematics?

Dec 19 2012 Published by under #FWDAOTI, Postdoctoral Training

on the perennial topic of underpaid postdocs who want more money.

per usual, PhysioProf:

The only possible end-game to this continued simultaneous slashing of RPG budgets and inflation of the NRSA pay scale is (1) more layoffs of RPG-supported post-docs and (2) the few post-docs still supported on R01s sitting in front of computers playing Angry Birds because there is no money left after paying their salaries to pay any other research expenses.

To which some bonehead replies:

Quit viewing us as cheap labor and recognize that we are desperately scrambling for security. We’re getting older, forced to constantly move, write grants -and- do the actual research, all without job security, and you think a salary less than half of yours is fair? Well I guess you got yours so the rest of us can suffer.

Later on in the thread there is another comment suggesting that any PI who can't just pay their postdocs $3,000 more is incompetent.

The mind boggles.

There is a fixed pool of NIH money here supporting science. Actually it is shrinking. But whatever. If all the postdocs are paid more per year, there are going to be fewer post docs supported. Or, as PP points out, no money to do research. Perhaps these disgruntledocs are okay with the latter but they sure as hell aren't going to be okay with the former when it is them that is out of a job.

What gives these morons the idea that they would be magically exempt from the axe?

124 responses so far

Reviewing your CV by Journal Impact Factor

So one of the Twitts was recently describing a grant funding agency that required listing the Impact Factor of each journal in which the applicant had published.

No word on whether or not it was the IF for the year in which the paper was published, which seems most fair to me.

It also emerged that the applicant was supposed to list the Journal Impact Factor (JIF) for subdisciplines, presumably the "median impact factor" supplied by ISI. I was curious about the relative impact of listing a different ISI journal category as your primary subdiscipline of science. A sample of ones related to the drug abuse sciences would be:

Neurosciences 2.75
Substance Abuse 2.36
Toxicology 2.34
Behavioral Sciences 2.56
Pharmacology/Pharmacy 2.15
Psychology 2.12
Psychiatry 2.21

Fascinating. What about...
Oncology 2.53
Surgery 1.37
Microbiology 2.40
Neuroimaging 1.69
Veterinary Sciences 0.81
Plant Sciences 1.37

aha, finally a sub-1.0. So I went hunting for some usual suspects mentioned, or suspected, as low-cite rate disciplines..
Geology 0.93
Geosciences, multidisc 1.33
Forestry 0.87
Statistics and Probability 0.86
Zoology 1.06
Forestry 0.87
Meteorology 1.67

This a far from complete list of the ISI subdisciplines (and please recognize that many journals can be cross-listed), just a non-random walk conducted by YHN. But it suggests that range is really restricted, particularly when it comes to closely related fields, like the ones that would fall under the umbrella of substance abuse.

I say the range is restricted because as we know, when it comes to journals in the ~2-4 IF range within neuroscience (as an example), there is really very little difference in subjective quality. (Yes, this is a discussion conditioned on the JIF, deal.)

It requires, I assert, at least the JIF ~6+ range to distinguish a manuscript acceptance from the general herd below about 4.

My point here is that I am uncertain that the agency which requires listing disciplinary medians JIFs is really gaining an improved picture of the applicant. Uncertain if cross-disciplinary comparisons can be made effectively. You still need additional knowledge to understand if the person's CV is filled with Journals that are viewed as significantly better than average within the subfield. About all you can tell is that they are above or below the median.

A journal which bests the Neurosciences median by a point (3.75) really isn't all that impressive. You have to add something on the order of 3-4 IF points to make a dent. But maybe in Forestry if you get to only a 1.25 this is a smoking upgrade in the perceived awesomeness of the journal? How would one know without further information?

15 responses so far

PSA on Journal selection

Academic trainees should not be publishing in journals that do not yet have Impact Factors. Likewise they should not be publishing in journals that are not indexed by the major search database (like PubMed) used in their field.

43 responses so far

Expectations for trainee publication output

A question arrived about publication expectations for trainees at the blog mailbox recently.

I was wondering if you would consider a blog post and perhaps encouraging discussion on a related topic, on how do you evaluate your student/postdoc performance and how common is the 1 paper/yr "rule"?

At the outset I was skeptical that much use would come of trying to answer this because the real answer is "It depends very much on subfield and ultimate career aspirations, therefore broad sweeping pronouncements are of little value.". And this is true. But what the heck? I'll give you my thoughts from my point of view, no doubt some others will go shitnutz about how it is clearly different and maybe we can hash out the space of useful answers.

Some detailed stuff that I thought about, but often are not discussed thoroughly include:
- I always assumed that when people talk about 1 paper/yr it refers to 1 first-author paper but not in a top-tier journal (usually "best in the sub-field" journal, e.g. Org. Lett., J. Med. Chem., etc.)

Yeah. I think one paper per year is a pretty good general starting point. Emphasis on general. For trainees, I think this average will be lower, ditto if you only count first-author papers. But it is a pretty good target expectation for the central tendency. One first author per year in a "top tier" journal is a ridiculously absurd expectation for postdocs. Even one per year in a "top tier" journal as senior author is only possible for the very top laboratories and is therefore not the expectation for everyone. If you can do it, good on you, but it ain't typical. So if you are in a place where you think this is the standard for postdocs? please. I'm familiar with a lab that has probably one of the highest CNS counts ever and the postdocs do not hit one CNS pub per year as first author. They have not done so over the ~15 years I've been watching the lab's production. So anyone who does this out there in the whole postdoc population is the rare exception.

- How do you factor in non-1st author papers? Ignoring the effects of journal IF, would one 1st-author paper = two 2nd-author paper?

There is no direct relationship, I would argue. Non-substitutable quantities. No amount of non-first author papers makes up for not having any first-author papers. They are just that important in the minds of many people, including me. Conversely, the existence of some 2nd-Xth author papers is better than not having any, because more is better when it comes to publications on the CV. I suppose at some point there would be a balance point in which too many Nth author papers starts to subtract from the credit generated by the first-author list. It would be related to the thought of "why doesn't this trainee have more firsts if she is this experimentally productive?".

- Do people even consider anything greater than 2nd-authorship (i.e. having 3rd authorship is basically useless or not counted)? If so, does the level of the prestige of the journal change this perception (i.e. having 3rd authorship in PNAS is equivalent to a 1st-author in some 2nd-tier journal like Biochemistry)?

In my view, no, the Nth author on an article in a higher IF journal doesn't trump first-author in a lesser journal. See above, the Nth authorships count but I would say they are independent of the first-author credits. So within the sphere of Nth authorships, sure, the higher IF is better.

- How do you factor in the prestige or IF of the journal? Does publishing in Science/Nature/Cell count as having 2-3 1st-author papers in 2nd-tier journals?

Indubitably the CNS first-author counts more than several first-authors in lesser journals. One might even suggest that CNS first-author as a postdoc trumps infinity non-CNS first-authors. For some situations. There are those that assert that the presence/absence of very specific journals on the CV is the difference between round-filing an application for an Assistant Professor position and placing it on the long-list for consideration. I credit these assertions but would also point out that there are many perfectly acceptable jobs that would not have this absurd criterion.

- Do people take a time-average (i.e. as long as you get 5 papers in 5 years it's fine), or is having a regular output more important (i.e. would prefer to have 1 paper every year as opposed to 2 papers in 1st year and 3 papers in 5th year but nothing in between)?

I would say that it is only once one becomes a PI that it is ever reasonable to look at consistency of output. This particular example would not even be noticed, I would say. And even then it sort of depends on the type of work you do. I know of multiple types of work in my areas of interest (particularly human studies) that have years of data collection followed by a flurry of papers.

When I have recommended shooting for consistent output, being concerned with whether a manuscript submitted to Journal X at this point in the year will have a pub date from this year, etc it has to do mostly with motivation. Most of the time the pace of submission for a postdoc is not going to be easily controlled. The experiments have their own timeline. Things come up. New things need to be done to wrap up the paper. Then there are the many sources of delay in the review process. There is no reason to obsess about 2 in first year / 3 in fifth over meeting a strict rate of 1 per year for 5 years.

The clock is ever ticking, however and since one cannot go back and fill in missing publication-years, one is best keeping one's eye on the prize. If you haven't had a paper in a two year span, well maybe it is better to dump out a quick one, give up on hitting the highest possible IF, etc. You have to make this judgement thinkingly, of course. And no, there are no formulaic answers such as my correspondent seems to be seeking.

Balance. That is my best suggestion.

25 responses so far

A query on your publication practices

This one is mostly for the PIs in the audience but I'm sure trainees will have experiences to share as well.

What fraction of the people who have spent time in your laboratory have ended up with authorships on published papers?

(Including students and techs)

30 responses so far

Repost: Put NIH Row on Your Itinerary

As those of us in the neurosciences prepare for our largest annual scientific gathering, we should attend to a certain little task to assist with the odds of obtaining NIH grant funding. Part of that process is a long game of developing interpersonal relationships with the Program Officers that staff the NIH ICs of interest to our individual research areas. Many scientists find the schmoozing process to be uncomfortable and perhaps even distasteful.

To this I can only reply "Well, do you want to get funded or not?".

This post originally went up Nov 12, 2008. I've edited a few things for links and content.

One of the most important things you are going to do during the upcoming SfN Annual Meeting in Washington DC is to stroll around NIH row. Right?

I have a few thoughts for the trainees after the jump. I did mention that this is a long game, did I not? Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Scientific trainee pay is pretty dang good right now so stop complaining

I don't know what started the round of "I only got paid X when I was a trainee" on the twitts but I noticed nobody was adjusting for inflation.

Using the US Dept of Labor calculator, I came up with the following.

For an initial frame of general reference, $30K in 2012 is equal to $22K in 2000, $17K in 1990, $11K in 1980 and $5K in 1970.

The grad stipend when I started graduate school was equal to $15.6K in 2012 adjusted dollars. For us, the NSF fellowship was a considerable upgrade and the NSF graduate fellowship from that time is equivalent to $22.6K in 2012.

Interesting. So how are today's trainees doing?

The current NSF stipend is apparently $30K, a 33% increase in adjusted dollars compared to what it was when I was a graduate student. Looking at my old training department, they are offering a 35% increase in stipend over what they were offering when I started, again, in constant dollars.

I also happened to spend some time on NIH training grant funds so I can also report that my starting postdoc salary was $28.6K in 2012 dollars. The current NRSA base is $39.3K, which represents a 37% increase.

The bottom line is this. We're in crap economic times and graduate students and postdocs are getting paid at least 33% more than I was, even going by inflation adjusted dollars.

Stop whining about your salary.

165 responses so far

Is an NIH intramural postdoc worth it?

In your field, does it come with any particular value? Good or bad?

Is there something about the "NIH name on the CV" that advantages a trainee?

Are there critical connections of lasting worth? Or perhaps critical career opportunities- the K22 or the chance to stay intramural for ever?

Are there other Universities or research institutes that are more valuable?

Or are you best off just going lab by lab, with no particular concern for the host institution?

A letter to the blog wanted to know and I can't offer more than anecdotes and a dose of "it depends", both of which are not helpful. Any thoughts, Dear Reader?

25 responses so far

Open Thread: PIs v Postdocs and other assorted yelling at each other

In case you absolutely must continue the 300 comment thread which developed under

Alternate careers" is just the next exploitation strategy?

you can have at it here.

11 responses so far

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