Archive for the 'Postgraduate Training' category

NPRonNIH continues: The Postdoc

More from Richard Harris at NPR:

Too Few University Jobs For America's Young Scientists

That's because if you want a career in academia, it's almost essential as a postdoc to make a splashy discovery and get the findings published in a top scientific journal. Hubbard-Lucey is working on an experiment that she hopes will be her ticket to a professorship — or at least to an interview for an academic job.

Whether she succeeds or not, she's part of a shadow workforce made up of highly qualified scientists who work long hours for comparatively little pay, considering their level of education: about $40,000 a year.

Potnia Theron wishes to discuss this last assertion: NPR story on Postdocs: what is your salary? edition.

And, I am glad she found a position in NYC. I am sure she loves The City. But $47K is a lot more than median salary in the United Sates right now. Maybe its not enough to live in NYC, but it is elsewhere.

I have an older post for your consideration of what trainee salaries look like compared to when I was a wee trainee. My conclusion that scientific trainees enjoy a 30% or more bonus in inflation-constant dollars over my day was not of any comfort to the Millennial types, apparently. So good luck with your point, Potnia.

Anyway, you'll be happy to know the subject of the NPR piece came out okay in the end:

That first conversation took place in May. Later in the summer, while Hubbard-Lucey was still working on her scientific paper, she heard about a job where she could make good use of her Ph.D. She wouldn't be running a lab or working in academia. But she would be advancing cancer research at a nonprofit institute. She got the job. And now, she says, she's happy with the new path she's chosen.

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Way to blow the lede, Richard Harris. Way to blow the lede.

42 responses so far

A simple question (or two) on training graduate students

Sep 13 2014 Published by under Postgraduate Training, Tribe of Science

This one is directed at my Readers who have supervised graduate students through the PhD in their laboratory.

Have you ever, at any point, thought that you should not train more than replacement value (n=1)?

If not, why not? What influences in your life have shaped your decision to train graduate students? What is YOUR purpose here?

69 responses so far

Exposure IS training

Aug 29 2014 Published by under Postdoctoral Training, Postgraduate Training

from a Twitt:

Let me explain something to you trainees. You are not undergraduate students anymore. You are not given a syllabus, quizzes and office-hour responses to "Is this going to be on the test" or "What do I need to know".

When your PI gives you a draft of a grant or a manuscript for you to read and provide feedback, this is not ONLY about asking for your help. This is about training you in how this person accomplishes these tasks, what manuscripts look like in nascent form, how a grant should be structured and how you incrementally improve an academic work.

The PI can lead you to water but it is not her job to force you to drink. It is YOUR JOB to drink the water.

Exposure is training.

Another one of the twitts identified a problem I had in writing papers as a postdoc. It boils down to the fear of showing your PI something that is less than perfect lest she think that you are a fool, incompetent and nowhere near the scientist-prospect that you hoped was her impression of you. I used to delay and delay showing anything to my PI until it was looking really good.

Let me tell you a little something. PIs do not lose respect for trainees for sending them crappy drafts. At the worst, they shake their heads ruefully over the shitty training you received in your last stop. Mostly, they just saddle up to train you how to write a paper their way.

They lose respect over other things. A lack of any sign of a manuscript. You can say you are "working on it" but the PI has no concrete way to distinguish the fact you are in Draft XXVII of a master work from the scofflaw who hasn't done much more than write a title page into a Word doc. So show them something.

Another thing that PIs lose respect for trainees over is a failure to make changes in response to what the PI has said or shown them. This is key. You are being trained. If a PI tells you to do something, bloody well DO IT. Don't spend weeks bitching to your spouse, fellow trainees and the Internet about what a taskmaster the your PI is. Just write, edit, change, fix. DO IT.

There are ways to really get on the PI's good side. For example when the draft is on the PI's desk for editing/review? There is no reason you can't also be working on it. And updating your PI on your new drafts.

Write more. I think Comradde PhysioProffe had a blog post or extensive comment on this some time ago in a prior discussion of the topic. Trainees are often blocked from writing because they are thinking to themselves how to be as lazy efficient as possible. "I'm not sure what she wants here so I need clarification before I write a whole bunch of stuff". Or "Last time I wrote four pages and she didn't use any of it in the manuscript!". PP's point was that sometimes you have to write something out to see for yourselves that it is the wrong direction to go in. It is not wasted effort, it is part of the process. The science communicator types preach on about being willing to "kill your babies". I believe this is similar. Do note, however, that often enough some major passage that you decide to leave out of the present manuscript comes back as useful material for the next manuscript (or grant or review article). So writing is rarely a total waste in this business.

44 responses so far

Professor Isis on Trainees and Writing

Aug 29 2014 Published by under Postdoctoral Training, Postgraduate Training

At Isis the Scientist blog:

My perception is that graduate students and postdocs have a skewed view of what constitutes scientific productivity. It is very easy at that stage to feel “productive” by going to the lab and generating data because, typically, they feel confident in the experimental skills they’ve established by the time they’re ready to write a paper. Writing is a new skill that they are often less confident in. ... People are more likely to engage in behavior that provides them with immediate, positive feedback. It’s easier to start a new project than to write a paper about a finished one and sitting on a pile of data provides a (false) sense of productivity.

Go Read.

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There is also a Twittscussion:

29 responses so far

"I'm sure we can put it on the Training Grant..."

Aug 28 2014 Published by under Academics, Postgraduate Training

LOL

18 responses so far

Guest Post: Gender Sensitivity in Neuroscience is a Work in Progress

This is a guest post from someone who wishes to remain anonymous.

 


 

This week, the Society for Neuroscience opened its website allowing attendees to book their hotels for their annual meeting. The timing was couldn’t have been worse for the Vanderbilt neuroscience community given that on Monday, a former graduate student of the program leveled a disturbing series of accusations against neuroscientist Aurelio Galli. At least 10 of the 60+ alleged events of harassment occurred at SfN meetings. The year before the defendant claims she was subject to harassment, The Society for Neuroscience named Vanderbilt their ‘Neuroscience Training Program of the Year’.

 

In a 20 million dollar harassment suit filled in Nashville, sordid details were laid out of alcohol fueled harassment both in the lab and at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meetings in 2012 and 2013. The student, a recovering alcoholic, alleges she was subjected to unwelcome and embarrassing commentary from Galli about her perceived lesbianism, her sex life and her looks both in lab as well as in front of male professors.

 

Vanderbilt fired back saying they had investigated the claims and would vigorously defend themselves.  The medical center director and the chancellor were named as defendants, as were Mark Wallace, the head of the Vanderbilt Brain Institute and National Academy member and Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology and Physiology, Roger Cone. Wallace and Cone were included for their failure to act on the student’s claims and protect her career.

 

For those outside the field, the neuroscience community seems to be holding down opposite poles in gender and racial equality. The leadership of both the Journal of Neuroscience and the Society are enviably gender balanced in the last decade. SfN was one of the first national societies to initiate meaningful career-long mentorship for women and minorities. Thanks in part to this commitment, women constitute 50% of most neuroscience graduate training programs. The national attrition of women from academic science is also evident in Vanderbilt’s neuroscience program which has an all male leadership and > 30% of its training faculty as women. The vast majority of these female faculty members are assistant professors.

 

Sending a female graduate student from a heavily male influenced neuroscience graduate program to SfN would present many sources of potential conflict. The first SfN meeting the student claims she was harassed at was in New Orleans, a city proud of its tradition of asking women to show their breasts for beads.

 

The female graduate student alleges that at SfN, her PI required her to attend a cocktail party on a boat where senior male scientists “became intoxicated and were allowed to make romantic and sexual advances on the students”. <I’ll insert my editorial opinion that news does not surprise me especially in light of the report this week from Kate Clancy that the majority of women in her survey of field scientists say they have been harassed with more than 20% reporting that they have been assaulted.>

 

Why would anyone attend boat party or any other kind of party where alcohol is flowing freely and fun is a much more clear objective than science?   For many trainees, this is often the only chance they have to spend time talking to well-published PIs. Presumably, at a party like this, senior investigators would be amenable to laid back conversations with trainees providing a rare chance to judge the character of potential future mentors.

 

These parties are the products of the bygone era of much larger gatherings held a decade or more ago by men who were SfN officers and investigators. Hosts had ample institutional ‘slush’ funds and open bar was the norm. The fabled parties hosted by former Emory Psychiatry chairman Charlie Nemeroff were more or less the height of partying for many members.

 

While at Emory, Nemeroff managed to get millions in personal wealth by consulting for drug companies while also studying those drugs using funding for his lab from NIMH. This income presumably enabled him to host these lavish events. Nemeroff’s parties would often devolve into factions that went skinny-dipping, participated in drinking contests and unwelcome ass grabbing, and yes, accomplished some important networking.

 

From the Venderbuilt lawsuit, “networking” was the reported benefit Galli touted as a reason for the trainee to attend the boat party. Indeed, Galli trained at Emory from 1993-1995 while Nemeroff was there, so these kinds of parties probably did help him advance his career. The expectation that a female recovering alcoholic would likewise benefit underscores a clear cultural clash that needs to be addressed by both the Vanderbilt community and the Society for Neuroscience.

30 responses so far

Your Grant in Review: The Ideal Personnel Lineup

Excellent comment from eeke:

My last NIH grant application was criticized for not including a post-doc at 100% effort. I had listed two techs, instead. Are reviewers under pressure to ding PI's for not having post-docs or some sort of trainee? WTF?

My answer:

I think it is mostly because reviewers think that a postdoc will provide more intellectual horsepower than a tech and especially when you have two techs, you could have one of each.

I fully embrace this bias, I have to admit. I think a one-tech, one-PD full modular R01 is about the standardest of standard lineups. Anchors the team. Best impact for the money and all that.

A divergence from this expectation would require special circumstances to be explained (and of course there are many projects imaginable where two-tech, no-postdoc *would* be best, you just have to explain it)

What do you think, folks? What arrangement of personnel do you expect to see on a grant proposal in your field, for your agencies of closest interest? Are you a blank slate until you see what the applicant has proposed or do you have....expectations?

22 responses so far

The Birds and the Bees, academic version

Some guy has written a blog post asking "Is it morally acceptable to hire postdocs?"

This is not an absurd question on the face of it and one of his points appears to be that hiring postdocs is done in preference to hiring longer-term staff-scientist type people.


Hire permanent researchers instead of postdocs. This I think is closer to a fundamental resolution of the problem. Rather than hiring a short-term postdoc by dangling a future faculty job in front of them, it is far more fair to hire a researcher permanently with a salary and benefits adequate to their experience. Although the current funding system is not particularly suitable for this – obviously, permanent researchers should be paid by the university not by grants – it can be done. A permanent researcher also becomes a great asset for the lab as they accumulate valuable skills.

I agree that if you can manage to do this, in preference to a series of 3-5 year cheap 'trainees' doing the same job, this is a morally superior place to be. Totally.

The blog post starts, however, with the following figure

sourced from Schillebeeckx et al (2013) in Nature Biotechnology.

See how the production of new PhDs each year leads to an ever-increasing disconnect between the number of available PhDs and the number of faculty jobs? So yes, there is an increasing body of postdocs being exploited and not being able to get the faculty jobs that they started graduate training to obtain.

BUT THEY DIDN'T GET DROPPED OFF BY THE STORK OF SCIENCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

They were made. Intentionally. By faculty who benefit tremendously in their own careers from an inexpensive, unbelievably hard working, young and less-distracted, deluded and optimistic workforce.

Faculty who, as it happens, are unbelievably motivated to come up with excuses why their continued overproduction of PhDs year in, year out, is not any sort of problem.

You know, kind of like any sort of Western subpopulation which advocates family sizes of 8, 15 or whatnot can't find any sort of problem with overpopulation.

And kind of like the US Baby Boomers stopped talking about overpopulation the second they realized their comfy retirements were gonna depend on a lot bigger working population behind them, paying the taxes that they couldn't even be bothered to pay in their own heyday.

But I digress.

The point is, that this blog post contains a big old howler:

One might object to this: Isn’t there the same problem with PhDs as with postdocs? In my view, the problem is not the same. I believe that entering a PhD program in natural sciences is not a commitment to an academic track, whereas entering a postdoc is, in most cases. Most jobs outside of academia do not require a postdoc experience, so a postdoc definitely narrows down one’s options. In contrast, a PhD generally widens the options. So, in my view, most PhDs should not go onto the academic track. But in general having more educated people in the non-academic world is good, especially given how many people do not believe in evolution or what idiots oversee science in Congress. A more detailed discussion of this subject is a topic for another day.

HAHAHAHAAH!!!!!!

Riiiiiiigghhhhhttt.

Bog-standard excuse making that I hear from every damn participant in a graduate program that simply cannot bear to see that their habit has been to exploit cut rate labor. At first they simply refused to admit that there was any overproduction whatsoever. Then, when the evidence became overwhelming, they clutched the excuse of "alt-careers" and "general good" like a man going down for the third time grasping a life-saver ring.

It's laughable and pathetic.

One might even venture, immoral.

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p.s. I don't blame people directly for participating in this crappy system we are in. It demands that PIs exploit people to survive in the grant-funded rat race. Having a lab based exclusively on the work of ever more expensive career TurboTechs and Staff Scientists is a path to disaster. I grasp this. But for Glory's sake people! Stop pretending it is something it isn't. Stop pretending that your lab's arrangements are totally free of exploitation but those other aspects of the system, over there, are immoral and evil.

56 responses so far

Thought of the Day

Jun 12 2014 Published by under Postdoctoral Training, Postgraduate Training

Once you understand your PI is a data addict and your role as a trainee is a codependent enabler, things go much better.

5 responses so far

Your Grant in Review: The F32 Postdoctoral Fellowship Application

We've previously discussed the NIH F32 Fellowship designed to support postdoctoral trainees. Some of the structural limitations to a system designed on its fact to provide necessary support for necessary (additional) training overlap considerably with the problems of the F31 program designed to support graduate students.

Nevertheless, winning an individual NRSA training fellowship (graduate or postdoctoral) has all kinds of career benefits to the trainee and primary mentor so they remain an attractive option.

A question arose on the Twitts today about whether it was worth it for a postdoc in a new lab to submit an application.

In my limited experience reviewing NRSA proposals in a fellowship-dedicated panel for the NIH, there is one issue that looms large in these situations.

Reviewer #1, #2 and #3: "There is no evidence in the application that sufficient research funds will be available to complete the work described during the proposed interval of funding."

NRSA fellowships, as you are aware, do not come with money to pay for the actual research. The fellowship applications require a good deal of discussion of the research the trainee plans to complete for the proposed interval of training. In most cases that research plan involves a fair amount of work that require a decent amount of research funding to complete.

The reviewers, nearly all of them in my experience, will be looking for signs of feasibility. That the PI is actually funded, funded to do something vaguely related* to the topic of the fellowship proposal and funded for the duration over which the fellowship will be active.

When the PI is not obviously funded through that interval, eyebrows are raised. Criticism is leveled.

So, what is a postdoc in a newer lab to do? What is the PI of a newish lab, without substantial funding to do?

One popular option is to find a co-mentor for the award. A co-mentor that is involved. Meaning the research plan needs to be written as a collaborative project between laboratories. Obviously, this co-mentor should have the grant support that the primary PI is lacking. It needs to be made clear that there will be some sort of research funds to draw upon to support the fellow doing some actual research.

The inclusion of "mentoring committees" and "letters of support from the Chair" are not sufficient. Those are needed, don't get me wrong, but they address other concerns** that people have about untried PIs supervising a postdoctoral fellow.

It is essential that you anticipate the above referenced Stock Critique and do your best*** to head it off.

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*I have seen several highly regarded NRSA apps for which the research plan looks to me to be of R01-quality writing and design.

**We're in stock-critique land here. Stop raging about how you are more qualified than Professor AirMiles to actually mentor a postdoc.

***Obviously the application needs to present the primary mentor's funding in as positive a light as possible. Talk about startup funds, refer to local pilot grants, drop promising R01 scores if need be. You don't want to blow smoke, or draw too much attention to deficits, but a credible plan for acquiring funding goes a lot farther than ignoring the issue.

28 responses so far

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