Happy New Year!

Thanks everyone for following me around! I’m glad that you could find the place alright. I’m still settling in, but I wanted to get the New Year started off over here.

I have cut-and-paste my old posts from LabSpaces, but (unfortunately) I have not been able to bring along the comments, which were generally super useful. My apologies to all the folks that left such excellent comments.

the following is cross-posted at LabSpaces

There is no one reason that I am leaving. When I joined LabSpaces, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. At first everything was great. The people were fantastic, I made some new friends, and I felt like there were a lot of interesting commentators that I hadn’t been able to talk with before. But, like others I have been feeling to feel a little unsettled recently. I just feel like there are some things that aren’t working out as I had thought they would. In any event, I’ve decided to try flying solo. I would like to thank Brian for giving me a shot in his group, and I wish him and everyone at LabSpaces the best. I will, of course, still stop by to say hello.

Have a great new year!

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wimminz in academia answers!! (archived from LabSpaces)

originally posted 14 Dec 2010

A while ago Hermitage organized a baby-free Q&A about being a woman in academia. That technically describes me (female, academic), and I have agreed to answer the 4 questions that she gathered from her “muffins” (her words, not mine Dr. Isis!). The only rule: I will not talk about babies AT ALL! So here goes:

1. How do you command the attention, and respect, of men in academic settings (e.g. classroom, conferences, faculty meetings)?
I don’t know that I have ever thought about “commanding” attention. I just do my thing and let things go as they will. I am not a shy person, which certainly helps. It is really important, I think, to speak up. You need to ask questions, give talks, etc. That way, people have a chance to appreciate your smarts. I ask hard questions (respectfully). I know that my colleagues respect me. I earned that respect, just like everyone must, IMO. I guess the short answer is: I ignore people that don’t want to pay attention to me and get shit done. Eventually folks realize that I am smart and effective and they ignore me, well, I’m not the one that is any worse off.

I’m not sure that this answer is very helpful. But the more I think about it, and other succesful women academics, I have never seen any of them do anything to command attention or respect. But they had all earned it, without having to ask.

2. How should women dealing with a two-body problem handle assumptions that their career is secondary to their partner’s?
I have nothing to add here, but that won’t stop me! I did not have a two-body problem, as my SO left the bench after grad school. I guess that I would say probably it depends a lot on who is the “assumer”. If you have a supportive partner than who the fuck cares what others “assume”?  I would add, though, that in the faculty search we are conducting right now all of the two-body issues (that we know of) have a male trailing spouse. 

3. What would you like to see from tenure-track and not-yet-tenure-track menfolk? How can they pitch in?
I guess that I would be nice if there were more of “that guy“. The one that calls the old white d00ds out when they are being asshats*. There is only so much that I can do myself, because of limited energy and political considerations.

4. How do you deal with insinuations that you were only chosen for a position/award/etc because of affirmative action?
I have actually had folks bring this up to me. It was not a secret that my dept. was under pressure to become less old, white and male when they hired me. But you know what? I DON’T CARE. I have the position, I have gotten the awards, I publish the papers. If others want to spin their wheels getting all upset, then so be it. This will not affect me.

It seems to me after going through all of these questions that most (1, 2, 4) are related to self confidence at some level. I remember realizing, as a 1st year grad student, that the “most succesful” folks in my program and dept. weren’t the ones that sat quietly in the room. So I started talking. I was terrified of asking “stupid” questions. But I got over it. Fake it to make it, I guess. Now I’m confortable standing up for my ideas and contributing to the scientific discourse. And I think that has helped me to earn what respect I have as a n00b on the TT.

And there is my 2 cents. If there are other wimminz out there, please feel free to add your views! And go check out the answers from the other “panelists”!

*I feel like there was another post on this topic, maybe from Abel Pharmboy (?). But I can’t find it now.

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the chalk talk (archived from LabSpaces)

originally posted 11 Dec 2010

In a recent post, I threw out a few tips regarding the academic job search. In the comments, Odyssey raised a super point:

I’d like to emphasize the importance of the chalk talk. If you don’t nail it, you’re screwed. It’s really, really important to show you’ve thought about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to try to fund things.

This was followed by requests for me to write a post about what goes into a chalk talk. I love it when I get input on topics, so of course I’m going to oblige!! But first you have to go read PhysioProf’s excellent post on this exact topic. While you are at it, you should read his other posts on the job search. And also go visit drdrA at Blue Lab Coats. There are a whole host of fantastic posts on the job search, interviews, negotiating, etc. Read them all!

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

 

Alright then. So, after your reading you will understand that the chalk talk is much different than the job talk. And in many cases, even more important. Job talks can be practiced and perfected. But you can’t fake a chalk talk. It is one of the best ways to separate the top applicant from all the others. The chalk talk is your chance to convince the faculty that not only have you done well (in the past) but you have a real plan to be succesful in the future. And that you have really, really thought about how you want to run your own lab.

Going into the chalk-talk, you should be prepared to go through your first R01 application (but you knew that from your previous reading, right?). Based on my experiences, you should actually have reasonable plans (with timelines) for 2 R01 applications. You need to be able to demonstrate that you have thought about how graduate students and postdocs will have projects that will get your shit done. And that you know how to split these projects up into Aims for grants that will be fundable. Make it clear that you have thought about the timeline to get preliminary data, publish papers, etc. in order to be able to submit competetive grant applications.

Be prepared to answer these kinds of questions (in addition to attacks of your science, as in CPP):
-What will your first graduate student work on?
-What are the first papers that will come out of your lab? (hint: they better be preliminary data)
-When do you plan to write your first grant?
-Who would want to fund your research? (NIH? which institute?)
-How is your field? What makes your research unique in your field, and how can you compete against established labs (including your postdoc mentor)?

OK, assuming that you have thought about all of these things, what do you actually do when you are standing in front of the room? Everyone will have their own style, of course. I have seen 10-15 chalk talks (not including the ones I have given), because at my postdoc institute anyone that was interested could go to the chalk talk. The most common way to fail is to get defensive with the questions, or otherwise be an ass. So don’t do that. Always be polite and answer every question with data and logic, no matter how “mean” it is.

This was my strategy: Before the chalk talk, I wrote the “title” of three projects across the top of the board. Each of these was an R01 (some more developed than others). Below each title I wrote 3-5 Aims. At the beginning of the talk I spent 5 min recapping the highlights of my postdoc research that were most important for what I wanted to talk about. My first “grant” was based largely on my K99 (clearly fundable!). I added a couple of Aims that I could see being the basis of the follow up R01. I also highlighted aspects that I could submit for the fancy foundation fellowships. My second application had a reasonable amount of preliminary data to support it. The third was less developed, but I had a few unpublished observations that were the key data. When it was time to start, I launched into the first project: experimental approaches, pitfalls, alternatives, what I expected to find, etc. This went pretty quick, because it was already funded. Then I started in on the second grant. This almost always took the rest of the hour, so I almost never even got to #3, which was OK because I think the main point is that I had thought about it. (I was actually freaked out about this, but several people told me that I did a super job, so it was apparently OK).

There were always a lot of questions. One of my current colleagues told me that they “threw hardballs right at my head”. So be prepared. I actually really like these kinds of audiences, and my postdoc had given me plenty of practice. So I had a lot of fun. But it was intense.

Anywho, I hope that clears up the chalk talk. If I missed something, you know where to find me!

Posted in tenure-track OTJT | Tagged | 1 Comment

today I had to fire someone (archived from LabSpaces)

originally posted 2 Dec 2010

Today I had to fire someone. Well, actually I had to tell one of my lab peeps (let’s call him Al) that they would only have a job for a few more months. This is not because Al sucks. Al helped me get my lab up and running and, though not a rock-star, has been solid. No, Al did not do anything wrong.

But I had to let Al go. Because the grant that was paying for Al is running out of money. And I was faced with a choice. Between keeping Al around or taking on another grad student. I thought hard about this, and I really think this is the right decision of my lab. Al was helpful in starting out, but the grad students I am considering are smart and motivated. And they can get on training grants.

So there you have it. I told Al because I wanted him to have as much time as possible to find another gig. But it sucked. It is the first time I have had someone in my office fighting to hold back tears.

I need a beer

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the joy of the interview (archived from LabSpaces)

originally posted 29 Nov 2010

We are entering the season of the job interviews for folks that are looking for a tenure-track job this year. Just 1 year ago -almost exactly!- I was myself on my very first interview. So, as a service to folks going through the interview process this year, including our very own LabSpaces Aces, Dr. Becca (WOO HOO, Dr. Becca!!), I decided to share some survival tips*.

The TT job interview is usually  2-day ordeal. Over the course of the interview you will give a seminar to the dept., talk to many faculty members and perhaps give a chalk talk. You should get an itenerary before you visit so that you know what to expect. The first day will usually start between 8 and 9 am (depending on if someone takes you to breakfast). TIP #1: Every interaction is part of the interview. From the first moment that you start interacting with the department arranging travel, in fact. So don’t be a douche! Don’t be rude to the secretarial staff, don’t blow off random student interactions in the hallways, etc.

In all the interviews I went on, your first meeting will be with the Dept. Chair, who will talk to you about the dept. and university environment and perhaps show you some lab space.This is very exciting, but don’t get too worked up. You have a long day ahead! You seminar “job talk” will usually be on the first day. TIP #2: Give a fantastic talk. Practice it in advance, and get feedback from everyone you can. Especially people that have sat on a search committee recently. It is also good to get some old-timers to give you feedback. There will undoubtedly be some of these in your new dept., and they vote! Sometimes, the deadwood old-timers may throw around a lot of weight. Your job talk may also be used to judge your potential as a teacher (unless you are on an interview where you have to teach a class. I’ve heard of these, but have no experience with them whatsoever). So make sure it is clear, logical and easy to follow. The job talk is slightly different than a normal seminar. It is not just about data. Your job is to get the faculty excited about your problem, your approaches and YOU! This may be the only time you get to interact with some of the people that will be voting on the hiring decision. Spend time on background to set up the “big picture” of your research and why it is awesome. Folks are probably going to be sitting through a lot of these talks, so make yours memorable (in a good way). Tell a story that gives me a sense of what you are interested in doing and how you approach your science. Do not try to beat me into submission with data slides. Show me how your career so far has set you up to be succesful. BE EXCITED ABOUT YOUR WORK! And most importantly, whatever you do: TIP #3 DO NOT GO OVER TIME. In fact, end your talk early (aim for 45-50 min). You want to give everyone a chance to ask questions. The more questions, the better. Questions mean that your audience is engaged and are interacting with you. Win!

TIP #4: Bring water. Seriously, you will be talking for 10-12 h straight. Very few people will offer you anything to drink. I carried a 1L bottle and was still totally dehydrated by the end of the day. You may also want to bring some snacks. or Gu. I am not kidding. The job interview is like a marathon – it just keeps going. Also, you probably won’t get to eat much lunch. I mean, there will be food for you. But you will also be talking to someone over lunch-maybe even a whole group of grad students. So don’t expect to eat much. I was in the middle of training for a marathon when I was on interviews, and it sucked!

When you are going from office to office for the 1-on-1 interviews, your job is to show them that you will be a good colleague. You don’t necessarily have to already be an expert on their work, but you have to be able to have a good conversation. The may ask you about your seminar or go straight into what they work on. I know some folks spend a lot of energy reading everything from everyone in the department. I didn’t do this. I figured that I can talk about science with anyone, so I didn’t do much interview-specific reading. But I am really comfortable asking questions about all sorts of random things. If you need some background, then read away. TIP #5: do not look at your watch/clock. I know you want to stay on time, but this is not your problem. It is the responsibility of the person you are speaking with to get you to the next place on time.

The chalk-talk can seem intimidating, but it is the most fun part of the interview IMO. About 75% of interviews that I am familiar with do a chalk-talk. These are informal presentations to the faculty (and sometimes others) about your future research directions. They are usually on day 2. I highly recommend that you DO NOT bring slides for your chalk-talk, even if you are allowed to. Your goal in a chalk-talk is to show the committee that you have thought about how you are going to organize your lab and funding. In my field, a common framework is to lay out the aims for your first 1-2 R01 applications (One of my interviews told me to be prepared to talk about 4-5 proposals!!). Be prepared to discuss how the projects will be split into graduate student projects. A common question I heard was “what will your first rotation student work on?”. The audience will interrupt you to ask questions that challenge your approach, background, etc. The most important advice: TIP #6: DO NOT GET DEFENSIVE. Even if the questions are very aggresive or even hostile. Be receptive and responsive to criticism but stand up for yourself (respectfully). Try to control the room so that you don’t get off topic, but don’t be crushed if you don’t get to everything you want to talk about. It is more important to show that you can interact with the other faculty.

During the course of your interview you will be asked many, many times if you have any questions. TIP #7: ask questions! But use some common sense – this is not the time to start negotiating for startup. It is appropriate, however, to ask about things like environment (Do you collaborate with anyone in the dept.? What about other depts. in the university? How are collaborations viewed wrt tenure decisions? Is there a faculty seminar series?) or shared resources (can I get access to the fancy machine? How is it maintained? Can I see it? Is is ridiculously expensive?) or grad students (are they good? Are the admitted directly to the dept. or an umbrella program? are there training grants?). It is important that you determine if you can be succesful at the place you are visiting.

TIP #8 Have fun.This is a rare opportunity. You will have many smart people that will spend 20-30 min focused exclusively on you and your work. Besides the interview, this is a networking dream! So try to relax and have some fun with all the attention Smile

 

 

*OBVIOUS DISCLAIMER: these are based on my own experiences, or of those people I talk to. Your experiences may vary. Please feel free to add in tips that I mis in the comments!

 

PS: I am sure that there are a lot of other great posts on interview strategies out there. But I didn’t have time to track them down. Please link in the comments! Much appreciated.

Posted in tenure-track OTJT | Tagged | 1 Comment

women in academia Q&A (archived from LabSpaces)

originally posted 17 Nov 2010

In my trainee days, I was known to show up to random events for the free cookie/donut (product show, anyone?). But I was never a big attendee of the various workshops/panel discussions/etc. handing out career advice. Mostly because they always ended up spiraling into a place of either a) things I don’t care about or b) things that seem like common sense. And it just seemed like too much of an investment for a mediocre cookie.


OK, I admit it: I was the one that came in, took a cookie, and then just left.
Whatcha gonna do about it?

ANYWHOOOO, A while ago, Hermitage wondered why it was that all “women in academia” workshops/panels/etc always ended up focusing on how to balance your work with having babies. Now, I love babies. I have one of the most cutest and most awesomest of all time, speaking objectively. But there are a lot of things about being a woman in academia to worry about that have nothing to do with babies. And, there are a lot of women that don’t want to have kids. So, Hermitage has organized a panel of female academics (including me!) to have a baby-free Q&A session online. The basic idea, as I understand it, is that you will all submit questions at her place, she will compile and choose 4, and then the panel will answer them on their own blog. Sort of a mini-carnival. So, grab a cookie and head over to submit your question(s) – as long as they have nothing to do with babies!

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are you writing a tenure-track job application? (archived from LabSpaces)

originally posted 22 Nov 2010

I’ve been pretty busy this last week, mostly because I have spent a LOT of time reading job applications for the TT postion in my dept. I’m probably getting more sleep than Dr. O, but still. This has kept me from having time to come up with anything reasonable to post*. So, for your enjoyment, and because I can’t help myself, I have compiled a list of some things that have stuck in my head from all this application-reading. Consider it an extra addendum to Odyssey’s excellent advice on how to stand out in a pile of applicants (with a slightly more rant-y tone). My brain is a little too bruised and exhausted from the workout this past week to write coherent paragraphs. So, I am going to do this bullet-list syle.

WINNING

  • Research statements less than 3 pages long. Trust me, your work is not so complicated that it requires 8 pg of single-space type to get the point across. All the best applications I have seen are ~2 pages.
  • white space
  • Links to pubmed abstracts of publications in the CV pdf. So handy!
  • Summary paragraph at the front of the statement.
  • reverse chronological order
  • judicious and logical use of bold

FAIL

  • Two (or more) separate research plans. Choose one already!
  • A table of contents for your application. Why are you trying to crush my spirit?
  • Publications listed at the very end of the CV (or separate from the CV). Srsly, put the things I care about most first. For a basic bio/medical position like my dept., I want to know about publications and funding. There are no official rules about what has to be in here or in what order so use the space to put your best foot forward.
  • every other sentence in bold or italics.
  • unformatted CV. Are you even trying?
  • CV at the end of the 50 pg application.
  • comic sans for labels of figures in research statement. Really!??
  • cover letters that mention how you fit so well with the dept., then list examples from outside the dept. or school.

 

 

*If you don’t think this is reasonable, well…I guess I don’t care. If you want, drop me an email/comment with a “reasonable” idea. If CPP can ask for topic suggestions, maybe I can too?

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