Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012: the year I started to blog

This year, I decided to start blogging for a number of reasons. First, I felt that I needed some more practice writing. English is not my first language and I felt it was a good exercise to try and write short, consistent pieces every now and then. Also, 2012 was the year in which my lab-buddy left our lab and that left me feeling kind of lonely in the lab. Not only did I sometimes feel like I was the only one who was doing work in the lab, but I was also the only one with a baby in the lab. I was great to realize that online there was a whole host of people who were hardworking post-docs or faculty with babies, and to read how they do things.

Following DrugMonkey’s example, here is my (almost) year of blogging (the first sentence of the first post of every month):

March: When I was pregnant, I would sometimes call my mom and wine a little about how sick I felt, how tired I was and how much I was panicking about how things would be with a baby.

April: Expressing breast milk; it’s probably the least sexy thing I do on a daily basis, but I do it, just like I brush my teeth and do the dishes at night.

May: Recently, there were a couple of articles in the news talking about how breast feeding is not free at all, because women who breastfeed longer than 6 months earn significantly less, even five years after their baby was born, compared to women who breastfeed shorter than 6 months or women who formula feed their infants.

June: As I said before, I like reading books about addiction, so when I read on twitter about this new book by Marc Lewis, a recovered addict turned neuroscientist, I immediately ordered it.

July: Last weekend we were on vacation in a cabin somewhere in the woods, which was already nice and calming by itself (well, aside from the storm, power outage and flat tire…).

August: When I started as a post-doc I felt that this was the period in which it needed to happen: get at least one high-impact paper.

September: My first guest post at the Scientopia Guest Blogge can be found here!

October: Ever since I watched Twin Peaks (which was only like six years ago) I love David Lynch' stuff.

November: For some reason the past week has been full of pessimistic (or realistic) remarks about how bleak the funding situation is.

December: Recently, it seemed like every conversation I had was about how hard it is to get grants and how little money there is for science.

Thanks everyone, for reading and commenting!!

Monday, December 17, 2012

How much I like my advisor

Recently, I realized that I now love my PhD advisor more than ever. Even though during my PhD I have frequently thought otherwise. This graph nicely illustrates how liking my advisor changed over time.

Friday, December 14, 2012

On postdoc funding

Bashir has a post up about postdoc funding where he says that it’s weird that it takes a long time (~year) to apply for funding (i.e. the time between applying and hearing whether you’ve got the money) and that it’s hard that funding is rarely for longer than 2-3 years whereas the average postdoc length is more like >5 years. So you either have to stitch several grants together or (like me) be lucky enough that your PI supports you. I am currently applying for grant #5, the previous 4 I didn’t get. 

In the comments Drugmonkey suggests a system in which you can only apply once within the first year after getting your PhD. This is actually exactly the system that the home country funding agency has for handing out postdoc grants, and I don’t really like it for the following reasons:

First, the fact that you have to apply within the first year after your PhD, and the fact that this funding agency looks at CV (meaning: number of papers published) a lot, means that you should preferably wait as long as you can to apply to get as many papers from your PhD out. However, the funding agency also prefers it if you’re not yet at your host lab when you submit your grant, meaning that the only way around this is to stick around in your PhD lab for another year (or take a looooong time getting your PhD so that most of your papers are already published). I’m not so sure if that’s something you want to encourage.

Second, I think the transition between PhD and postdoc is the best time to switch fields or learn a new technique. When you choose the lab to do your PhD in, you may not be aware of your interests, or all the techniques that you can learn. Or you may switch interests during the course of you PhD. And during your postdoc you should form ideas about what you want to do when you have your own lab, so that doesn’t seem like a point in your career to make any dramatic changes to what you’re doing (or am I wrong? Please discuss!). However, if you need to learn a new technique (like I did, I only started doing slice electrophysiology during my postdoc), it’s very difficult to write a grant about experiments when you don’t have a clear idea what exactly those experiments are and how much time they will take. So a grant like this will either favor people who stay in their field and keep doing what they know or people who’s PI writes their grants for them. I’m not sure that is something you want to encourage either.

Also, being able to apply only once takes away the opportunity to learn from the review comments and improve your proposal in a next round.

Anyway, this comes from someone who thought that she had very strategically waited to apply for this grant until the last possibly option for her (a year after defending my PhD), because by then she had most of her papers from grad school published. However, then the government of the home country decided that this round of said grant was going to be the last, so all of a sudden many more people applied but they only handed out the same number of grants, meaning that the funding rate dropped to about half of what it normally is. Next round they said:”Haha we were just kidding, here is another round of this same grant”. So I may be a bit disgruntled about this.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The ongoing debate about the control group

So we’re almost ready to submit a manuscript but there’s one more experiment that needs to be done. It will be the experiment many people asked for when I presented my poster at a meeting, so if it shows what we hope it does it will be a crucial figure in the paper. This was the discussion I had yesterday with my PI:

PI:”I don’t think we need to run the control animals, just the [disease model] group and the treatment group.”

Me:”I think it’s wrong not to include the control group, because people will want to see if the [disease model] group performs worse than the controls”.

PI:”We have shown that multiple times, I don’t need to see the control group again”.

Me:”I think reviewers will disagree”.

--rinse and repeat, have this discussion five times over, PI still not convinced, but said that we would do the control group “but only because I wanted to”. Fine.

Today: PI comes into our office and says:”If we do the control group I don’t want you to include it in the paper or do stats on it because then we’ll have to increase our n.”

Me: repeat all arguments from yesterday, now with steam coming out of my ears because I don’t understand how we shouldn’t include the control group. PI doesn’t want to give in and makes me feel like we only run the group because I want to.

Me:”I think that’s wrong. Also, I think people would want to compare to what extend the treatment improves the behavior in the [disease model] group.”

PI:”Oh okay, I guess that makes some sense. You’re lucky I’m so easy to convince.”

I almost gave in because it made me so angry I couldn't convince my PI but I'm glad I stuck to what I thought was right. But this was almost another post about crying in science.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Kissing and hugging etiquette

Back in the home country, it is normal to kiss each other on the cheek three times (left, right and left again). You kiss when you see people you’ve met before (family, friends, and sometimes colleagues), you kiss when it’s people’s birthdays and to wish each other Happy New Year. Men kiss women, women kiss women but men only kiss men in certain circles (not necessarily just gay men, also good friends or fathers and sons). Really good friends hug each other or kiss each other only once instead of three times (which is why I think hugging is way more intimate than kissing each other on the cheek, I assume the average American will disagree). In other European countries people only kiss each other twice, which makes for an awkward kiss in the air when you’re used to kissing someone three times.

In the US it gets even more complicated, because here people hug each other instead of kiss. That makes for a very awkward make-out-like situation when you’re used to kissing people but instead you’re supposed to hug people. And it took me a while to find out that there is certain etiquette to this polite hug that Americans give each other. Always on the left side of the other so that your right hand can pat on their back, and not too much body contact, even though I thought that was the whole point of hugging someone.

It becomes even more complicated with European or South American friends here in the US; do you kiss each other like back home (and then do you kiss twice or three times?) or do you hug each other like in the US? Anyway, lots of awkward moments to be had.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Spending your emotions wisely

Recently, it seemed like every conversation I had was about how hard it is to get grants and how little money there is for science. At SfN this year it was all I talked about. But the awesome conference that I’m at now is completely shifting that. It is great to be here in so many ways:

First, I get to sleep and relax. Last night I decided not to go out and drink, but to go back to my hotel room at 11 and sleep. I slept in a whole stretch to the next morning. That hadn’t happened in 2 years and it was great. Also, there is some time to relax and I just spend an hour and a half at the pool reading a book. Anyone who has a kid realizes that that too is something that only happens every 2 years or less. 

Also scientifically this meeting is great. There are many good speakers and sessions, but what this conference also makes me realize is that I am someone who works in a certain field and knows things. For example, I know who the people in my field are and what they do. I realize what the questions are that the field has at the moment and I’m starting to think of ways to answer those. But also, other people are starting to know who I am. Yesterday, the most awesome science-thing ever happened, where I was talking to someone I hadn’t met before and at some point this person realized that ze was familiar with my graduate work. But not only that, my graduate work had “inspired the work that ze was doing now” (hir words). OMG this still makes me so excited and happy!

This meeting is also really interesting because there are so many senior scientists who show genuine interest and share advice. Not only did I get assigned two mentors because I won a travel award but I have also been talking to numerous other senior scientists. Talking to them does sometimes make me wonder if I’ll be able to pull it off to be a rock-star scientist when I grow up. The morning I left for this meeting I kind of broke down under the pressure of writing a paper and a grant in the same month, and worrying about funding situations and about Dr. BrownEyes’ paper and grant and on top of that trying to clean the house and do laundry in the 2 hours I had before leaving for this conference after a pretty crappy night of sleep. I cried and said I couldn’t take it anymore. And then I heard all these stories about women whose kids got sick or who went through the trouble of adopting a child from a far-away country. Would I be able to take anymore load on top of this? I don’t even dare to think about what would happen when BlueEyes would get sick in times like these when it is so busy. 

And that brings me to the title of this post. Because at the women’s lunch at this meeting the speaker was talking about how you can only use your emotional capacity once in a day. There is only so much energy you can spend on emotions, that you’d better spend it wisely, she said. So her advice was to use your analytical scientific brain to determine whether something is word worrying about, and if not, stop worrying about it immediately. 

So I am going to walk in the sun and spend my emotional capacity on being happy about all this exciting science, instead of on worrying about funding rates of such and such percentage!! And did I mention how glad I am again to spend time with people I met on twitter?!