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Thursday, December 26, 2013

End of 2013

Just like last year,  here is my year of blogging: the first sentence of the first post of every month. 2013 was a year in which a lot happened: my PI decided to move (but we could stay), my husband got a fellowship which enables us to move back to the homecountry, where I found a job too, and we welcomed a new addition to our family! Right now that new addition to our family is napping, while I am purchasing our plane tickets to return to the homecountry, which means our adventure as post-docs in the US will soon come to an end. It's nice to go home, but there will be a TON of things I will miss about living here - something for a different post some other time. Not to mention the hassle of moving an entire family + acquired stuff across the Atlantic...

JanuaryNothing says back to work after a good nice vacation like a good spell of the post-holiday blues.

FebruaryI was tied to my electrophysiology rig for the past three days and completely missed the #postdocalypse hashtag on twitter.

MarchThe other day I talked to another post-doc who is in hir fifth year and about to leave the lab. 

AprilThere's a bunch of things going on that I would LOVE to blog about, but for several reasons I have decided not to.

MayBefore BlueEyes was born I knew I wanted to give breastfeeding a try, but I didn’t have any particular goals in mind.

JuneThis morning I got the dreaded email telling me that I'm not invited for an interview for the important home country grant I applied to.

JulyWhenever we go back to the homecountry, I’m excited about all the things I can eat therethat are hard to find here in the US. 

AugustI really appreciate that my parents tried to raise us with gender-neutral toys.

SeptemberA while back I wrote about pumping milk at work and the other day I got an email from a reader asking me the following:

OctoberMy homecountry is getting ready for Sinterklaas, which means lots of people need to buy toys and the large toy stores send these big books full of ads to people.

NovemberThis weekend, I read an article entitled: ”Rebels rise against science gone crazy” (my translation) in one of my homecountry’s newspapers.

DecemberSo you know those lists that help you identify whether you're in true labor or not

Thanks everyone, for reading and commenting!!

Monday, December 23, 2013

I can haz job!

So I have been complaining about how hard it is to find a TT job in my homecountry and how often people seem to get jobs through the back door instead of through vacancies that are posted somewhere. For a while it seemed like I needed to get at least a personal grant or fellowship in order to continue doing science in the homecountry. And since my husband already got a personal grant and the homecountry's scientific organization made him move back before a certain date, it looked like not getting a grant would mean no job for me (at least not the job that I would want). One fellowship that I applied for got rejected, and one got a score that _might_ get funded, but more likely will nog get funded. And even if it got funded, the European Union decided that only half a salary would be enough to "integrate your career"… So things were looking a bit bleak and where last year I was sad that there were so little TT jobs advertised, now I was sad that maybe this meant that I would have to look for other jobs outside of science. And even though I'm not sure if that would be what I want, the prospect of never patching a cell anymore really made me really kind of sad.
But this morning brought the happy email saying that I can come work as a post-doc for a year on project that I'm very interested in, at the university where Dr. BrownEyes has a job too. So yes, I am very happy that I'm going from being a Research Associate here to being a post-doc in the homecountry and I am very happy about it. And I could insert all kinds of disgruntled postdoc comments here, but I won't. Cause I'm happy I get to do science for at least another year and a half.

Happy holidays everyone!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The real test to know whether you're in labor

So you know those lists that help you identify whether you're in true labor or not? Turns out, the only real way to know is whether you walk out of the hospital with a baby inside your belly or outside*.

This is what he looks like and we'll call him Little Brother on the internet.


*coming from yours truly, who had to go to the hospital THREE times before actually having a baby. Turns out, you can go to 4 cm dilated with hours of very regular contractions and baby all descended and what not and then go home and wait another 6 (SIX!) days before having said baby.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Eating dates to speed up your due date?


When you’re very pregnant, even if you’re a rational scientist-type person, you can sometimes not help but googleing “ways to induce labor”. My google even already autofilled it for me, it must know more than me about myself. And instead of reading scientifically sound pieces about what might determine when the baby comes, I find myself reading about acupuncture, castor oil and all that. But wait a minute, what does it say on the bottom of the page? Something about a recent scientific study showing that eating dates has a favorable effect on labor and delivery? I had to check that out.

The paper is from a group of scientists from Jordan, published in a journal with the astonishing impact factor of 0.55, and looks at two groups of 45 and 69 women. One group of women eats at least 6 pieces of date fruit in the four weeks prior to giving birth, whereas the other group eats none. It’s a prospective study, meaning that the women who eat dates are not assigned to that group, which I think is important to notice. The researchers find that in the date-eating group, the women arrived to the hospital more dilated than the non-date-eating group, had their membranes intact more often, had more spontaneous labor, and the use of Pitocin was lower. Also, the duration of the first stage of labor was shorter, but I wonder if that isn’t just the case because they arrived at the hospital more dilated. I don’t know about Jordan, but I could imagine that the group of women who eat 6 dates each day, is a different group of women to begin with. They might be the women who refuse induction with Pitocin, stay home longer before going to the hospital, refuse to have their membranes artificially ruptured, etc etc. We might just be looking at two different groups of women who happen to be different in their date fruit consumption. The researchers conclude: “that the consumption of date fruit in the last 4 weeks before labour significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labour, and produced a more favourable, but non-significant, delivery outcome. The results warrant a randomised controlled trial.” I totally agree with that final sentence.

And for those of you wondering, I have not been eating any date fruits over the last couple of weeks.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

On delusional academics


The other day, I was talking to transitioning out of academia with a couple people in my lab. One of the grad students had just had a conversation with a senior PI (but not our PI) about that. The senior PI had said that ze didn’t understand that people would leave academia. Ze understood that times were rough now, with the economy being bad and funding being low, but if everyone would just wait it out, things would turn for the better and we could all stay in academia. Yeah right. Sadly, the grad student didn’t ask what we were all supposed to do while waiting for the economy to get better, so I don’t know the answer to that. And I wonder if said senior PI would know the answer.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Getting jobs through the back door


Warning: this post is written in an empty lab because all my colleagues left for the Society for Neuroscience meeting. Since I am too pregnant to attempt going to such a large meeting that is an uncomfortably long flight away, I am still in the lab. In the meantime, I can’t help but worry about whether I will find grant money and/or a job before we move back to the homecountry next year. So then you know why this post is kind of ranty.

Every now and then I check the websites of some of the institutes and universities in my homecountry, to see what happens there. And more often than I would like, I will see that someone who used to be a post-doc in one of the groups, then moved up to become a group leader in the same university or institute. Good for that person, you would think. But wait a minute, how did they get there? Was there a vacancy for a position that they applied for? Most of the time the answer is no. Most of the time, these people get promoted within the institute or university. Why does this happen? Because they are there and people know what they’re capable of? Because they are friends with the people who make those decisions? Because it’s easier for the institute to just hire someone than to have a search? I don’t know. Perhaps a combination of those reasons. What I do know is that it makes it hard to find a job if you don’t already have a foot in the door, because there are rarely any advertised jobs for anything higher than post-doc positions. I know this is not specific to my homecountry, but actually happens in many European countries, which explains the lack of mobility of researchers between European countries. As you might expect, I think this system kind of sucks.

Alright, I got that off my chest, now I can go back to work. Enjoy SfN and keep me updated on who filled their SfN Bingo cards first!!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Changing science, one lengthy PDF at a time


This weekend, I read an article entitled: ”Rebels rise against science gone crazy” (my translation) in one of my homecountry’s newspapers. A short version can be found here, the whole article is behind a paywall. The article was about a group of Dutch scientists, who believe that certain things in science need to change. These scientists by the way are all white males in their fifties (from looking at their pictures). Apparently increasing diversity, which is not one of their goals anyway, is not something the group strives for themselves. But exactly what do they think needs to change? I first clicked on their website, called “Science in Transition”, that is unfortunately completely in Dutch. There are a couple English articles on there, if you know that for that you have to click on “meer lezen”. (No wonder Nature Magazine recently found that there is very little mobility between European countries.) The scientists have written a manifest stating their ideas and solutions. However, this manifest is a 31 page PDF with no bullet points, highlighted sentences or a summary. It’s harder to read than the classic Fatt and Katz paper about electrophysiology, but I read it anyway (as opposed to Fatt and Katz I must admit to my shame).

In this PDF the writers define what the problem is: one part of the problem is that scientists are judged too much on basis of impact factors, and H-index, which can be influenced according to these authors by scientists promising each other authorships and citations. Another (perhaps related) problem is that the public has the wrong ideas about how science works and how scientists come to certain conclusions. The third problem is scientific fraud.

Now I wanted to summarize their ideas and solutions to change science, but the need to do science got in the way of getting through these pretty horribly written 31 pages of the manifest. In very short (copied from the newspaper article), they state:
  •         Society should be more involved with the identification of scientific problems that scientists need to work on.
  •         The value of science (and scientists?) needs to be measured not with impact factors and h-indexes but with societal relevance.
  •         The number of PhD students should decrease, and PhD students should learn better how the science world works.
  •         Scientists should be honest about insecurities about their data, conflicting results and conflicts between scientists.
  •         More research should be done on the sociology and economy of science itself.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great that people are thinking about how to change science and that scientists are trying to be open about the flaws in the current scientific system, but PLEASE write a manifest that is readable because throwing this manifest down from the ivory tower may not be the best way to change science. Also, please discuss their ideas and solutions.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Where manuscripts go to die


The other day Dr24hours wrote about when you decide to abandon a paper because a bunch of journals do not want to publish it. Personally, I think that if you’ve come to the point of a completely written paper, I would never abandon it, but just send it anywhere (with perhaps a lower impact factor) instead of having it die in a drawer. However, what happens in this case if you’re not the senior author on a paper?

For example, I worked in a lab for 9 months during my master’s training (which in my homecountry is required before you can enroll in a PhD program). I did a lot of work in that lab and became 2nd author on a paper that (at the time) was relatively novel and interesting (now, 10 years later, it’s not novel anymore at all). The grad student whose project I worked on was the first author and the PI was the last author. They submitted it to a pretty okay journal that rejected it. And then the grad student left science, and the PI assumed a position with a lot more administrative work and neither of them was interested in trying to publish the paper anymore. I’m still a little sad about the fact that my CV doesn’t show the work that I did (and that my H-index isn’t 1 point higher because of this…). However, in this situation I don’t think there is much I could have done.

But what if you’re a grad student or a post-doc and your PI is not interested in publishing your papers, because they are either not suitable for high impact factor journals and therefore the PI is not very eager to publish them (this happens, I’m sure) or because the PI is leaving academia? (this also happens) What if you have a finished manuscript but a very uninterested PI who does not care to look at the manuscript let alone submit it? (and I know some of you think that this will never happen, but trust me, it does). When I was afraid this might happen I decided that I needed at least a decent first author paper from my post-doc, so I took the following measures: 1) I got a collaborator involved who helped me a lot with writing the manuscript, and who was helpful in setting deadlines to get the paper out. 2) I sent it to a lower impact factor journal than I might have otherwise because I had an invitation for a special issue at that journal. This way I was pretty sure it would get reviewed and published relatively quickly and I wouldn’t end up with a manuscript with good review comments but no possibilities to address these comments.

So what else can you do when you’re feeling like you’re beating a dead horse trying to get a paper out that you need, but that the other authors don’t really seem to care about?