Tuesday, January 29, 2013

All the reasons NOT to go to grad school

DrugMonkey is trying to fix the NIH and especially the way the money is allocated with lots of ideas, one of them being to stop training so many PhDs.

If you see this graph, it makes sense a lot of sense, because indeed biomedical PhDs are going through the roof it seems. But who are all those people that go to grad school and why do they do it? As my summer student said after hearing us complain all summer about how little we got paid and how hard it was to find jobs after a PhD/post-doc:”I’m not so sure I want to go to grad school anymore”. Because you can blame it on the NIH if you can’t find a job or get a grant, but you can also perhaps blame it on yourself. So here are a couple reasons why you should NOT go to grad school:

1. Not knowing what else to do. There are people who are done with undergrad, may have a year of technician experience and then don’t really know what to do with their lives. Grad school seems like an answer, because it will occupy you for at least another 5-infinite years. Don’t do it though. Because when you’re done with grad school, you will be older, more jealous of your friends who do earn actual money and still clueless about what to do next. Also, you will be overqualified for a lot of things.

2. There are no other jobs available because of the economy. This is kind of related to reason 1, and of course it is nice to know that you will be paid (albeit little) for the next 5-infinite years, but if your only reason to go to grad school is to keep you from being unemployed, don’t do it. Search longer for something you actually want, because being stuck in a lab when you don’t really want to be there is not going to make you happy, and again, you might be overqualified for other things when you’re done.

3. You want to do something sciency. This might be a good reason to go to grad school, but think about it first. Because if you want to be a science writer for example, you don’t need a PhD. And there are many other jobs, for example in industry where you don’t need a PhD to do sciency things.

What other bad reasons can you think of for going to grad school?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Practicing patience

I think it’s safe to say that I’m an impatient person. I’m that kind of annoying person that will email you if I haven’t heard back a week after I sent you a manuscript. I like to do things fast and efficient. I think this makes me a good (albeit annoying) scientist, but it makes a pretty crappy parent. 

BlueEyes has gotten to that age when if he doesn’t like something he will throw himself on the floor crying. So this weekend, I spent 10 minutes that felt like an hour sitting on the sidewalk waiting for him to calm down after I told him that we were not going to cross the very busy street during our walk. Before that, I told him I was going to put his shoes on, but he didn’t want to wear those shoes, he wanted to wear his Crocs. This would have been fine, had there not been a good inch of snow outside. So it was kind of a struggle, and I haven’t even mentioned yet that all of this was done on a minimal amount of sleep, because for some unknown reason BlueEyes has been waking up even more frequently than normal for the past week.

So I try to stay calm and patient and kind and understanding and loving, even though I thought I was none of those things. Apparently I am and apparently this is what having a child does to you. It shows you that you have what it takes to raise this little person. On a good day, that is.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dealing with HR, a rant

<rant> Apparently, to become a post-doc 2.0 A LOT of HR stuff needs to happen. I need to get background-checked and they need to see proof of my education. And that’s where it becomes annoying. Because my graduate university, like many other European universities, issues PhD diplomas in Latin. Yup indeed: Latin, the language of science. And since we don’t do any classes for our PhD I don’t have a list of grades. Which means I can’t give you a list of grades, BECAUSE THERE IS NONE. And no, I can’t have an official transcript of my diploma here tomorrow, because it has to come from Europe, and Europe is already closed at this hour. So no, I don’t know when it is going to be here yet, because I can’t call and ask, because Europe is closed for today. Am I really the first non-US person to go through this process here? I find it hard to believe that. </rant>

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A post-doc by any other name...

Sometimes I see people on LinkedIn change their profession from Post-doc to Research Associate. That always makes me laugh a little and until recently led me to think that those people had been a post-doc for too long, and therefore just gave it a different name. But that is not true, as I have recently discovered that Research Associate is actually a thing. Because yours truly is becoming one, which not only allows me to change my profession on LinkedIn, but also allows me to receive a substantial increase in pay (which then causes me to lose the daycare fellowship that we have, so not much of a net increase, but still).

The reason I am becoming a Research Associate is because only then can I be a co-investigator (is that the correct term?) on my PIs next R01 renewal, for which I have a lot of ideas and preliminary data. I have also been involved in setting up a successful collaboration that has led to these preliminary data. The deal will be that if we get the grant and I leave, I will be able to take my chunk of this money (which is nice, because since I’m not a citizen I am not allowed to apply for a lot of US funding). 

So this is all really nice, but of course in the end I’m still a post-doc; doing experiments, panicking about writing papers and trying to find free cookies (that’s a pretty accurate job description, right?).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Writing your own letters of recommendation

The unimaginable has happened: there is an add for a TT job* in the home country. So obviously I (and probably another 16 million people) am applying. So I have to write a research statement and a teaching statement (AARRGH I thought I didn’t need teaching experience if I was going to be a career post-doc). And on top of that I need 3 letters of recommendation. The first one is going to be from my current PI, which will be easy, I just ask him. The second is going to be from my grad school professor, which is going to be a bit harder, because he makes me write my own letters of recommendation (yes this sucks). The third one is going to be a bit harder. I have a collaborator in the home country who has written letters for fellowships and such, but I’m already writing grants with this person and even though ze says I should totally apply for this job, ze also told me ze would prefer if I would work with hir. So it feels weird to ask this person for a letter. I don’t want to ask any of the people in my committee because they will also let me write my own letter and it’s even harder (and somewhat schizophrenic) to write two different letters on behalf of different people for yourself. My PI told me to ask someone in the field who I haven’t worked with but knows my work. I have such a person who I met at a meeting and who has written a letter for me in the past, so I think I’ll ask hir again.

But first, on to the hardest part: writing that letter for myself on behalf of my grad professor…

*So I can finally make use of all the super useful advice on Dr. Becca's TT job aggregator