Archive for: November, 2010

Interviews, for realz!

Nov 18 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Original post date: Nov 18, 2010

I am pleased to announce that the "towards" in "Fumbling Towards Tenure Track" is officially not wholly inaccurate, as the past week marked a very exciting milestone: my first invitations to interview for faculty positions! Yes, plural! I got one the eve before leaving for San Diego, and another yesterday morning, just after bidding a sad (but typically hilarious) farewell to Tideliar.

This is both thrilling and terrifying. I knew that my application package was much improved over last year's, but given the ridiculous market, I still wasn't sure how competitive I was. So I'm feeling a little validated, I have to say! I have just under a month before I fly out for the first one, and I want to do my absolute best! Please, leave any and all advice in the comments. It's probably worth noting that both of these jobs placed at least some emphasis on teaching, so if you have any knowledge in that arena, do speak up!

Finally, I'm just so grateful that I was first contacted by email, and not by surprise phone call. If you've been following me since the beginning, you know why I'm saying that--if not, please enjoy this repost from the early days of Dr Becca, "What Happened Last Year."


A lot of the job openings I hear about are forwarded to me by my graduate thesis advisor, who gets the ads from her colleagues at other schools. I realize that it's in her best interest for me, her progeny, to succeed as a scientist, but still it makes me feel good that she's thinking of me and my career five years after I've left her.

It was around this time last year that she forwarded me a job ad for an assistant professor position at a midwestern liberal arts college. Now, I am a real east coast kind of girl, and would not normally give much serious thought to moving to the midwest. I'm not even sure I could identify all of the midwestern states on a map. But this particular school is one of the absolute best in the country, and I had this romantic vision of myself, probably in a corduroy blazer, sprawled in an idyllic quad with 8-10 of the college's top neuroscience students. We're deep in conversation, and I'm challenging them and expanding their minds as autumn leaves fall quietly around us.

So I applied. Applying for faculty jobs is actually not that difficult--most simply require your CV, a statement of some sort that outlines your experience and goals, and reference letters. Once your statement is written, you need only do minor alterations for each school, being careful to remove all mention of what a great addition you'd be to the Dept of Psychology at University of Central Springfield in your application to the Neuroscience Dept at Camden State College. It should be noted that at the time, I did not yet have any publications from my post-doc work, so my CV was...concise. I was not optimistic.

One day, I was on the subway when my phone rang. This is very rare, as there is no cell phone service in the NYC subways. Once in a while, though, the tracks are so shallow that you can pick up a signal, but the chances of this coinciding with you receiving a call are, I'd imagine, on the order of nano. I didn't answer it because I knew I'd lose the call within a few seconds, plus it was an unfamiliar area code so I figured it was my student loan provider or someone similar demanding money from me. When I got out of the train there was no message, confirming my suspicions. I missed another call from the same number later that day, again no message.

A bit later, though, an email popped up in my inbox that said this: "Dear Dr Becca, This is Dr ___ from Fancy Midwestern College (FMC). We've been calling you at (718) xxx-xxxx to ask you a few questions, but haven't been able to reach you. Please get in touch and let us know if there's a better number at which to contact you."


FMC has questions for me! This means that they (at the very least) were not snorting with laughter as they dragged my CV file into the Trash. But what does "a few questions" mean? It all seems very casual, no?

As it turns out, no, "a few questions" is not very casual. When I called FMC back, they asked:

-What kind of research would you plan on doing here?
-How can you incorporate undergraduates into your research?
-What courses would you like to teach?
-Other Serious Interview questions

I was caught completely off guard, and that combined with the fact that I was FREAKING OUT with happiness that they'd actually found my application competitive enough to warrant a call made for a terrible, terrible phone interview. Like, really embarrassingly terrible.

I got a letter a few months later informing me that they'd filled the position, which I expected, and was fine with, really. It was a great lesson, which is that you should, at all times, know who you are and what you want to do with your life. You should also be prepared to describe those things to people--without warning--in complete seriousness and sincerity. This year, if (and hopefully when) I'm asked for an interview, I'll allow myself to feel flattered for about half a second, and then I'm going to move on and tell my interviewer in concrete detail about what a great scientist I'm going to be.

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Can I get a pdf of this?

Nov 17 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Original post date: Nov 17, 2010

It should go without saying that one of the primary purposes of meeting-going is to promote yourself and your work. You won't advance if you don't impress people, and how will you impress people without showing them how clever and important your science is? If you're at any stage of your career other than Professor Graybeard, most of this self-promotion will probably happen at your poster, where you get to tell people one-on-one about your latest exciting findings. But what if people are so impressed they want to take some of your findings home with them?

It's not uncommon for poster presenters to have handouts with a mini version of their poster on it, and poster visitors are usually more than happy to snatch those up. Others, however, are more protective of their unpublished data. I've mostly been on the "sharing is caring" side of the fence, but sometimes second-guess myself and wonder if that's a naive position.

Yesterday, one of the four people who came to my poster in the malodorous far reaches of the San Diego Conference Center asked if he could have a pdf of the poster. Ever one to put the ball in the other person's court, I gave him my card and told him to email me, which he did later yesterday evening. After polling the twitterverse and considering the circumstances of this person's interest, I decided that this was a very low-risk (and potentially high reward) situation, and sent the file off once I got to New York.

But still, my twitter poll elicited a range of responses, so I thought I'd put it out to my readers. What's your policy on sharing concrete unpublished data with strangers? Sure, people will always take notes. But how do you feel about handouts? Emailing pdfs? Photo-takers?

Comment away...

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SfN Day 2 - Grant advice, Glenn Close

Nov 14 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Original post date: Nov 14, 2010

I am not what you’d call a morning person. At all. I am often struck with the firm conviction that if I could just sleep until 10 every day, life would be perfect. I’d cast off the shackles that bind me to the Keurig machine, I’d be less grumpy; I’d be a paragon of productivity. Alas, I am not a freelance writer.

But the cool thing about coming to the West Coast when you live on the East Coast is that you are automatically a morning person! It’s brilliant. I woke up at 7 am Saturday feeling totally fine, and I was so happy I’d be able to make one of the career workshops-- “NIH Funding for Your Research, Training, and Career Development,” which started at 8:30.

This workshop…it was only OK. For the most part it was a run-down of all the different funding mechanisms and in what situations each is appropriate, most of which I already knew. One thing that was continuously emphasized, though, was to contact your Program Director before you apply, since each IC may vary a little in how they define the scope of each mechanism. The speakers kept reiterating that the PDs job is to talk to you, so you shouldn’t feel like you’re bothering them. However, they also noted that you shouldn’t just call and say, “I was told to call you.” Have some questions ready; be able to describe your plans so they can help you find the right mechanism.

A couple of other notes: first, early career investigators are discouraged from applying for R21s and R03s—shorter proposals aimed at high risk/reward and exploratory work. They may seem less intimidating to put together than an R01, but they are harder to get funded and the award itself is far less money than an R01, so we’re much better served going straight for the gold! Second, when the parameters of the initiatives to promote diversity were discussed, the speaker made it clear that being a poor grad student or post-doc did not qualify us as “disadvantaged.”

After the workshop I met up with Tideliar and we headed to the main ballroom for the Neuroscience and Society lecture with Glenn Close, who was here to talk about her mental illness advocacy group, In the past, I haven’t been all that impressed with the N&S lectures, but since we were here, I figured there was no reason not to check it out. Hot damn, am I glad we did.

Close hit it out of the park. She moved seamlessly from light self-deprecation to passionate, eloquent storytelling, and her message was crystal clear: there is a stigma surrounding mental illness, despite the public’s awareness that just like any other “traditional” disease, MI is biological in nature. The mission of is to eliminate this stigma.

Part of this process is to help people who suffer from MI to feel unafraid to speak out about their condition. As examples, Close’s sister and nephew each spoke about their own struggles with mental illness. Their stories were incredibly powerful and so, so inspiring. I left feeling overwhelmed but at the same time completely invigorated and ready to dive into the meeting; this is why I’m here. This is why we do The Science—to help real people with real diseases. And the more we discover through our research, the more we help groups like Close’s succeed at changing the public’s mind about mental illness.

No responses yet cocktail contest video!

Nov 07 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Original post date: Nov 7, 2010

Wow, you guys. Just wow. In all my wildest dreams I never imagined this campaign would be so successful! But after nearly a month, LabSpaces is in 4th place in the Science Bloggers for Students Challenge, and it's all because of you! Our pet project, "Oh! Rats!" got fully funded several weeks ago, which means that I'm delivering on my promise to you--an original cocktail inspired by and named after a donor who gave through my Giving Page, and a video of me making said cocktail.

The winner was chosen randomly by a party blind to the identity of those eligible, and then I experimented a bit until I felt I'd come up with a concoction that really channeled the spirit of this winner. The video was made this afternoon with the help of some lovely friends and several rounds of mimosas.

Now, please forgive the low sound quality, as we only had a regular camera's video recorder to work with, plus it was my first time editing a video of any kind, so some of the cuts may be, shall we say, less than smooth. Also there's sort of a gratuitous ass shot because I forgot to get a glass out before starting, but hopefully that won't be too painful. Oh and yes, there are costume changes. I couldn't help myself.

And now.....the Cocktail Contest Winner!

Thanks again to everyone who donated! Cocktail or not, you all helped kids get a better education, and that is just awesome.

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