Archive for: May, 2011

The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree, etc.

May 25 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Or is it the apple? Whatever. If you think about it, nothing that grows on a tree is going to fall that far from it--the metaphor is virtually limitless! Thank you, Newton!

It was but a few short months ago that I was gently chiding my current PI for his hoarder-like tendencies, and I see that I have the gift as well. It is strong in me.

The chair of my future department wrote to me recently. "Dr So-and-So has taken a position at another University and is leaving this summer. Do you want his Very Expensive and Complicated Piece of Equipment (VECPE)?"

Hmm...I thought to myself. I have no experience whatsoever with VECPE, but I do know that it is Awesome and Powerful, and it would complement my research really well, and I'm sure I can find someone to show me how to use it or hire a post-doc or something. "Yes!" I told the chair. "I'll take it!"

When I told my current PI about this most excellent score, he beamed like a proud parent. And I'm super excited about VECPE, too. I just have to work hard to make sure it doesn't end up in the cultch heap.

13 responses so far

Mover's guilt

May 18 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Way back when I was but a naive TT hopeful (ahh...2009), J and I had a not-that-serious conversation about which cities we'd be willing to grace with the privilege of our permanent/semi-permanent residence. In truth, it was not so much a conversation as it was me naming places, and J either accepting or vetoing, comme ça:

Me: San Francisco?
J: Probably.
Me: Chicago?
J: I could do Chicago.
Me: Houston?
J: No-HO! No Texas.
Me: Not even Austin?
J: Can we just rule out the South altogether?
Me: Sigh. OK, how about Boston?
J: Eh...maybe. But what would we do about baseball?

Look, seriously NO OFFENSE to any of you who live in any of the poo-pooed locales, mkay? We were mostly just being jokey, and really this has nothing to do with anything except that at that point we were in total idealist/denial mode, i.e., that we'd be able to stay in New York forever. We are comfortable here--the energy suits our demeanor, the late hours our lifestyle. Some of our best friends, including J's brother and his wife, are here. Things feel right here.

And yet, I have always known that one day we'd have to leave. There are only a handful of research institutions in the city, and I've had ID cards at four of them (I'm a good collaborator). I need to go make a name for myself in a place where I'm not overshadowed by my mentors. And so in just over two months, J and I will pack up the kitties and our ridiculously well-stocked home bar and head to a new city. A city in which I have been given an amazing opportunity--a lab, a healthy startup package, my dream job--and J

Oh sure, eventually J will get a job and we'll find some new friends, and we will be totes happy and successful for-EVER. Plus, we won't even be so far from NY that we can't visit once in a while. But I still can't shake this feeling of guilt that right now, I'm putting him in an unhappy situation. I want him to feel like we're doing this together, that he is at least partly in control of our life decisions--not that I'm dragging him along as I run after my dreams. The reality, though, is that I am the mover. He is moving because I have to move, and there is a part of me that feels really bad about that.

I imagine many of you have been in a similar position (on either end of things), and I'm curious if you have any wisdom to impart. Before you ask, J is not an academic, so any kind of couples hire was not an option. He's pretty much on his own in a terrible job market. Are there things we can do that will help make this easier, if even just psychologically?

27 responses so far

Repost for Mother's Day: Did I inherit my sciency-ness?

May 08 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Did you know that my mom is an awesome scientist, too? Well, she is, and I totally love her for it (among countless other reasons). Happy Mother's Day, Mom, and to all the science-y and non-science-y moms out there!


Originally posted 11.27.2009

After a fun-filled Thanksgiving jaunt this week to fabulous New England, J and I are back in NYC and in for the night, wrought with guilt over leaving our kitties alone for 3 days.  They were less than pleased at having been abandoned, and greeted us with their patented Evil Kitty Death Stare:


When I was home I got to talk shop with my mom, and by "shop" I don't mean "turkey basting techniques" or "Nordstrom's Christmas Sale," I mean science!  My mom is a scientist too, and I think that's so cool.  For totally boring reasons she didn't finish her PhD, so she doesn't have her own lab.  However, she does hold a senior position in a lab at a very Classy Institution where she does all kinds of exciting research--awesome, futuristic stuff that honestly does not seem all that far off from seriously saving lives.

What's interesting is that when I think about it, I don't think I became a scientist because of her.  Sure, I went to visit her lab all the time when I was growing up, but I can't think of a point where it ever occurred to me that lab work was something I'd like to pursue, too; that all came much later, and at least in my recollection, it was totally organic.  Plus, I kind of hated science when I was in high school.

And yet, here I am!  Is it a coincidence?  Or is an aptitude and love for science something we inherit, even if we don't consciously realize it, and even if it isn't actively cultivated in us?  I'm curious as to how many of you scientists also have parents who are scientists.  If they are, how big a role do you think they played in your choice to pursue a similar path?

One area in which my mom did play a huge role was where I ultimately went to grad school.   Because I am a location snob, I hadn't planned on applying there.  But she sent me a Science article she'd come across that was published by one of this Classy Institution's faculty, with a note that said "Isn't this what you're interested in?  This is a great school--you should apply!"  She was right, of course, so I did apply, and I of course had an amazing experience whilst getting a top-notch education.  So then, to the extent that my graduate school made me the scientist I am (which I can confidently say is a non-trivial extent), I have my mom to thank for leading me there.  Thanks, mom!


4 responses so far

You are...The Negotiator

May 06 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Happy Kentucky Derby Eve, everyone! The Kentucky Derby is one of my absolute favorite holidays--any celebration of seersucker, extremely large hats, and what is effectively a bourbon Sno-Cone™ is naturally well-regarded in the Dr Becca household. I'd give you my own mint julep recipe, but it pales in comparison to this longform version from 1937. I guarantee you, it is worth reading in its entirety.

Anyway! I've been wanting to tell you the extremely exciting tale of how negotiating my startup went. And really, the best advice I can give you is this: Know Thyself. The better you can back up your startup list, the more likely you're going to get what you ask for.

Negotiating is most likely going to happen between you and the department chair, which means that you want to have good lines of communication open with this person.  Approach negotiations with the attitude that the chair is on your side--it's obviously in the department's best interest that you're successful, but you need to make them confident that the things you're asking for are directly related to your success. To that end, you need good, concrete reasons for why you need/want these things.

This can be especially important in diverse departments, where the chair may not necessarily have a good understanding of the intricacies of your research. This was the case for me, and because I would be bringing several new techniques to the department, I had to be prepared to explain not only how each of these things worked and fit into my research, but into other faculty members' research as well--how they would be an investment for the department as a whole.

In particular, I needed a relatively big, expensive piece of equipment--one that is not usually included in a new hire startup. Let's call it The Beast. I spent a loooooong time discussing The Beast with the chair, and as a result, she went to bat for me, hard core. First she contacted the chair of another semi-related department to see if they'd be interested in going in on The Beast together. He initially expressed interest, and then backpedaled and said that he wanted a Beast of his own for his department. She continued to ask around, branching out to departments you would normally not think of as interacting with hers, and amazingly, she found one.

She did not just find a Beast that I could get a few hours of time on a week or whatever--this Beast is basically brand new, and literally nobody is currently using it. Though it will have to remain in its home department, I negotiated supreme administrative control over its use, complete with a technician to manage the day-to-day Beast bizness (among other activities). And yes, it's all in writing in my startup letter.

Each of us is going to have different needs to do our work successfully, so I don't think taking you through each thing I negotiated will be all that useful (that said, happy to answer any non-pseudonym-destroying questions in the comments here). What I do think helped me the most was the patience to discuss and explain my needs as much as was asked of me, and that I had a clear, communicable vision of what I wanted my lab to be like. In the end, I am extremely happy with the package I got. I can't wait to start spending all that moneeeeeeyyyyyyyy!

6 responses so far

Poll time! Share your thoughts on sharing

May 04 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I was chatting with some department peeps a few weeks back, and a post-doc from one of the big labs here remarked that a nice perk of being in Famous Dude's lab was that it was much easier to get people at other institutions to send him their reagents. In grad school, he said, he often got the runaround because (he thought) his PI was not as well known, despite being at a very well known Classy Institution.

In contrast, yesterday my not-so-famous PI wrote to a PI at a different institution requesting a virus. Less than half an hour went by before we got a friendly, positive response--no-strings-attached save for confirmation of IACUC and EHS approval. I was floored at how easy that was. It was the kind of experience that makes you believe in people again, you know?

Now, I'm pretty sure that if your research is funded by NIH, it is a generally accepted (if generally unenforced) rule that you're supposed to share your published antibodies, constructs, transgenic mice, etc with anyone who asks. But are there things about the person who asks that would keep you from sharing? Has anyone ever denied your request, and if so, did they have a good reason?

Please take my super fun poll (more than one answer is allowed!), and elaborate on your sharing experiences in the comments here.


15 responses so far