Archive for: February, 2012

A Sazerac for you

Feb 22 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Happy Mardi Gras, folks! It's been a while since we had a cocktail together, has it not? It has, and tonight is the perfect occasion to put an end to this silly micro-prohibition we've inadvertently imposed on ourselves. One of my favorite cocktails in the world has its origins down in the Big Easy, and what better day for us to drink it together than on a day when there are a lot of other people drinking it? If you can't beat 'em join 'em, I always say. And in this case, why would you even want to beat 'em in the first place? Here is the classic Sazerac--hopefully it will tide you over until SfN 2012 this October, when we can actually drink one together in NOLA. That will be the best!

The Sazerac is like the Old Fashioned's sassy cousin, and it's served in a rocks glass without any ice. You'll need:

3 oz rye whiskey
splash of absinthe
sugar cube
Peychaud's bitters or Bitter Truth Creole Bitters
lemon twist

Chill the whiskey on ice in a shaker--stick it in the freezer while you prepare everything else. Pour a bit of absinthe into the glass, swirl it around, and dump it (into your mouth if you want).  Add a sugar cube to the glass, and douse it with a few good shakes of bitters. Muddle the sugar and bitters until the cube is completely broken up, and then strain the whiskey in. Drop in a large lemon twist that you've twisted backwards to release the oils, and enjoy!

Notice the beautiful pink tint? That's the Peychaud's. Yum!

9 responses so far

TT on the DL

Feb 17 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

It's not often that I get emails from you (WHY DON'T YOU LIKE ME?!), so when I do, I am eager to help. Most recently, I heard from a reader who has a situation that I imagine is not all that uncommon, but for which I do not envy this reader at all. What do you do when your PI wants you to stay forever? Can you succeed in applying for a tenure track job behind his or her back? It goes like this:

My PI is a good guy, but has strange issues with his postdocs moving on.  My PI/institution also doesn’t readily promote, so it’s a really weird holding pattern of dangling a promotion carrot while never actually delivering.  I know, this transition from postdoc to TT should be a natural progression (either within the institution or more likely with a transition elsewhere), but literally no one from my lab who has gone on to TT or other positions has done the interview process in the open.  Not one postdoc has ever practiced a job talk in my lab, and the conversation with my PI about leaving happens when they have already accepted another position elsewhere.  I can’t exactly pinpoint why the secrecy (see above mentioned comment about him generally being a good guy), but I think it has to do with anticipation of the PI getting paranoid and having his feelings hurt (and all the expected behaviors that stem from this).  

Let’s assume that I don’t regret not factoring this into my postdoc decision-making process (ha!  If only I read blogs back then!), don’t resolve whatever broader interpersonal issues exist with these PI-postdoc dynamics, and thus will go on the job market “behind my boss’s back.”  

Do you think not having a support letter (and/or verbal recommendation) from the PI will hurt my application relative to other applicants, or do search committees anticipate this sort of thing?  How is this handled in the application process?  Do I put something about this in the cover letter (that seems weird)?  Or just don’t list him as a reference and let this be implied?

I have been thinking lots about this situation, and truly, it makes me so sad. You work hard through your Ph.D, your post-doc, and then just when you need the support of your mentor the most, you feel you can't count on them to help push you out of the nest. Now, it's not clear to me from this letter that there have ever been negative, career-ending repercussions in this lab if a post-doc ever DID dare ask the PI for a letter, but more that there is some underlying subtext (is that redundant?) to trainee-PI interactions that indicate there MAY be. In that case, I would cautiously suggest that the reader actually broach the subject with PI. If he is a "good guy," maybe he does want his trainees to succeed? Of course, no one wants to be the guinea pig for such an endeavor, should your fears turn out to be justified, and so I sympathize with this reader's inclination to work within the limitations of this less-than-ideal status quo.

The primary question seems to be, if you HAVE to apply to TT positions without a letter from your post-doc PI, does that require explicit acknowledgement in your applications? I would say yes, although I admit I'm at a bit of a loss as to what you might say--"I was afraid of hurting my PI's feelings" isn't going to be very compelling. Having just sat on a TT search committee, though, it would be very surprising not to see a letter from an applicant's post-doc mentor, and I would wonder what the deal was. Addressing that in your cover letter would at least let me know that you recognize it's unusual.

Readers, I'm counting on you to flood the comments with your wisdom and advice for my letter-writer. Is it possible to successfully get TT on the DL?

15 responses so far

A letter to the recently interviewed and soon to be negotiating

Feb 14 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

This is for all you folks out there who just kicked ass on your interviews.

Congratulations! This letter is not really about how to negotiate your startup package--there's plenty in the aggregator on that. This letter is about all the other stuff you're about to go through--the stuff no one ever prepared you for--as you make what's probably the most important decision you've ever made in your life.

This part is hard. You are about to decide what new part of the country or even the world you're about to move to, and you are likely in your 30s. When you were in your 20s, moving around was easy, an adventure. But now? It's different, and it's scary. You have a life! You like your friends in post-doc land. You have a trivia group. Maybe you have a family or a significant other who you're asking to move with you. You will feel guilt about asking this of them.  Talk to them about this.

You may find that when negotiating begins, those nice people at the University who took you out to fancy dinners suddenly aren't so nice anymore. They may try to convince you to take a smaller lab space than the one you were shown, trim your start up list by half, or push back when you ask for personnel funds. When that happens, YOU push back. No one is going to renege their offer because they suddenly think you're a greedy bastard. You know what you need, not them.

You are going to feel more alone in this than you may have ever felt in your life. Maybe your lab mates are also on the market and haven't fared as well, and you feel bad asking them to help you with "problems" they wish they had. Maybe your PI is too busy to help you with your startup list, and your significant other doesn't know a microcentrifuge from a multi-channel pipettor. You will have to think things through for yourself. As scientists, we're conditioned to think in the first-person plural. "We hypothesized that..." "We did RT-PCR to..." For your entire career, you've been part of a team. But right this moment? It is ALL YOU. You are about to be team captain.  Say "I." (it feels good!)

You will feel alienated, you will fight with people you love, and you will wonder how this, the actualization of your dreams and culmination of 8-12+ years of training, can cause so much gut-wrenching angst, stress, and even sadness. Take heart, you almost-PIs, and stay strong. You will get through this--personal relationships intact, and with a sweet-ass offer letter in hand. Hang in there.

Dr Becca

11 responses so far