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Lady Scientist

Lady Scientist is the pseudonym of Amanda, a (hopefully) soon-to-be finished biochemistry graduate student. Growing up in a smallish, southernish town she struggles to prove that you can be both a lady and scientist. Follow her adventures as she navigates her two-body problem, science, and life.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It’s a new year and a fine new time for me to resume blogging here at LabSpaces. 2010 was a good year for me in more ways than one. I finished my Ph.D. and graduated (I plan on blogging here about my defense). But 2011 promises to be even better.  I started my brand new postdoc yesterday in an entirely different field than my graduate work and that promises to be very cool. 

However, for some reason, it struck me and my PI as a fantastic idea for me to write a fellowship application right as I’m starting the postdoc. As I’m settling in to start writing, I realize how silly of an idea this was.  I’m not kidding when I say that my postdoc is in an entirely different area of research.  The only connection between my graduate work and this is that they both can be defined as in the biochemistry and molecular biology field.

I think switching fields like this is good for me for a couple of reasons.  There’s the not inconsequential reason that I find this area more interesting than my graduate work.  It’s also wide open area to study as there has been very little done to study the molecular biology of this area. So there are a ton of interesting questions that can be asked and investigated.  Also, from what I understand, learning new skills is always a plus for a postdoc position.  So, these are all the good reasons.

Still, there are some drawbacks.  The biggest one is that while writing this fellowship application, I’m beginning to realize how little I actually know about this field.  I’m having to catch up on a ton of papers.  It’s been a bit disorienting going from being an “expert” in something to knowing next-to-nothing.  I know that I’ll catch up and that this will be a good experience, but until then I feel like I just started grad school again!

Also, there are some practical details that I’m trying to figure out.  As I’m starting a new field that I’ll probably want to continue with, I’m trying to form good habits as I go.  One of which is organizing all my papers/thoughts on those papers.  I used Papers (for Mac) for my graduate work and I’m trying to decide what to do with my old database.  I don’t want to toss my collection of papers, but since none of them relate to my current work I don’t want them crowding my current database.  Any suggestions on that dilemma or other good literature habits?

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Genomic Repairman
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I still use Papers and drop my short summaries for articles in the notes section.  Just give the pertinent articles a keyword so you can type it into the search box to recall are the articles.

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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Welcome back! It sounds like you had a really productive fall semester! Congrats on the defense and new digs.

I know exactly how you feel.  I left a hardcore biochemistry/transcription lab to run this core facility down here at UF mutating Herpesviruses!  Talk about a field change.  What I've found really helpful is that the minions and I pick a paper each week for a mini journal club.  It's been really helpful to read both old and new papers in the field to get our bearings.  Do you think that maybe your new PI sees this as a great excuse for you to bury yourself in the literature and become an overnight expert?

Thomas Joseph
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I'm using EndNote and Adobe Acrobat Pro (to leave notes). I do have a large single repository/library for all of my papers but I have to admit ... like you, what I do now is entirely different than what I did as a graduate student. And again, what I do now is different than what I did as a postdoc. The papers from those days past (mostly my own publications) that I manage to cite time and again, I've kept in my library ... the rest have been electronically filed away probably forever.

The key is to just stay on top of it from the get go. Playing catch up is a pain in the rear!

Also, while it's a new field ... the tools you use will probably transfer very well, which is the key. Yes you'll have to learn some of the basics and ins-n-outs of the field, but your experimental design should come quite naturally and easily. Plus you've been down this road before as a grad student so you should get to speed faster than you would have otherwise. Just keep your confidence up. Congrats on your shiny new postdoc, and good luck with your application!

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I keep everything in Papers. I’m not sure you really need to delete the old bibliography. At worst, you could even organize things into folders.



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Very cool! Congrats on the new start, and good luck :)

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Very cool Lady- congrats on the new position. I love new challenges. Always feels good to get to start fresh.

Looking forward to hearing more about your research and your new lab.

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CONGRATULATIONS!  I've been wondering how you're doing.  I'm so glad to hear you graduated and started a postdoc!

I'll be really curious to hear more about your experience switching fields.  The hardest part for me by far is the subtle but pervasive communication issues that arise from vastly different backgrounds coming together.  Certainly the science is a challenge to learn, but like TJ said, it's easier the second time around.  You know, there are so many things you have to learn about being a scientist beyond the facts and concepts in a particular field -- how to read a paper, how to attend a conference, how to write -- that you don't have to learn again.

Good luck!



Guest Comment

Thank you for sharing this. While in the midst of my PhD, I feel like I am probably going to want to make a bit of a change up for a postdoc and I wasn't even sure how feasible this would be. Any commentary you have on the process would be beneficial.


Guest Comment

When I switched labs, I initially used a script I found on the Papers forums to set up multiple libraries (just google Papers multiple libraries).  In the following year, I looked up about five methods-y papers from the old library.  When I replaced the hard drive in this machine, I didn't even bother copying back the other library.  I just have one library with lots of collections, as in new lab I have or supervise lots of projects.

It's not just the clutter (though, yeah--that's a lot of articles I never look at to have to scroll through when I'm just trying to remember that one first author) but how many 3GB libraries can you really keep trailing after you?  Incidentally, the same thing happened between my dissertation Endnote libraries and those from Postdoc #1, and those projects were not as unrelated as Postdocs #1 and 2.  They're all backed up, of course, in case nostalgia wins out at some point, but eventually you stop dragging all those things around every day and replace them with music, er, new data.

Congrats on the defense and on the post-doc!  I, too, worked on a fellowship app right after defending (and while still trying to get the last writing done on grad school papers).  That was, hands down, the hardest writing I ever attempted--even with much assistance from PI.  The diss had been so simple!  I know this better than anyone in the world!  And then, suddenly...I know absolutely nothing about anything...  Good luck!

Lady Scientist
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GR: I think I might try doing that.  I was thinking about going hardcopy for my notes, but that seems like a pain.

Brian: Thanks! I think that's the idea for the app.  This way I spend the time up front getting to know the field as opposed to playing catch up.

TJ: You're right.  There are a lot of transferable skills.  At the very least I know how to design an experiment and read a paper, etc.  I need to focus more on that.

Corentin: It's mostly that I have this huge database of completely unrelated papers and it's annoying to scroll through.  I'm a very visual person and the clutter is bothering me.  So maybe need is overstating things.

Evie and Jade: Thanks!  I'll keep everyone posted.

EGF: Thanks!  I'll probably write more on how it is to switch fields later.  So far it's mostly just been disorienting.  We'll see how things go tomorrow when I show what  I've drafted/outlined to my PI.

Smurfette: Within my program major changes aren't too common, but that may not be representative of the world at large (see comments here).  As I told EGF, I'll write more on the process soon-ish (I'll need the break from this app).

TT: That is brilliant.  I briefly searched for a script, but didn't spend a lot of time on it.  I didn't want to delete my old library, mostly because it's like a security blanket.  I spent so much time building it that to destroy it one fell swoop just seemed too much. 

I disliked writing the diss, but that was mostly just me dragging my feet.  Now, I realize that knowing nothing about anything makes writing much more difficult!  Thanks for the support!

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Well you could export all the references to a Papers Archive container.

You could also move the Papers folder to a different location (or rename it) to let Papers start fresh.

You would then retain the possibility to revert back to the old library and have immediate access to the entire library.


Guest Comment

Congrats on the recent graduation. The postdoc and fellowship application will be fine. You've done all this before and I'm guessing that once you've finished the postdoc the self-education won't end. In fact it's just the beginning. Next stop, grant applications!

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