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2017 (0)2010 (34)
December (2)

Winds of Change blow again
Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Musik Warz?
Friday, December 3, 2010
November (10)

Summary Statements
Tuesday, November 30, 2010

SfN The meH...REDUX - OMG FTW!
Thursday, November 18, 2010

SfN Banter: The Review
Tuesday, November 16, 2010

SfN Day 3 (yeah, late again)
Tuesday, November 16, 2010

They Love me in San Diego!
Monday, November 15, 2010

SfN Day 2 (also late)
Sunday, November 14, 2010

SfN Day 1 (late)
Sunday, November 14, 2010

Office Space
Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Boot Force
Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Time for BANTER!
Monday, November 1, 2010
October (9)

My House
Sunday, October 31, 2010

SfN the Meh...WTF!?
Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lola, or A Tale of Delightful Surprise
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

This one's for Odyssey
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Meandering Scholar meanders once more
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Donors Choose do they?
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hey, Ho, the Witch is Dead...
Monday, October 11, 2010

INVITING CONTRIBUTORS TO A SPECIAL ISSUE OF IJAD
Thursday, October 7, 2010

I wonder...what if...
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
September (5)

Dear Barista...
Thursday, September 30, 2010

I hate sports
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Grantsmanship - skill or gift?
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Classic Sting?
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What I know now? You're not that special.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
August (8)

Wait. You are not the boss.
Thursday, August 26, 2010

Did you find what you were looking for?
Monday, August 23, 2010

Smoke Break?
Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Crash, Bang, Wallop...click, click, boom
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Injury Re-re-post
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Don't tag me Bro!
Friday, August 6, 2010

Remember that time you called a Laureate a twat?
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Here I am!
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
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Tideliar

I am scientist by training, inclination and temperament. However, this is a blog, not a lab. The title reflects my passion for hyperbole, so don't take me too seriously. I don't. I was a technician in a physiology lab, got my PhD in molecular genetics and neuroscience, was a postdoctoral fellow in biophysics and now am a Project Manager in a Clinical Science/Biomedical Informatics institute. I am a scientific jack-of-all-trades, and very happy because of it. I write about science that catches my eye, making the transition away from the lab bench, and the slightly odd and moist boundary where science culture meets the public. I am an Englishman by birth, an American by temperament and if I were you I wouldn't lend me money.

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, September 7, 2010

This month's group-bloggin theme has the catchy title of "What I wish I knew then...I know now", or something equally as grammatically painful. I've thought long and hard(ish) about this because I don't want to overlap with the brilliant Grad School Carnival being hosted elsewhere. Also, I figured that if you ask a dozen or two scientists what they wish they'd known "back in the day", you would get a dozen or so answers all saying "grad school is not the be-all and end-all of your life", or something along those lines. Needing to stand out due to my enormous ego I'm hoping this post is slightly different.

So, what do I know now that I wish I'd known back then? In no particular order, but based solely on the current US, academic, life-sciences environment...


  • 1. You're not that special, so get over yourself as soon as possible. There are many tens of thousands of graduate students. You are not unique so stop thinking the world revolves around you.


I have been working in academia for around 13 years now, not counting my undergraduate daze. I've been a technician, a graduate student, a postdoc, unemployed, a postdoc again, and now an administrator. Something I have always been struck by is the arrogance of the vast numbers of junior level (think entry level) scientists I meet. N00b graduate students are a breed apart. They are so enamored with their awesomeness getting them into graduate school that they can be almost unbearably arrogant for the first couple of years. I wonder if the 3rd year blues we all experience(d) are due to a combination of realizing you're only maybe half-way through and thus the road is long and hard ahead coupled with the gradual waning of that n00b shine you thought you carried.

Humility is essential to your progress through graduate school. In your first year you are nothing more than an over-excited undergraduate. You know less than nothing about being a scientist and you cannot fathom how hard the training is ahead of you. Graduate school is an apprenticeship in the old fashioned sense of the world. You are expected to work ludicrous hours, and use your mind as you have never used it before. Every time you think you've learned something, remember that you haven't. You have more likely just be shown something. A common example I would be sure to step on when I heard it would be to hear graduate students referring to something as banal as a PCR as "an experiment". No it isn't. It's just a technique you used to generate a certain fragment of cDNA. Nor is the successful ligation cause for celebration, not the transformation of your stock of cell/animals du jour. The entire process from hypothesis to correctly interpreted end result is your experiment, and this is only part of the process. Learn this and begin to appreciate the process that is science. Watch what your senior fellows do - what do they celebrate, what drives them to drink? Science is an eternal journey, enjoy it when you can and remember you will never stop learning.


  • 2. You're not that special, so get over yourself as soon as possible. There are many tens of thousands of postdocs. You are not unique so stop thinking the world revolves around you.


There are a hell of a lot of postdocs in the US and there are not nearly enough faculty jobs for everyone to get that coveted tenure track position. Right now any given postdoc has about a 1 in 10 chance of getting a faculty position in a top tier/R1 school. Now, for many of us the tenure track was not the end point of our quest. But for the vast majority of postdocs I meet, and have met, it is the end goal. You are not special, you are a lab rat. Your raison d'ĂȘtre is the generation of high quality data and the publication of high quality manuscripts. You are not the PI, you sure as hell aren't the Chair, nor are you the Dean or the Chancellor, or indeed the Provost. DO NOT think you deserve anything other than the space and funds and associated support to do your lab work. And whilst going through this process be very, very cognizant of the fact that you almost definitely won't get to run your own lab one day. Therefore...


  • 3. Have a Plan B. And probably a Plan C too.


Right from the beginning of your quest to be "A Scientist" you must have a personal definition of what that is to you. Is your only goal a TT position? Then I salute and pity your single minded quest for disappointment. A scientist is a job description as well as a title, like Lawyer, or Physician or Librarian. Is it only lab work that gets your fires burning, or other aspects of the job as well? Do you enjoy teaching? Do you enjoy writing? For example, I hate lab work. I used to love it, but I burned out. The thought of doing another western blot, or patch-clamping another neuron makes me cry inside. This did not bode well for my continued success as a postdoc. However, I love to write and I love to think about science. I explored other options and discovered so many of the jobs we can do. And I worked hard to build a resume of non-bench skills and now i have job that lets me be a scientist everyday, working with science and scientists and physicians and I have never been happier. If I had no Plan B, I would likely have washed into a technical position or instructors position - yet hated it because neither bench work, nor teaching fulfill me. If anyone wants to talk to me more about this, either leave a comment or send me an email. This lesson is the single most important I can offer.


  • 4. Work to live, do not live to work.


Tied to points the first and second is the fact that just because you will one day earn the title of "Scientist" and the letters and honorifics associated with it you will still wake up hungover sometimes. You will fight your spouse and some of you will lose that spouse. Sometimes your children will get sick and sometimes your car will break down. Sometimes the bills will seem to insurmountable. Sometimes you'll get sick right before an important event. And sometimes you'll feel great. Sometimes you'll get to witness the birth of your child or see her first steps or hear her first words. Sometimes you'll win a little money on a scratch card and sometimes you'll have an epic mind-expanding vacation.

You are still human and all the limitless and wonderful and painful things that make up life and humanity still apply to you.

Be very proud of your achievements - despite my caution above, not everyone can (or indeed, should) earn their Ph.D. - relish the fact that you have what it takes to do this job. But remember it doesn't isolate you from the rest of the world. If anything it provides you with a somewhat privileged position in society and you should recognize this and use it. But at the same time don't think your shit don't stink just like the rest of us.

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Blog Comments

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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This post is so full of win that I'm going to read it a few more times before making my real comment.

Tideliar
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Well, shit thanks lads! I was actually a wee bit nervous as I hit "post", but I'm on the last day of my vacation writing in an Irish Bar and drinking Guinness, so...Irish courage?

Evie
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Great post dude.

biochem belle
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#1 learned, #2 learned, #3 working on it, #4 trying hard but some days are harder than others.

Excellent post. And I am totally harassing you about #3 ;)

Dr. O
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Humility is essential to your progress through graduate school.

Couldn't agree more.

Alyssa
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Fantastic post!

Tideliar
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@Evie - thanks :)

@Belle - bust away! I hope everything is accurate but I was in a kind of a bad mood when I wrote it too... And #3 sucks. I try and help people understand the necessity of plan B. It utterly fucking sucks to realise it so late in to your postdoc career, as I did. It was a LOT of work to re-direct my career and I was very fortunate to have great mentors. And that, in retrospect, should have been Item 1 - "Seek out mentors, you can't do this alone".

@DrO - and something we learn quite late with more than a couple of embarrassing stories to tell sometimes :)

@Alyssa - How you doing! Thanks for stopping by and joining our little community. I am long overdue a visit to Apple Pie & the Universe!

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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I think this may be the first post to make it to the "featured" list without my hand being involved. It really is a great post Tiddles. I wasn't expecting something so deep from you ;)
antipodean

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"Watch what your senior fellows do - what do they celebrate, what drives them to drink?"

Answer: Friday

If you're a "Scientist" and you buy scratchies you'll need to go back and do STAT101 again.

Back to my original point though- mint post, Tidey.

-antipodean

Tideliar
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@Dr. Overlord - Thank You! This topic is incredibly important to me, but I don't begin to think I have all the answers. I hope more readers sign in and comment.

@Antipodean - Friday? So you don't work weekends?

>:)

Professor in Training
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"Work to live, do not live to work."

This.

Professor in Training
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Oh, except if you're in my lab then you'd better be working your ass off 24/7.

Gerty-Z
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DAMN, TIDDLES!!! this is an AWESOME post. I might harass you about #3, too. I was lucky - I had no plan B and was sweating a lot when on the market, but I really should think more about how this works for the benefit of my future trainess.

And PiT, I agree with both of your comments exactly!
antipodean

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Weekends are for rugby and beer, tide.

PS confirming I'm human required writing "flitfort cholesterol"

yannisguerra
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We should print this, and give it with the orientation material for all graduate/postdocs everywhere.

biochem belle
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Tideliar said:
#3 sucks. I try and help people understand the necessity of plan B. It utterly fucking sucks to realise it so late in to your postdoc career, as I did. It was a LOT of work to re-direct my career and I was very fortunate to have great mentors.


I think, unfortunately, that it takes a kick in the ass of some sort for most postdocs to even consider lining up a backup plan. Such was the case for me-it just happens that my kick in the ass dropped relatively early in my career.

Prof-like Substance
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I think you can extend this to every level of academia. At every step there is ALWAYS going to be someone better than you, smarter than you and faster than you. And whether that is true or not, the world sure as hell doesn't revolve around any of us.

Tideliar
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Thanks for stopping by y'all.

Prof-like, Is topped at Gard Student and Postdoc because I've never been faculty so i couldn't comment on that. But, I agree with you - you are not top dog. You will never be top dog. I guess even being considered a "top dog" is only thanks to the recognition of your peers.

Nikkilina
Washington University School of Medicine
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Amen!

Tideliar
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Testify Sister Nikkilina!

Testify!

(sorry, it's my new catchphrase thanks to 'Memphis Beat' on TV)
GI

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if you work for a living, why do you kill yourself working?

Tuco

Tideliar
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Tuco, was wise man, but I thought Blondie was your hero? :)
Stacey

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Great post. I really like #3 and really, really like #4. Thanks for saying it so darn well!

Tideliar
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Thank you!
Kyrsten

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Yikes. It's posts like these that remind me I was never made for graduate school in the long run. Ran out with my MSc "thanks very much see ya later!" and I know I would have suffered needlessly as a postdoc doing "PCR experiments" trying to get them to work.

Thankfully, I've found a niche, and continue to pull my former colleagues in from academia when the insanity gets too bad :)

that being said, I always have great respect for those still in the lab.

Tideliar
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Thanks for stopping by and commenting Kyrsten

I always have great respect for those still in the lab.

I do too, as long as they are going where they want to go and doing what they want to do. I have little respect left for the drones who find themselves trapped by fear and inability to move, even move laterally who do nothing but fucking bitch and kvetch about it all the time.

I would have suffered needlessly as a postdoc doing "PCR experiments" trying to get them to work.

Not if you worked in my lab LOL >:p

GMP
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You're not that special, so get over yourself as soon as possible. You are not unique so stop thinking the world revolves around you.

Aaah, truer words have never been spoken. Good advice for anyone, any time. Awesome post!

Tideliar
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Thanks for swinging by GMP, and thanks for the props :)
PUI Prof

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1, mmmmmmnnn HMMMMMMMMM
2. MMMMMMMNNNN hmmm.
3. OOOOoooohhh, yeah.
4. O, YEAH!









o
chall

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It's a great post.

All I keep thinking is though, would I've really made it if I thought about it all while I did it?! Silly maybe, but at the time, it was key to me to think I did something important and that I was the grad student to make it (even though I guess I knew someone else could've done it but the money was for me to do it at that time - slight difference?).

In hindsight, it's great. And as a post doc, I think this might have been what made me turn from the _true_ path with tt and all - but more to "where I could get a life outside".... It's all about what you think it's worth and what you need to sacrifice. And that in some cases, it's not a sacrifice at all...

and in "other work life" - it's so much more obvious that you are expendable and exchangable though. That might be the hard realization? (life does not equal work for many - it's just an end's meet...)
Rob

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This is a great post. It is always wise to realize that even when you succeed, you might just be lucky.

As an addition to point #3, I would also lament that more grad advisors don't encourage exploration of other carreer possibilities outside of R1 TT positions. Seek varied advice if you are a student. Your advisor may be myopic on this point.

Tideliar
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Thanks for stopping by Rob. Indeed - if your advisor can't help you see past the TT, you'd better hope someone on your committee can. It isn't nearly important enough in grad school to *educate* junior scientists on their future.
Bori

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Damn, why did I have to read this post on a friday night!
Working on plans B & C though... great post

Tideliar
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Guten arbend Bori! Wie geht es Ihnen?

...and that's about as far my German goes unfortunately.

The saying goes that "there's always an exception that proves the rule", so maybe your grant will get funded and you'll be OK. But I know how horrible it is watching the clock tick down and the funding deadline draw near. I tried for a couple of postdoc fellowships, but nothing panned out.

I like to think that given the the way the world really works, an "alternative" career nowadays for a PhD is to stay *in* academic bench science. And remember, most PIs don't do much lab work anymore - they write and administrate. If it's not the bench work that lures you, there are plenty of opportunities for careers using your skills and gifts.

Good luck :)
Pascal

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Tideliar,

spot on. Some comments:

1) We did all experience the 3rd year blues. Do you think that explains the attitude of some non-US doctorates who show up here as Post-Docs (as their degree often takes only 3 years or less, implying that they never experienced the "blues")?

2) Plan B&C, huh? We need to talk.

 

Pascal

 


Tideliar
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Hiya Pascal,

I dunno, thats a good point. My fiancee had her PhD when we moved over from the UK. I don't remember anything about the blues for her TBH, but she had trouble for being so young and being expected to run a group of engineers.

Plan B/C etc :) I have a couple of blog posts brewing about that

 

Patrick

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I hate to say that I understand your blog post too well. Keep it up!

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