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Post Archive
2017 (0)2010 (39)
December (3)

It's not "goodbye," it's...
Friday, December 17, 2010

I can haz music warz?
Thursday, December 2, 2010

Two weeks
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
November (10)

Interviews, for reals!
Thursday, November 18, 2010

Can I get a pdf of this?
Thursday, November 18, 2010

SfN 2010 Day 5: A video featuring Tideliar and Dr Becca
Wednesday, November 17, 2010

SfN 2010 Day 3: A video featuring Tideliar and Dr Becca
Monday, November 15, 2010

SfN Day 2 (better late than never)
Monday, November 15, 2010

SfN 2010, Day 1: a video blog featuring Tideliar and Dr Becca
Saturday, November 13, 2010

30,000 people is not actually that many people
Wednesday, November 10, 2010

We have a winner, and a cocktail!
Sunday, November 7, 2010

You. Immortalized. In a cocktail.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Time for BANTER!!!
Monday, November 1, 2010
October (8)

Your PowerPoint and You
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Have I told you lately that I love you?
Thursday, October 21, 2010

So I have an Interview.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It's bribe time
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Research Blogging: The Postpartum Brain
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It's Business Time
Friday, October 8, 2010

That time I was on TV
Thursday, October 7, 2010

What?! Only 300 thread-count and no robe? Two stars!
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
September (5)

SABOTAGE!!!
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Let me give you my card
Thursday, September 23, 2010

I gotta have some of your attention, give it to me!
Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Science Enemy
Monday, September 13, 2010

What I wish I knew before...I moved to New York City
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
August (9)July (4)
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Blogger Profile

Dr Becca, Ph.D.

Dr Becca can now be found at http://scientopia.org/blogs/drbecca .

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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Recent Comments
Comment by marguerite in SABOTAGE!!!

So nice to know I'm not the only paranoid one. :-) But sad to know that sometimes "just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean their not after you". :-( **Off to go check prices for tiny cam. . .Read More
Jan 10, 2011, 8:39pm
Comment by Lab Mom in It's not "goodbye," it's...

Best of luck over in your new digs! We'll miss you! . . .Read More
Dec 17, 2010, 9:32pm
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Awww...does this mean no ex-scientist restaurant? Google reader has been updated! . . .Read More
Dec 17, 2010, 8:41pm
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It's been an exciting few weeks for you! Congrats on this (and surviving your first TT interview), I'll definitely be commuting over to continue following your adventures! . . .Read More
Dec 17, 2010, 1:07pm
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Wow! Congratulations Becca! . . .Read More
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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Female Science Professor has a post up that makes me a little...paranoid. In a nutshell, she expresses concern as a PI that looks may be deceiving when it comes to hiring post-docs. In other words, someone's CV might be awesome, but people who've actually worked with this person might secretly let PI know that said post-doc is a lazy sack of poop. Or maybe PI will read into a passing comment made by said post-doc in an email and deduce that the post-doc might be a lazy sack of poop. As someone who is currently searching for a new post-doc home, I am hoping very much not to appear as a lazy sack of poop. I don't think I am a lazy sack of poop, but what if someone somewhere is calling me a lazy sack of poop?

In the comments of FSP's post, Physioprof notes that "I receive multiple e-mails per week from people looking for post-doc positions, and I ignore the vast majority of them."* This also has me worried, but as is PP's wont, the comment is without elaboration. What would make a PI not ignore an email from a post-doc hopeful?

To date, I have sent out three emails to PIs with whom I'd like to do a 2nd post-doc. Generally speaking, the emails go as follows:

Dear PI,

I'm writing because I'm interested in doing post-doctoral work in your lab. I'm currently wrapping up a post-doc with Famous Dude, during which I also worked with Other Famous Dude and Famous Dude #3. I studied blahdeblah. I read your recent paper on thingamabob, and I found idea X very exciting. I would love to follow up on this work by studying Y. I am trained in techniques ABC and need to learn D&E before becoming an independent investigator, which is why you are perfect for me. I've attached my CV to this email and would be happy to have letters of recommendation sent to you.

Love,
Dr Becca


Am I doing anything wrong, here? I feel like someone who's recently gotten out of a long-term relationship and is back on the dating scene but has no idea how the kids do things these days. When I got my current post-doc position, it was all relatively casual and easy, so I'm not sure if other PIs like things to be more formal. I imagine, though, that PIs would not want a big long thing to have to read--they want to see my past PIs and what my pubs are, they don't need a full-scale analysis of their research. On teh Twitter today, several of my tweeps suggested that I send a hard copy letter, which I have to admit never occurred to me. It seems so...quaint, doesn't it? But at the same time, they have a point--perhaps the quaintness will get me the attention I need in what I'm sure is a sea of post-doc requests, the vast majority of which are being ignored.*

My first response came in less than 24 hrs. This PI was "very impressed with [my] credentials" and wanted to "seriously pursue the possibility " of me joining the lab, but he had to check some policy or something. Unfortunately, apparently I have too much experience for him to hire me as a post-doc; his institution mandates that I'd have to be hired as a Research Associate or whatever, which he cannot do. Boo. The other two have only had a day or two to sit on my letters, and I'm trying not to freak out too much that they're going to ignore me. If they do, to put it quite delicately, I am fucked.

*(I'll be honest, even I have received a few emails from people wanting to do post-docs with me, but I always respond with a polite "I'm sorry, but I do not actually have my own lab?" or something similar.)

And for those who didn't already catch it, this post's title comes from this:

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biochem belle
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For my first postdoc, I sent hard copies of the letter and CV. For the second, it was all email inquiries. Most PIs responded within one to two days, but another took about a week (I was actually getting ready to send a follow-up email when he replied). From the applicant side, I think it's good to follow up after a week or so, if you've received no response, regardless of whether it's hard or electronic format. It might annoy some, but it seems reasonable to send one follow-up to be sure that the first wasn't simply lost in the shuffle.

My recent letters were a bit longer than the first round, and I also changed the content a bit. Since I was considering applying to some biotechs, I spent quite a bit of time generating an industry CV. People in/recruting for industry harp on the point that you have to sell yourself for the position with specifics. Even though I didn't finally send it anywhere, it was very helpful because it forced me to list my actual skills-from both technical/research and non-research standpoints. Some of the relevant information went into the letters, with the slant of why I would be a great fit for PI's lab. There was also a sentence or two briefly stating my career goals and how working in PI's lab would be great for my career.

I ended up with a gig using both approaches, so I'm interested to hear how the ones doing the hiring view them.

Dr. O
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Another idea to consider is to have your current or past PI send a reference letter along when you send your email/letter. My grad PI did this for me when I was applying for postdocs, and I think it provided a nice heads-up for the PIs to whom I was writing. Just a thought. Other than that, it may just depend on the PI being ready to find someone like you (just like dating, to take your analogy a step further ;)

FYI - FSP's post did worried me a little bit, too...I'd hate to think that a random comment I wrote in an email made me look like a lazy sack of poop. ;P
Namnezia

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The postdoc requests I usually ignore (that is most of them) usually are some type of badly patched form letter in which the alleged candidate wants to work in my lab because he is impressed in my work in the field of xxxxx even if he has a degree in yyyy which has NOTHING to do with what I do. THese mostly come from abroad.

As far as your letter it seems fine, what might put someone off would be you saying that you want to join their lab to learn a specific technique rather than being excited about the questions addressed by the lab.

I agree with Dr. O, having you current PI call or write the person you want to work for will go a long way for your application to be taken seriously.

Finally, it seems like there is a much greater demand for talented postdocs than there are people looking for positions. So, I'm sure you will find a good one.

Good luck!

joyous726

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It sounds like you're doing a lot of things right. My suggestion, for what it's worth is similar to Namnezia's comment about wanting to join a lab to learn a technique. I think what really works for most PIs is for you to convince them why he/she NEEDS you to work for him. They don't really care that they can help you. I mean, not in the case of random person cold calling them.

Can you re-work your letter to make the techniques you know how to do a MUST for answering some of the questions that their recent papers have raised?

I also wouldn't call a PI on the phone. I think that's irritating to most busy people.

And the name dropping can sometimes sound like you're overcompensating for some sort of suckitude (even if you're not). I've actually heard a lot of complaints about people who come from famous labs having only the fact that famous dude hired them and a great CV as a result to go on. It's sort of a shame, really, but it's true. In mentioning the famous dude collaborations, maybe you can provide specific details about what your contribution to the projects and what you gained from having access to the high powered labs?

Best case is always networking, lastly. Do you know someone who knows the PI's you're contacting? Or know someone who knows someone who knows them? Contact THEM and say you're super interested in a Res. Assoc. position (aka 2nd postdoc...which, is pretty much de rigueur for anyone with experience after 5-6 years) with them. Will your PI call/email them? I agree that would go a long way.

The problem is that a second postdoc made after 3 years makes you very specific and makes you expensive. NIH pay scales for postdocs only go to 7 years, so if you're anywhere close to that, a new PI has to hire you as a Res. Assoc. or Staff Scientist to be fair. Hence, making yourself way necessary to the PI is crucial in making them give you a second look.

Good luck!

Dr Becca, Ph.D.
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Namnezia said: what might put someone off would be you saying that you want to join their lab to learn a specific technique rather than being excited about the questions addressed by the lab.


This is an interesting point, and it's definitely something that's occurred to me. I've been struggling with how to frame things so that they make sense. I guess I feel the need to explain why I'm leaving working with Famous Dudes, and to me the only good explanation (besides the grant running out, which is the majority of the truth, but which I doubt they give a shit about) is that I want new techniques in my repertoire.

In the letters, I make it clear that I'm very interested in the questions they're asking in the lab, and how that relates to what I've been doing, etc. I don't want to come off as just a random person looking for a new gig, although that is how I feel sometimes...

biochem belle
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Dr Becca, Ph.D. said: I've been struggling with how to frame things so that they make sense. I guess I feel the need to explain why I'm leaving working with Famous Dudes, and to me the only good explanation (besides the grant running out, which is the majority of the truth, but which I doubt they give a shit about) is that I want new techniques in my repertoire.


I completely understand that struggle, as I had some splainin' to do as well (and under less favorable conditions). Since you've been in your current position a while, you can likely make a case for how you want to expand the principles and techniques in your repertoire. Also if there's overlap between your past work and prospective lab's current work, highlight that as providing a foundation for the transition into their lab.

Tideliar
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The ones I ignore are the "Dear Respected Professor, I am soon a graduate of program of sciences at..."

GTFO. TTFN.

Your letter looks fine to me
Comrade PhysioProf

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For junior post-docs, what I am looking for is someone who received excellent training as a grad student, and who is enthusiastic about what we do. I don't care about their technical skill set. If I am going to have to pay a senior post-doc/research associate salary, then I am going to have to be convinced that the applicant has a particular technical skillset that I really want.

Dr Becca, Ph.D.
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CPP, this is exactly what I'm fearing. I mean, I certainly have skills that people would want, but what does it look like to TT hiring committees if I do a second post-doc just to keep doing what I've been doing already?

As you said yourself over on blogspot just a few weeks ago,

"it is not a good idea to take another post-doc position doing the same stuff you are doing now. So what you need to be looking for is a second post-doc position that is going to last long enough to provide substantial training and publications, as well as provide very different opportunities compared to your current post-doc: either technique, model system, or subject matter."

It sounds like I'm in a complete catch-22, here. So what's the way out?
hectocotyli

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Signing off with "Love, Doc Becca" is a bit fawning, don't you think? I'd go with lower key "Adoringly".

Gerty-Z
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Dr. Becca, what you need to be able to do is convince potential new PI that you will bring important skills into the lab that will move their research forward. Maybe you can bring a skill set that is not currently in the lab but that new PI could get really excited about? In exchange, you will have the chance to learn new skills, too. win-win for everyone. Convince the new PI that THEIR LAB will be better off if you are there.

Thomas Joseph
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Fuck academia. Why not look at a full-time position at say the NIH?

Prodigal Academic
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I ignore letters that: 1) get my gender incorrect (in English, Professor and Doctor are gender neutral forms of address accessible to people who cannot tell from my first name due to cultural differences, so any "Esteemed Sirs" go right in the trash), 2) sound like form letters and mention nothing specific to me, my group, or my university, 3) are clearly in a different research specialty and don't explain why they are a good fit or what they hope to do in my group, and 4) are written in incomprehensible English (as a new TT prof, I don't have time to do ESL training so my postdocs can learn to write papers and grants).

I read all other letters, and at least skim the CV and look at the publications and prior experience. You might have better luck in a newish lab than in a lab run by a Fancy Pants Bigshot. You'd also pick up valuable skills in how to start up a research program that way too.

Thomas Joseph, positions at National Labs are really difficult to break into without internal contacts--in my experience a HUGE percentage of the advertised positions are already filled, and only advertised due to legal requirements.



Thomas Joseph
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Prodigal Academic said:
Thomas Joseph, positions at National Labs are really difficult to break into without internal contacts--in my experience a HUGE percentage of the advertised positions are already filled, and only advertised due to legal requirements.


That might be your experience, but in my experience that is not the case. Also, if Dr. Becca wants that "foot in the door" experience, she can always look for a PostDoc at the NIH or another federal lab. PostDoc's at the federal level typically pay equal or better than academic postdocs, and come with benefits (including retirement and health).

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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Mon, Sep 20, 2010, 1:10 pm CDT
Prodigal Academic said:
Thomas Joseph, positions at National Labs are really difficult to break into without internal contacts--in my experience a HUGE percentage of the advertised positions are already filled, and only advertised due to legal requirements.


I would agree with this statement. I worked for 2 years during my undergrad at the USDA. Most job listings were only up for legal reasons. The PIs were either doing an internal hire or had already hired someone for the position. That doesn't mean you can't go on the websites of these places and look for interesting projects and PI's though. One other thing to keep in mind is that maybe Doc Becca wants to go the TT route and going to the NIH to start out probably wouldn't help a whole lot in that quest.



Prodigal Academic
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Mon, Sep 20, 2010, 1:14 pm CDT

Thomas Joseph said: Prodigal Academic said:
Thomas Joseph, positions at National Labs are really difficult to break into without internal contacts--in my experience a HUGE percentage of the advertised positions are already filled, and only advertised due to legal requirements.


That might be your experience, but in my experience that is not the case. Also, if Dr. Becca wants that "foot in the door" experience, she can always look for a PostDoc at the NIH or another federal lab. PostDoc's at the federal level typically pay equal or better than academic postdocs, and come with benefits (including retirement and health).

You're right about the salary--I got paid double the typical academic salary at my National Lab postdoc. We had moving expenses paid and health insurance, but no retirement. I heard that NIH pays their on-site postdocs scale, but that might be a rumor. A former colleague of mine from National Lab took 3-4 years to transition into an NIH staff position--to get in the door, he collaborated from National Lab until they found an opening for him.

If you want a postdoc at a National Lab, you need to find a mentor (through ads NOT on the official site--we used to post at meetings frequently) and then put in an application after your supervisor wants you. It is not the same thing as applying for the job formally, but similar to applying to an academic postdoc.

Tideliar
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Mon, Sep 20, 2010, 4:48 pm CDT
I interveiwed at NIH for my first postdoc and didn't know any of the rules. I can't remember how I found the PI, but I just emailed him and followed up with a phone call...

At NIH beware if you're a Fellow or a Trainee. There is a MASSIVE issue with loss of benefits etc., if you get promoted from trainee to fellow (I need to look this up and comment more later)

antipodean
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Mon, Sep 20, 2010, 6:19 pm CDT
Every hire I've seen in my short career has been after a meeting in person. Can you ask to go and visit the labs you want to work in?

Does the peanut gallery think that would even help?
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