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014: Postdoc Straight Talk Part 2: PostTalk

The moment you finish grad school, a weight is lifted from your shoulders.  You’re free to follow your scientific passion and publish your discoveries in top-tier journals.  But don’t get TOO comfortable, because we’ve already started the countdown on your temporary position…

keep-calm-the-countdown-has-begun

Last week, we asked postdocs what they loved and hated about their jobs.  This week, we try to discover the common themes.  Postdocs love the autonomy and freedom they feel as they push the boundaries of scientific knowledge, but why is the “system” forcing them to move on after just five years?  And why is the pay-scale derived from a dark-ages fiefdom with serfs and vassals?

Postdocs in 2015 are happy to use their skills to pursue new branches of scientific inquiry, but they’re frustrated by postdoc limbo status.  They long for the salary and benefits of their “muggle” (non-magical/scientific) peers, and wish they had spent more time building their CVs with the bullet-point experience that could help them land a job in teaching or industry.

In the end, they offered valuable advice for other scientists advancing through graduate school.  Whether you’re an incoming PhD student or a postdoc completing year five, you’ll benefit from the wisdom, experience, and “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-did” insights of the postdocs we interviewed.

Also in this episode, we sample something old, something new, something black, and something tan.  Okay, so it’s basically a fairly new Black and Tan from Berkshire Brewing.  They call it “Shabadoo,” and it’s a porter/ale mix blended with precision in Massachusetts.  Shabba-dabba-doo!

 

 

 

013: Postdoc Straight Talk

Ep13

If you met him on the street, you’d never suspect that mild-mannered Clark Kent was actually the indomitable Superman. And there’s a chance that you’re ignoring the real superheroes walking around your lab every day. They’ve escaped from graduate school Krypton and are flourishing under the yellow sun of independent research. They’re postdocs, and churning out high-quality papers is their super power.

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Pro tip: Wait to tear off your shirt until AFTER you’ve left the building. Otherwise, the doorman will see your leotard.

This week on the show, we unmask unassuming postdocs in labs across the country and find out what really makes them tick. What do they love about their new-found freedoms? What do they hate about their “science trainee” status? And what one thing would they change about this phase of their scientific careers?

Besides the salary, of course…

After earning a PhD, your perspective shifts and you begin to see all the mistakes you made in grad school. So we asked each postdoc what they wish they had known as a graduate student. This advice could change your life and alter your career path, but only if you choose to heed their advice!

012: How to help veterans succeed in science, and why it’s important to all of us.

If you believe the newspaper headlines, you’ll be ready to dismiss Jake as another statistic. After all, the odds of a soldier returning from war and getting an undergrad degree are not good, which makes his dream of earning a PhD sound like a pipe-dream. But don’t believe everything you read in the papers.

soldier
The skills that help a soldier survive on the battlefield can be distractions in the classroom.

The Cost of Coming Home

While the men and women fighting overseas will periodically make the evening news, few of us pause to consider what happens to the veterans who return home. After World War II, the GI Bill helped pay for many of those vets to go back to college, training them for civilian jobs and leveraging their unique skills to bolster economic growth. But our societal appetite for war has waxed and waned with each conflict, and with it, our support for the troops returning home.

Instead of handshakes and expressions of gratitude, many vets return to uncomfortable questions and awkward stares.

So what happens when a soldier like Jake leaves the danger, camaraderie, and daily structure of an active war zone and sits down in English 101 with a group of teenagers scrolling Facebook on their laptops? Short answer: he doesn’t fit.

Science for Soldiers

Enter John Schupp, a chemistry professor who wanted to change the patterns that lead to high veteran drop-out rates. By applying a scientific approach, Schupp experimented his way to a system that could help veterans not only fit, but excel.

In this week’s episode, we unpack Jake’s questions about how he will get back to school and achieve his goals in biomedical science, and Dr. Schupp will be our guide. He tells us how to make science training accessible to all veterans, but also, why it should matter to every one of us.

Jake wrote:

I am a disabled military vet who was going to school under the GI bill.  However over the course of my time in college I suffered a mental breakdown that lead to my GPA plummeting and my leaving the small liberal arts college I was studying at. This has left me uncertain as to what my future will be but the one thing I know for certain is that I want to finish my undergrad and get my PhD.  Now I’m probably getting ahead of myself.  I have several things that I am concerned preclude that for even being an option for me.

1) I am concerned that I am too old I’m currently 27 years old
2) I am concerned that I may have burned my bridges having dropped out
3) Though I’ve received help from the VA for the issues I was dealing with at the time, I’m concerned that I’ll have a recurrence of those problems.

Any advice for getting back on track would be greatly appreciated.

You say vee-EN-na, I say vie-AY-na

Also in this episode, we sample Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager. This tasty brew from the Blueridge Mountains of Virginia really takes Josh back to his roots.

References

Dr. Schupp shared a treasure-trove of information that you may find valuable. You can reach him at  schuppjd@tiffin.edu

Full interview with Dr. Schupp

A business plan universities can use to develop their own program to support student veterans

A presentation on veteran suicide and income inequality throughout US history

For vets pursuing a PhD, there are a number of exclusive funding sources available:

011: The 8.5 fixes that will save biomedical science

Biomedical science is broken.  Funding is unpredictable, training programs drag on indefinitely, and some of our best scientists are drawn to careers outside of the university or drowned in paperwork if they stay.  Can anything be done to support research staff and boost lab productivity?

9182-a-swiss-army-knife-isolated-on-a-white-background-pv
Two of the fixes are the bottle opener and the cork-screw. A little bit of ethanol makes everything better!

Saving Science

These topics are regularly debated in the literature, but a recent meta-analysis by Pickett et al. in PNAS works to find the consensus among a dizzying number of suggestions.  Their paper, Toward a sustainable biomedical research enterprise: Finding consensus and implementing recommendations, could be re-titled “8 Ways to Save Science.”  And while these 8 ideas may appear across the literature, they’re not without controversy.

This week on the show, we unpack the 8 recommendations and debate their merits.  Should all graduate school programs be limited to 5 years?  Should the federal government increase overall funding?  Should post-docs receive higher pay?

To summarize, the 8 recommendations are:

  1. Make funding predictable from year-to-year
  2. Increase the total amount of money the federal government hands out
  3. Reduce regulations
  4. Pay post-docs more
  5. Shorten graduate school to 5 years
  6. Train students and post-docs for “alternative” careers other than faculty PI
  7. Change how trainees are funded
  8. Increase opportunities for staff scientists

Josh throws in a bonus recommendation that didn’t quite make the top 8: increase diversity in the biomedical enterprise.

Did you applaud every item on this list, or did the authors miss the mark?  Leave your comments below and let us know what you’d add or remove to make biomedical science a more sustainable enterprise.

Also in this episode, we pay tribute to all the Oregonians who don’t listen to our podcast by drinking Dead Guy Ale from Rogue.  It’s an Oregon beer and we’re pandering for listeners in that great state, so tell a friend!

References:

States in order by quality of their beer offerings.

Newt Gingrich (NYT April 2015): “Double the NIH budget”

PIs spend 42% of their time on administrivia

Stanford recently bumped starting postdoc pay to $50K

NIH recently started a funding mechanism called “Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST)”.

010: Are you too old to go back to school?

Congratulations!  You just decided that you want to be a scientist, and spend your career doing research in a biomedical lab.  That would be great news, except that you’re past thirty and you have no training.  As the excitement fades and reality hits, you ask: “Am I too old to go back to school?”

You’re never too old to science

You're never too old to go back to school! Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/donhomer/5840513827
Dr. Thigpen’s research on anti-aging therapies were effective, but difficult to control. This photo shows the last time he was seen in public before reverting to a zygote.

This week, we face some tough questions about what to do when your career path didn’t take you straight to your dreams.  You may come from another career or had a family first, but now you’re convinced you want to join the ranks of scientific society.  It’s going to be a long road: biomedical scientists reach their first real jobs at a median age of 37.  Should you even bother if you’re just getting started at 35?

We put these tough questions to Robin Chamberland, Assistant Professor and Director of Clinical Microbiology at St. Louis University Hospital.  Dr. Chamberland went back to school in her 30s, and successfully navigated her way to a faculty position at a top-tier university.  We ask whether she faced discrimination or other challenges because of her age or family commitments, and she shares some insights for others on the same path.

Whiskey is the water of life

whiskey sours
There’s so much fruit, the Drosophila declared our birthdays a National Holiday!

While we’re pondering these existential questions of life and meaning, we’re also celebrating our birthdays!  We sample some tasty homemade Whiskey Sours with a generous helping of fruit.  Listen closely for the secret ingredient…

And this year, we ask for one present each: we’d love for you to share the Hello PhD podcast with one friend, and to leave a rating or review on iTunes.  Both of those simple gifts help to broaden the conversation and make Hello PhD a podcast for scientists and the people who love them.  Thank you!

References:

The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett

NIH Report on Biomedical Training