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negative postdoc criticism

073: Stop Telling Me My Project is Going to Fail!

Is your lab is filled with compassionate, positive individuals who offer nurturing support and gentle guidance to help you achieve your full potential as a scientist?

We didn’t think so.

While you may encounter a handful of Positive Pollyannas throughout your career, you’re also likely to run into a few Negative Nancys. Rather than encouraging you to keep trying when an experiment fails, they’ll take every opportunity to throw shade on your emerging research project.

Everyone’s A Critic

This week, we heard from Amygdala (not her real name…), who was getting nothing but discouragement from one of the postdocs in her lab.  She writes:

There is a postdoc in my lab who is tangentially involved in the project that I’m working on. This postdoc has extremely negative views regarding the project. This negative view spans from the amount of time it takes to train animals on this task to the variable results that we get with each animal, etc. While I agree about some points that this postdoc is making and that there is always room from improvement, it’s hard for me to not get down about this project. I’m the one directly training the animals and obtaining the results. Given that training animals takes 6 days a week and at least four hours each day, I’m trying to remain positive and not think that I’ve wasted all of this time. My PI and the postdoc whose project this is remain positive and encouraging. However, the tangentially-involved postdoc is someone who I interact more frequently with.

This is a very long-winded way of asking: How does one remain positive regarding their own project while still showing respect to other people’s views regarding the project? And is it appropriate for people to comment negatively on other people’s projects?

We address her concerns and offer some (hopefully) helpful advice for dealing with negativity from your lab mates.

Cloudy Waters

For Science in the News, Josh celebrates Healthy and Safe Swimming Week with a story about Cryptosporidium in pool water.  It’s a serious water-borne illness that you can prevent by not drinking where you swim.

Or you can get YOUR test strips today!

We also try an unfiltered sour beer from Sierra Nevada.  It’s the Otra Vez Gose-Style Ale brewed with cactus and grapefruit.  

Since the trendy flavors have shifted from intensely bitter IPAs to intensely sour Goses, we predict the next big hit will be beers that taste like cigarette butts and cat urine!

And soon after that, the hipsters will complain about those flavors being ‘mainstream.’ Sigh…

071: Practical Advice for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome with Dr. Maureen Gannon

Imposter syndrome might make you feel all alone in the world, but ironically, many graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members experience the same feelings of inadequacy.

This week on the show, we interview Dr. Maureen Gannon, PhD, about the sources of imposter feelings and the practical steps you can take to work through them.

By every objective measure, Dr. Gannon’s career has been an unqualified success.  She went from private high school through a Masters degree with full scholarships, finishing her undergraduate training in just three years.  She completed a PhD at Cornell and is now a tenured faculty member at Vanderbilt University with appointments in several departments. She leads and chairs multiple organizations and committees, and is invited to speak internationally about her work.

And yet, for much of her training, Dr. Gannon didn’t feel successful.  She sometimes attributed her personal wins to outside forces or good luck. She wondered when others would discover her shortcomings as a scientist.

Then, she attended a workshop that put a name to the feelings: imposter phenomenon.  With the name came a realization that many of her peers were experiencing the same thing.

Now, she speaks to students, faculty, and professional groups about her experience of overcoming imposter syndrome and getting on with her career.

In this episode, Dr. Gannon shares some of the common triggers for imposter feelings and the steps you can take to work through them.

Here are the books and resources she recommends:

Take the test yourself: The Clance Imposter Scale

The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming the Fear That Haunts Your Success

The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It

Creative Visualization: Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life

Man vs. Machine

Science in the News brings us another reminder that computers are going to take our jobs.  This week, machine learning algorithms outperform human doctors on predicting which patients will suffer from heart disease.

Now, when the robots rise up to kill us, they’ll be able to make it look like ‘an accident.’

We also sample a tropical ethanol with the Big Wave Golden Ale from Kona Brewing. It’s not clear why this allegedly Hawaiian beer was featured on a cruise in the Caribbean, but it’s best not to argue.  Any port in a storm, as they say…

Like the show?  Support us on Patreon!

070: Imposter Syndrome

Meeting a new cohort of graduate students on your first day of class can be intimidating.  These are the brightest students from their undergraduate programs. Some of them have years of research experience, first-author publications, and a depth of knowledge that seems encyclopedic.

Feeling intimidated by your new colleagues is normal, but some of the people you meet will suffer a more insidious type of anxiety. Some students actually see themselves as charlatans who are just play-acting at a scientific career. So far, they feel, they’ve successfully bluffed their way through college, entrance exams, and interviews.

But they fear that at any moment, they will be discovered as frauds and rejected from the program.

This daily battle is the emotional reality for people suffering from “Imposter Syndrome.”

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/59632563@N04/6480297645

058: How to Be Truly Unhappy in Grad School

On those days when you manage to take a break from bench-work and call home, you will almost certainly get ‘The Question:’

“So, how is your research going?”

If you’re new to grad school, you might make the mistake of telling your parent or loved one exactly how your research is going.

“Well, I was up until 3 AM doing time points but then one of the buffers was contaminated so I had to throw out my last two weeks of work and start over.”

To which your parent will reply, “That sounds awful!  You must be so upset.  Are you sure a career in science will make you happy?”

And you’ll stop and ponder that last question.  Will a career in science make you happy?

Will you prance from bench to bench giggling to yourself, high on the sheer exhilaration of learning?

Or is it much more likely that you’ll face roadblocks, confounding data, experiments that only sometimes work, and that every once in awhile, you’ll push the boundary of your knowledge into new territory.  In those moments, you might feel proud or relieved or curious, but not exactly ‘happy.’

Does that mean you should leave science to find a career that can make you happier?

Or is Mom asking you the wrong question entirely?

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Queen Christina and Descartes team up

056: Team Up for Speedier Science – #modernPhD Part 3

When we think of scientists, we often think of the lone researcher plodding away at the bench late into the night.  We imagine Alexander Fleming scrutinizing his penicillium molds or Einstein pondering the latest equation he’s written on the chalk board.

We go a step further when training new scientists: we ask them to complete an ‘independent research project.’  We tacitly perpetuate this notion of the solitary scientist, making her own success or failure.

The side effects of this lone-wolf approach to research are painfully manifest: projects that stall on a single experiment, money wasted teaching everyone the same techniques, and students who burn out due to frustration, lack of direction, or just plain loneliness.

In Part 3 of our goal to modernize the PhD process, we propose a radical 180º turn from the independent project.

Let’s turn science into a team sport.

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