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080: Postdoc Straight Talk – Where Are They Now?

Uncertainty is a defining feature of postdoctoral training:

  • Q: Is a postdoc a student or an employee? (A: Neither. Both?)
  • Q: Should you continue in your PhD research field, or try something new?  (A: Yes)
  • Q: How are you supposed to find a job while you’re ALSO doing research and writing papers? (A: Pray that the Career-Fairy leaves one under your lab notebook while you’re at seminar.)
  • Q: How long should a postdoctoral fellowship take? (A: Now you’re just being mean!)

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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…

064: A PhD Internship Will Help You Get a Job

You might think internships are the domain of business students and undergrads.  You’re training every day in a lab – why would you need more experiential learning?

The short answer is that your laboratory training is a great internship if you want to go on to a faculty position at a major research university.

But what if you want to use your scientific training to craft policy and legislation in your state government?

Or what if you want to work with a Contract Research Organization and help shepherd new drugs through clinical trials?

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060: The Right (And Wrong) Ways to Contact Potential Postdoc Advisors

Dear Dr. Scientist,

I’m writing to tell you how much I admire your work in the field of science that you study.  Your lab has done some tremendous work researching very important topics of significance.  I just loved your latest research article and I’m sure it made your university or institution proud!

In any case, I’m looking for a postdoc position in a lab like yours.  Please let me know what day I can start.

Sincerely,

A Grad Student

If you want to end up in University spam filters, then just copy and paste this email to everyone in the department.

If you’d like that postdoc advisor to take notice and invite you for an interview, we have some tips for making contact and getting a response!

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048: Where the (Wild) Postdocs Are

Shhhh!  There he is.  Behind that rack of Eppendorf tubes….

The elusive ‘Postdoctoral Fellow’ in his native habitat!

If we’re quiet, we may be able to observe him as he completes an experiment, writes a few paragraphs in a grant proposal, and nurtures his young (i.e. graduate students.)

Postdocs are difficult to study in the wild, and no one knows exactly how many of them exist outside of captivity.

But thanks to a recent study from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), we are starting to understand their migration patterns as they leave the safety of the training lab and venture into the wider world.

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