As I am not sure if I am going to have a job or not next year, I decided to be prepared. If necessary, I will have to apply to everything and everywhere. And this includes industry jobs. I’ve never ever done a resume in my entire life, and it took me a lot of effort to come up with a decent draft. Luckily I met a person working for the government that was kind enough to look at it and today we had a coffee meeting to discuss it. It was really useful and I hope I can help people our there!
– Leave the impostor syndrome behind. Academics tend to be too modest and don’t brag about themselves. Don’t short sell yourself. If you think you are good at something, call yourself an expert. Make it stand in your resume. You should put it in a way that you are the best person on earth with those skills.
– Make it simple. To the point. They don’t care about where you gave the talk or even the title of it. Just that you are an excellent speaker with extensive practice on oral presentations and teaching. For every skill, set up how you acquired that skill, in a clear and concise way (I know, it’s easier said than done).
– Try to read it with the mind of someone that doesn’t really have lab experience and explain why that particular point is great. One cannot just say “supervised XX UG and XX GS”, but also state what they were being trained to do. Don’t assume they will know why you think that particular bullet point is important to be there. Explain it.
– Add a section named “Professional Development” where you can add service and other things that are not skills neither job experience. Peer review, member of associations, organizing committee for scientific conferences. They like service. It shows outside involvement and initiative.
– Also cut the BS. Critical thinking and other skills that any other scientist will have don’t need to be in your resume.
Hope it helps! Good luck 🙂
So as I told you before, my first R03 grant was triaged last month. Not much surprise, as that was my very first submission and I basically did it without supervision or science advice. Of course, I did the best I could, and there was a tiny bit of hope to get a score. But it didn’t happen.
However, when I received the reviews, they were not that bad. On average, all my scores were around 3, except for approach, where I’ve got a big 6. There were good moments such as “Concerns about XXX diminish enthusiasm for this otherwise excellent study”. But they had a really big concern about me being a PD: “Lacks an academic appointment and is dependent on her mentor for laboratory space and access to facilities”. So why on earth a PD is able to submit a R03 grant as the PI if the reviewers are going to be all cranky about that?
And it gets worse!
Other thing that the reviewers were all confused was about my actual department: “This laboratory is in the Department of Mathematics, which appears to be an unusual place for a neuroscience laboratory”. Yes, my former PI retired and co-PI took over. So despite being a neuroscientist and have absolutely no idea about math, I’m in the math Dept. And that’s why my PI cannot help much with the scientific part of my grant.
Despite this advice, my former PI is the closest and better help that I can have. He gave me some tips about how to fix the approach of my grant, but he suggested me to apply for an R21 instead of an R03. Lots of people on twitter suggested alternatives such as K01, F32… Gosh, this grant applying thing is so complicated! Anyways, twitter as always did help me a lot with advices and guidelines. I emailed my PO and scheduled a phone interview. I’ll keep you posted.
Before I start my whining I need to set up the context. I came to work as a postdoc in a multidisciplinary lab, that combines “theoreticians” and “experimentalists”. Two PIs, two R01s. NIH complained about experiments overlapping, we just got the experimental grant renewed. A couple of years ago the experimentalist PI retired and I’ve been pretty much “bossless”. My current PI doesn’t have a clue about what I actually do in the lab! Despite being really smart and able to give me a lot of science insights, there’s no lab experience. None. But things have been working fine so far. Got used to be on my own. Graduate student is also under my direct supervision, as well as two undergrads.
Now we have little more than a year left for our R01 to finish and it’s time to send a renewal. Current PI put some ideas together and it kind of looks nice, but… just too old fashioned and not sexy. Our research is not glam enough for us to submit just that! The other two research associates (that will be co-PIs in the grant) also gave some contributions, but mainly to their in vitro experiments, that’s about one third of the grant. So as I pointed the weakness of our grant I was awarded with the task to fix it.
So I submitted my very first R03 grant and I’m applying for a couple of jobs. I’m also working on writing another NSF grant with collaborator. But every chance I have I stop to read and try to work in our R01. Slowly. And every time I tried and couldn’t work I was feeling guilty. Thinking that if our R01 is not renewed everybody is going to lose their jobs. Terrified with this idea, but still unable to make it look better. Thought it may be something that cannot be fixed, or that I just can’t do it. But I have tons of ideas for my own future research, I know where I want to go and things flow so easy with no pressure!
So before leaving for SFN I sent the updated version for the PIs to see what I’ve done and complement, as there’s still a lot of work to do. Coming back after more than a week, guess what? Nothing changed! No one worked a single bit in the grant. Then I realized. It’s not that I can’t do it, but in fact I’m bothered, and now that I realized it I’m angry and tired. This is just not my job. I can’t have all this responsibility in my back. That’s their job. Their salary is about double than mine. My name is not going to appear as a co-PI in the grant.
I know one might think it’s good for me, that’s learning and it will help me long term. But in the middle of all this I have little time (almost no time, actually) to go to the bench and do MY experiments. Gotta publish too. Ahhhhh right now I’m just tired. But I’m really wondering… should I be bothered or be proud?
Shutdown is over. So what? Things are still pretty bad for research. With less money to spend, less people are getting funded and more people are applying for funding, making it all much harder. I feel like I am in a black hole and can’t see a way out. I’m back to the US for a little more than a month and all I’ve been doing is to work at the damn computer. Applied for a job (that didn’t work) and now just *kind of* finished writing my first R03 grant.
My PI told me that our budget allows us to order and mantain about 30 rats/month. That’s nothing if you think that there is a grad student, another postdoc and me working with animals in the lab! So we have to take shifts in ordering rats! That’s terrible. Then I look at my CV and see that I didn’t publish a paper as a first author since 2011. That looks bad, no? But how can I write a grant and work in the bench at the same time? I’m a freshman, it takes me forever to come up with a decent text for my grant…. Also, no money for rats!
Then it’s job season. Yesterday I spent hours looking at adds and choosing which ones I’d fit in. There are some nice jobs out there, but then I look at my CV with any glam publication and with no American funding or history of funding. This makes me wonder if it’s really worth “waste” time on all those job applications…
Sorry about the bad post, probably just tired and will feel better tomorrow….
Some time ago I came across this article “Biology’s next microscope, mathematics’ next physics” that gave me many ideas of how to address the collaboration that I was proposing in my grant, and that has been going on for years in our lab. And as far as it seems trivial and normal for me now, I realized this collaboration between modelers and biologists still is not a common topic among scientists.
I came to work as a postdoctoral associate here in the US back in 2008 and was specially delighted with this new experience. At first, I was very intimidated with the mathematicians from our lab, specially when they start with their equations and numbers – I was never a big fan of math at school. But after a while I started to understand that it was not about the math per se, but about what the math could bring me! A mathematician mind functions in a very different way than ours, biologists. We tend to complicate things, to be very prolix. They are incredibly sharper, they go straight to the point! Sometimes I think that they simplify too much things, but in the end it’s like they are summarizing things in a box and arrow diagram by the end of our paper.
Practically, despite helping with data analysis and interpretation of results, a typical new project starts with a review of the literature, as any other project. I am the type of scientist that often gets lost between an infinite number of Pubmed open pages in my browser, but who isn’t? Whenever things start to get too complicated it’s time to ask for help. We present all the science collected so far and they transform all this information in equations of a simplified model of what should be happening the micro system that you are working on. Often there is a lot of information that they don’t use but also they ask for other info that you would not think about – does this neuron X has receptors for Y? What happens with X if you increase Y? Then you look for the answers of this questions in the literature (or at least what you can get) and they build a mathematical model from all of it.
It’s show time! We start to run simulations now! Block X, see what happens with Y, fine tune the model to best fit what it is known in the literature. Now we get to the fun part – ask questions about your hypothesis! I predict that if we increase Y, X will decrease and we won’t have a response. Put this info in your model, run the simulations and see what happens. If your hypothesis is correct in the model, it’s time to go to the bench and run the experiments – of course the model is not correct 100% of the time. But my PI use to say that we learn more adjusting the model than when the model is always right on its predictions.
It is fun and very useful! I am sure that even after I get a permanent position I will continue this fruitful collaboration with mathematicians. And I suggest you try to collaborate with them too, you will not regret it!
I AM BACK! Yes, after one very long year I am finally back to the US! I don’t have words to describe all the happiness that I felt when I arrived and that I still feel during this first week here. My house was completely dusty and humid, my car does not work, I don’t have a driver’s license yet, but nothing bothers me, because I’m back!
Many times during this past year I caught myself thinking what was the reason of all this happening in my life. I am one of those people that thinks that everything happens for a reason, and I cannot think that I’m such a bad person that life could bring me such a nightmare in vain. Unfortunately I didn’t come up with a reason (yet). But, this year away did change me A LOT. I feel like some kind of superwoman in science, maybe because during this time I could not do many things that I was slowly planning to do, now I feel like I want to do them all, right now! We are all procrastinators, and deep inside we never think that we are fully able to do certain things…
Green card is already filled, just received the visit of my math collaborator (and long time friend) and we already set up experiments to get preliminary data for our future grant. Have my agenda pretty full with meetings about papers to submit, grants to work on and undergrad students that will help me. Have a few TT positions in mind to apply, and although I’m not going to have much time to work hard into applications this job season, I am going to start applying!
Lately my blog seems more like a journal than a science blog. Although that was not really my main goal, I enjoy to think that people reading my blog can know me and understand a little bit more of myself. And now that I’m back and comfortable again it will be easier to write more scientific posts!