There are many reasons for wanting to go to graduate school: You want to become a professor, you love pipetting colorless liquids, you really liked your biology classes in college, or you are burning with an insatiable desire to understand biological mechanisms. Whatever your reason, you should know what you're getting into: Not only does your future happiness depend on it, but this knowledge may also determine your success. Let me explain.
Playing a musical instrument. Ballroom dancing. Musical theater. Knitting. Painting. Woodworking. What do all of these activities have in common? Most obviously, they all have an extremely creative component. But what if I asked about motorcycle racing, rock climbing, skiing, and distance running in addition to the activities above? Now the common thread is a little less obvious, but very intriguing—these are hobbies of graduate students, postdocs, and professors in the University of Massachusetts (UMass) college system.
A collaborator and I are about to submit a manuscript, a process that is deeply satisfying. However, it also leads me to reflect on the inefficiencies of the current publishing system. For example:
● Traditional academic publishing is extremely expensive, and much of its cost goes to filling corporate coffers rather than paying for services necessary for publishing. For example, Elsevier alone pulled in $1.1 billion in profit in 2010, an astounding 36% of its total revenue. In an age of tightening budgets, this is probably not the best use of public funds.
In my last post, I covered the initial steps of applying for academic faculty jobs, basically preparing and submitting the application material to the universities. Most universities will shortlist the applications to between 5 - 20% for further evaluation, which usually includes two types of interviews: first, a remote interview (via phone or Skype), and finally the last round—a visit to the university. To get to this final step is already a significant achievement, since competition for faculty positions in certain universities in the United States can be intense—around 300 applications for 1 position.
Scientists can be reclusive. Not just in the "lab work all day, time course all night, cell culture all weekend" way, but also because we can be a very isolated community. We are busy trying to keep afloat in a competitive field, and other scientists and like-minded academics often surround us. Our friends, colleagues, classmates, and sometimes even partners, are part of the science community that encompasses most of our time.
The Outreach Subcommittee of the Committee for Postdocs and Students (COMPASS) announces the Share Your Science Video Contest with prizes up to $500. This new initiative aims to increase basic science awareness because informed decision makers produce better outcomes for funding.
There are always times when we need some extra help in the classroom—in finding new ways to engage students or to encourage them to learn about a new topic, for example. iBioEducation from iBiology provides tools that can help enrich your students' learning experience. It doesn't matter if you are a teaching a graduate class, an undergraduate class, or a high school class; there is something for everyone.
It's a sad but inevitable truth: enthusiasm ebbs and flows, never consistent or unwavering. This holds true for many things in life, but to scientists this is most pertinent to our enthusiasm toward our projects. Whether you're a grad student or postdoc (and maybe even a PI), you have definitely gone through a period when you're simply tired of your project, don't want to read another word or article about the same-old topic, lack the motivation to do any experiments, and in short find anything related to your work off-putting and depressing. One good point to keep in mind: You're not alone having this feeling.
When I was a kid, I didn't know that I would be a scientist. But I did know I would be a parent. Having children was a high priority in my life. However, during graduate school, I started to see the professional demands placed on graduate students, postdocs, and junior faculty. When, then, would be the best time to start a family? There is not one right answer, as it depends on each individual's personal and professional situation. And you will probably never think you have enough time or enough money to start a family. I had my first son at the end of graduate school, and my second son four years later, shortly after starting a second postdoc. So, how is it going? Can I be a great parent AND be a successful postdoc? Can I have it all? The answer is Yes! And...No. And, both Yes and No, sometimes even at the same time. Let me explain:
One topic represents a common problem of science today: the academic faculty job market. The competition for an assistant professorship in cell biology in a middle-sized university in the United States results in a clash of approximately 300 applicants warring against each other for ONE position. In times of impact factor dominance, limited fellowships, and fewer grants, the focus has shifted from creativity to irrational productivity, sometimes measured by the number of CNS (Cell, Nature, Science) papers published. Even though the career transition from postdoc to assistant professor is broken now, how can you proceed to the next academic step if you really want to?