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?
Based primarily on the 2012 NIH Workforce report this infographic represents current workforce sizes and annual fluxes before and after a PhD in the biomedical sciences in the US. The picture is not as dire as that painted for the UK by this 2010 Royal Society report, but many of these figures are based on estimates and self-reporting. We'll have to wait for the NAS Postdoc Report for better data. In the meantime, that report's chair, Greg Petsko, has divulged some interesting tidbits in his iBiology talk: the data on postdocs are so poor, many institutions can't estimate the number of postdocs they have within an order of magnitude. Hopefully, clear data on these job markets will empower trainees to make better-informed career decisions.
A few weeks ago, we heard about two of the most popular tools for maintaining a lab notebook: Evernote and OneNote (now available for Mac). I'm a devout OneNote user myself - for my needs, it's fantastic. Then again, I'm mostly just making in-line buffer calculations, linking to other documents, taking advantage of URL annotations on my copy and paste jobs, and using the Snipping Tool like it's going out of style. But what if I had more heavy duty data analysis to do, or computational projects to manage? As more and more biologists are building their own software tools, it makes sense to have a notebook that can interface with code in a more meaningful way.
Every scientist has had "that" conversation: the casual conversation with family members or friends that inevitably ends with eyes glazed over because of the seemingly esoteric and incomprehensible nature of what you do in the lab. Explaining your research can be challenging. The disconnect that follows these conversations with family and friends can be easily glossed over, but it is actually quite telling of the severe communication gap that is growing between scientists and the general public. COMPASS, ASCB's Committee for Postdocs and Students, has set a priority on efforts to close this gap.
On a cold morning in Nashville, Tennessee, Ron Vale, professor at the University of California San Francisco, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator, recalls the story of the beginnings of iBiology. Vale's inspiration for iBiology dates back to 2006 while he was on a trip to India. Vale had the chance to talk to around 120 people from some of the country's leading scientific institutions. However, he kept thinking about the people who didn't have a chance to come to his talks. So he started to "think of new ways for people who are not in leading institutions to also have access to leading scientists" he said.
Are you a postdoc looking for an alternative career?
Have you considered tenure-track academic research?
This may sound funny on its face but the hard reality is nearly all science postdocs will go on to non-tenured positions, making academic research the real alternative career choice. What are postdocs to do when their goal of becoming a tenured professor begins to vanish in the mist? Is there really only one successful outcome for science PhD's? What about postdocs who decide the academy is not for them? Have they wasted their time? Are they – gasp – failed scientists? (More on that later).
"What are you going to do when you're finished?"
"Have you started looking for postdocs?"
"When you choose where to do a postdoc, you should consider..."
"Where will you do your postdoc?"
When reading a paper, I often find myself furiously flipping back and forth between the text and figures. This is most annoying when reviewing a manuscript, but the typeset pdf often isn't much better. One would think that html versions wouldn't have this problem, but in most cases only a tiny thumbnail is visible, and you have to open a popup or a new browser tab to really take a closer look. This is true even for the well-meaning PubReader format, which successfully replicates the experience of reading a large-print trifold brochure.