Archive for the 'Grad School' category

Post Ph.D. transition to Postdoc

So now that I'm ensconced in my new position as a postdoc, I felt it was time to talk about the post Ph.D. Transition. The last few months of my Ph.D. program felt like a wild ride. It also felt so far removed from the rest of my experiences in grad school.

1. Thesis Writing: I wrote the thesibeast in about a month and a half of full time writing, followed by a round of making edits with the boss before submitting to my committee. What really helped was developing a solid outline and sticking to a writing schedule. Otherwise I would have fallen apart. I also learn that while I work best in the lab in the morning, my most productive writing occurred between 8pm and 2am. Nights were spent writing, just getting thoughts to paper and leaving placeholders, no worries about editing. Mornings and the rest of the day were better spent doing routine editing or working on figures.

One other huge benefit during the thesis writing was enlisting a really good editor who dissected it line by line pointing out issue. It is humbling to have some just ripped though your stuff and have so much red ink on it that it looks like a prison knife fight took place over my thesis. But it was good, it made me realize where I need to clean up my writing and how to make me a better writer and communicator of ideas.

2. The Defense: I'd like to say that I spent a lot of time honing a well-crafted and beautiful presentation, but I didn't. I spent 30 minutes putting it together and my boss spent 5 minutes reviewing it with me the day before my public seminar. There were no practice presentations, no run throughs with trusted friends and lab mates, none of that shit! I had already given a similar evolving talk on multiple postdoc interviews (more of this later) so it wasn't much work or effort to give the talk.

The public seminar went really well and then came the room. This had been filling me with fear and dread. Not because I thought it was going to go like 12 rounds in the ring with Mike Tyson, but because I never really knew anything about the whole closed door meeting. My boss was tied up before the seminar so I couldn't ask them what was standard operating procedure for this so I went to another professor. Their question to me was how did you enjoy your qualifying exam, it would be like that. I nodded my head and feigned pleasure at their response saying that the qualifying exam was a pleasant experience. This dear reader, was a bald face lie. My experience with the qualifying exam was tantamount to sandpapering the asshole of an alligator in a telephone booth and the exam was chaired by the professor who I had sought advice from. This same person came to apologize to me the week following my exam about how rough they went on me. I'd like to say I remember a lot of the details from this event but I guess we tend to repress the most painful of memories.

But my time in the room with the committee post-public seminar was brief (~45 minutes), the committee had minimal edits to my thesis (most of these came from my boss). Most of the discussion centered around clarifying things that I had written about and then talking about future directions of the project, even though I wouldn't be there to do them. I amended portions of my thesis that caused any confusion to be much more explicit so whoever (read no one) picked it up to read it would have an easier time understanding it.

It took all told about a week and a half to finish all of the edits and get it into final format to be submitted to the graduate school. And because it had a good chunk of preliminary data I had to go through channels to embargo its publication on Digital Commons for at least one year to give us time to publish the data.

3. What's next: Okay, so you are about to get or just got a Ph.D., what the fuck are you going to do for that? That's a very personal question that we all have to answer our own self. For me I knew I wanted to do a postdoc in order to expand my knowledge base and skill sets. About 5 months prior to my defense I sent out enquiry packets to prospective labs for postdoctoral positions. This was timed as the main publication of my thesis was set to come out a month later. My first interview occurred a week before the publication went live, so everything was happening really fast and was a bit exciting and nerve wracking.

I feel that part of my success at getting postdoc interviews was crafting a nice application packet that included a personalized cover letter, cv, and copy of my in press manuscript. The email was also personalized and literally every person I sent it to, I got a response from whether it be an invitation for an interview or a sorry I'm out of money. Even the folks who didn't have space or money told me to check back later or suggested someone else to contact.

Interviews...I had all kinds of interviews...less than 24 hours on site, three days there, skype interviews, phone interviews, you name it, I did it. Dinner with the PI, dinner with the grad students, nice PIs, standoffish PIs that try to elicit a response from you, it was like Patty Hearst in the bank video...all a blur. But I was there. My suggestions for interviews are to make sure you have enough cap space on your credit cards as some places made me pick up my accommodations and then I would get reimbursed or other places would pay. Everyone I met I always asked them the same few questions: what makes their lab different from any other lab, what frustrates you about their lab, and if you could change one thing about your lab what would it be. Its interesting to see the spectrum of answers that come from techs, students, postdocs, and even the PI. It also provides insight if everyone says the same thing is a problem then it probably is a real problem.

If you want to chat more about the postdoc interview process and how and why I selected the lab that I did, shoot me and message or email and we can chat in a more private manner.

3.  Ramblin' Man...This is the really tough part, when do you put the pipets down, pack your shit, and hug your friends. For me the decision was easy. I got my main paper out and one co authorship out. Other future stories that I was developing were proceeding with some progress and could be capably handled by other members of the lab that I had trained. I decided jump shit approximately one month after my defense so that I could start my postdoc. This was due in part to the fact that my previous lab was going through a period of funding troubles, so one less mouth to feed at the table, means you can feed the rest of the mouths for that much longer. The good news is a grant came through for the lab, spurned by some of my work and contributions.

I think the main reason that I bugged out quickly after the defense was that we had a glut of papers that still needed to get out. Those papers would take close to at least one year before anything else of mine may come out. So to quote the Allman Brothers "When its time for leavin', I hope you understand, that I was born a ramblin' man."

4. FNG. I'm still the FNG and the stench has yet to wear off. Making the long move and starting the postdoc was exciting but brought with it a whole new set of frustrations: orientations, trainings, byzantine rules of supplies and procurement, etc. The lab is good and I'm making good data (which I'm happy about) but not at the pace that I want (which I'm not happy about). But overall things are looking up and my new master, at least for the time being, seems to be pleased with me. I'm adjusting to the differing mentoring styles and how this PI likes to conduct individual progress and laboratory meetings compared to my old PI.

The folks in the lab are great about teaching me new techniques and in return I'm showing them things from my bag of tricks, so its been great. I'm still less than four months in the lab but I feel like I have yet to be able to turn it up to 11.

So in conclusion, the transition has been interesting and is still ongoing. I'll post more as time allows. Feel free to leave feed back about your own journeys and transitions from post graduate school. Maybe this will help someone out or at least bore them into fitful sleep if the Ambien has yet to kick in.

6 responses so far

The Hunt for Red over!

Dec 23 2014 Published by under Grad School, Postdoc

I found a great lab with good folks, great ideas, and stable funding.  I'll be starting there soon and sent out my unfortunate Dear John letter's to the labs that I didn't choose.  I felt bad about all but one of them, the outlier was a major douche and a bit of nasty bastard to even his own people. Science is hard enough, I don't want to have to worry about someone's mood swings.

3 responses so far

Thesis Writing Tips...I need them

Nov 17 2014 Published by under Grad School, Publishing

I'm in the throws of writing my Ph.D. thesis right now and could use any tips.  I mean anything, crazy ass endnote tricks, how to deal with the boredom, etc.


I already got pissed off at my laptop for being slow and maxed the hell out of the RAM, so now its running like a methhead from the cops.

No responses yet

The Hunt for Red October...err postdocs

Sep 19 2014 Published by under Grad School, Postdoc

So far my postdoc search has been quite pleasant to say the least.  Everyone I have contacted has gotten back to me and even if they didn't have a spot in their lab, they are recommending good folks who do or are telling me their future timelines when they could pick someone up.  I've even got a few interviews lined up.

Time to pull out the ole suit and shine up the shoes and take my act on the road...

11 responses so far

How to be a successful graduate student...unfiltered

Dec 16 2013 Published by under Grad School

I'm going to author a book called how to succeed in graduate school. The entirety of my self-help advice will consist of this scrawled onto a taco bell wrapper.

Step 1: Shut the fuck up and listen!
Step 2: Are you fucking paying attention?
Step 3: Ask questions, even if you fear that we'll think you are dumb.  Here's a hint, we already do.  Just ask the damn question.
Step 3: Think about what the fuck you are doing. No one else will do it for you.
Step 4: You better fucking be doing experiments and if you aren't, why aren't you?
Step 5: Stop reading this and fucking go do something.
Step 6: Now you fucking dumpsterbaby!

No responses yet

Knowing your limits

May 29 2013 Published by under Grad School, Lab

I've been working so much lately that I have literally run myself into the ground.  The physical and mental exhaustion is causing me to feel punch drunk.  In fact my vision is blurring while I'm writing this, while I'm waiting for my western to finish incubating in secondary.  I'd love to take a day or two off but I want to keep up the positive momentum that I've got going.  I don't want to take a day off and fuck up my research mojo right now.

That said, I'm going to have to take some semblance of a break soon.  I may not be at my limit right now but I'm quickly approaching it.  Just need to make it to the weekend...

Sorry for the rambling

3 responses so far

Thesis diving, more valuable than dumpster diving...

Oct 12 2012 Published by under Grad School, Publishing

Recently I have found immense value on reading theses from past students in other labs and institutions, who have worked on a research topic that is similar to my own.  While it can be a pain in the ass to get their doctoral thesis if they are not on ProQuest, they are usually quite informative.  As I have seen their thesis's are much more detailed about their methods and experimental analysis compared to their publications.  Also some of these theses contain a wealth of unpublished data that can support your own preliminary data or start to give you an idea if you are pumping money down a dry hole.

How often do you folks read theses that aren't from your own labs or students on your committees?

11 responses so far

Advice for rotating graduate students

Sep 14 2012 Published by under Grad School

This is a follow up to Sci's advice for undergrads.  I know some schools don't do rotations but mine does.  So here are a few pearls of wisdom for you noobs.

1.  Study for classes.  If you fail out you are worthless to the labs, plus you undergo extra scrutiny when you  have a less than stellar academic record.  Your committee will catch a whiff of the intellectual lightweight stank and pounce on you like a fucking lion on a zebra.  You don't need great grades, just good ones.  Also don't burn up too much time studying that you could be spending in the lab.  I've watch many a rotation student study themselves out of a lab because they spent all the working hours of the week studying and not in the lab.  You've got plenty of time at night and on the weekends to study.

2.  Be on time.  Remember that the senior graduate students and postdocs who you may be shadowing and working with don't view you as a future trusted colleague.  The hard fact is that you are likely ill-prepared and not educated enough to immediate contribute to what they are doing and you were heaped on them by a PI.  So be on time and do what they say to do when they say it and if they give you homework, you damn well better do it.  Sure somebody trained them, but they are training you, be appreciative of it too.

3.  "We used to do it this way"  This is for those of you with a little bit of experience.  No one cares how you did it wherever you came from.  This is how we do it here.  STFU, you haven't earned the right to an opinion!  You will soon, but don't go telling us how you did it and how we should too.

4.  Technicians are like gold.  Treat them as such, they will bend over backward to help you if you show them respect.  And lets face it most of them have been doing science longer than you and at a higher level than you ever have.  Remember we are the transients that come and go, they are there to stay.  Also remember that technicians, especially the lab manager, tends to be the eyes and ears of the lab for the PI.  While you are in the lab, you have a well oiled covert spy system watching you, act accordingly.

5.  The PI's time is worth more than gold.  Don't bother them with trivial shit.  They are also not really there to be your friend, drinking buddy, or shoulder to cry on for personal problems.  PI's are happy to see you when you are generating data or need some help on the project, so if you want face time you've got to come with the data.

6.  It's all a game!  Learn to play the game and you will get to the finish line faster.  This means doing things that placate your PI, learning who to go to for what you need, who to go to in order to get out of doing stuff.  Also a big part of graduate school is learning how to say no to certain things that are of no benefit to you and your project and prioritizing what you are going to do.

7.  Have fun.  Its hard and its a lot of work, but its also a lot of fun.  In all of my random jobs I have never worked with a more diverse and interesting group of people.

10 responses so far

Timing...Looking for a postdoc

Aug 08 2012 Published by under Grad School, Postdoc

How close to the end of your graduate career should you be looking for a postdoc and when have most folks usually secured a position by.  A year before graduation, a month before?

20 responses so far

Exploitation of thy enemy

Jul 18 2012 Published by under Grad School, Lab

A lot of what my lab focuses on is studying the sensitivity of cells deficient for my gene of interest to different DNA damaging agents in order to find out what potential repair pathways it may participate in.  This gene is over expressed in multiple cancer types and elevated levels of it in the cancer confer poor survival outcomes.  This coupled with the fact that lack of gene sensitizes it to particular damaging agents makes my gene of interest a potentially druggable target.  The drug screening for inhibitors of the gene product is not the main focus of my project.  Rather I try to study the gene and its implications on organisms overall physiology as well as mechanistically what is actually doing in the cell.  The Genomic Repairman protein appears to require a delicate balance in the cells, too little and you have problems, and too much of it causes the cellular train to speed up to fast and run right off the track.

While studying the mechanism is more rewarding to me, I do have a keen interest in finding a drug that might exploit a weakness in cancer cells.  This is a long term project and one that may not even get off the ground before I leave the lab but I feel that it would be personally rewarding to help get this off the ground.

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