Postdoc Talk

Curing "Benchitis"
Stephanie Mohr | May 23, 2004 | 2 min read
File PhotoA rampant infection of "benchitis" has spread through my body. You might not have heard of this malicious disease but you'll probably recognize the symptoms. An infected individual comes in late, goes home early, sits for hours in front of the computer e-mailing friends, or makes comments such as, "If I have to run one more gel today I'm going to go crazy!"It's been my experience that a postdoc needs to have a lot of self-motivation to succeed. So much rests on what we can accomplish o
At a Crossroads
Khairul-bariah Abdul-majid | May 9, 2004 | 2 min read
Life after graduate school is like being at a crossroads. You are happy that you got that coveted title, "Dr.", in front of your name. Now you have the license to demonstrate your independent thinking without having your supervisor breathing down your neck.Or so I thought!Nowadays, I realize that a postdoc is at the lowest position in the pecking order of people with "Dr." in front of their names. You are treated like an incompetent laboratory rat, rushing around in order to obtain desirable dat
Getting Over Academic Science
Morris Saffold Jones | Apr 25, 2004 | 2 min read
Since the 11th grade, I wanted to be a research scientist. In college, I was always looking for opportunities to get involved in research, and by the time I finished my bachelor's degree I was headed to what I thought was intellectual heaven: graduate school! There, my colleagues and I learned that higher education is a grind; many either quit or failed to cut the mustard. Nevertheless, throughout graduate school, my professors encouraged me to prepare for a postdoctoral fellowship and the ultim
Universities Segregate Stem Cell Research
Peg Brickley | Apr 25, 2004 | 2 min read
The Bush Administration ban on federal funding for research involving human embryonic stem cell lines created after Aug. 6, 2001 has presented scientists with practical problems, as well as moral and ethical dilemmas. According to the policy, no federal dollars can feed work on new lines of human embryonic stem cells. Such research could hold hope for patients with Alzheimer and Parkinson diseases, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, and other afflictions.Now that private and state funds are arrivin
New Country and Career; New Lessons
Shweta Sharma | Apr 11, 2004 | 2 min read
Courtesy of Shweta SharmaWhen I had almost completed my doctorate, I looked for a postdoc position in a reputable US institution. After not much effort, I ended up at the University of California, San Diego. My intention was to enhance my skills and ensure career growth in science. This was in tune with Peter Medawar's book Advice to a Young Scientist: "The most important thing a young scientist can do is to pick the right postdoctoral environment."After landing in the US, I was moved by the kin
Staffing for Science
Daniel Kolker | Mar 28, 2004 | 2 min read
Courtesy of Daniel E. KolkerThe generous funding of US academic labs has helped dramatically advance our understanding of diseases and their underlying biology. But is the structure of r the academic lab well-suited to optimize research? During the past 10 years work at academic and industrial labs, I have observed that the present model impedes both the progress of research and the development of young scientists.Research labs produce and disseminate new scientific knowledge. Under the current
Man Bests Machine, This Time
Asaph Cousins | Mar 14, 2004 | 2 min read
Courtesy of Asaph CousinsCommon knowledge says that the more expertise scientists gain in their specializations, the less they know about anything else. I know plant physiology: Biochemical assays, chlorophyll fluorescence, and gas analyzers comprise my world. Yet here I am, facing off with a malfunctioning heap of electrical gadgetry, armed with a soldering iron, voltage meter, and lab goggles.Taming a tangled web of wire and conduit was not in today's game plan. I intended to use the instrumen
Three-Minute Activism
Jong de Castro | Mar 1, 2004 | 2 min read
My foray into political activism began after reading a letter from The Scientist that responded to an article extolling the wealth of knowledge available to postdocs and implying that poor postdocs should be happy that we have been provided opportunities to learn interesting things.1 That article hit a raw nerve. Written by a fellow postdoc, it made me realize that we have been bred to be compliant, nonconfrontational, and abuse friendly. Wealth in knowledge indeed!Weeks after my response letter
A Bibliophile's Treasure Hunt
Stephanie Mohr | Feb 15, 2004 | 2 min read
Strange smells, weird lighting, people with serious expressions on their faces as they quietly work on their research. Sound like the lab? Maybe. But I'm talking about the library, a place I have recently rediscovered. Not the online searchable library, not the downloadable PDF file library, but the real library. You know the place. It's that old, familiar building full of books and journals, 1970s-style study carrels, and the constant hum of photocopiers.My story starts here: I know a lot about
Samantha Zeitlin | Feb 1, 2004 | 2 min read
Figure 1When I first applied for a job in a lab, I was 16 years old. My science and technology high school had a requirement for a senior research project. I interviewed at the National Institutes of Health, and I'll never forget it. The lab chief looked at my resume and berated me for listing my musical achievements, which were at the bottom under "other interests." He said that if I continued in both music and science, I would never be very good at either one of them.I don't remember that guy'
Lab Pax
Morris Saffold Jones | Jan 18, 2004 | 2 min read
A few weeks ago a postdoctoral fellow in my laboratory asked me if I had found a USB-compatible cable for the lab's real-time PCR instrument (which was completely unrelated to her work). I replied, "No, I have not found it. I think I will order another one." Annoyed at me, she remarked in a sarcastic tone, "That's just lazy," to which I replied, "That is your unwarranted opinion." At this point I was so thoroughly disgusted that I could no longer continue my work. I could not believe anyone had
Science Librarians Shout about their Careers
Karen Kreeger | Jan 18, 2004 | 2 min read
Recently Susan Kendall, who has a PhD in cell and molecular biology and a postdoc under her belt, wrote that library science is a "great career track that is begging for more people with science backgrounds." Kendall also has an MS in library and information science and is now a health sciences librarian at Michigan State University.For people interested in librarianship, a master's in library science is beneficial but not always necessary, says Linda Smith, professor and associate dean of the g
You're a What?
Heather Patisaul | Dec 14, 2003 | 3 min read
File photo Ah, the holidays. A time for gathering, feasting, celebrating, and some pretty complicated explaining. With all those family gatherings and holiday parties comes the dreaded question no postdoc really knows how to answer: "So, what do you do?" Usually something similar to the following dialogue ensues: "I'm a postdoctoral fellow in neuroscience at Emory University." "Emory? So you're some kind of doctor?" "Yes, I have a PhD." "So you're one of those fake doctors?" "Well, I don'
The Tenure Track Quest
Alex Wilson | Dec 1, 2003 | 3 min read
File photo My family holds firmly to the belief that my husband and I are keeping something from them, something imminent and important. My current appointment is nearly up, I need a new job, and thus we need to move. My parents have been persistent, and for months my response has been, "We don't know where we are moving. We just know we are going to move." They feel excluded, yet I do, too. I am not privy to something important that is happening in my life. And so continues my tenure-track qu
Explore the World at Your Bench
James Loss | Nov 16, 2003 | 3 min read
Courtesy of James Loss In today's fast-paced, publish-or-peril world of science, it is difficult for a postdoc to focus on anything but work. We can be so focused on research that we fail to take the time to get to know our colleagues. Yet, academia offers a unique setting where intelligent people from all over the world have a chance not only to work together, but to learn from one another as well. One encounter has developed into a friendship I could never have imagined, for our similaritie
Mommy Postdoc, PhD
Heather Patisaul | Nov 2, 2003 | 3 min read
Courtesy of Heather Patisaul Only two months into my first postdoctoral position, I did something a good postdoc is not supposed to do: I got pregnant. I was thrilled to be expanding my young family, but I couldn't help but be apprehensive about how the news would go over among my science colleagues. As many of us already know, it is generally believed that science and family are not easily mixed; one usually suffers for the sake of the other. This wasn't my first foray into the forbidden. I
A Team Cleaning
Stephanie Mohr | Oct 19, 2003 | 3 min read
File photo This week I cleaned out a former colleague's lab bench to make room for someone new. Once I got started, the other people in the lab joined in. We cleared out solutions that were no longer sterile, called hazardous waste pickup to come get a bottle of diluted fixative, and recycled journal articles that can be stored as PDF files on a computer. Before I knew it we were engaged in a time-honored tradition: team cleaning. It's a thankless job but hey, sometimes it just has to get do
Midnight Oil Provides Too Little Light
Christine Pullar | Oct 5, 2003 | 3 min read
Courtesy of Christine Pullar Why is it that the one day you turn up at the lab a little later than normal, your supervisor requires your immediate attention and is frantically looking for you? It couldn't be the day that you started working at 5 a.m., or the evening when you left the lab after midnight. I once had to miss my own housewarming party to start a four-hour experiment at midnight, only to be condemned the next morning when I walked into the lab at 10 a.m. I think that you can come
Do Your Field Work for Interviews
Asma Asyyed | Sep 21, 2003 | 3 min read
Courtesy of Asma Asyyed Interviews can be hard work, but they do have their rewards, even if you don't get the job. I've based these tips on feedback I received--sometimes painfully--after my interviews. Be honest--I learned this the hard way when a friend of mine won a position that I was applying for, because she was more honest than I was. I answered what I thought the interviewers wanted to hear. It did not occur to me until later that this was a test of my common sense and honesty. Be
Making Postdocs Part of Your Team
Carol Manahan | Sep 7, 2003 | 3 min read
Courtesy of Carol L. Manahan Recently, I attended a symposium called "Catalyzing Team Science," which gathered representatives from the institutes of the National Institutes of Health; it was sponsored by the Bioengineering Consortium (BECON), a senior interagency committee that focuses on bioengineering efforts at the NIH. This was the first time that BECON has invited a postdoctoral fellow to such a symposium ( In contrast to other areas of science, suc