Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thirteen points to bear inmind when choosing a postdoc

Although I have enjoyed my time in science, I feel I have made a few career mistakes here and there that lead me to where I am today (no maternity leave, no employment insurance, unemployed). Well, there is no point in crying over spilt milk. I think I have learnt something from my mistakes. Here is a list of things one should bear in mind when choosing a postdoc. I wish I figured it out earlier but sometime one has to leave and learn.
  1. Have a clear idea of what you want from a postdoctoral experience. Do you want it to be a good spring board to an academic position? Or a position in industry? Do you want/ need lots of papers coming out?
  2. Communicate these expectations clearly to the postdoc supervisor you maybe interested working for and assess if you can achieve your goals in your lab. If the answer is no, turn down the offer and move on.
  3. Be aware of the working environment that best suits you. Do you like a friendly lab, or do you prefer a competitive bitchy environment? Do you like a MICROMANAGER supervisor or one that LEAVES YOU ALONE to develop your project? These 2 points are REALLY important as work environment and supervisor will shape the outcome of your postdoc! At different stages in your career you may prefer one versus the other.
  5. Do you want a project you can "take with you" when you leave? If so be upfront and ask the supervisor if he/she will let you do that.
  6. Pick a project wisely: if you want a lot of papers out of the postdoc you may need to chose a project that may be less interesting but that has a high chance of success. If you want to compete for academic positions, then paper numbers is of paramount importance.
  7. Discuss your contract in every detail: will you be able to pay into employment insurance? Will they pay you maternity leave? How about vacation time? What if your child is sick? Can you take time off? How about going to doctors appointments, do you need to work up extra time in the lab before you can go to your doctor's appointment.
  8. If you think they pay is too low, try to bargain. Ask if there is a way they can top up your salary.
  9. NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK. Networking is very important because this is how you will make yourself known and how you will hear of jobs that become available. You want people to be able to put a face to a name. Working 14 hours in a lab 7 days a week is NOT ENOUGH. You need to be VISIBLE.
  10. As a follow up to point 9 ask if you will be sent to conferences. Ask the supervisor, ask people who are working for him/her how many conferences a year they attend.As a postdoc you MUST attend scientific meetings to create contacts.
  11. Try to find out how well connected is your potential supervisor to other people in science and industry.
  12. Cultivate other skills such as COMMUNICATION SKILLS, interpersonal skills, teaching skills and the like.
  13. Have a PLAN B if the postdoc/ academic career does not work. Remember there are few tenure track positions available, many competitors and the process is highly political.
The above points are all I can think today. If you read this and can think of other points to add to the list, please do let me know.

Happy postdocing everyone.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fall interlude

Here is another taste of Calgary autumn, in between my rants on life as a female postdoctoral fellow. I hope you like the pics.

Thoughts on Postdoctoral time

If you are a science major you are likely to enter graduate school. If you are fascinated by science and love to understand the world around you, you will try to make the academic experience last as long as possible. Hence you will consider doing a PhD. You may even see yourself capable of being part of the big machinary of scientific research for ever. Thus, after the PhD you will likely end up postdocing. In itself, it is not a bad thing. I have only one word of warning: a bit of postdocing is good, too much postdocing (ie more than 2 positions, up to a total of 4 years) is a bad thing. This is just my personal opinion based on my own experience, hence the opinion is based on n=1.

Three reasons why too much postdocing is bad:
1) The pool of candidates you would compete for a permanent job increases with every year you spend in a postdoc position.
2) Do not illude yourself: there are not that many permanent jobs in academia so the sooner you join the non-academic market the better.
3) Like anyone else, scientists age. It is best to leave the academic bubble before one is too old and therefore not so easily employable/retrainable.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On Birth, Breastfeeding (or lack of) and Motherhood

A few weeks ago I was reflecting on becoming a mother and for whatever reason I was feeling a little down. In this occasion I wrote the following email to my best friend Rachel:

"Childbirth changes everything. Maybe not everyone feels this way about it. When I look at my life, I can divide it in 2 parts: life before James and life after James. My character has changed, my body has changed and it is taking me some time to adjust myself to the new me. I must admit, the type and depth of this transformation has caught me by surprise.  I thought I was going to be super-mom and instead I find myself more fearful than I ever being. At times I also feel so lonely. I guess it is a phase and like everything else it will pass. Of course, there are the positives as well.  There is no greatest joy in seeing James smile and knowing he is happy, healthy and safe."

The birth itself was quite an experience, My pregnancy was very healthy. James was born 3 weeks early but at full term. My labour lasted 35 hours. I got to 8 cm with no drugs and then accepted the epidural. Everything was going great until the last 10 minutes when James had to be vacuumed out. He came out right away but he had to be resuscitated. Consequently, they took him to neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where he stayed for 2 days. He did very well and was healthy straight away. The staff in the birth and delivery unit were great, so were the staff at the NICU. I was not prepared, though, for a crappy experience in the recovery section. After 35 hours of labour the nurses would not let me sleep because they wanted me to pump my breasts for milk. It turned out my breast had a problem of some kind as the whole pumping thing was excruciating painful. This carried on for 24 hours. To make a long story short, I could not breast feed, no one took the time to figure out what was wrong (I would have liked to know) and the staff was making feel horrible about the fact I had to bottle feed my baby. This attitude carried on outside of the hospital. My family doctor, the nurse practioner were all very busy at making me feel guilty and very busy at offering no support regarding bottle feeding. Thanksfully the people at NICU and my GYN were more helpful. The experience left a mark though. For weeks I felt horrible and getting close to be depressed. Fortunately I bounced back. So to ANYONE OUT THERE WHO NEEDS TO BOTTLE FEED THEIR BABIES DO NOT FEEL GUILTY DO WHAT IS RIGHT FOR YOU, YOU NEED TO FEED YOUR BABY AND THAT'S END OF STORY. IGNORE THE MILK TALIBAN (great expression created by my step-sister!).
So here some pics of our baby James who was 12 weeks old yesterday.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Autumn 2008

It turns out I have taken quite a few pictures of autumn landscapes over the last 4 years. So I decided to dig some of the pics out of my photo library. In 2006 we moved back to Canada after living for a few years in the States (Philadelphia, PA). First we moved to Ottawa for a period of two years and then moved back out West.
View from our old apartment, trees along the Bow river, Calgary, autumn 2008, can you see the tiny and only tree with red foliage?

View from our old apartment, trees along the Bow river, Calgary, autumn 2008

View from our old apartment, trees along the Bow river, Calgary, autumn 2008

The Bow river and I, Calgary, autumn 2008

Friday, October 15, 2010

This time last year...

....we had lots of snow in Banff National Park (1 hour and 30 min NW of Calgary). This year we have zero snow...

Autumn in Alberta

Autumn is my favourite time of the year. Everything looks different in the autumn light, every line, shape and colour seem accentuated. During my strolls with James I have been able to take a few pics of nature in our city. A stricking feature of Alberta is its bright blue sky which becomes even bluer in fall. In Calgary the weather can change on you very fast. One minute it is sunny, the next it snows. My pictures are taken using a simple point-and-shoot SD400 Canon and I am by no means an accomplished photographer. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy the pics.

Welcome to the World James!

On July 26th 2010 our son James was born. This is for me a turning point in my life. 2010 is most definitely a year of change. Out with non- essential and old and I welcome change and renewal.

Welcome to the the world little James. Always remember life is an adventure.