A Little Perspective…

A friend in the lab showed me this website today, so I thought I’d share. Just move the scroll bar at the bottom of the image to zoom in or out. It’s a really cool way to show just how tiny some of the things we study are!


Sometimes I think it’d be a really cool job to actually get to help make these videos and educational blurbs for public consumption. In fact, I’ve got an informational interview with the Curator of Microbiology at my local science museum on Monday. I’ll report back if I find out anything interesting!

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Science Careers have started an interesting series of articles designed to help early career scientists (postdocs and grad students) identify and meet their career objectives at a time when it can be easy to feel lost in the post-PhD wilderness.

In “You Need A Game Plan“, Science Careers introduces the new web tool myIDP, to help us lost souls construct an Individual Development Plan. I think it sounds like a fantastic and empowering idea, particularly for those whose PI lacks the time or the desire to actively mentor.

When you first register for the website you’re greeted with an overview of what the site hopes to help you achieve:

myIDP guides you through 4 steps to construct your IDP; 1. assessing your skills and interests, 2. exploring and evaluating career opportunities, 3. setting specific goals, and 4. putting your plan in action. I’m assuming that, as this was the first article in a series, future articles will help to guide us through the website and the process.

I’ve already signed up, and I plan on following update articles and working through the steps on myIDP over the next several weeks. I’ll try to post updates as appropriate, maybe as the new articles come out from Science Careers. So….who else is up for giving it a try??

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What Salary Buys Happiness?

This article came across my inbox today and, while interesting, it’s more than a little depressing. Apparently there is nowhere in the country that one can be happy on a postdoc’s salary. Sigh….poor life decision #145…..

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This Is Why I Don’t Watch The News…

Sometimes I get so frustrated with the evening news that I can barely watch! Usually, this is due to basic errors that reveal a general lack of fact checking. While those at the news may not think its important to properly distinguish between viruses and bacteria, to me calling Chlamydia a virus brings to question what else they could be getting wrong.

What I’ve been noticing lately though is something a little more insidious; news broadcasts are often careless with the stock footage they show during reports.

For instance, on tonight’s KTVU 6 o’clock news two stories caught my eye. The first was reporting that California is considering passing a law allowing abortions to be performed by health professionals other than doctors. What rubbed me the wrong way though, was the extensive footage of Planned Parenthood throughout this segment. Planned Parenthood does more than just provide abortions but this segment would have only strengthened some peoples’ perception that this is their main objective.

The segment that immediately followed got me even more riled up. In a story reporting on a possible link between autism and PCB exposure, KTVU used stock footage showing administration of an MMR vaccine. Ummmm, what? The story had nothing to do with vaccines. Had the study in question found that PCBs were found at dangerous levels in vaccines, that would have been one thing. As it was, vaccines weren’t mentioned it all. So why show images of them?

This type of casual association can be dangerous not only because it is clearly reflecting the biases of the broadcaster, but also in its ability to perpetuate stereotypes and misinformation. Much has been made, rightly so, of the harm that unrealistic photoshopped images can do to self esteem in girls and women, but I wonder how much attention is being given to these other potentially harmful images?

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Another day…

I’ve been there…

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Micro Empire

Cool video showing even a drop of water can be teeming with life…

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Informational Interviewing: Tips To Make The Most Of It

A friend and I are going through the same thing right now; trying to identify the Next Step in our careers. It’s a daunting process and one that I should be approaching more diligently. I’m starting to realize however, that I’m extremely lucky to have the resources available to me that I do at my current institution. Many universities have little to no advice to offer graduate students and postdocs who are considering alternatives to academia.

My friend and I are both taking a similar approach right now and are trying to arrange informational interviews. Informational interviewing is a concept I hadn’t really encountered before, likely because I’d never really researched alternative career options in earnest. Basically, it involves reaching out to people who currently hold jobs that you think you would be interested in and meeting with them to try to get a picture of what their day-to-day is like in their job.

My friend has a couple of these interviews coming up in a couple weeks and was wondering what questions were appropriate. I mentioned I’d read “Career Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug Development” by Toby Freedman and that the book had offered some good advice on the subject (all the advice below comes from this book). And with that, this post was born.

Obtaining an Informational Interview

Email is best for first contacting someone. Include in the email exactly what their time commitment would be (likely 20-30 min), then make sure to keep to that during the interview. If you’re going to try to phone someone, apparently the best times to do it are Tues, Wed, Thurs 9-11 am and 1-3:30 pm. Expect that many people are busy and won’t be able to meet with you.

Preparing for the Interview;

Identify your main objective before you get to the interview and focus on what is most relevant to the interviewee’s background. Think of questions in advance, bring pen and paper with you to the interview. It is important to maintain the objective of the interview, getting information, and do not give your resume/CV to someone unsolicited. However, remember that you are making a new contact and to dress to impress. Also, make sure to bring a token of appreciation (eg. a coffee) for the interviewee.

During the Interview;

Avoid saying any negative, be enthusiastic. In fact, avoid talking to much in general. Apparently the interview should be talking about 80% of the time. Remember what time commitment you agreed upon with the interviewee and be conscientious of time.

After the Interview;

Immediately write a thank you note to everyone you meet with. Keep a file of all the people with whom you have informational interviews and when you get a new job, make sure you give them your updated contact information. LinkedIn is also great for maintaining contacts. Finally, make sure that you keep interviewing people until you have found your new career path. Persistence pays off!!

Suggested Questions;

Below are a series of questions that the book suggests are good ones to ask on informational interviews. These are tailored to interviewees in biotechnology/industry jobs but many of them could be used for other interviews and serve as good jumping off points.

– What was your career path?
– Can you tell me about your transition from academia to ________ and the differences between working in both?
– Reflecting back on your career, what would you have done differently if you could repeat it?
– Describe a typical day of work
– What do you enjoy most/least about your job?
– How much time do you spend managing people?
– How much time do you spend “putting out fires”?
– What are the hours? Do you travel frequently?
– What advice would you offer about how to be successful in this position? What personality traits are needed to succeed in this job?
– How is success in this occupation measured?
– What career opportunities does this field offer? Where do people in your position typically go next?
– What are the important long-term trends affecting your industry?
– What are the typical pay ranges?
– What is the entry-level pay?
– What entry-level skills are needed to get a job?
– Is advanced education recommended?
– What steps would you recommend that I take to improve my chances of getting a job in your field?
– What is the job market like right now for this occupation? What about the future job market?
– What is the best way to learn about job opportunities in this field?
– What are the best places/ways to find employment in this field?
– Who else could I contact about this occupation? Can I use your name?

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The Long And Winding Road….

I came across this on another site and wanted to post it here because I figured we needed another graphic emphasizing our poor life decision…. Le sigh.

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Nobel Prize Winner For Cancer Research, Dr. Renato Dulbecco, Dies at 97

As I was setting up a plaque assay yesterday, a fellow lab member informed me that Dr. Renato Dulbecco, the man who first modified the procedure for use with animal viruses, died on Sunday at the age of 97. Plaque assays are still used today to measure the amount of many viruses present in cell culture, and allowed for major advances in virology including the development of the live polio vaccine. Dr. Dulbecco also invented the recipe for DMEM culture media that many of us still grow our cells in today.

Dulbecco’s greatest contribution to science and virology was his Nobel Prize winning discovery that viruses can cause cancer. The most popularized example of an oncogenic virus is the link between cervical cancer and human papillomaviruses, an observation that has led to the production of the sometimes controversial  Gardasil vaccine. Upon infection, these viruses promote immortality and unchecked replication of the host cell leading to tumor formation in a process called “transformation”.

For more on Dulbecco’s life and discoveries, check out this NY Times piece.

Posted in Science, Science History, viruses | 1 Comment

Working Late….

As the door to the building closes behind me with a resounding click, I look back to see the poor souls still trapped inside illuminated by the ultraviolet light. A specter looks down at me, dreams ablaze in his Bunsen burner, with a single gloved hand against the window as though both encouraging and envying my escape. But his vacant eyes tell me he no longer remembers what he is seeing out there. The gesture is a vaguely remembered movement, a mere mimicry of a former life.

I pull my jacket tight to me against the howling winds.

Ignoring the rumbling of my belly I persevere against the memory of my day’s forced labor with no sustenance. I can no longer remember the path that brought me here. Establishments, normally serving nourishment to weary knowledge seekers and travelers alike, now with doors boarded against the worsening storm.

It is just us shadows here now.

The light of the approaching train spurs my weary feet onward; it is my only hope of rescue from sure death of starvation in this place. Keeping my face low, I steal guarded glances at my fellow passengers. Are they escaping too? A whooping, hacking, wheezing cough echoes down the train car and reaches my ears and I am alerted to the presence of a fellow postdoc. For who but those sallow-eyed, lost souls chained to their benches day in and day out, would have attended work in such poor health?

As the city lights begin to dot the horizon, my pulse quickens. This is the moment I have imagined! I disembark the locomotive and I dare say there is a spring in my step. But then. The Hill before me looms. For I must climb all the way to the top to reach the solace of my home. Home. Is it still there? Will my room mates remember me?

As I begin my ascent I know I will soon perish without water. This single thought so consums me that I fail to notice the rain that has begun to fall around me, an irony in which I would normally delight. Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink. And so mine is the plight of the Ancient Mariner. I put my hand to my neck, sagging under the weight of my albatross. But lo! It is just my neck scarf grown wet and heavy with rain.

I begin to think I am imagining the sound of distant laughter drifting to my ears. Another game of my enfeebled brain grown weak from the abuses of a day in the hood. But soon I come upon the source; a restaurant full of smiling, happy faces exuding vitality and vigor. Who are these cherubs delighting? How did they get to a feast at this hour? They must work in those fabled 9-5 offices of lore. Sometimes there are whispers of such places among us postdocs when we think we are alone. “Each office has a window!” “I hear they get a break at midday during which they eat their lunch”. Could the stories be true?

I rest, just for a moment, and come to again some time later. In the quiet of the night there is no way to tell how long I have lingered. Visions of my youth dance before my eyes; merriment with friends, the embrace of a lover. These fantasies seek to mock my current ghosted self but I have come too far to be defeated now!!!! With renewed resolve I crawl the last few paces to my homestead. With a sense of purpose that pales all previous experience I reach my bed chamber. I collapse with exhaustion, my legs no longer able to stand.

As I use my last ounce of strength to close mine weary eyes, a final thought closes the day:

Did I remember to split my cells???

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