Archive for the 'Postdoctoral Training' category

Blooding the trainees

In that most English of pastimes, fox hunting, the noobs are smeared about the face with the blood of the poor unfortunate fox after dismembering by hound has been achieved.

I surmise the goal is to get the noob used to the less palatable aspects of their chosen sporting endeavor. 

Anyway, speaking of manuscript review and eventual publication, do you plan a course for new trainees in the lab?

I'm wondering if you have any explicit goals for them- Should a mentor try to get new postdocs or grads a pub, any pub as quickly and easily as possible?

Or should they be thrown into a multi-journal fight so as to fully experience the joys of desk rejection, ultimate denial after four rounds of review somewhere and the final relief of just dumping that Frankensteinian monster of a paper in a lowly journal and being done. 

Do you plan any of this out for your newest trainees?

19 responses so far

I'm 14 carat......want to look good for the PI, mmm

Have you ever been in a lab with a golden-child trainee?

Was it you?

61 responses so far

NCI will ease that difficult transition to postdoc

I am still not entirely sure this is not an elaborate joke.

The purpose of the NCI Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Fellow Transition Award (F99/K00) is to encourage and retain outstanding graduate students who have demonstrated potential and interest in pursuing careers as independent cancer researchers. The award will facilitate the transition of talented graduate students into successful cancer research postdoctoral appointments, and provide opportunities for career development activities relevant to their long-term career goals of becoming independent cancer researchers.

The need for a transition mechanism that graduate students can apply for is really unclear to me.

Note: These are open to non-citizens on the appropriate visa. This is unlike the NRSA pre- and post-doc fellowships.

27 responses so far

Fewer postdocs?

Oct 23 2015 Published by under Postdoctoral Training

From @NatureNews:


The full story by Monya Baker

21 responses so far

Survey of the day: Postdoc diploma

Oct 02 2015 Published by under Careerism, Postdoctoral Training

Are you familiar with any Universities that award some sort of  official recognition of the completion of a postdoctoral term of scientific training? 
When, where, etc if you feel comfortable.....

30 responses so far

Tales from the search committee

Aug 21 2015 Published by under Careerism, Postdoctoral Training

Prof Booty has written about chairing a recent search committee.

Starting a little over a year ago, I served as chair of my department’s search committee, which concluded in the spring with a successful hire. With that experience still relatively fresh, I hope I can share some important insights into how our top candidates caught our eye, as well as the behind-the-scenes process of selecting those candidates.

Go read.

No responses yet


Jul 24 2015 Published by under Postdoctoral Training, Postgraduate Training

Often times in academics we are anticipating a job change in the near future. Postdocs, in particular, since this is supposed to be a temporary job. But faculty occasionally anticipate a job change too. On the market b/c you fear tenure won't fall, to leverage progress into a better job, to jump out of the rat race, to join Administration. 

I give advice based on Yoda's wisdom. 

Yoda: Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless. 

No, not the paternalistic grouch stuff. In this he is worse than a greybeard of science. 

No it is the part about doing a good job on what you are currently doing. To me this is the basis for making the future stuff more likely to go your way.  

No matter how removed the anticipated job category, the candidate who has been successful in her previous job is going to look better. 

I entertained the McKinsey thing at one point during my training. Looked into it, saw who they hired and spoke to a friend of a sibling who went that way. They did not want people who had a disappointing career in science up to that point. They knew what CN or S publications meant. They wanted excellence.

Now of course plenty of people get alternative career jobs after a disappointing career as grad student or postdoc. But I think the take away message is that you should maximize your success in whatever job you are doing now. Don't just slack because you plan to be out-o-here in a year. 

Success now increases the chances of getting into whatever next job lies over the horizon. 

There is also the consideration that you may find yourself staying in the job you have much longer than anticipated or desired. A year from now, you don't want to look back and wish you had finished that experiment, paper, grant application or whatever.

Work based on the idea you may still be in this job in a year or three. Sometimes things happen. Maybe the local institution finally steps up and does you a solid. Maybe that firm job offer elsewhere is denied by the Dean or P&T committee. Maybe the University System puts down a hiring freeze.

You'll be better off if you are taking care of business in your existing job.

63 responses so far

Mentoring and parenting

Like it or not, your mentoring behavior is intimately tied to the experiences you had as a scientific trainee. Let me rephrase that for emphasis. Tied to the way you experienced your training.

In the very general sense, if you thought something was good for you, you are going to tend to try to extend that to your trainees. And if something was bad for you, you are going to try to avoid that for your trainees.

Obviously, the ability that you have to emulate or avoid certain behaviors of your mentors-of-reference* is not going to be perfect. But let us assume for argument's sake that you can make a fair stab at mentoring the way that you would intend yourself to mentor.

This is not all that dissimilar to parenting, I find. There are obvious ways in which I think my parents did an absolutely bang up job of raising me. They set me on a path of life that is in many ways ideal. A career that is fulfilling, a political and social stance that I am proud of, a strength of will and freedom from many of the family-drama related pathologies that plague many adults. I would hope to provide this type of parenting to my own children. Absolutely.
Continue Reading »

20 responses so far


Jul 10 2015 Published by under Careerism, Fixing the NIH, Postdoctoral Training


Lastly, there IS one way to experimentally test how much a PD is worth, at least to PIs, and you are promoting that test, whether you know it or not. And that is a PD strike. I would love to see you discussing how spoiled PDs are in between gel runs because your PD is really not there. I think 50K/yr wouldn't sound that much then.

Go ahead dudes, you have nothing to lose but your chains.

22 responses so far

On justification of postdoctoral salary

Jul 09 2015 Published by under Postdoctoral Training

If you have been following along, Dear Reader, you will know that I asked a very simple question on Twitter

which resulted in a lot of heat and very little light. Mostly, instead of answering the question, people loudly accused me of making a claim that postdocs did not deserve their meagre salaries. Alternately people angrily demanded that I justify my supposed opposition to some proposed raise to current postdoctoral pay. You will note that I made no claims and offered no opinion on what postdoctoral pay should be. (You will also note that my query is inclusive of professorial types that often whine about how they are underpaid relative to ....something, but this got lost in the torchlighting ceremony.)

Lenny Teytelman was one of those pointedly refusing to answer in his own words but he did eventually appeal to authority. Once again, upon query, he was unable to put an elevator pitch or bullet points together to defend his position and insisted that I read his favored authoritative recommendation for increased postdoc pay.

The Postdoctoral Experience Revisited by the Committee to Review the State of Postdoctoral Experience in Scientists and Engineers; Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy; Policy and Global Affairs; National Academy of Sciences; National Academy of Engineering; Institute of Medicine is available for download here.

The bullet point answers are to be found on page 5 and in Appendix B.
(1) indexing to contemporary college graduates,
(2) indexing to graduate stipends,
(3) indexing to newly hired assistant professors,
(4) inflation of previous recommendations, and
(5) Research Grade Evaluation Guide.

Most of these are straightforward, the last item is apparently how NIH sets federal salaries for intramural researchers. To cut to the chase, the book uses these to arrive at $50,000 as the recommended starting salary for postdocs. Let's unpack.

Federal salaries- right here we are making a bunch of assumptions. It is not clear at all that all postdocs should get the Federal rate, this is not justified. Is anybody else's salary (technicians or PIs) tied to what NIH has to pay intramural people for comparable roles? Mine sure as heck isn't. So this is, right here, the special snowflake rationale. It's the justification of "just because". I find this less than satisfying.

With respect to the graduate stipends, Appendix B includes "total cost" of which "more than for tuition and fees". So right here we start to dismantle Teytelman's claim that this is some sort of justification that should be taken seriously. Obviously the numbers depend entirely upon a set of assumptions. In this case the total cost for a graduate student is presented as being a good estimate for what postdocs should get paid. This makes no obvious sense. Under the current definition, postdocs receive education / training just like graduate students do. If this has monetary value for one, it should for the other. So we have to subtract something of this "more than half" of $51,000 that is for training to arrive at the equivalent justifiable postdoc salary. This one is worse than arbitrary because it makes no internal sense.

Indexing to newly hired assistant professors is an example of assumptions and definitions pulled out of thin air. It says in the Appendix B that average 9-mo salary for biological/biomedical new hires in public research Universities is $74,177. But, I kid you not, "Assuming a reasonable starting salary for a postdoctoral researcher to be approximately two-thirds of this nine-month amount implies ... $49,698". Why do we assume two-thirds is reasonable? Why not two-thirds of the 12 month salary assuming grant paid summer salary? Why not three-fifths? Why not half? The authoritative finding has just pulled this out of thin air to back-justify the number they had already arrived upon. Nice trick.

This leaves us with the two half-decent arguments.

Page 63 is the start of the meat of the discussion on indexing to prior stipend levels and accounting for inflation. The key part is this:

The NIH NRSA stipend for beginning postdoctoral researchers in 2004 was $35,568, which would be $43,230 in 2012 dollars (or $44,207 in 2014 dollars). Despite repeated calls to raise postdoctoral salaries, the NRSA stipend was increased to only $39,264 in 2012. In 2014, NIH raised the stipend to $42,000, which, in real terms, is actually lower than the 2004 level.

You know I love an inflation argument. This suggests there is a 5% gap in the NRSA recommendation for FY2014. This is fine. Except for one little problem. The economy and the recession.

Somewhere in the interval between 2004 and 2014, I am here to tell you, many of us academics went through a period of salary freeze. Intervals in which our annual cost of living raises (2%? 3%? pick your number) were not applied for 1-3 years. Some Universities threatened furloughs which amounted to pay *cuts* for certain years to go along with the lack of raises. I haven't followed the niceties of who actually got cuts and who got raises restored on schedule. The point is simple...many of the people postdocs rub elbows with are also down 4-5% of their salary level in 2014 compared to where they "should" have been based on inflation adjustment raises. So yeah, this benchmark makes a lot of sense in isolation but being 5% off the target just puts postdocs in the same bin with a lot of the rest of us, techs to PIs. This is another special flower argument by some ways of looking at it.

This leaves us with the argument about country-wide stats for bachelor's educated people in their late twenties. Why not the Master's or Professional bins? Who knows???? It's not stated.

The data you are supposed to be looking at is here at the US census (now updated to FY2013 instead of the 2012 data referenced in the NAS report). Particularly Table P-32, I think. Among other things, do note that women get less than men on average. Notice also, that the age bin breakdowns only offer the means whereas other tables let you match up median and means. As you might expect, the mean has a rightward skew. So this NAS report is referencing the skewed measure of central tendency.

Puzzling over these census data you have to arrive at the same query...why? Why pick any one of these numbers to say that postdocs are underpaid? Why does this reference answer my starting question about what is the justification? All it does is put a fake number on a question that requires a deeper response. Why are we different? Why should we assume we get the central tendency as our minimum? After all, the GAO found that public sector salaries are 24% lower than private sector ones. You could argue that that is an outrage. Or, you could argue that this is a reflection of the non-salary benefits and justifications people get for working in one sector versus another. I can't say I see this bullet item as being any sort of objective justification either.

For any of these five methods, one can come up with a lower or higher number just by making different assertions and assumptions about what is reasonable.

This is no answer.

183 responses so far

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