Archive for the 'Postgraduate Training' category

On whitening the CV

I heard yet another news story* recently about the beneficial effects of whitening the resume for job seekers.

I wasn't paying close attention so I don't know the specific context. 

But suffice it to say, minority job applicants have been found (in studies) to get more call-backs for job interviews when the evidence of their non-whiteness on their resume is minimized, concealed or eradicated. 

Should academic trainees and job seekers do the same?

It goes beyond using only your initials if your first name is stereotypically associated with, for example, being African-Anerican. Or using an Americanized nickname to try to communicate that you are highly assimilated Asian-Anerican. 

The CV usually includes awards, listed by foundation or specific award title. "Ford Foundation" or "travel award for minority scholars" or similar can give a pretty good clue. But you cannot omit those! The awards, particularly the all-important "evidence of being competitively funded", are a key part of a trainee's CV. 

I don't know how common it is, but I do have one colleague (I.e., professorial rank at this point) for whom a couple of those training awards were the only clear evidence on the CV of being nonwhite. This person stopped listing these items and/or changed how they were listed to minimize detection. So it happens.

Here's the rub. 

I come at this from the perspective of one who doesn't think he is biased against minority trainees and wants to know if prospective postdocs, graduate students or undergrads are of Federally recognized underrepresented status.


Because it changes the ability of my lab to afford them. NIH has this supplement program to fund underrepresented trainees. There are other sources of support as well. 

This changes whether I can take someone into my lab. So if I'm full up and I get an unsolicited email+CV I'm more likely to look at it if it is from an individual that qualifies for a novel funding source. 

Naturally, the applicant can't know in any given situation** if they are facing implicit bias against, or my explicit bias for, their underrepresentedness. 

So I can't say I have any clear advice on whitening up the academic CV. 

*probably Kang et al.

**Kang et al caution that institutional pro-diversity statements are not associated with increased call-backs or any minimization of the bias.

29 responses so far

Grad students are hilarious

Mar 09 2016 Published by under Careerism, Mentoring, Postgraduate Training

Scene: Laboratory of Hibernation Studies

PI: "We need to discuss your thesis plans...what have you come up with so far?"

Grad Student: "Bears"

PI: "What? Dude, we have a sweet ground squirrel model all ready to go. What do you want to use it for?"

GS: "I want to start up a bear lab. It'll be great."

PI: -Dead Stare-

GS: "Bears! Hibernation! .....get it?"


GS: "Meanie"

16 responses so far

NSF Graduate Fellowship changes benefit.....?

Mar 08 2016 Published by under Postgraduate Training, Underrepresented Groups

I was wondering about the impact of the recent change in NSF rules about applying for their much desired fellowship for graduate training. Two blog posts are of help.

Go read:

Small Pond Science 

Dr. Zen

12 responses so far

Master's to doctoral transition

Mar 07 2016 Published by under Postgraduate Training

Question for the biomedical types: 

Have you ever heard of a doctoral program in which entering with a Master's degree significantly shortens the arc from entry to degree?

In my limited experience, the treatment of those with Master's degrees is not any different from those without. Same initial course load, same exams and qualification steps. 

Do any of you know of programs with a different approach?

20 responses so far

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


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.
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20 responses so far

The NIH removes requirement for standardized scores in pre-doc fellowship applications

Jul 10 2015 Published by under Postgraduate Training



To align with recent changes in the fellowship biosketch format,this Notice eliminates the requirement for inclusion of scores from standardized exams (e.g., MCAT, GRE) in the fellowship biosketch from the following funding opportunity announcements, effective immediately:

For reference, from PA-14-147:

Note that scores for standardized exams (e.g., MCAT, GRE) as well as a listing of the applicant’s courses and grades must be included in the Fellowship Applicant Biographical Sketch, and NOT in this attachment.

Anybody seen a rationale for this one?

The overall thrust of the Investigator Biosketch revamp seems to be to brag even more highly upon personal accomplishments, rather than suitability for the specific proposal. Also to allow people with non-traditional (non-published, say) accomplishments to brag on those.

Doesn't it seem like eliminating standardized scores works against this?

Can anyone think of why this would be a good thing for NIH to do?

Next point: I see where it says it is eliminating the requirement, not telling applicants not to include their scores. Fascinating.

First: If you have excellent standardized scores, I suggest you continue to put those in the pre-doc NRSA biosketch somewhere people.

Second: If you don't put them in there, the reviewer who is fond of such measures of your aptitude is going to assume your scores are really bad. Right?

Third: I think this is more evidence of NIH changes that will throw chaos into the system rather than really improving much.

10 responses so far

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