Monday, September 29, 2008

CV, annotated

Like those letters one writes after being dumped, here is the CV version that doesn't get sent:

My Name
My Contact Information

6-year PhD. Non-major University chosen because I fell in love with my summer internship project. It took me 4 years to convince my advisor to let me do the biochemistry project that would "potentially" not work but led to major publication. The "much easier" genetics project led to 2 years of frustration and nothing to show for it. I learned not to listen to advice and to present data, not ideas.
BA from Liberal Arts College. Transferred from native country because of full-tuition scholarship. I would have had a publication from my senior thesis if the refrigerator had not been cleaned while I was doing my summer research internship. (Yes, my stuff was labeled.)

Currently - Returned to postdoc #1 because advisor has money, while postdoc #2 advisor did not submit grant renewal. I'll get to finish the first-author publication that I left behind when the money ran out.
Postdoc #2. Two years, including 9 months of pregnancy (of which the last 2 were spent on bed rest due to preterm labor scare) and 2 months of maternity leave. Would have had 2 first-author publications if I hadn't received the pink slip at the end of the pregnancy due to lack of grant money.
Postdoc #1. Two and a half years, including 9 months of pregnancy (which were worked in full) and 2 months of maternity leave. My work led to 3 middle-author publications, while the first-author one didn't get finished because the grant ran out and I had to jump ship.
Graduate research - a patchwork quilt
Undergraduate research. More than average; 4 labs, 2 countries.
High School research. Got me to go into science despite my father's warning of required poverty vows. (True for native country.)

- Trained lots of graduate and undergraduate students that nobody else wanted.
- Three lectures in undergraduate course. (Best I could find in non-teaching oriented PhD program.)

Third author, from postdoc #1. All I did was clone mutants the grad student didn't want to do. Has been submitted and re-submitted and should be finally coming out in the next few months.
Third author, from postdoc #1. I would have been second had it not been for maternity leave and changing postdoc due to lack of money.
Second author, from postdoc #1. My data made the paper a lot more special, but not enough to deserve first-authorship.
First author, from PhD. Two-author paper. I had to convince my advisor the experiments were worth doing, then convince advisor and reviewers that the results were real even though the data didn't fit the current model. This paper has been cited frequently, but is still mentioned as a "side comment" because it doesn't fit the model.
Third author, from PhD. I spent 6 months optimizing a technique that a fellow postdoc used for a one week experiment. I was glad to be included as an author, instead of getting acknowledged for technical support.

First author, from postdoc #2. I unearthed this project from a 10 year-old notebook and brought it back to life. Some experiments need to be repeated for validation and it's missing two major experiments. I will finish the experiments in my "free time", unless some other lab member would like to do them. The paper will be submitted in 1-6 months, depending on who gets to do the work.
??? author, from postdoc #2. This paper might have a story once more experiments are completed. Technically it is what the grant was about, but the proposed experiments did not pan out. (Which is why the grant renewal was not submitted and my contract was not renewed.)
First author, from postdoc #1 - which advisor keeps promising me and is the reason I was coaxed into returning to this lab instead of looking for postdoc #3.

- Money for going to conferences that I would not have been allowed to go otherwise.
- Money for staying in school instead of getting a "real" job.
- Money for attending a very expensive liberal arts college that I would not have afforded otherwise.

- Seminar at local institution during postdoc #1
- Seminar at native country institution during PhD. (Discovered I cannot speak science in that language.)
- Oral presentations at research conferences that let me talk.
- Poster presentations at research conferences that didn't let me talk.

- Postdoc advisor #2
- Postdoc advisor #1
- PhD advisor
- PhD committee member that I still go to for advice when I start to freak out.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

So many PhDs, not many professors.

When I was finishing my PhD, I drove many of my professors crazy by asking them where their students were. I was searching for alumni from my graduate program that made it into academia. I wasn't going as far as wanting a tenured faculty member, as our program only started in the early 1990's and admits about 3-5 students a year. It is also true that several of the alumni are foreign students, many of which return to their own country. I assumed that most professors kept track of their students, shouldn't they get brownie points for their progeny's success? However, my professors kept sending me to each other, and in the end one of them introduced me to a student of theirs at a conference who had recently gotten a tenure-track position. (Her husband, who is in the same area, ended up with an industry job, but I'm not sure if it was by choice or not.)

My argument with my professors was that they were not training their students to stay in academia. They were not preparing them to go into tenure-track positions. I lived through my husband's struggles to get tenure and I knew he was a lot more prepared for the job at the end of his PhD than I was at the end of mine. He had a lot more grant writing and teaching experience, which is probably why he landed a tenure-track position with a year and a half of postdoc experience. It is true that I chose my PhD program partly because it didn't require teaching, all students admitted receive research assistantships. My thought at the time was that I didn't want to have to teach while I was taking classes or getting my qualifying exams done or my dissertation written. I didn't know that "no teaching requirement" meant "no teaching opportunities." I did manage to TA for a class, but three lectures are not enough to call experience. I tried to overcome that deficiency by volunteering to present my work at meetings and by joining as many journal clubs as would fit my schedule. But I am now looking for teaching opportunities during my postdoc, which are also quite difficult to find.

Given what I believed were shortcomings of my PhD program, I was quite surprised to read an article in Science stating that only one out of 26 of Yale's molecular biophysics and biochemistry program graduates from the class of 1991 holds a tenured faculty position 10 years after graduation. Five other alumni are working in academia, but only one of those is on a tenure-track. The article makes the point that many of the alumni chose not to go into academia and that two thirds are still working in the life sciences. The author's concern was whether the low funding opportunities were to blame, but that does not seem to be the case. The main point I see is that most students are choosing not to go into academia, why?

I know that not everyone holding a PhD can (or wants to) become a professor. And there are not enough positions available for the ones that are trying for it. I understand not trying for something because you don't want to do it, but what I see is many students thinking they cannot compete. I heard that professors tell their students to aim one tier down, that someone from a "first-tier" institution will get a job in a "second-tier" and so on. That kind of comment sends some students straight to industry, as they are scared they will end up teaching at a community college. Not to mention the married couples who are told to forget about dual-position offers unless they both have Science & Nature publications. Are the prospects really that bleak? No wonder most students are scared of academia!