13 11 2015

Its always slow starting in a new lab. Especially when you’re coming in with vague goals / direction. I’m not sure how others have found their post-doc positions. From what I have read, most take a lot of time to think about what they want to do, academically speaking. What skills do they want to learn? What new model systems do they want to explore? Do they want to continue in the field they did their PhD work, but examine the questions from a different perspective? When thinking about these things, they probably researched many different PI’s, examined their research program, asked about their track record regarding mentoring, asking  where former post-docs have landed. Collecting data to answer the question , is this a PI someone that will move my scientific career forward?

Yeah I did not do any of that.

I know I want to go into the management of research, either in a not-for-profit or an industry sector. I’ve been looking for some positions after completing my PhD, but hiring takes awhile and I could not go with out a paycheque. My strong need for income led me to approach a PI that works in flies to see if they needed help shoring up some projects. The benefits being that I am well trained Drosophilist with amazing microscopy skills so I could start immediately, didn’t need training and could be producing data in a week. S/he didn’t need anyone but she passed my CV to another local PI who was looking for some hands. I’ve been hired to help move a project along so I am back at the bench. Except its not a fly lab or a lab working on anything I did during my PhD, so that whole hit the ground running? Not happening. Instead, I am adjusting to learning about a new field, learning the workings of a new lab, and basically feeling like a newbie grad student all over again. Twitter has said this is normal and I “know” that it is. It just is such an odd feeling walking into work and not having a list of things I must do today. I come in and read papers. Then I contact x about training y. wait. Contact A about D. wait.

The research is interesting, the lab folk are really nice. The next few months will demonstrate whether I LOVE the bench or if I’m really done with it. Which direction do you think I am leaning?



29 10 2015

Well its another new adventure. When I finished my PhD, I thought I would take the time to find a “real” job. I wasn’t going to start a post-doc simply because it was easy thing to do, especially since I know I will not be going the tenure track route. The thing is in PhDCity biotech isn’t very big. We lost a few companies right after I started my PhD studies (way back in 2008) and we haven’t really recovered. As much as I know I would be good in product sales (ie working for the big supplies providers) its not something I want to do. I know it sounds snobby, but i had the opportunity to get into sales when I finished my MSc. If I was going to be “sales specialist”, I could’ve been doing that 8 years ago. I want to do something that uses my skills as a scientist. Which is why I was really excited by the recommendation from, Cath for a position like hers. Although, Cath doesn’t do bench work, she gets to still be involved with science. I had multiple with her’ employer and although I was shortlisted I didn’t get the job. I’m totally OK with it, because the process of interviewing really helped me think about what I want to do. One of the great questions that I was asked was whether I was ready to leave bench science. I answered honestly that I wasn’t sure because I love science. Looking back I realize that was the wrong answer, its not science I love it asking a questions, figuring out how we can answer it and then trying to get the data. MY absolute favourite part of science is the data analysis. I’m not going to lie, I am perfectly happy to let someone else collect the virgins, make the crosses and conduct the experiment. Analysis the data? I’m there. I’m also a rule follower. I like rules, I like crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s. One of the hardest things i find about academia is the bendable rules. You don’t really have to send you progress report 2 weeks beforehand because the prof isn’t going to read it. I like deadlines that I can meet. I like standards. I”m a type A. I like to know I met my targets or I did not, then figure out why.  These traits aren’t necessarily well suited to make the next scientific breakthrough but they are good skills for project management, clinical trial management and for administration. They are the skills that got me a PhD after 7 years with 2 labs, 2 mat leaves and 2 years parttime work. The next step is to find a “real” job in one of these fields without experience in them, but I still need to work because I was going crazy at home and I was stressing out not having an income. Even though my paltry student stipend didn’t really contribute to our mortgage or everyday expenses, it allowed us to put some cash away every month and have a bit of a financial cushion. Then I remember something I read on Biochem Belle’s post about transitioning. I need to be looking for my next job not my last job.

With that I’ve taken post-doc. Its not a traditional post-doc where I come in with a project to myself and run with it. The PI needed someone to help finish up some projects and s/he is involved in setting up new center at one of the UNI’s. A center for a technique which I have quite a bit of experience with, one could say I “haz skillz”. I’ve negotiated a post-doc where I get to learn new lab skills and refresh ones i haven’t used in awhile, while being involved in grant writing, budgeting and coordinating the development of this new center.  On the surface it seems like a win/win. The PI know what my career goals are and would like to help me get the experience I need to transition into the roles I mentioned.  I have the skills s/he needs to finish projects. I’m nervous, its in a field I have limited experience with, Neuroscience and with a PI I have never worked with nor do I know anyone who has worked with hir. I’ve met them, s/he seems very personable and nice. The lab members speak highly of them. They are well liked by the university admin. Another PI, whom I do know well suggested I approach hir. A PI wouldn’t send a colleagues graduate to a crazy PI would they?

Fingers crossed my friends. I figure out if I’m in the fire or not!

Thank you Blogosphere, its Dr. Scientistmother

28 10 2015

OK so pretty much anyone who ever used to read my writings here knows that I successfully defended my thesis in July. I am now Dr. ScientistMother, or Dr. elect as I haven’t been “hooded”.

I want to send a big big heartfelt hug and thank you to all of you dear readers. I can honestly say that I would not be Dr. SM without y’all. Both the Mommy bloggers and the Science bloggers got me through these past years.  Yes I did whole shit load of hard work. But when I was tired and defeated you all were my walls that I leaned on. You guys picked me up, dusted me off and set me back on the path. When I quit my first lab, some of you helped me find a great new lab. You cheered me on after the epic fail, you supported me through family shit. And after finishing some of you helped get me interviews.

I’m going to try and blog more. Looking back on some of my earlier posts reminds me of what a great forum this is.


Thank you everyone, readers, bloggers and twitter friends. This journey was so much more bearable and enjoyable because of you.

An open letter to the organizers of Canfly 2015

6 07 2015

Dear Drs. Emery, Nilson, Hickson, Hipfner, Moon and Schock,

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Montreal and immerse myself into the wonderful world of Canadian Drosophila Research. I was attending CanFLY2015 conference a week after the Tim Hunt controversy (seriously the dude is an idiot, and months after  hilarious Congrats you have an all-male panel tumbler became popular and the racism within the astronomy community blew up. As a South Asian woman, I know I am under-represented at the faculty and post-doctoral level and normally attending conferences highlights my under-representation. I said normally. This was not one of those conferences. I’m not sure if you as organizers put an effort into making sure at least 1 female scientist was presenting in each session (many session had >1 female including mine) and that a variety of cultures were represented. But you did a great job. The cynic in me would like to think it wasn’t hard to have a diverse representation considering the conference was being held in Montreal, a very diverse city that is a train ride away from the most diverse city in Canada, Toronto. I know this isn’t true. I attended CanFly2013 in Vancouver, a major Canadian city that loves to think of itself as a liberal, diverse and accepting city. The number of URMs could be counted with just the fingers on my hands. This was exactly opposite in Montreal. I wish I had taken a picture of the attendees so that I post what Real Scientists look like, to  show  men and women of all colours beings scientists.  It really was a breath of fresh Canadian air.

We often highlight and talk about the many ways Science is failing men and people of colour. I think it is only fair that we highlight when Science does it right. You were not perfect, but you did a damn fine job. I would like to thank you for giving me hope.



I am scientist, hear me roar

23 04 2015

Dear Public,

I am a scientist that studies epithelial cell development. Guess what? I can tell you a lot about epithelial cell development. The different types of epithelial cells. Their roles in tissue and organ development as well as what we know about their roles in cancer and other diseases. I can tell you about how basic immunology works from being in an immunology lab. The similarities and difference between invertebrate and vertebrate organisms. Why studying an invertebrate model is so useful. I can also tell you a whole lot of what we don’t know. Basically we know shit. Even small, relatively genetically simple organisms such as Drosophila are an amazingly complex system. Don’t even get me started on how complex human bodies are.

As a scientist that studies cell biology, I use alot of genetic techniques used by many researchers in a diverse field, from agriculture to ecology to cell biology. I know about DNA and the techniques used to manipulate it. I know how to read biomedical research and basic science developmental articles. From over a decade of experience I have learned which questions to ask, what controls to look for etc.

Wanna know what I don’t know? I don’t shit about any other scientific field. Being an expert in cell biology does not make me an expert in nutrition. Or climate change. Or geology. Or astronomy. Or medicine. Or farming. Or computers. Or coding.

Similarly, being a cardiac surgeon does not make you an expert in anything other than cardiac surgery. Despite what Grey Anatomy might portray. Or Dr. Oz.

I also understand that you don’t trust some institutions. Historically, power was in the hands of white males and I understand that some government institutions condoned very bad behaviour. As a women and person of color, I understand systemic bias first hand.

What I don’t understand is why you trust someone making a shitload of money off of you versus the  thousand and thousands of people who work doing the research, often with poor wages and little job security.

Most of the research published is done by grad students and postdocs. The PIs are too busy writing grants to try and keep the lab afloat.  We don’t make a lot of money. Lots and lots of non-scientists make way more than I do. When I try and explain to you why Jenny McCarthy or Dr.Oz are lying for the purpose of selling their books and making money, the accusation that I”m in the pocket of Monsantos or Big Pharm pisses me the fuck off. I am not the one living in Hollywood and going on exotic vacations. Trust me I wish I could lie to you because then I would make a shit load of money instead of worrying about how I am going to pay for my kids activities / new shoes / clothes.

Let me tell you. I do not have multimillion dollar book sales. I do not have my own TV show, I don’t even have a job unless you the public feel my research is worthy. Yet you don’t trust me or the thousands of others like me that spend their days trying to find out the why to so many questions. You trust the asshole who lies and contradicts himself  all the time. What the fuck. For every “coverup” that was real, someone blew the whistle! Because you can not pay us enough to keep our mouth shut. Do you really think I am sitting here on twitter or this blog because I am getting paid? Right now I would rather being doing some yoga.

Please dear public stop being so fucking stupid. Ask questions but remember that asking questions and being cynical does not equal critical thinking. Critical thinking requires you to understand the answers to your question and whether the answer really does address the question. How does the information you have integrate with what you know to be true. Stop being lazy.

For the last time, we scientist are not perfect. Just like in medicine and society at large,  we have the assholes, the frauds, and the cheats within our community. Look at what the person has to gain. What do I have to gain? If you listen to this my blood pressure will not rise to the point that my head is popping off from anger at your accusation that I am making money or am in someones pocket.

Please and thank you.

How the funding of science suppresses diversity

20 04 2015

A fair warning, what follows is not going to be the most articulate, well written piece on this I have a kid whose midnight wake up is coming up.

Last week Dr.Hollenbach wrote a blog describing how he’s closing his lab. If you look at him, he is the stereotypical image that pops up when you use google image with the word scientist. Though they’ve added some females and a splattering of color since Dr.Isis last did this. The stereotypical guy in science didn’t make it. If you read Namaste, Ish at Drugmonkey’s or even DrugMonkeys own take on it, Dr.Hollenbach failed because he wasn’t productive enough.

At least that is how I read it. He was not doing cool enough, exciting enough science, fast enough. The fast enough is what it comes to. The funding climate is crap, both above and below the 49th parallel. Pressure is on PIs to publish in high impact journals. Its getting hard and harder to publish. Only the elite of an already elite group (of intelligent, hardworking people) are successful.

Here is what all the above looks like to a non-stereotypical soon to be PhD:

– In my field of study (broadly cell biology in a fly model system), 10 years ago the PhDs at the time were graduating with 4-5 papers. Most had at least 3 papers because the data within a thesis chapter was thought to be equivalent to the data required for a paper. That does not happen now. Most of my cohort has 1 submitted paper. Some have 1 published IF they were collaborating with another person. Which means its a shared first author publication. At my last committee meeting, I was told to write up as I had enough data for 1 paper submission and additional data for another chapter, as it told a story. It clearly showed differences in the role of two proteins. I have not shown why or how these proteins have different roles. Most likely I can not publish that data until I can define at least 1 of the processes that Protein A is involved in but Protein B is not. This is not a simple or non-time consuming project. In the end, I will have 2 maybe 3 papers IF I”m lucky enough for my PI to be able to keep me on after I defend (i’m not because of a lack of funding!!). I will need to because most papers are not accepted in the first submission. Yes I have started the “for reviewers” experiments, or at least the ones I can think of. High productivity in a tough publishing environment stacks the deck against you from the start. Now what if you have diverse students? Smart students with physical disabilities that slow them down or require them to work less hours? What if english is a second language so they take longer to master concepts? What if the student has a kid or two while doing their PhD? How will that impact the PI’s productivity?

I am 1 of 6 students. I have taken a total of 2 years off for mat leave and have essentially worked part time over the last 2 years as I could not afford fulltime care for my kids. I do not complete my science as quickly as someone that can put in 12 hour days/ 7 days a week. Even if I had fulltime childcare, I would be working 9-5. I can not come in on the weekends. Of course I work at night. I regularly analyze my data from 9pm-1am. I am a drag to my PI. Not because “hands” are good. They are great. I am extremely good at what I do. I will not give conclusive statements until I’ve repeated an experiment more than 3x. My PI knows that every thing I do has been  quadrupled checked.  My lack of availability means I’m not getting my data into a paper fast enough. No matter how much I work at night, I am limited by the time I can spend in the lab. If I don’t get the data for a paper, My PI can’t apply for grants.

We had a not so good student before me and a crappy postdoc so that equals 6 years of science not published. This can happen to many PIs. One bad student or one bad postdoc and they are screwed. We also had an AWESOME postdoc and a good student. Both got 2 publications since I’ve been in the lab. This means in 6 years we’ve had 4 publications. Not good according to DrugMonkey and Namaste, Ish.

The lab next door? The PI is exactly like Dr. Hollenback. A good mentor, I’ve known five of his students all but one have been really happy. The one that wasn’t happy, had issues outside of hir abilities in the lab, but those issues effected hir science and s/he  did not publish. The crappy student cost the PI to lose funding for a round. He rebounded but didnt get a renewal again and had to let his amazing lab manager go. It was a pretty shitty time. He’s gone into admin parttime…..

You’ve gotten to the bottom of this and you’re asking. WTF does this have to do with diversity in science? Everything. My PI has been amazingly supportive of me (outside of the thesis fiasco), despite the fact that I am hurting her productivity simply for being a parent with a working spouse.

I am not fast. I am through. I am knowledgeable and I am not slow. I am graduating with my cohort despite taking a year off and working parttime. But I am still not fast enough. I am not productive enough. I am not writing the papers that get my PI into C/N/S.

Those papers that are the fundamentally awesome papers that move fields forward are not in CNS. As I write my thesis and dive into the literature, I’ve noticed the papers that started areas of research or made groundbreaking observations were published in Development, Developmental Biology and other society journals. Really crappy papers got published in higher impact journals (and the society journals) not because of the science but because of the (male) senior author(s).

I am a parent with 2 kids. I am not going out to dinner, staying for the pizza/beer/science chit chat to network so that I too can get my name recognized. I can’t as I have kids I have to pick up from childcare.  I”m not going out to lunch / coffer for the science chat / networking. I can not because I have to get my shit done so I can leave at 2:30 to pick up my kid. Which means no one knows who I am. The scientist without the partner / kids / ageing parents.  They can focus.

This isn’t a male / female issue. The funding climate is selecting for people who can work 24/7. The ones with a partner at home (usually female) or without a partner or family obligations. I am not a good choice for a postdoc, not because I am not capable, not intelligent but because I can not make your lab 110% my priority. When “the small grocers” can no longer survive because you’ve starved them out you get WALMART science.

Why would I, the poster child of diversity for science want to stay where I am not welcome?


10 04 2015

Dear Monkey, This is letter is so overdue. Its partly late partly because mommy is trying to finish school and partly because mommy can’t believe you’re already 8. How did this happen so fast? And how is it that you’ve instantly gone from this sweet little boy to this confident 8 year old boy with all the boyish obsession over body parts and sillyness that comes with 8. I have to admit, sweetheart I am unequipped to deal with this change. I can see that you sense that. You seem to be closer to your dad, which is so great because lets be honest, I was never an eight-year old boy. You still continue to amaze me with your kindness and intelligence. Now as you grow older, you challenge me to think about life in different ways. The questions you ask are no longer easy to answer and that I don’t know everything. I’m lucky that you’re OK with that and together we’re learning together. This also seems to be the year where you are starting to practice the all important preteen/teenage attitude. I have to admit, its been driving me a bit nutty. But I think some deep breathing on my part will help. I promise to keep trying to be patient if you promise to keep letting me snuggle with ya before you go to sleep. LOVE YOU mom


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