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Secret Handshakes

May 7, 2012

I think I do a reasonable job of pursuing career development opportunities. Workshops, summer schools, etc. Not too long a go I became aware of two interesting opportunities. An APA solicitation for reviewers from “underrepresented groups” for any of their many journals, and the NIH Early Career Reviewer program.

I heard about both through “official” channels. The APA program was just a solicitation in a journal that I stumbled on. The NIH-ECR program information was forward to me by an NIH official. In both cases I (perhaps naively) assumed that the best way to purse each opportunity was to go though the process as written by the organization. Get your CV together and just apply as per the instructions.

Not sure that was a smart move.

The APA has yet to respond in well over a year. I resubmitted my application after 6 months of silence and even asked if the program was still ongoing. Nothing. Eventually I called them up to ask what the deal was. Long story short, the “program” amounts to them just forwarding your CV to a few editors. It is entirely possible (likley in my opinion) that my information was just ignored by the relevant editors, who I’m sure are overworked tenured folks. I can imagine that a “diversity reviewers” email might get a pretty low priority score behind their own pubs, grants, articles to review, grad students, etc etc. I asked if I’d get a better response by just contacting editors directly (“possibly”). Ok, then what’s the point of this whole thing? Not to make this post too long, but this is a wonderful illustration of the gap between meaning to nice things with regard to diversity and actually doing something.  This APA solicitation seems more “hey wouldn’t it be nice” than a serious attempt. I wonder if they keep track of how effective this solicitation is. Based on my experience I’d say, not very.

As for the NIH-ECR, I am still waiting a response (it hasn’t been that long), though I am not hopeful. I’m going to go ahead and contact an SRO directly. I have little faith that going though the application process will result in any sort of consideration or acknowledgement of my app. I think it’s interesting that others I’ve talked to on the science-internets think that talking directly to an SRO IS the standard procedure for this.

Both of these struck me as somewhat secret-handshake-ish. In both cases I took information from the organization about the opportunity at face value, only to later learn I was barking up the wrong tree. The real way to pursue these opportunities was something different, that I should have just known. Smart folks go through the side door, what you didn’t know about that, I thought everybody did. It’s exactly the kind of thing that can be bad for underrepresented folks. It’s kind of an odd possibility that both of these programs may be the least effective way of pursuing these opportunities.

Perhaps I just had a spell of naiveté. I am slightly annoyed at myself for not suspecting that there was a more direct approach available. Perhaps these sort of situations are unavoidable as organizations need flexibility  (e.g “letting SROs out into the wild). Still something about these two situations strikes me as slightly off.

Dr Bashir’s amazing impostor syndrome treatment

April 9, 2012

Not long a ago a friend of mine landed a TT interview at a Fancy Pants University (FPU). The interesting coincidence is was the same FPU I went to as an undergrad. So of course we chatted a bit before she went off for her interview. Unfortunately I couldn’t really provide her much useful information. I was a student in a totally different department. I had no idea what it’s like for professors1, let alone professors in her area. The conversation did have an interesting sequence that I’ll paraphrase:

“Sally”: What advice can you give me. How do you deal with the FPU arrogance?

Bashir: They’re arrogant?

Sally: Sure. Look who’s in that department that will be at my talk, Famous Researcher #1, Famous Researcher #2, etc.

Bashir: You’re worried about tough questions from them?

Sally: no…they’re hot shit. What if they think I’m an idiot?

Bashir: {bleep} them. You’re smart. Just act like you belong there.

Ok, perhaps my advice isn’t so much amazing. It was at least succinct and to the point. Cultivate a little bit of irrational confidence to inoculate yourself from impostor syndrome. Try it for a month, and call me in the morning.

1. Other than the one day my physics professor took time to explain his (failed) tenure case to class. Awkward.

Positive feedback for Scientists

April 4, 2012

Being a scientist is not a particularly positive experience. By design, most of the interactions are negative. Or I should say critical. That’s just how it works both on a grand scale and for each individual study. If scientists didn’t persist in providing negative critical feedback to each other, the grand enterprise would be much less efficient. That’s good for science. But for the individual scientist it’s kind of a downer.

I’m coming off a conference visit that included some good moments for me. People I’d never met had read my papers. Thought that the research I presented was interesting. Even cool. It was a very positive experience. So I thought, what can I do to facilitate that for other scientists? How can I help?

Here’s how. For the next conference I’m going to order up some Zazzle stickers with some positive feedback included. Hand them out at poster sessions or something.

I may need to pilot test them on my lab. See which ones work best.

Networking notes for the littles

March 29, 2012

Networking.
(Some current posts on the subject from Scicurious and Isis.

During graduate school we created a professional development seminar for graduate students. At the time I was in the middle of looking for postdocs and somehow got labeled the Networking Expert for the Littles. This was mostly because I had stories of networking gone right, wrong or just plain awkward1. Sharing them was useful because it dismissed this idea of networking being about boldly handing your business card to some Big Cheese and getting favors in return.

-Don’t focusing solely on the big cheeses and the cool kids table. Sure if you find yourself next to a Nobel laureate in the buffet line, by all means (actually happened to me). Mostly just talk to people you think do interesting research, regardless of rank. Yes that means even grad students. Don’t assume that how famous a person is will correlate with how useful a connection it may be (now or a few years later).

-It is probabilistic and gradual. Don’t expect results to be direct and immediate. That you will “get something” out of each encounter, other than hopefully an interesting conversation. Think of it as slowly expanding the number of people who know you as a researcher. Yes, you could rely on your pubs for that. I don’t know how much that makes sense in the context of very junior folks like grads/postdocs. When you’re an associate prof with a bit of a paper trail, working on your 6th R01 you can have the “they’ll come to me” attitude. Until then I would not assume that it will be intuitively obvious to everyone that you’re an amazing researcher. Talk to people about your research. Or theirs. On in general.

The times that things have worked out well for me are a mix of targeting someone I think does interesting research and emailing them ahead of conferences, and serendipitous meetings with people who weren’t even on my radar at the time. Mostly it’s about being an active participant with some occasional targeted interactions.

1. The best story involves a romantic walk on the beach.

things the news reminds me of

March 22, 2012

During my college days I didn’t exactly dress to impress. I might have had a bit of the Cheetos stained nerd thing going on. My typical attire included jeans, a possibly clean t-shirt, and a requisite piece of university apparel: a hooded sweatshirt. I’m a creature of habbit. Not only did I wear basically the same outfit, I never bought a new or otherwise updated sweatshirt. Wore the same one the whole time (it got a little raggedy). About a month into grad school, I’d moved hundreds of miles away but was still rockin the same outfit on an occasional basis. I remember heading out of my department building one day and seeing plastered on the door, paraphrased as follows:

Suspect at Large
Black guy
medium to tall
Hooded sweatshirt

into the trash can.

The four types of grant writing advice

March 21, 2012

Attended an NIH focused grant workshop at the local university last week. This one stands out because it involved several faculty from my department and seemed to be geared towards my interests (NIH monies). The faculty gave mini-presentations on just what it is that you have to know (and do) to be successful at obtaining grants. The somewhat rapid fire nature of the presentations made the differences of the styles of advice really pop out.

In thinking about all of the advice I’ve gotten about grant writing, I think things vary along two dimensions (or four types)

Vague-Idealistic
Just work hard and do good science! That’s the key!

Vague-Cynical
Honestly I don’t know how I get them. I just click submit and pray.
If you don’t already have one you’re probably screwed. Heck if funding rates get any lower they may take my grant back.

Detailed-Idealistic
Have you read my book about my 14 step process?
Who is your PO? I’m friends with most of them.

Detailed-Cynical
Remember to cite all of the people on the panel!
What font are you using? God help you if it isn’t Georgia.

I’m not sure which is my favorite.

Can I put youtube videos on my CV?

March 1, 2012

Just last week I had a manuscript officially accepted (high fives). In the ensuring email flurry I was given the option of making a video abstract.

A what?

Apparently the journal (or the publishing company) thinks it would be interesting if authors essentially make youtube videos of their abstracts. There’s the option to just combine audio with slides, for a “slidecast” of sorts. The example videos include researchers sitting in their offices1, or walking along a scenic street, while giving a 3 to 5 minute abstract of the paper.

I asked around and opinions range from, a complete waste of time, to a good way to get your face out there. Do people do this? I’d never even heard of it and probably will pass. Though it might be my only semi-legit change to put a youtube video on my CV.

1. complete with a mildly inappropriate picture in the background.