Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Reflections on my 1st Postdoc

As regular readers of this (or followers of me on twitter - @phdgeek) will know, I've spent the last three years working as a postdoc at the University of Nottingham.  This is my penultimate day here as the grant we were hoping for wasn't funded (this wasn't a huge shock, it seemed hit or miss from the reviews).  So, I thought I'd take some time to review the things that went well and the things that I might have done differently.

Great Stuff

Supervisor - I really landed on my feet here, my PI's been great.  He's let me follow my own direction in the research but still been really interested in what's going on.  Also he's a pretty big name in the field (at least in europe) and I think that's been helping in the job search.

Papers - I only got one paper out of my Phd (there is another one floating around in the ether, but whether that ever get published is anyone's guess), so I really needed to get a few out from this postdoc.  Which I did - 3 research articles and a commentary piece.  I'm also still working on a further two articles, which when published will make a fairly respectable haul.

Conferences - I love conferences, I come back really buzzed about the work.  Plus, it's really important to get known and to talk about your work if you're ever going to get a permanent position! So it was really nice that the grant that I've been funded on had funding for three designated conferences a year, Popgroup, SMBE and a further one which I decided I wasn't interested.  This was great because it meant that there was no persuading needed, I could just go.

Travel Award - As well as the already funded conferences, I managed to get a travel award to go to Basel to the ECCB meeting.  Getting any money is great, it's not much, but it shows an independent attitude and that someone else thought your research was interesting enough to fund you talking about it!

Less Good Stuff

All the other things - My PI has done a remarkable job of shielding me from all the other things academics have to do and just letting me get on with research, and it's been really productive.  But sometimes what you actually need is for someone to send all the other stuff your way - paper reviews, admin stuff, project students, teaching - just so that you can get the experience of doing those things and having a huge work load.  I'm happy I didn't have to do all that in this postdoc, but where ever I end I next I really need to start doing it.

Money - One of the things about being a computational biologist, who doesn't tend to even work with big datasets, is that it's hard to find things to spend money on.  In my next job I've definitely got to start ramping up the rate at which I ask for small grants, travel grants etc.

Learning about my new field - I've been allowed to take my research in the direction I wanted, as mentioned before.  The problem with this is that I was new to the field of evolutionary genetics and had several big gaps in my knowledge.  I haven't felt the need to fill these in order to get on with my research and now I feel like I have a huge amount of reading to do to catch up.

So those are my thoughts on the postdoc.  Anyone else got any postdoc/phd regrets, things you'd do differently or things that were awesome and you'd like to persuade everyone else to do them to?

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Looming Unemployment

One week today will be my last day at the University of Nottingham.  I've loved my time at Nottingham, but this is the nature of ECR research isn't it?

Unfortunately, although I've applied for a number of jobs, and had interviews for most of them, I've yet to secure my next position.  It's a little bit daunting, but I know I'm not alone in being in this between research jobs limbo. So I thought I'd talk a bit about how I'm going to deal with the time off.  If anyone has any experience or advice I'd love to hear your comments.

1. Get up at the normal time

Actually I'm not quite going to do this.  I normally get up at 5.20am so that I can have left the house by 6am.  However, now that my day won't include a ridiculous commute I'm going to let myself stay in bed until 6am.  Ooh, the luxury!

2. Continue Research

I've got a number of research questions that I've been working on over the last few months which still need some work.  The advantage of being a computational biologist (who isn't even working with massive data files) is that it's relatively easy to continue with the research.  The hope will be to continue to publish even though I'm unemployed.

3. Sign up to the Elsevier Postdoc Free Access Passport

I just discovered that if you got your Phd within the last 5 years and your last job finished between 31st Dec 2012 and 31st Aug 2013 you can get free access to science direct. So this should help a bit in the wasteland.

4. Do some other projects

I'm keen to use the time to start some projects that I wouldn't normally be able to fit in.  Firstly, I'm hoping to write a popular science book (aiming to self publish on the Kindle) and secondly I'd like to make a documentary about being LGBT in academic STEMM departments and try and get this funded by Kickstarter (There will be more about this here in the coming weeks).

5. Exercise

I'm always complaining that I can't go for a run first thing in the morning because the commute gets in the way.  Well, there's no excuse any more.  Plus, I think getting out of the house and getting the endorphins going everyday will probably help my mood.

6. Job Search

I'm not going to let this take over my life and I'm not going to apply for jobs I know I'd be unhappy in.  We can survive for a while on my wife's salary and my savings/redundancy money.  However, I am going to spend about an hour a day checking for jobs etc.

So it seems to me that if I stick to this I'll have a pretty busy, productive schedule.  Not sure how I'd have time for a job!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Difficulties in Conference Socialising

I recently went to a conference in Chicago. I had an excellent time and met lots of great people, but as at every conference I had a bit of a dilemma every time I met someone new - do I come out, when do I come out, how do I come out?

As anyone who knows me personally, and some people who only know me online will know, I'm very out. In every aspect of life, home, work, the hairdressers etc.  I just can't be bothered with the whole hiding who I am thing.  Plus I've got a wife, I spend a lot of time socialising with her, and I'm not going to play the pronoun game every time someone asks me what I did at the weekend.

However, I know lots of people who like to keep their private lives out of work.  They might be out in a general way, but they tend to keep quite about it.  But when you go to a conference the world of work merges with your social world. You're often meeting people in a social way, but it's still work.  The people you're talking to after a number of drinks in the bar might be a possible future colleague or collaborator or boss.  So there's always that split second of decisions, which camp does this new interaction fall into.  Future friend, future colleague, both, neither?

Then there's the heteronormitivity of conferences (maybe of science in general?) which I find a bit overwhelming.  I tend to think that people go away from conferences remembering me as the lesbian who talks about transposons (possibly without remembering the bit about transposons).  This is probably not even true, but the fact that I find myself having to come out over and over (particularly if my wife has come along to take advantage of a tagged on holiday) to people who assume everyone, including me, is straight (and I don't look straight), makes me hyper aware of it.

Although I've talked about conferences here, I think it extends quite a bit into more general areas of academic life.  We're expected to spend so much of our time and energy trying to make it in this career that there is often little room for friends outside of work, forcing people to mix social and work yet again.

I'm thinking of putting a project together to see how other LGBT people find this work socialising issue.  It's only in a concept stage, but stay tuned for more info.