Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Where does the science pipeline go? My pipeline

I've done some thinking about the science pipeline this week: a thought-provoking blog post by Sergey Kryazhimskiy (@skryazhi) asked whether it is moral to hire postdocs with the assumption that they will get a faculty position, and meanwhile I've been organizing an event for the summer students to talk about STEM careers this Friday.

In just 8 years from my PhD I found that the pipeline leads to many places and that students and postdocs should be aware of where it can go. My graduate program now has a semester long class about what you can do with a PhD and I participated in the postdoc session for several years. It is not moral to train someone with the assumption that there will be job in academia and nothing else in their future, because that is not the case. On the other hand, there are tons of other things to do and in the vast majority of cases my friends decided in the middle of their postdocs that they wanted to do something else. I thought I'd list all the things my peeps from grad school (+/- 4 years from me) are doing and it would be cool if other people did it too. I am interested in seeing people's trajectories and I have listed job changes whenever they happened and whether they did a postdoc or not before their non-academic job. I also thought I'd write down when they had their kids.

Graduation (gender): trajectory
Academic jobs in blue, non-academic STEM in purple

n/a (M): MA dropped out > dancer > innovation consultant for healthcare
n/a (F): MA dropped out > science documentary producer

2002 (M): MD/PhD fellowship (1 kid) > assistant (2 kids) > associate professor @ Ivy institution
2002 (M): MD/PhD fancy postdoc (2 kids) > assistant professor @ R1 institution
By "fancy" I mean with a really famous PI at a very high profile institution
2002 (M): MD/PhD fancy postdoc K08 (2 kids) > assistant professor @ R1 institution
2002 (F): PhD fancy postdoc > assistant professor @ Ivy institution (1 kid)
2002 (M): PhD postdoc > startup software company (2 kids)
2002 (F): PhD fancy postdoc > big pharma

2003 (M): MD/PhD fancy postdoc K99 > assistant professor @ Ivy institution (1 kid)
2003 (F): PhD fancy postdoc > assistant professor @ Ivy institution (1 kid)

2004 (F): PhD fancy postdoc (1 kid) > group leader in the UK
2004 (F): PhD fancy postdoc (2 kids) > assistant professor @ liberal arts college
2004 (F): PhD fancy postdoc (1 kid) > biology teacher in fancy boarding school
2004 (F): PhD no postdoc (2 kids) > JD > intellectual property lawyer > university IP office
2004 (F): PhD no postdoc > healthcare consulting/writing (2 kids)

2005 (F): PhD fancy postdoc K99 > assistant professor @ R1 institution (1 kid)
2005 (M): PhD fancy postdoc (2 kids) > assistant professor @ R1 institution
2005 (F): PhD postdoc > big pharma (1 kid)
2005 (F): PhD postdoc > healthcare advertising > big pharma marketing in Switzerland
2005 (F): PhD no postdoc > healthcare advertising (2 kids) > freelance copywriter

2006 (M): PhD fancy postdoc > lab head @ fancy research institute
2006 (M): PhD postdoc > assistant professor @ liberal arts college
2006 (F): PhD fancy postdoc K99 > assistant professor @ R1 institution (YOURS TRULY!)
2006 (F): PhD postdoc (1 kid) > staff scientist in the UK
2006 (M): PhD industry postdoc > small pharma > big pharma
2006 (M): PhD no postdoc > technology ventures office MBA
2006 (F): PhD no postdoc > technology ventures office (1 kid) > startup company (2 kids) > sold company, consulting
2006 (M): PhD no postdoc > consulting

2007 (F): PhD fancy postdoc K99 (2 kids) > assistant professor @ Ivy institution
2007 (F): PhD no postdoc > consulting
2007 (F): PhD no postdoc > Journalism MA > science writer
2007 (F): PhD no postdoc > consulting > healthcare strategy (1 kid)
2007 (M): PhD postdoc > small pharma > healthcare advertising

2008 (F): PhD no postdoc > big pharma in Switzerland (2 kids)
2008 (F): PhD no postdoc > technology ventures office MBA
2008 (M): PhD fancy postdoc (1 kid) > biotech sales
2008 2M-1F still in postdoc

2009 (F): PhD postdoc > science writing
2009 (F): PhD no postdoc > science policy
2009 2M-2F still in postdoc

So, of 45 grad school people I have kept in touch with 33% (n=15) are in faculty positions, 16% (n=7) are still postdocs and the other 51% are doing something else. The 33% surprised me because I thought the number would be much smaller, but I have not included all the postdocs I have met during grad school who have gone to do something else. Also, there are loads of MD/PhDs who have probably gone back to being physicians, who will bring this number down. In any case this supports the old adage "If you get an Ivy league education and do a fancy postdoc, you are more likely to get a job". Which was an actual piece of advice given to me when I was looking for grad schools.

In this non scientific approach I am also skewed towards females because 1) our program was mostly female and 2) girls tend to keep in touch more than boys. The variety is staggering with fluxes across different careers and across scientific disciplines. I have peeps in most major pharma companies in the US and Europe, and there is a lot of writing and consulting and advertising, plus some finance sprinkled in for good measure. Yet, this is all still STEM related. I think it's important to consider all these outcomes and to know what we are training people for. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Life on the tenure-track: learn to push through the wall

If you have never read “Stress in biomedical research: six impossible things”, you should read it right now. Not kidding. Go read it, because it’s much more useful than anything I will say below.

I have written recently on work ethics and while on vacation last week I have been thinking about dealing with stress. The first year of running a lab was stressful, but there had been many other stressful times before that helped me figure out how to handle it. The Fall of 2010, when this opinion piece by Doug Green at St. Jude came out, was a particularly bad one. I was a postdoc coming off directing the first year of a summer research program for undergrads I started, two big grants applications, including the resubmission of my K99, finishing a paper. I was at a breaking point. I had a deadline every two weeks for 3 months and as the cherry on top I had agreed to write a review with my postdoctoral advisor due in mid-November. It was a tricky one because it was a short Current Opinions piece and I had a very ambitious plan: it had to cover my advisor’s bread and butter, cover MY bread and butter so that I could use it in the future, and everything had to be elegantly explained and put together while giving illuminating ideas to my field. It wasn’t happening. I cannot write at home so I was in the lab at 1 AM the day of the deadline and I just put my head down on my desk: “I’m going to email him right now and tell him I cannot do this! I just can’t. He’ll have to write this himself.” I had just pulled a muscle in my back writing. Did you even know you could be so tense that you pull a muscle while sitting?

One of the grad students was there and she took me to the lunch-room for tea. “Just take a break from it for a few minutes” she said. We chatted, while I kept running combinations in my head, and then it clicked: the right way to make it flow. By 3 AM the review was done and emailed off to my boss. It gets cited all the time. I was awarded both grants, and the summer program is now in its fifth year and thriving even after I left. Though very hard, the Fall of 2010 was one of the most definitive times in my career. It is when I became a PI in my head, a year before I applied for faculty positions.

The moral of this fable is Impossible Thing #5 from Doug Green’s paper: Be an Athlete. You train, you focus and when you hit the wall, you learn to push through. As it happened I didn’t know I had powered through a wall, but when I read his article soon thereafter, it all made sense. The problem was: How was I going to do it again? The following spring possibly because of these events or the ubiquitousness of the CouchTo5K app, I started running for the first time since college and training for races. I’m still a 5 to 10K runner, but even the transition from running 0 to 6 miles was an eye opener. You have to know your body and you have to listen. There are times when the roadblocks are all in your head and there are times when you absolutely have to rest for a couple of days, so that you don’t get injured. And then there are times when you just fly! The feeling of getting stronger and faster on a monthly, sometimes weekly basis, is pretty awesome, as is the knowledge of your inner resources and limits. If this concept doesn’t help during the madness of your tenure-track years, I don’t know what would.

I am not saying that you have to start running, though it seems a pretty constant advice on the TT blogosphere that to keep sane you have to find time to exercise any way your like. I'm saying that building an academic career seems like a marathon, not a sprint, and developing a mental approach to cope is more important than anything else. I felt that I could handle Year 1 because I had somewhat "trained" for it and that the lessons learned in Year 1 will hopefully help me handle whatever will come along in the future. I truly believe that what I learned as a runner (and a yogi) has been critical and shaping my mental attitude at work. It becomes second nature to check with your body, to push it and to nurse it. Some days are bad, so you just acknowledge it and move on. You have to forgive yourself and work to build on your talents over the long term. You prepare, you perform, you rest, you repeat over and over again while setting always bigger goals. At any given time, there may always be someone who is better than you, but you focus on your personal best constantly getting better. You celebrate the improvements and learn from the failures. Will this really make a difference in the long run? What do I know? I'm just a year into this, but it's definitely making a difference for me. Yet, I have not mastered much of what I am preaching, I'm still training.

There has been some talk on Twitter of what your manifesto is. So in a way my manifesto is this: to never stop training to better myself as a person and as a scientist, and to learn how to balance challenging and nurturing to avoid reaching a breaking point. Now how do you work this into my IDP?

Monday, July 7, 2014

FENS symposium on women in science

My blog has had an empty post labeled “Women in science” for a very long time, but as I collected ideas and links, I was never sure how to fill it and what to say that would be new on the subject. I always teeter between “We need to do something about this!” and “Stop complaining, already!”, so it was actually great to be at the Women in Neuroscience networking social at the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) meeting in Milan on July 6th. Both reactions were validated.

Having attended half a dozen of these events at various American conferences throughout the years, I was shocked to hear that this was the first time FENS dedicated symposium to its female members, but after all it is the first time the federation has a female president. FENS president Marian Joels together with Society for Neuroscience (SfN) president Carol Mason just wrote a wonderful opinion piece about women in science in Neuron. At the symposium the two presidents presented statistics from Europe and the US showing how gender equality still lags behind in the STEM subjects: women represent 41% of PhD students in the US and 46% in the EU, but females are only a fraction of the full professor cohort (28% in the US, 20% in the EU). Joels remarked that in very liberal Netherlands, where she works, only 13% of academics are female. Female department chairs are even scarcer: 10% in the US and 15% in the EU. The only beacon of equality is Norway, where 31% of department chair are female because of a goal of a 40% quote imposed by the government. At the current rate it will take the rest of Europe until 2050 to get to similar numbers…

Talking about quotas always makes people uncomfortable, but Joels indicated that 30% seems to be the tipping point to change the culture in the workplace and that it would indeed make a difference to get things started. Both societies strive to achieve gender balance in presentations. SfN will have 50/50 plenary lecturers this year in Washington, DC, and FENS had 42% in Milan. FENS also forbade single gender symposia. Half of FENS participants are female, but in the past up to 90% of speakers have been male. Both Mason and Joels advocated the creation of a formal list of female speakers at all stages of their career, similar to Anne’s list (a resource created by Anne Churchland to increase gender balance in neuroscience meetings).

SfN has also created multiple resources for women and gender equality, from recognizing gender bias to training for department chairs that can be found here.

The need for mentoring at all levels and for the creating of peer groups was stressed by everyone and mentoring was discussed by Martha Davila-Garcia an associate professor at Howard University and a representative of Women in World Neuroscience at the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO). WWN is focused on mentoring especially in developing countries and has hosted "mentoring circles" at numerous neuroscience conferences. Dr. Davila-Garcia gave a great summary of what you must do to be a good mentor and a good mentee. I have already stressed how important mentoring is in general (here), but it is particularly crucial for women to have multiple supporters and role models (male and female).

Finally, Ilona Obara, a lecturer at Durham University, and Sarah Nickolls, an expert scientist at Neusentis Pfizer, described their career path in academia and industry respectively: balancing career and families, sometimes compromising with their husbands on what to do next. Dr. Obara concluded her talk with suggestions for starting academics: 1) negotiate your startup and salary as much as you can; 2) build allies in your department and outside; 3) learn to prioritize tasks and know that you will never get to the bottom of the pile. Dr. Nickolls did the same for industry: 1) take opportunities as they are offered to you since you may regret it later; 2) develop transferable skills that can be used in any drug development project so that you can change therapeutic area; 3) be change agile, i.e. be ready to lose your job or look for opportunities elsewhere.

The general idea of the meeting was: "Let's identify the problems to tackle and come up with solutions together!"

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A compilation of K99 and R00 advice

Lovingly nicknamed the "kangaroo" grant by the NIH, the K99/R00 Transition to Independence award is designed to help postdoctoral fellows leap into a faculty position by supplying two years of mentored research time to obtain training to develop their independent project (K99) and supporting the newly independent investigator for 3 years (R00). There has been a lot of discussion of really who should be eligible for this and review strategies vary from institute to institute at the NIH, so you better do your research on what your desired institute prefers. However, in this cash strapped funding environment this "kangaroo grant" can really make a difference between getting a job and remaining on the market.  Since my K99 and R00 transition posts are by far the most popular in my blog, I thought I would put together an aggregator post to try and coordinate all the ideas that I have discussed on this subject. I feel a little like a band putting out a greatest hits album, but everyone is doing it and coordinating one year of posts in some coherent way may make them more useful. As you check out the posts that interest you, I also recommend reading the comments below, since there have been many wonderful questions and discussion and you may find additional answers there.

So here it goes.

1) BEFORE THE K99. Due to the recent changes in eligibility limiting the time of application to 4 years from the receipt of your PhD or other terminal degree, if you are interested in applying for a K99/R00 Transition to Independence award, you need to start thinking about it early during the 2nd year of your postdoc. How this may change the way you need to think about it is discussed here.

2) WRITING A K99. For some info on how to prepare yourself for the application and what to expect during and after the writing phase you can go here. Wonderful books you can read on how to write an NIH grant are here.

3) SALARY MANAGEMENT WITH A K99. The K99 will give you power to renegotiate your post-doc salary and to define your faculty salary. Things you need to know when you negotiate are here.

4) TRANSITION YOUR R00 TO YOUR NEW POSITION. A point by point description on how to put together your R00 application is here. Lots of followup questions and answers can be found in the comments.

5) DEALING WITH THE NEW RPPR. Going through your annual reporting using the new NIH RPPR online system is described here.

6) PAYING ATTENTION TO YOUR EFFORT. How to distribute effort on your grants when you have 75% tied in your R00 is discussed here. Plus some planning advice on how to use review timelines (here) to devise a multi-year grant plan is here.

7) OTHER GRANTS TO THINK ABOUT. Can be found here.

Finally, interesting thoughts from other bloggers about the K99/R00 process can be found below:
- Great how-to guides for putting together your K99 from ChemicalBiLOLogy and K99advice
- Dr Becca (@doc_becca) on the deadline changes and better definition of the review priorities
- ASBMB president Jeremy Berg on the decline of the funding rate and how more than half R00 awardees do not have an R01 one year after the end of the K99/R00

Image credit: Illustration of Macropus fuliginosus from Wikimedia commons