Friday, July 27, 2012

I'm in Berlin!

I'm in Germany attending the 9th International Symposium on Semiconductor Light Emitting Devices (ISSLED), being held at Technische Universit├Ąt Berlin (TU Berlin).

Location-wise, this is one of the best conference I've been to.  The university is located in a busy urban area, the pretty Charlottenburg neighborhood of former West Berlin.  Many restaurants nearby, easy access to the U-baun.

The other great part about this conference is they give us two full hours of free time for lunch every day.  Most conferences schedule you for the entire day, including lunch, which usually ends up being some painful buffet banquet at the conference site.  Here, we're on our own to explore nearby restaurants or take a break in our hotel rooms, conveniently located a block away.  So nice!  I even caught a quick nap one of the days.  

I'm glad things are going well, because I had no time to prepare for this trip.  My P.I. had a last minute conflict and couldn't be here to give his invited plenary talk, so he asked me to come in his place early last week (after two others refused).  How could I say no?

This is actually the third time I had to step in as a substitute speaker at an international conference in the past two years -- I've been incredibly lucky.  

Still, although it's been a good experience so far, conference organizers hate it when plenary speakers back-out at the last minute.  They carefully invite specific industry big-wigs to lead the plenary talks to draw people to the conference and the corresponding conference sessions, facilitate research relationships and collaborations, etc.  I am merely a post-doc with a non-stellar publication record, so I know a lot of people have never heard of me and will be disappointed I am speaking in place of my P.I.  Hopefully I can make it up to them by having a good presentation.  (And if my presentation isn't very good, hopefully I at least look cute?) 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Postdoc problems

This totally happened to me today:
One of our senior research scientists is leaving for greener, tenure-track pastures so I'm now in charge of organizing biweekly group meetings for about fifteen grad students. At our first meeting today I spent the first ten minutes flustered, trying to connect a laptop to the projector only to realize I was using the wrong laptop and I needed a network cable, etc.

It's easy to feel inept when you have an audience.

I made a joke and laughed it off, which probably makes-up for an admittedly small blunder.  Still, I know our senior scientist left big shoes to fill and setting up the projector for our meeting is only the start of larger challenges ahead.

Notes From The Department Reunion - Part 1

My department held their 25th anniversary and reunion last week, complete with cocktail parties, self-congratulatory presentations, catered buffet lunches, and obligatory poster sessions.

As a grad student it's often hard to imagine life after the dissertation, so it was interesting to meet former students and hear their grad school memories, about their current job and any advice they were willing to dispense.

The reunion committee organized a panel discussion about post-PhD careers which I found particularly useful and interesting since I'm currently deciding which path to take post postdoc.  Here are my notes from part one of the panel discussions, from four graduates who all work in academia. Forthcoming parts two and three will focus on entrepreneurs and industry.

Post - PhD Career Panel, Part 1: Academia

Four panelists, each who took a unique path to their current teaching position
Traditional path: Post-doc followed by assistant professor position
Accelerated path: Straight from PhD to assistant professor at their undergraduate alma mater
Industry path: Worked in industry for three years with solid publication record prior to landing assistant professor position
Eccentric path: Joined Peace Corps for two years, taught in Zimbabwe, currently the sole engineering professor at a small teaching community college

Things they learned in grad school:
Understanding fundamentals
Thinking like an engineer and breaking down a problem into fundamentals
Interdisciplinary collaboration
Presenting research through talks and posters

Things they wish they'd learned more of:
Get experience teaching classes
Writing grant proposals
Learn stress management and how to take care of mental health as early as possible
Participate in outreach and practice communicating your science to non-scientists

Tips for finding a good work environment:
Your job has to speak to your personal values and interests
Find the right institution and department that fits
You have to love teaching or your lab
You may end up dealing with primadonna faculty members... learn to communicate and work together

Network within your grad university: other faculty, grad students
Keep in touch with your undergraduate faculty
Keep contacts up to date with your research and interests
Maintain visibility through publications and patents

Grant writing:
First year is horrific but it gets easier
You will learn a lot very quickly
You can usually get help and feedback from older colleagues

Building a research group:
Some amount of trial and error
Spent time training the first students really well, get experts, let them train the rest
Let your group members have a say in how things are run
Their experiences and backgrounds contribute

(c) Jorge Cham of PHD comics

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Dissertations and giving a fuck

I enjoyed this article from Post-Academic in NYC called How to Finish Your Dissertation When You Really Hate That Shit.

She explains that if you can't motivate yourself for good reasons like wanting to actually finish, get a job, or to please your committee, then motivate yourself for a bad reason: spite.
"I would defend my dissertation to spite everyone who had ever told me to enroll in a graduate program because I was “smart” and smart people should just drop out of society and go to school forever, apparently. 
I would finish my dissertation to spite every professor I ever had, even the few who were not smug assholes...

...Most of all, I would earn the PhD to spite every single one of my dissertation committee members who held so much power over me and could dictate with impunity when I was ready to be released from their clutches. " 
It's only funny because my dissertation is finally behind me.

Hate your dissertation?  I know that feel, bro.

My dissertation loomed for a long time, probably for bad reasons like fear and guilt and self-doubt and oh-my-god-what-is-wrong-with-me? and seriously-why-aren't-I-done-yet? I was a mess. I would snap at friends and coworkers whenever they asked how my writing was going and god-forbid they actually teased me about it, as I'd probably end up crying.

Ultimately, my motivation to get through it was something along the lines of: FUCK THIS SHIT.

Also, an email from our research group's financial manager was particularly inspirational.  It said (and I'm paraphrasing): "Congratulations, you are no longer being funded as of April 1st."

I know that feel from

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I Am A Scientist

Mates of State covering "I Am A Scientist" by Guided by Voices 

This song appears on the album Science Fair from Spare The Rock Records.  A portion of each album sale goes to Girls Inc. to support girls education in science and engineering.

via Wired