The postdoc guide book Part 3

By Juliane

I started looking at the postdoc guide book, and I am surprised how much information there is for postdocs, we just have to find it. It is also slightly out of date, being compiled at published in 2011. It hasn’t been updated since then.

We got settled and are now equipped to deal with BUMC campus life, the next section is about how to get away. Transport and Safety.

The beginning is copied from transcomm again and suffers from the usual update problem. It also should mention that parking at BUMC is really expensive and should be avoided whenever possible. The cheapest parking garage is 165 dollars per month and hourly parking is ridiculously expensive, unless you are really lucky and find a spot in the free parking areas.

Since parking should be avoided we have the BU shuttle busses. There was a surprise to me, because I wasn’t aware of the evening shuttle, the VA-BMC shuttle or the healthnet shuttle. Those are cool and useful.

Next are nice and basically correct information about the MBTA, even mentioning the fact that BU staff can get monthly tickets through BU, which lowers your taxable income and somehow makes it cheaper that way.

Then we are reading about driving. I don’t have a car so I can’t really comment on anything here. Only it is really useful to have a US license, since it works as an ID and you don’t have to carry your passport into bars or clubs.

There are also some safety and emergency numbers that should also be posted in everybody’s lab and office. Just remember to dial a 9 for an outside line before calling 911.

Actually this chapter wasn’t too bad, regarding the out-of date information and actually quite helpful for people who are new to Boston.

The postdoc guidebook (part 2)

by Juliane

I started reading the postdoc guide book here. Since then I have found out that I can just google postdoc guide book BUMC to find it and don’t have to follow the links on the GMS postdoc website. Much easier this way!

The next part of the guidebook is called getting settled.

There are a lot of links that could be updated, but the guidebook was written in 2011 and a pdf is hard to update, so it might not be really necessary for the small stuff.

Information about the ID office has been updated on the linked Transcomm website, but not in the guidebook. Main changes: The price for a lost card is now 40 dollars, and the office is no longer open between 9.30 and 12.30.

The next part is copied and linked from BUMC-IT, so I highly recommend to just follow the link and not rely on the information in the guidebook, since as before there have been updates. Maybe there should be a disclaimer somewhere: information was correct in 2011. The year is present on every page, so I guess for reasonably educated people with a PhD that should be sufficient.

There is a useful table with location of banks and ATMs around the medical campus, which helps people new to the US to choose the bank where they want to open a bank account. This is great and useful.

The next part is about food and there are really quite a few places to eat without leaving campus. I didn’t even know MG’s or the Fuller café and I have been at the medical campus for three years now. I will definitely check them out now.

What isn’t mentioned are the varying food trucks on the corner Concord/Harrison streets and Flour on Washington Street. There is however a little ad for Flour as well as for Jae’s Eatery, which is on Columbus Street.

If we start making listing food places as far as Columbus Street, we should also mention Mike’s Diner and Equator in Washington Street and Orinoco at the corner of Concord and Shawmut streets to name just a few. There are certainly more nice affordable restaurants within walking distance from the medical center and often their lunch menus are the same price or marginally more expensive than the food in the hospital cafeterias.

Also as of this year city convenience on Albany street morphed somehow into a subway and from what I heard the sandwiches are less good but the service is faster.

The next page is about libraries and computers, I liked the part that helps BMC postdocs to get access to the BU library. It is worth to visit the Alumini medical library just for the view from the 12th floor. You don’t need a library card for this.

This page also mentions BU IT. BU IT is great, they even fix personal computers, however they charge more than some commercial companies and are relatively slow. What is great about BU IT is the HUB-program, that allows BU employees to buy the newest version of Microsoft office for 10 dollars. This information should be added to the guide book!

This completes the getting settled part, which definitely needs some updates, but is a nice starting point for postdocs, who are new to Boston.

The postdoc guide book (part 1)

by Juliane

There is a very comprehensive document for postdocs kindly provided by Yolanta from the office of postdoctoral affairs. It is accessible from the OPA website.

I don’t think many postdocs have read it, so I decided to read it and write about it.

This document is surprisingly comprehensive, or at least long (34 pages). I am impressed by the work Yolanta and other put into it.

The interesting stuff starts on page 4 with a very nice check-list for new postdocs.

I would add a few of points to the list:

-       HR orientation session for postdocs employed directly by BU and not on fellowships

-       Safety training for all researchers, in person basic laboratory training only happens every two weeks and should be done as soon as possible

Some other points need to be updated, which is understandable, since the guidebook was written in 2012.

-       The ID office at the medical campus is now closed between 9 AM and 12.30 PM, so we can only get ID-batches between 7 and 9 AM or 12.30 and 3 PM. I absolutely don’t understand why.

-       The BU housing office offers apartments to staff, but they are expensive and often not in a nice area, Harrison Court is right opposite the medical center.

What I find a little weird is the advice to talk to my tax accountant, I have never met a postdoc, who had a tax accountant. However, I am sure this is good advice, especially for postdocs on fellowships, who have to figure out their taxes and health insurance independently of BU.

This is a great start to the guidebook and so far I recommend it to new postdocs as a starting point.

sciency holidays

by Juliane
For the end of the year, I would like to share another science video, this time holiday themed. enjoy and happy holidays!

 

 

Keeping enthusiasm

by Juliane

As a postdoc it is sometimes hard to maintain enthusiasm. When I started in science I was super-enthusiastic, everything was new and interesting and I learned fascinating stuff every day. I sometimes wish I was still like that. Over time I noticed that there is  another side of lab work: failed experiments, hours of incubations, tons of paperwork. This is balanced by the little successes: a cloning step that finally worked, a stable cell line that stays stable, a band on a gel at just the right size. Those little successes help me to reach the bright spots: the exciting results, when cells behave in unexpected yet fascinating ways, when analysis of the mass spec results in exactly the one protein predicted by your pet theory, when everything falls into place and finally makes sense.

As a postdoc such bright spots become less frequent. This is not the postdoc’s fault; this is how it is supposed to be. PhD projects are designed to yield results in time for a thesis. Committees, supervisors and mentors make sure that the projects aren’t too risky or too long. So who therefore is going to undertake the risky, long projects? Postdocs! New postdocs will often get risky projects, including ones that the PI has been sitting on for some time, or projects other people have failed at (often more than one other person). This can lead to fewer positive moments for the postdoc and instead, longer stretches of frustration interspersed with small successes which become less and less valuable over time. Unfortunately this is normal too, the first time I got a positive clone after a ligation was amazing, the 10th time was nice, but after my 63rd successful plasmid, this is no longer a big deal. It is hard to keep up enthusiasm when you only progress in tiny increments and the big goal is so far away that you can’t even see it yet.

One strategy that works for me is to make the project mine. I found the best way to make a project mine is by talking about it a lot, discussing it with potential collaborators and defending it to colleagues in talks and poster presentations. However postdocs often have few possibilities to present. The reason for this is related to the long and risky projects often undertaken by postdocs. Such research will typically not quickly lead to results that can be presented at conferences. In addition conferences are increasingly expensive. To just go and present a poster that doesn’t add much data to the existing scientific knowledge might not be a cause the PI is willing to spend money on. There are few travel grants available to postdocs and we don’t earn enough to pay for such trip ourselves. At home, postdocs, especially early ones, are seldom invited to speak at department seminars or present their work to other groups in a similar field. The best solution might be to take every opportunity to talk about research, even if it is a chalk talk for 1st year PhD students.

But even if the project works brilliantly and the PI sends you to international conferences and is generally supportive of your career, other things can interfere with enthusiasm for work. We are getting older. Graduate students can readily put their life on hold for 3-5 years, but postdocs have already gone through this. Now other things get important; we might want to take our relationships to the next level: get a mortgage, get married, maybe have children. All those life projects need enthusiasm, enthusiasm that is taken away from work-related enthusiasm. However, this is not a bad thing, very few people can just work and not live and the few that do, end up lonely and burned-out having a heart attack in their 40s. It is important, but difficult to find a good work life balance and neither aspect should take too much strength and enthusiasm away from the other one. Despite this, we should always remember why we have followed this path in life. Working in science, discovering fundamental things about the world around us can be a fascinating and at times fun life, which can and should inspire enthusiasm in other aspects of life. All we can to is keep up enthusiasm for our work and make the little lights shine brighter.

postdocPI At some point another enthusiasm killer rises its head (or so I have heard) is the “why am I doing this for this guy, who doesn’t appreciate me” enthusiasm killer. When you have learned everything you can from your PI, write all your own papers and the ones for the PhD students as well (with minor corrections by the PI), basically wrote the last grant even though it is still their name on the grant, he/she is corresponding author and you only get a pat on the back, then it is hard to keep up the enthusiasm, spread cheerfulness in the lab and keep everything afloat. However, this lack of enthusiasm is a good thing: it means that the postdoc is finally ready to move on to new horizons and challenges.

Nemo

by Juliane

In 2003 these two fish swam across the pacific ocean to find Nemo:

nemofish

Five years earlier, S. Yamaoka and colleagues also set out to find Nemo, the NF-kappaB essential modifier. NF-kappaB is a very famous transcription factor, which is present in all eukaryotic cells and can be activated by a large number of signaling pathways in response to external stimuli, such as viral or bacterial infections or interleukin signaling. It is active as a dimer or trimer of several subunits in different combinations, depending on the activation signal. Canonically all NF-kappaB is regulated by I-kappaB, the Inhibitor of NF-kappaB that prevents multimerization and DNA binding, unless it is modified by IKKs, I-kappaB kinases. Nemo is one of these kinases and is responsible for polyubiquitination of I-kappaB, resulting in degradation of the inhibitor and activation of transcription by NF-kappa-B.

In 1998, Yamaoka et al. were unable to find Nemo in cell-lines that are defective in their NF-kappaB response. The unresponsiveness of these cell-lines to NF-kappaB was altered by transfection of plasmids encoding for Nemo.

With ‘Finding Nemo’ only filmed in 2002 it is more likely that the researchers named their new-found modifier after Captain Nemo!!

nemocapt

The enigmatic explorer from 20000 leagues under the sea, written in the same city where Nemo was discovered, Paris.

The search for Nemo continues, only in 2009 S.Rahigi and colleagues actually caught a glimpse of Nemo, most of its structure is still hidden. Finding the NF-kappaB essential modifier may be way harder then finding a clownfish in the South Pacific, but maybe easier then tracking down Captain Nemo and the Nautilus.

nemoprot

References:

Rahighi S, Ikeda F, Kawasaki M, Akutsu M, Suzuki N, Kato R, Kensche T, Uejima T, Bloor S, Komander D, Randow F, Wakatsuki S, Dikic I. (2009) Specific recognition of linear ubiquitin chains by NEMO is important for NF-kappaB activation. Cell.;136(6):1098-109. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2009.03.007.

Yamaoka S, Courtois G, Bessia C, Whiteside ST, Weil R, Agou F, Kirk HE, Kay RJ, Israël A. (1998) Complementation cloning of NEMO, a component of the IkappaB kinase complex essential for NF-kappaB activation Cell. 93(7):1231-40.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_Nemo

http://www.uniprot.org

The Art of Follow-up

by Lauren, CEO of propel careers

this post is reposted from the propel careers blog.

Following up with individuals who you meet at scientific conferences, through networking, and other activities is important to develop relationships with your connections. Over time, these relationships can provide insight into industry, various career paths, and job opportunities. These connections should be actively fostered. Below are tips on how to follow up and cultivate your network. These tips extend beyond sending the initial “nice to meet you at (fill in the blank) scientific conference / networking event” email.

Read industry relevant newsletters and follow up with your contacts Stay current with industry news by reading sources such as Xconomy http://www.xconomy.com/ (for entrepreneurial companies), Fiercebiotech http://www.fiercebiotech.com/, Biospace http://www.biospace.com/ or MassDevice http://www.massdevice.com/ . Various news sources exist for each focus area so identify ones relevant to you. When you see news about a contact’s company, email them to mention it. For example, congratulate them for their firm’s successful commercial approval, fundraise(r), or partnership. Your contacts will appreciate that you are paying attention to their company and keeping in touch.

Stay in touch on LinkedIn

Use LinkedIn to stay in touch with your contacts. Add details to your profile so your connections can see your background and experiences. Use the status update feature on LinkedIn to let your contacts know when you publish papers and speak at conferences.

Get involved in networking groups or industry associations

Take an active role in a networking group like Healthcare Business Women’s Association (http://www.hbanet.org/ ) or an industry association such as the Boston chapter of AACR (http://aacrboston.org/) to build connections with people who share your passions. Hundreds of such organizations exist, so identify those relevant to your background and interests and become involved. Join a committee within the group, such as event programming, and actively attend the group’s events. Your involvement will build connections and allow you to stay in touch with people who are also active in the organization.

Invite your connections to speak on a panel

When your school or networking group is looking for speakers for career panels, industry focused events, or seminars, reach out to your contacts and ask them to participate. Even if your contacts cannot participate due to schedules, they will appreciate that you reached out. This is a wonderful way to keep in touch.

Ask your connections for career/industry advice

Ask your contacts about their career paths, how they chose them, and what guidance they would provide for someone looking to be in a similar career. People enjoy helping others and feel good when they can provide advice, especially career advice.

Let your contacts know when you publish a paper or speak at a conference

Share details about your recent publications, presentations, conference abstracts, or other scientific details with individuals who have expressed interest in your research. Through this, you build thought leadership and become a resource for your contacts.

Numerous opportunities exist to follow up with your connections. Tailor your approach and use multiple avenues of engagement. Through your effort, not only will you build connections, but you will gain a lot of industry knowledge as well.

 

Career advancement for postdocs – five tips

by Juliane

As postdocs we are always striving to advance our careers, foremost through performing brilliant research in the laboratory or in silico and publication of said brilliant research. Unfortunately being great in the lab is simply not enough to successfully transition to a faculty position. Here are some ideas that could help postdocs acquire the skills necessary.

1.     Write a review

Ask your PI if he is planning to write a review and suggest that you help him write the article. If he is not planning to, suggest a topic, ask for his feedback, write the review and submit it with your PI (after he has corrected it).

What do you win? Another publication for your CV together with in depth knowledge of the current literature

2.     Peer-review manuscripts

A lot of postdocs already help their PIs peer-review manuscripts, but the editors of the journals will often only see the PIs name, since she is the official reviewer. Ask your PI if you can review a manuscript under your own name. She might have to email the editor and suggest you as an expert in the field, but once editors know you, they might continue to use you as a referee.

What do you win? At least one editor will know your name and that you have experience reviewing papers

3.     Be social

Maybe your department, corridor, floor or lab uses a common lunch room, where everybody has lunch at approximately the same time. Join them! Have conversations with different people every day or with the whole group. If your department, floor, or a multi-lab group has any form of social gatherings, go! It could be a happy hour or a monthly bowling night. If nothing like it exists suggest it once or twice, maybe it becomes a regular occurrence!  Even though it might be much nicer to go home and not spend time with people that you have just spent all day with, this is a great opportunity to meet peers in a more relaxed environment and maybe hear some gossip about positions in other institutes.

What do you win? Networking skills, a peer network and a nice evening out

4.     Serve on boards/committees

To get the full benefit of joining scientific societies like AAAS, NPA or AWIS, participate actively in their events. Not only read their newsletter, but attend meetings, join one committee or volunteer to help out during events. This is a great opportunity to meet PIs, postdocs and PhD students from other institutes around Boston and increase your professional network, plus it looks great on your CV.

What do you win? Contacts, experience and insights into alternative careers (e.g. scientific management)

5.     Apply for fellowships

Look for postdoc fellowships, even partial ones, and apply. There are quite a lot of small organizations that sponsor postdocs/PhD students, often with strangely specific topics.

What do you win? Even if you don’t get the fellowship, just writing the application and maybe getting feedback from the organization you applied to, helps to identify areas which you need to improve. If you get it, you now have money! This gives you some independence from your PI, since it is your own money, plus it is a great advantage when applying for grants.

Every postdoc and every PI is different; some of these suggestions may not work for you or your PI. However, if you have experience with any of the above or other suggestions then please leave a comment!

SNAP

You can snap your fingers.

You can snap a photo, use it in windows 7 or snap a lock shut.

To snap is a very useful verb.

No wonder that some scientists (G. Oyler and colleagues) decided that SNAP would be a great acronym for synaptosomal-associated protein.

SNAP was discovered in synaptosomes in 1989. Synaptosomes are obtained by gently homogenizing brain tissue and are isolated synaptic terminals which can be used to study synaptic potentials and transmitters more easily than in complete neurons.

SNAP is a regulator of vesicle docking and fusion and therefore in complex with others responsible for passing signals through synapses to other neurons in the mammalian brain.

There are several SNAPs in humans and other animals, which are numbered according to their molecular weight, e.g. SNAP-25 or SNAP-29.

References:

Oyler GA, Higgins GA, Hart RA, Battenberg E, Billingsley M, Bloom FE, Wilson MC. (1989) The identification of a novel synaptosomal-associated protein, SNAP-25, differentially expressed by neuronal subpopulations. J Cell Biol. 109(6 Pt 1):3039-52.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synaptosome
http://www.piercenet.com
http://www.uniprot.org

Advice for Listing Research Details on Your Resume

by Lauren, CEO of propel careers

this post is reposted from the propel careers blog

When you apply to a job, the details listed on your resume provide your “future employer” with information about the type of job you are looking for. The key words you include, the way you phrase your accomplishments and experiences, how you order your bullet points, all of this matters. These details build your brand.

I have been asked numerous times for guidance on what should be included in a resume. Below are a few thoughts on this important topic.

RESEARCH ROLES

If you are looking for a “bench research-based” role, make sure you include major research techniques used during each of your roles, as well as a separate section listing all of the research techniques you have ever used and know well. An HR person and hiring manager will want to see both the current techniques and previous ones since this indicates how you have developed over time. Whether you are a post-doc, or an industry professional, listing these details is important to show growth.

Many companies use resume-parsing systems to input a candidate’s resume details into their database. Companies then scan resumes against job descriptions to see which candidates could be a fit. Resumes without details listed won’t come up as matches when scans are done. Therefore, even if you have the relevant experience, companies won’t be able to tell. You will be passed over in favor of candidates who have listed the relevant skills.

Include research techniques on your resume from the job description, when applying to a job only if you have experience with them. Customize the resume for each job. Don’t just list a general term like molecular biology techniques. Elaborate on exactly which technique you have experience with, such as molecular cloning, recombinant DNA methods, PCR, site directed mutagenesis, DNA isolation, purification, and sequencing, Southern blotting, and Northern blotting. Don’t rely on a hiring manager to guess that you have the right experience. Clearly indicate what you do and have done. Don’t be afraid to take too much space when listing skills; you can recover some of the space through clever formatting: by using a smaller font for the list, as well as going from a vertical bullet point list to a horizontal one. The important part is to be thorough and specific in listing your skills.

NON-RESEARCH ROLES

Resumes for non-research roles should not include significant details about research techniques, since these are not typically relevant to these types of roles. Usually, disease and/or therapeutically-relevant experience is important to highlight, especially if you are considering a role in clinical research, or as a medical science liaison. You can include high-level information about techniques you know under each of your experiences, but it is not needed to include an entire research techniques section. Sending a “research-focused” resume to a non-research role will indicate to the potential employer that you are not sufficiently interested in the role that you are applying to because you did not bother to tailor your resume to the job. Non-research based roles prefer to see more transferable skills and experiences such as: leading teams, managing collaborations, working with clients, managing projects, strong communication and writing experience, and mentoring, rather than specific laboratory skills and techniques. For a non-research role, extra-curricular (i.e. blog writer or teaching assistant) and community service activities (i.e. president of a particular charity) should also gain more prominence on your resume. These activities highlight your transferable skills, especially if your previous job/academic experiences are heavy on the laboratory research exposure and not much else.

What you decide to include on your resume is important. The details tell a story and indicate what type of position you are looking for. Be focused and strategic. The effort will pay off!