Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Can I ask why does Bill Kristol keep going on the Daily Show? He has been on about 5 or 6 times. Jon Stewart uses him as a punching bag and he laughs along. I can see why the Daily Show keeps booking him, it is funny. Maybe Kristol enjoys being laughed at but there got to be better ways to have fun in life or maybe he is punishing himself for being the champion of the neco-con movement? I ask because it is just strange.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Posts to read...

The latest What's Up, Postdoc? is up on The Ways and Means of the Immune System. Check it out. Always a good read and Vero has done a great job!

Twice has the August edition of Scientiae. Wonderful posts are linked to so go read it!

A follow-up on the job prospects of those in the biological/biomedical sciences, here are some more posts on the matter:
The Daily Transcript
Sandwalk I Sandwalk II

Larry Moran at Sandwalk talks about how things should be and how is as an advisor as does Gregory on Genomicron. The problem is many faculty I have encountered are not like that. There are many talented graduate students and post-docs who do not have good mentors. Advisors who try and keep their trainees eyes only on becoming research faculty. That is not healthy. More must be done at the university level. The only problem is that their is no incentive for the institutions to actually do anything. Why rock the boat when you have plenty of overhead dollars flowing in? Especially when rocking the boat means spending some of that money?

To do...

In the next month and a half:

Need to write-up the last two papers from my thesis.

Figure out what adding Protein X to Protein Y as the latter modifies RNA Z does to the reaction.

With another post-doc write-up the results showing Protein X forms a complex with Protein Y especially when RNA Z is present based on those results whatever they are.

Finish biochemical characterization of an enzyme for our collaborators who solved the crystal structure of said protein and need my results to publish in a higher journal.

Turn 30.

Start new project studying if a certain metabolic enzyme from E. coli can be used as an antibiotic against a different group of bacteria.

With another postdoc, see if we can in an archaeal species replace an archaeal signature gene with a totally different bacterial gene whose gene product accomplishes the same task as the archaeal one and see if the replacement stresses the organism under various growth conditions.

Prepare a group meeting.

Start writing a review on thesis topic.

Today, doing the boring laying the ground work (i.e. purifying substrates) to do the experiments I want to get done while giving me the time to do the writing that needs to be done as well. What fun!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Oh what great news...

Nature has an article on the data being released from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology regarding the job market for those with PhDs in the biological and biomedical sciences (BBSs). The upshot is that the number of tenure track positions has pretty much flatlined since 1981 (hovering around 20,000) while the number of people receiving PhDs has increased to 7,000 in 2005. Needless to say most of those with a position are not leaving soon, creating a situation in which only 30% of those with PhDs in the BBSs have a tenure/tenture track faculty position (down from 45% in 1981). More and more, people are turning to industry (30%). The doubling NIB budget went towards many things, greatly expanding faculty positions was not one of them.

There is nothing wrong per se with PhDs leaving academia. People have different interests and talents. The problem is when you have graduate/post-doc advisors who cling to the idea of looking down at those that don't pursue a career in academia (usually narrowly defined as a faculty member at a research university). Those people are pushing an unrealistic set of expectations upon their advisees that is unhealthy. The numbers just do not support it. Anyone selling that notion is selling a pyramid scheme that primarily helps the advisor and his/her university & borders on "criminal" in my mind.

A PhD in theory should be about learning a set of intellectual skills on how to approach a problem, how to think and analyze data, etc. that can be applied to any number of career choices. That is a good thing. The US for one is a place that needs more people with scientific minds not less but realistic expectations have to be put forth.

What can be done? Well more money would help. Money to create more faculty positions while not increasing the number of graduate students a proportional amount. This would also create more competition between faculty members to attract students. This could only improve the quality of mentorship. In addition, create and pay for more higher paying research staff positions. There are people who are good researchers but are not cut out to be faculty members. Create room for those people. Let their skills be used appropriately Actually have career development staff at the university to aid graduate students and post-docs looking for positions outside academia. Really, why should faculty members have to carry this burden alone? Universities are getting overhead. It should be expected they then provide the proper resources for research labs. Career development without question fits there.

Undergraduate advisors also need to be more honest. Let those students thinking about attending PhD programs know the numbers and what is reasonable. Give them the knowledge they need to make an informed decision, that is your job.

We also need to improve the pay teachers receive. We need more science teachers teaching at the pre-college level. Make that a more attractive option. This also requires money to be spent on the resources to let science teachers teach well. Science is fun. Well thought out experiments are hands on learning. They get students to think, to learn and are significantly less boring than a lecture.

What else can be done?

Monday, August 20, 2007

The heat, oh the heat...

The dog days of summer seem to be lifting a bit. My energy is returning. Heat and humidity I do not do well in. I wilt. It is a little pathetic. Lab becomes salvation with its A/C and cold room. Of course, just because it is salvation doesn't mean I work anymore just means I become a blob appreciating the sanctuary. Blobs, well at least this one, do not write much. Part of that was because I did escape some of that heat and humidity for a bit. It is never enough though. Why oh why did I choose to do my post-doc here? Oh well. It is one of the downsides though of staying in academia - there isn't the same degree of freedom of choosing a place in the country or world to live. Jobs are tight, you have to be somewhat flexible in that regard. This was a deal-breaker for a classmate of mine in graduate school. She left science completely because of it. Only so much any person can sacrifice in the name of science.