Monday, July 28, 2014

The value of saying, "I was wrong."

In April I got to meet Margot Adler. We sat together on a panel about gender identity.

She died today.

When we sat down on the panel, she mentioned that she wasn't sure what she was going to talk about, or why she had been chosen to participate on this particular panel. I wasn't quite sure what she was going to talk about either. She started by talking about how righteously angry she got when talking with a group of college girls who stated their preferred pronouns. When she was first learning about transgendered individuals and the efforts towards equality for transgendered people, she recalls how she thought it was naive of these students to think that their struggle was difficult. She recalled how she had been in the thick of fighting for racial equality, and that the struggles today were nothing compared to the hatred and violence that occurred in the 60's and 70's.

And then she paused.

When she began again, she talked about her process of learning about transgendered people and their experiences. She talked about the hate, violence, abuse, and discrimination they are subjected to. She talked about the rejection, and the staggeringly high rates of suicide and attempted suicide.

Margot Adler talked about how she was wrong to be indignant. About how she had changed her mind.

In that gesture, she opened the door for everyone in the audience, for everyone who ever listens to this panel, to change their mind about transgender people (something that many people need to re-evaluate). It was such a refreshing thing to be reminded of the value of saying, "I was wrong." Thank you, Margot.

Suggestions for best (and worst) lab meeting practices.

A wonderful twitter discussion about suggestions for running lab meetings, with a little about general lab management at the end.

In general, broad suggestions are: 
* Keep lab meetings to an hour.
* Moderate (keep focused on the topic of the week, whatever it may be).
* Snacks are generally a good thing, but not necessary.
* Joint lab meetings are great for new PIs and for outside perspective.
* Be flexible

Particular suggestions:
* Each lab member presents a figure.
* Avoid after 4pm.
* PI should also present.
* PI should share about grants/admin (on occasion).
* No bad-mouthing during lab meeting. Just, don't. 
* Invite grad students or postdocs from other labs to present.
* Lab safety training.
* Code reviews!
* Read/discuss draft manuscripts/grants.
* Schedule for start/end of day or noon-time.

Other than lab meeting advice:
* Create a lab culture that is conducive to asking questions and interactions.
* Lab retreats/potlucks/picnics can be good for building lab connections.

Links mentioned for further discussion/reading:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Just think a happy thought...

There are a lot of people chiming in on this article in Science encouraging postdocs to "think happy thoughts": Happy Thoughts May Help Postdocs Handle Stress by Rachel Bernstein.

The hashtag to follow on twitter is, #postdochappythoughts. Really, go check it out.

Certainly there is something to be said for trying to be optimistic, and realistic about the challenges in academia. It is useful to realize that we may, regardless of status, often feel like impostors. But that doesn't mean that there aren't real problems with the academic machine that need to be addressed. There just so many things that you can't "happy thought" your way out of in academia, during graduate school, postdoctoral work, or even as a PI.

Just a few:

I'm at a transition point now. I am finishing my postdoc, and will be starting a tenure track position this Fall (yes, I realize how very lucky I am to be in this position). As I'm preparing for my position as a PI, I'm working to recruit postdoctoral researchers to work with me. I've already talked about making expectations and responsibilities clear for all parties involved in my lab, starting with a clear set of expectations on my web site.

But, there's another aspect that that I am surprised to have run into. Talking with several PIs about recruiting postdocs, I have received this advice (paraphrased):
"Don't offer to pay your postdocs too much. I'd suggest going with the bare minimum. You want to make sure you save money for other projects and other people."



I think this is exactly what @27andaphd is talking about here:
So, what do I think about it?

As a PI, I either have enough funding to pay a fair salary to my lab members, or I don't have enough funding to hire them.

This includes paying for health, dental, and vision insurance. It also includes budgeting money for moving expenses. Why would I want to hire someone, who I view as both a trainee and a colleague, and not care about their well-being?

That brings up a bigger question, though, "What is a fair salary?" Partly what constitutes a fair salary is dependent on location. I think a good rule of thumb, and what I plan to do, is to, at a minimum, follow the NIH salary guidelines. In an area like Berkeley, however, the NIH salary guidelines would still be too low.

No, happy thoughts cannot make postdoc life better. PI's and administrations who give a damn about quality of life will make postdoc life better.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pretty. Already.

"I want Matt* to think I'm pretty."

I was temporarily stunned into silence when I heard those words from my daughter.

Because she's three years old.


So it begins
What?! Already? Is this how it begins? So soon? Why does she care whether he thinks she is pretty? Most importantly: How have I contributed to this? And, what can I do to combat it?

The first answer is "No", this is not how it begins. It begins so much earlier. It begins when she was born. I begins with how we talk to our kids. This video shows pretty clearly some of the common pitfalls in the way we talk to girls.

Have I contributed to this? 
Probably. I tell her she's beautiful. I also tell her she is wonderful, funny, smart.

How can I combat it? 
I can be more aware of the language I use, and how I respond to her behavior.

Ever since she was born, we try to make sure she has an assortment of toys to play with, not just stereotypical girl toys. We also encourage her to take things apart, and encourage her to try again when she wants to give up (girls tend to give up faster than boys and doubt their abilities more).

We also want to help her to be independent and responsible. We try to give her the freedom to make decisions about her life (within reason, I mean, she is three). That said, there are a lot of ways a three-year-old can be involved. She helps chose books we'll read, and the activities we'll do. She also helps with chores around the house and cleaning up her own messes.

She also helps choose her clothes. It would be an understatement to say my daughter loves pink and frilly dresses. As her parents, we let her wear what she wants, making a mental note that we would do the same with any child (although we do try to sneak some other colors and styles in). We also try to encourage her to get dirty, to explore, to investigate, and to question. The dresses will wash. And what's wrong with a few stains anyway? The experiences are worth so much more.

So, what did I respond with? I told her that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks of her. She is pretty and she should wear whatever she likes to wear, because she likes it.

And then we went and played in the dirt.

Mud is exponentially more fun than dirt.

*Names changed