Insights from an Academic on the Market

The past four months have been a whirlwind. I’ve been mindlessly applying to positions; sending nearly the same generic application to 70-80 schools hoping for at least a phone call. It turns out even this was a poor strategy. Because even though search committees know the market is tight, they want to see some bit of personal, university-specific narrative in the application. They’ve got hundreds to sift through and are most interested in “fit” scientifically and who they can have coffee with. So, after going through several phone interviews, a few on-campus interviews  from very contrasting institutions–the former being a huge academic (and athletic) enterprise and the latter being a liberal arts college–I feel that I have SOME experience. Plus, I was actively part of a massive job search in graduate school so I already have some advice to lend.

First off, when you are on the market, scour how the Internet perceives you as a being. If you have had some alternative, questionable, or controversial career path, press release, or images/videos of you, find a way to remove them and/or be ready to explain them and ask for forgiveness. Make your social media private. It is actually a violation of academic freedom for job search committees or universities to discriminate applicants based on social media and Internet excavations (see: http://www.aaup.org/news/social-media-policy-violates-academic-freedom), but humans thrive on gossip.

For the phone call…..

1. Don’t sell yourself short. It is OK to brag. I may have more reason to with a last name like “Brager” (terrible joke), but you’ve worked long days, late nights, and weekends to get to this moment. Embrace it.

2. Even if you don’t know where your research will take you in 10 years, find a way to have a 10 year plan. Science is a marathon not a sprint. Basically, I will do this in my pre-tenure years, then move onto this in my post-tenure years, etc. Or when I have this grant, I will then move on to that grant.

3. Have an idea of what you want to teach and are capable of teaching (even if you are applying to a medical school).

For the on-campus interview…..

4. Dress for the job you want not the job you have. Appearance does make a difference. You may wear jeans and sneaks in the lab (I do), but people won’t take you seriously talking about serious science if you are wearing ripped jeans, Rainbow sandals, and a “Keep Calm and Carry On” Shirt. Business casual it is.

5. Don’t go out with the graduate students and get drunk enough that you are puking for your talk and meetings with faculty the next day. You may laugh, but it has happened.

6. Expect hostility. Don’t let your ego get in the way and be defensive. Hostility and lack of emotion are part of the game the search committee is trying to play to see how well you can perform under pressure and confidently answer questions that may appear naive and rude like, “why do we care to study mice when we have the capability to study humans?” Also, don’t lose focus. If a faculty member asks if you can do this, answer honestly, and if it is a ” yes”, remind them  that getting your lab up-and-running and funded is priority.

7. Do your research on the faculty. You may have way more in common than you think. For example, at one of my interviews I discovered that one of the faculty members and I went to the same high school given that we are from the same hometown. But don’t do research just for “small talk” but for the purpose of cross-collaboration. Collaboration is key in today’s funding climate.

8. Even if you don’t feel the place is for you a few hours in, don’t burn bridges. Science is a small world. Real small.

9. Keep your head up if you get a rejection. It may not be you, it may be an issue of “fit”. Even if it is you, listen and correct. Besides, the market looks like this anyways.

Statistical breakdown of postdocs entering faculty positions

In the end, I’m taking a risk and holding out for that 60-40-ish balance of teaching and research. I’ve decided that I”m not going to settle for what I don’t truly want. 30 years is a LONG time.

Motto

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Travels to the Yucatan

For the second Thanksgiving, I travelled abroad. This one was just as eye-opening as the first; when my best friend from high school and I went to Venice and I saved her dignity after she fell into the Venetian Canal in the blistering cold (no, we weren’t drunk; the walkways were dimly lit and very dark outside). This time, Montegraphia and I went to the Yucatan to a small city called Merida staying with friends who recently moved there.

First off, I finally got to see flamingos in their natural environment. I have always been fascinated by the plumage of flamingos and how the coloration waxes and wanes with their diet; becoming pinker with more sustenance and white with less sustenance. We also ventured into the mangroves and saw HUGE termite nests and a variety of birds ranging from kingfishers to spoonbills. Oh yeah, we also saw a croc peek out above the surface.

We also ventured to one of the seventh wonders of the world; the Mayan pyramids and ruins. It is truly remarkable to see these monstrosities created long before contractors, construction crews, and modern day equipment. These carvings and artwork were also outstanding as there was lots of reproducibility despite everything being free-hand.

One of the seventh wonders

One of the most interesting ruins to see was the site of sacrifice. Within a 24 hour period of sacrifice, the heart would be carried on a tray up to this altar. Timing was crucial to the Mayans, who worshipped the sun, because the aim was to make it look as if the rising sun was eating the sacrificial heart.

Ancient Quidditch

We also visited the ruins of the violent sport played by the Mayans that is frankly similar to quidditch. Teams would wield long sticks and try to shoot these balls through hoops placed at least 40 feet high in the air. There was lots of sticking whipping, lashing, stabbing, and the captain of the losing team ALWAYS got his head sliced off. One cannot deny that humans gravitate towards watching violence in the realm of athletics. The gladiators were not the first.

The altar for sun consumption of hearts

And now for the most saddening experiences of our trips. First, we were forced to bribe a federal officer who “randomly” stopped us at a checkpoint. “Random” because we were gringos driving a Mexican rental car. The officer insisted that we carry our passports because there seems to be an issue with people smuggling Chinese folks into the US via Mexico. Oh, really? For the record, the Mexican consulate recommends that you NOT keep your passports on hand while traveling the country. The moment that we knew that we were being hustled came when the guy pointed to the camera and asked us to move away. And so we gave him 500 pesos and he happily shook our hands and sent us on our way. Basically, law enforcement does not make enough in this country and so they’ve developed a system to survive. I can’t blame them. The day before this bribe, we also learned about the roots of a really troubling riot taking place in Merida. It is interesting that this riot was concurrent with the Ferguson verdict because this was WAY worse. Not to be racially insensitive, but it is. Basically, this local politician and his wife were expecting 43 children to protest one of their public speeches. To circumvent this, the husband and wife hired the drug cartel to resolve it. The cartel stopped their bus en route to the protest, dragged them out to the desert, made half of them dig their own graves, shot them, burned the other half, and threw them on top of the ones who were shot. How is this not on some news channel in the US or elsewhere? Truly sickening.

The trip ended with a significant bout of Montezuma’s revenge but honestly, I was expecting it sooner than I got it.

 

 

Consider Funding This.

(Wealthier) readers in biomedical science. Here’s your chance to contribute to something BIG: Epigenetics and sleep. How sleep amounts alter gene function as to be studied by an elite group of folks in sleep research

https://experiment.com/projects/can-sleep-patterns-change-gene-function

Welcome to SfN y’all!

First day and great day. Please venture over to the Theme H posters on display til Sunday. In today’s funding climate, it’s great to see an emphasis on teaching and the history of our field. There are different teaching modalities for different demographics and that is the key to success.

As for science, the clocks symposium was intriguing because people are finally getting optogenetics in the biological clock to work! And they work not just on one gene or protein but the entire system affecting neuron output and behavior. Golly, it was impressive!

Follow my other random thoughts and pics from the conf @beastlyvaulter on twitter and IG

Neury Thursday: Sleep and the Blood Brain Barrier, with some hesitation

The blood brain barrier (aka, BBB) can be a royal pain in the arse for pharmacologists and pharmaceutical companies. The ultimate goal of the neuro division of big pharm is to design drugs that can be taken orally and yet still cross the BBB with little issues. Billions of dollars can be gained or lost at the helm of the BBB. Well, new research in the recent issue of Journal of Neuroscience just introduced another conundrum for BBB permeability: sleep deprivation.

ResearchBlogging.orgThis BBB group in Louisiana investigated BBB permeability in lieu of chronic sleep deprivation on many levels. First, they found a reduction in glucose uptake by the brain, especially in regions that are in constant need of glucose like the cortex. Glucose uptake was measured by injecting radioactive glucose into the gut region and then measuring its transport up to the brain. A reduction in glucose uptake was complemented with a reduction in GLUT transporters which initiate the process of glucose being taken up by a tissue.

 

 

Glucose uptake compromised by sleep deprivation

The researchers also found an increase in COX-2, an enzyme involved in the initiation of pro-inflammation, with chronic sleep deprivation. This increase in pro-inflammation was accompanied by a decrease in forms of nitric oxide synthase which is responsible for vasodilation.

sleep deprivation interferes with vasodilation

 

What is most interesting is that all these pathologies disappeared with letting the mice get a day’s worth of recovery sleep. I’m a little skeptical about a day being enough to reverse a week’s worth of sleep loss even though the data reveals as such. But this is just the problem; we have no idea what the sleep deprivation protocol actually is and it is too difficult to interpret from the first figure! I’m starting to doubt that any of the reviewers are actually sleep researchers. It’d be acceptable for a middle-tier journal, but certainly not for a high-impact journal. One of the unwritten responsibilities of any reviewer is to ensure that the manuscript reads in such a way wherein the experiments can be replicated and the current hypothesis can either continue to be accepted or brought into question. The reviewers failed to do their jobs and the authors failed as scientists and now us readers of the flagship journal of the largest society of neuroscientists must scratch our heads and wonder what is so “unique” and ground-breaking about this protocol of chronic sleep deprivation that allows an animal and its body to recover in a single day.

He, J., Hsuchou, H., He, Y., Kastin, A., Wang, Y., & Pan, W. (2014). Sleep Restriction Impairs Blood-Brain Barrier Function Journal of Neuroscience, 34 (44), 14697-14706 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2111-14.2014
 

It’s still 1927, sometimes: Women in Science

What is unique about the picture taken in 1927 at the Solvay Conference: a gathering of the elite physicists and chemists of the time?

This is the gender diversity of most faculty departments, even ones close to home

 

Close up

There’s one lone female. In 1927, that was impressive, but if you look a many group photos from university departments in science, math, and engineering today, there is likely to be just one female for the same number of people as the 1927 Solvay Conference. Now that is pathetic.

Eleanor Roosevelt and Marilyn Monroe often said that “well behaved women rarely make history.” It’s true, even in an academic setting. Fortunately, academic departments make it easy for women to be viewed as misbehaved or notable. Often times, if I consider alternative interpretations and approaches from senior scientists, I’m viewed as “lacking in confidence ,” but if I become overly passionate about an issue and don’t change my opinion after hearing alternative viewpoints, “I’m being defensive.”

Some of the more ludicrous commentary that I have heard about from female colleagues is being begged by administration to not have children so as not to increase risks for postpartum depression.

And then of course there is sexual misconduct. One world-renowned neuroscientist made himself “Instagram/Twitter/Facebook famous” at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in NOLA in 2012 by lamenting about the lack of attractive females at the meeting. It may had been the booze and easy access to prostitution talking or the fact that we shared the convention center with a boating trade show, but still. A recent report in PLoS found that at least 50% of women encounter some form of sexual harassment, verbal or physical, at some point in their professional career.

Now how can we overcome?  My colleague and mentor of mine, Dr. Jenny Marcinkiewicz, who has served on STEM- and women in science-related tasks forces recommends the following, “We can educate both our male and female colleagues about the dangers and inequity of unconscious bias. We can continue to fund ADVANCE grants from NSF that work to advance the careers of women in science. We can push to create women’s taskforce groups that identify actions to be taken and then make sure these are implemented. IMHO, asking women to work harder and stop making excuses is part of the problem, not part of the solution. It serves to drive capable women out of the sciences. Last, but not least, postpartum depression is not a choice and cannot be solved by simply willing ourselves out of it or working ourselves out of it.”

Vampire Diaries: Tales of Sleep

Blood is making a comeback in neuroscience and psychology research. Centuries ago, Galen thought that personality and behavior were governed by the four “humors” with blood being one of them. A few months ago, blood gained some credibility in neuroscience when a study published in Nature found that the donation of blood collected from a young mouse to an old mouse forestalled neurodegeneration while donation of blood collected from an old mouse to a young mouse accelerated neurodegenetaion. Read the full details in this blog post.

ResearchBlogging.orgAs for how the blood may carry sleep-promoting factors that cross the brain and act on sleep regulatory areas, there may be a few. Recently, researchers at UPENN have undertaken an extensive study where they collected the blood from individuals sensitive or resistant to sleep deprivation. The researchers deprived the subjects of sleep for 38 hours and figured out just how sensitive or resistant the subjects were to sleep deprivation through a simple, reliable test of mental alertness and lapses: the psychomotor vigilance test. Performance on the PVT was compared against the blood genome of these individuals. The results were striking in that it pointed out that most of the genes were more sensitive to time-of-day, a circadian effect, rather than the environment challenge of sleep deprivation, a homeostatic effect. Separating circadian and homeostatic influences on daily sleep amounts is a constant struggle. In this study, the researchers were able to identify circadian vs. homeostatic influences without even controlling for these processes through a unique protocol called forced desynchrony. There were two genes that showed sensitivity to sleep loss in that their gene expression increased across a protocol of sleep deprivation, but for the most part, the genes peaked in the mid-night or mid-day which conveniently correspond with biologically driven dips in core body temperature. However, the rhythms of this waxing and waning of gene expression was dampened in the lucky bastards who are resistant to changes in mental performance with sleep deprivation.

And so while this study has narrowed down some possibilities, the quest for a single, peripheral regulator of sleep centers in the brain continues. Hopefully I am the first to find it.

Vampire Diaries is a bore

Arnardottir, E., Nikonova, E., Shockley, K., Podtelezhnikov, A., Anafi, R., Tanis, K., Maislin, G., Stone, D., Renger, J., Winrow, C., & Pack, A. (2014). Blood-Gene Expression Reveals Reduced Circadian Rhythmicity in Individuals Resistant to Sleep Deprivation SLEEP DOI: 10.5665/sleep.4064

Sleep Position Matters.

Today, I got a deep tissue massage in an attempt to accelerate recovery from the Pensacola Beach Brawl. It is no surprise that I favor my right side; it is my dominant side. Even so, my massage therapist provided some insight that is so obvious yet so neglected and likely explains my long-term aches and pain on my right side; I may be sleeping wrong. Duh! If you are like me who needs lots of restorative, deep sleep in an attempt to recovery for a hard day of training, then your body doesn’t really care what position it sleeps in because it is too busy getting this restorative, deep sleep. Therefore, we have to prepare our bodies to sleep in a healthy position before we sleep and are immobile for nearly 8 hours. Fortunately, Kelly Starrett, pioneer of mobility WOD, has addressed this:

Pensacola Beach Brawl: Pain in the Sun, Sand, and Surf

It’s time for some self promotion mixed with science. Sorry. This weekend, I competed in the Pensacola Beach Brawl which also presented me with the opportunity to compete in my first (Crossfit-style) triathlon. Sure, we swam (and saw a bull shark on the pier the morning of the swim), but then we sat on a stationary bike to be one with our thoughts, a remarkable view of the Gulf coast, and the dinging of the bike in an attempt to forget how few calories we had biked and how much further we had to go: 150 calories in total. From there, we hopped over a small wall and began the worst part of the tri; a seemingly endless run for a mile in the soft sand that is difficult to walk in let alone run in. It really jacked up our heart rates.

And we are off

Kill Em

The final push

I finished 5th overall which I was extremely happy with because it was my first legitimate ocean swim.

After a night of recovery, it was on to a standard Crossfit competition on Saturday. Unlike most Crossfit competitions in Georgia, this was outdoors. The rain even held off for us. Not only did I tie my current PRs for my Olympic lifts (clean and snatch), but I did really well in the metabolic conditioning workouts that tested our latencies to forearms and bicep fatigue as well as how much pain we could handle after a long, enduring weekend. We also had to NFL combine style testers; max bench press reps at bodyweight and the standing broad jump. I would have been embarrassed if I didn’t place top three in the broad jump. Luckily, I did place first, helping secure a 6th place overall finish for the weekend.

New hang snatch PR

Tie of clean PR

Thrusters to start

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Deep concentration

The last workout

On Sunday, I was part of a local Georgia team from Crossfit Perimeter. The workouts were seriously modified due to the poor weather but honestly, I was thankful. We took full advantage of the beach by doing a mile run as a team as well as dragging an #80 sled 125 m each. It was nasty. Like most heavy, longer sled pulls, it is best to go slow and steady instead of going “all out.” Once your body switches over to fat metabolism, there is a serious compromise in power. This decline in power usually results from giving 100% effort in the beginning because you burn through your creatine and glucose reserves quickly.

Quad Squad

Overall, I had a fantastically grueling yet entertaining weekend competing, laughing, and hanging out with fellow Southeast athletes. Much thanks to the continued support of Boxstalker and Pure Strength –as we continue our journey to the podium in the 2015 Reebok Crossfit Games. The Pure Strength rig at the competition was awesome. And now it is back to lab bench.

The elite ladies

Panda Rage

In case you didn't know

History of Sleep by the Father of Sleep, Himself

Last week, my undergraduate advisor, Dr. Mary Carskadon, who could arguably be called the “mother of sleep” given her long-standing contributions as a female scientist, sent me the following article.

The article is about the life’s work of William C. Dement who many regard as the “father of sleep medicine.” I won’t spoil the contents of the article, but Dr. Dement should be any scientists’ idol, not just for those who study sleep. He has done basic science, translational science, clinical science, and is one of the most effective advocates for funding. Believe me, his numerous stories about trips to Capitol Hill are very humorous and could make for their own memoir. I first met Dr. Dement during the summer of my junior year (of college) as a Dement Fellow in Dr. Carskadon’s laboratory at Brown University. The advice he parted about the history of our field, doing science, and being a scientist have stuck with me today. I have passed along many of his stories and experiences to my own students at Morehouse College. So please, read Dr. Dement’s story. It will inspire you, scientist or non-scientist.

Dr. Dement with the 2006 Dement Fellows

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