Archive for: June, 2018

Unpaid Work

It’s summer! I can hardly believe it – for the first time in 20 years I have an actual summer vacation with no job to do, until I teach again this fall! Only… that’s not really true at all. I am practically working full-time, doing work I’m not technically paid to do. There are two sides of this that I have different degrees of tolerance for.


workoutside httpwww.mediamoxye.comhow-to-take-your-work-on-the-road-this-summer

Totally not how I work in the summer… source: httpwww.mediamoxye.comhow-to-take-your-work-on-the-road-this-summer


First, I am in the place that virtually every scientist finds themselves after a recent (and often not-so-recent) job change. I have unfinished business from my last job, i.e. manuscripts to write. I will not get paid for that job again, but I am obligated to do these tasks. The common reasons we find ourselves in this position are:

  • I put a lot of work into this project that didn’t get quite completed/written before I started my new job, and I want to maintain my ownership/get top authorship – it will benefit me and my career to do this, and/or I want to do it.


  • I promised my old boss I would do this.

In this case, I am fully in the last category – I didn’t even conduct the original research experiments, just did some analysis and started writing the papers, I have very little feeling of ownership or desire to participate, and there is no real way that these papers could make a difference in my career. But I promised. As you can imagine, that makes the unpaid aspect all the more irksome. But this is the culture of research that is unlikely to change because of the way we jump from job to job quickly, relative to the pace of research, early in our careers.

I’m trying to devote about 8 hours per week this summer to finishing up those projects from my last job. And If I can finish them up, then I think I will be truly done with research at that point.

Second, I am doing work that is technically unpaid for my current job, which is a 9-month contract position. I have a complicated situation involving planned but unofficial family leave this fall (since I haven’t worked there long enough to have ‘earned’ it), during my regular working year. My current work is an attempt to prepare for this leave ahead of time, working with Teaching Assistants, testing out labs, and revising course syllabi, assignments, and schedules to work with my absences. But I am certain that other instructors who are unpaid for the summers do plenty of prep work for their courses as well – I know I would: how could one, especially with new course preps, really only start 1 week before the start of the term as specified in our contract? And that leads to my reasons for doing work for this job off the clock:

  • I want to put in the time to develop quality teaching plans, and to make it easier for myself in the fall.


  • I like doing it!

So in a sense, whether I’m getting paid doesn’t really factor in at this point. In addition, not getting paid for this doesn’t sting as much since I’m kind of making up time I’ll be out on leave. But it is still on my mind, especially since this is following my first year, where I had so much initial work to put into teaching courses for the first time that I was working every minute I wasn’t with my kid or sleeping (okay, I did have one date night in that year, but…!). This isn’t unique to science, or even academia, but aspects of the culture here are relatively unique.

One of the perks of academic work is that most of us don’t have to account for our hours or whereabouts or sometimes even vacations. The flexibility to make daytime appointments or go pick up a sick kid or not have to schedule time off is fantastic. But it’s all dependent on being able to get the work done – whether that’s specific projects in the lab, article publications, grants funded, lectures given, or classes taught, the ‘product’, not the time, is what matters to keep the lights turned on. And that’s what I signed up for – I agreed to teach 4 classes per term, for a certain salary and that’s what I have to do, regardless of any assumptions of a 40 hour work week. But I am confident my hours will be much closer to that 40 hour mark after this first year, and I will not get myself into so much unpaid summer work again. But I also agreed to write these manuscripts for my previous lab, so that’s what I’m going to do. Unless the new person in lab wants to write them, since they could actually help her, while she gets paid to do it!

Wish me luck, and you’ll hear from me this fall about how smoothly things go for my leave time based on this preparation!

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My Experience on a Hiring Committee

Jun 18 2018 Published by under advice, dream job, Interview, job search

I’ve applied for many jobs in the last few years and I’ve been offered only a handful. So this year, when I was offered the opportunity to serve on the hiring committee for two different teaching positions, I accepted. It has taken up so much time, but it has been very valuable and helped me reflect on my own process. I am currently working with a career counselor of my own, so I hope to write a follow up to this post once my work with her is more fully fleshed out. Here are a few things I’ve learned, as a member of the hiring committees:

The Application:

1)     Always save your resume as a PDF. One applicant with an impressive resume submitted her’s as a Word Doc, and we could see all the changes that someone had suggested. They were all great changes, but it felt unprofessional.

2)     The job description on the posting may not actually match what the department is looking for. After reflection on the candidates we’ve interviewed this year, I realized that the things we were looking for were not well articulated in the posting. For example, we want someone experienced and willing to take on extracurricular duties (neither of which were in the posting). This has made me wonder how many of the things that I have applied for were similar; perhaps I didn’t know what they were actually looking for. One of our candidates asked the generic question: “what would the ideal candidate look like?” and I think I will adopt that strategy in the future.

3)     Review to the mission of the organization. I was shocked at how few of the candidates we’ve interviewed appeared to have looked on our website and considered the mission of our educational organization. It takes two minutes. Seriously, do it and incorporate it into your cover letter. Mention it again at your interview.

4)     Your relevant experience should be easily identifiable on your resume. We received many resumes with relevant skills, but it wasn’t clear where the person had worked or how they had acquired these skills. Make sure that you list your relevant experience (with institution and dates) very clearly.

The Interview:

1)     Seem like you want the job! Seems obvious, right?! We had one candidate that repeatedly told us he was just “exploring his options” because of uncertainty at his current school. I think that he was trying to seem dedicated to his position, but it made him seem like he didn’t want this job.

2)     Be Enthusiastic: Even if you’re nervous and it’s 90 degrees out, chug a cup of coffee before hand and seem passionate.

3)     Have relevant follow up questions: These questions should make us think that you picture yourself here, in our organization. Even if you have big plans for designing new courses or redesigning curriculum, you should frame them in such a way that we will feel like you are going to come in with fresh ideas but not rock the boat too much.

As I read what I’ve just written as a job seeker myself, I’m sort of irritated with the advice I’ve just articulated. I’ve read all that stuff a million times, and still not landed the dream job. So perhaps this exercise has been valuable and made me realize that, at least partially, maybe my failures are not so much about my failure during the interview process; there are a million different factors determining who gets the job.

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Where are we now?

Jun 12 2018 Published by under Uncategorized

Over the life of this blog, our careers and lives have taken us in many different directions. Here’s a snapshot of where we are now, and how we got there.



I am currently (still) a postdoc in academia. Sigh. My career has followed a pretty traditional route so far, although that route is certainly no longer typical. I got my undergraduate degree, worked for about 3 years as a tech, and then spent 7 years earning my PhD in Neuroscience. I’ve been a postdoc for about 5 years so far. All in all, it’s been a long journey in academia and it’s depressing to think about the financial implications of that, or the fact that I haven’t had full benefits since I was an entry-level tech all those years ago, or the frustrating lack of career progression– so I try not to think about it too much. Apart from the financial downsides of academia, the academic culture also discourages any sort of work/life balance. I’ve been told many times by my mentors that 80-hour workweeks are expected of postdocs, and I’ve had to actively push back against that, especially since I’ve got the most adorable two-year-old son! We also moved from New York City to Philadelphia– there’s no way I’d have been able to afford to stay in academia this long if we still lived in that high cost-of-living area, as I wrote about a few years ago. So, with the nontrivial financial, psychological, and lifestyle implications of staying in academia, why am I still here? The reason is the science itself– I’m absolutely riveted by the field of induced pluripotent stem cell research, especially as it relates to neuroscience. I’m so excited to see where this field is heading, and I want to be a part of it.



I am (still) teaching high school biology. I began teaching at a single gender private high school in the same city that I went to graduate school in immediately after finishing my Ph.D. and having my daughter. For three years, I taught part time, but felt like I was working full time any way (checking emails, dashing into school for one reason or another); as a result, I transitioned to full time this last fall, about 6 months after my son was born. I love my job and the work is stimulating and feels important, but feel like my children are growing quickly and I’m missing more moments in their lives than I’d like to. I feel like my work is full time plus, and my home life is equally demanding. I’m actively looking for a new, part time position, hopefully still teaching, that would offer me more flexibility.



I am currently a postdoc in academia. I have a BA in a self-designed Neuroscience major from a liberal arts college. I spent 3 years as a research assistant before starting a PhD program in Neurobiology & Behavior. Five years later, I graduated feeling like I had done something to be proud of that would usher me down a sustainable career path. That was 2 years ago, and I was so excited to use my swanky new postdoc to launch into a K99 application… but also explore career options beyond the tunnel vision pilgrimage toward academic PI. Then, smack dab in the middle of my first pregnancy, my not-so-great mentor decided to leave. I spent said pregnancy frantically interviewing within my current city. I was offered both academic and industry positions, and chose academia because the health care was better (which has turned out to be pivotal). I am 6 months into my second postdoc with another not-so-great mentor. What sustains my soul is my pedagogical fellowship, and the professional training and peer/mentor support that it provides. Becoming a PI (at any type of institution) has never appeared less achievable. Currently, I am contemplating the implications of failure, bad luck, communication, and how I can make the most of my present circumstances.



I am a full-time lecturer for undergraduate courses at a large public university. After 2 postdoc positions in 5 years, I was certain I no longer wanted to be directly involved in research and wanted a job with an emphasis on teaching and mentoring. This full-time teaching position came up at an institution/location I was interested in for personal reasons, and things moved very quickly from there – so quickly that now, a year later, my partner has still not quite solidified his tenure-track position in the same place, which he was pursuing even before my job was advertised! But things are looking good for this to be our long-term spot, and I couldn’t be happier. I love every aspect of my job and am excited to improve my teaching and courses every term. This busy first year aside (involving tons of preparations for new courses), this job is very nice for my family life, with a young kid and another on the way – I always have evenings and weekends off – and summers too!!!



I am a senior research scientist at a diagnostic laboratory.  Three years ago, after 28+ years in school, I transitioned (gleefully ran away) away from academia to industry.  I work with technicians to develop new tests or improve the methods of existing ones. I also spend a lot of time on pubmed to see what sorts of new and exciting biomarkers are being talked about in the clinical chemistry community.  I travel to national conferences frequently (occasionally I even get to lecture). And still to this day marvel that I get to have my own hotel room (in grad school there were 6 of us crammed into a standard room with 2 full-sized beds, yikes).  Traveling can be hard on my family when all partnering responsibilities fall on my husband, but I find it exciting and keeps me from feeling stale. But on the flip side, I get to spend evenings and weekends with my children and husband. Although that never feels enough.  I am surprised at where I am in my career. I would’ve never imagined something like this. But some of the best things in life are completely unexpected.



I am a medical policy research analyst. After 5 years in grad school and 5 years in postdoc, 3 of which were spent trying to decide on an alternate career path, I left academia. I spent those last three years soul searching and networking until something worked out. I now do a lot of reading and writing. I talk to other people at my company and doctors currently practicing medicine. My work is challenging and, for the most part, stimulating. I always knew I enjoyed reading and writing and thinking, and this job is a good fit for all of that. I wish I had more interpersonal interaction built into my daily routine, but I may be able to find a way to make that happen in my current position. I am able to have the work-life balance that I want (though who couldn’t use a few extra hours in every day!?), with the flexibility to attend events at my children’s school and evenings and weekends for my family (and writing blog posts and volunteering).



I am a forensic scientist. Whoa! Didn’t see that one coming! After an undergrad bio degree with all those required chem, genetics, statistics and bio classes, I pursued a PhD in Neuroscience because that was my most interesting elective class and the professor was awesome. Also, I got involved in an undergraduate research lab that happened to be doing neurobiology. Grad school for me had big ups and downs, but ended on an up and launched me into another neuroscience postdoc that I moved states for. Awesome everything (city, lab, mentor, research project)….except I absolutely hated being a postdoc. Gave it my all for a year, and decided that it was one of the most horrible (for me) jobs ever. Postdocs are taken advantage of in many ways and told that if they put in the time, they will be rewarded for it later. I didn’t see that panning out very well for me. In my second year as a postdoc where I put a lot of effort reaching out for teaching positions, a notification from a friend surfaced that her lab was hiring an entry level forensic scientist position for local government. I thought it was crazy. Turns out, I was already using the molecular techniques applied in that field, and those required chem, genetics, statistics and bio classes were what I needed to be qualified for the job. Four years in, I could not have made a better move. I am satisfied with my job on a daily basis applying that science that always felt so slippery to me as an academic researcher. My day-to-day is very different: moving through evidence requests and planning a sampling approach for each item (asking does this make sense given the crime scenario), labcoat on DNA testing, computer interpretation and writing reports and then court testimony (so much like teaching!). Not to mention the frequent validation projects I get to stick my hands in and present about at conferences. And, since overtime is not always allowed, 8 hours later I get to play with my toddler in the evening and have a decent amount of time to pursue lots of fun activities for myself and with the fam. There is so much out there. You will never know where a cup of coffee and a conversation with a friend, colleague, person in an only slightly related field might lead you!



I am a research scientist at a pharmaceutical company. During my first post doc I realized that I didn’t want to be a PI in academia and used my second post doc to help me get industry experience. I landed a great (underpaid) job at a small startup working on a cool project in my field of interest. 3 years ago when things got a little iffy for the company I decided to move on to the local branch of a small pharmaceutical company.  There is a lot I love about the job (great people, great benefits, good salary, good work-life balance, and work that feels important) but of course there are some thing I would change if I could (ie my lack of promotion). Overall I feel very lucky.

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