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  1. Amanda Labuza

    First Day of Post-Doc

    My first day of work will be in a lab I have never seen, and I have no idea what to expect. How do you start a new job during a pandemic? If you followed my dissertation writing blog, you know I graduated at the very beginning of the COVID-19 quarantine. Luckily, I was still able to get a post-doc position during this time. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic I wasn't able to do an on site interview, so while the people were great when I met them at the SfN conference, I don't really know much about this position. Anyone have any advice? What is it like to transition from grad student to post-doc? Has anyone else had new people recently join their lab? How have you been able to train them with most labs working at limited capacity? Any advice is appreciated.
  2. We are two months into quarantine in the US and looking back, and for many of us it doesn't seem like we accomplished as much as we thought we would. With all this "extra" time we were supposed to write all those papers, submit that grant, finish analyzing all that data, workout every day, and learn to bake bread. Instead, every day felt like a struggle to be productive. Of course you are struggling to be productive working from home. Most of us do not work from home. In fact, one of the few chances we have at work-life balance is the fact that most of our work can't be done at home. We are used to physically separating work and home. More than that, we are not used to sitting at a desk for long hours. Unless you routinely do dry bench work, we are much more adapt to short periods of work. You write a paragraph while you let the gel run, and then get up and set up a transfer, and then check an email while your buffer mixes, and then read for an hour while you eat lunch, etc. We are great at breaking up tasks and fitting each piece into small chunks of time in between other tasks. We are usually getting up and moving to a seminar, moving to a journal club, to a meeting, our days are always broken up. But now, we are supposed to just sit at your desk at home for 8 hours and write straight. Or read papers without breaks. And it doesn't work. But of course it doesn't. If you were good at sitting and focusing on one task for hours at end, you would have gone into computer programming. But you didn't. So without a hard deadline, you shouldn't expect yourself to be motivate to read every paper on calcium regulation in astrocytes in a week. So if you are anxious about your boss asking you why you weren't "more productive" take a breath. Very few of us were. Keep in mind, there is no new data coming in for awhile, even after we re-enter the labs, and PIs get lost without new data to look at. It isn't personal. It doesn't make you a bad student. You were not alone. The goal of quarantine was never to be "productive". It was to protect society and to literally survive a pandemic. This was never a vacation, but it also wasn't designed to be a chance to write all those manuscripts. Writing, data analysis, literature searches, whatever you've been filling your time with it, it was a meant to help keep working going so it didn't completely stop. As long as you did more than nothing, you were successful. Keep working, but don't beat yourself up if you didn't accomplish as much as you thought you would during this time. NOTE: This is all assuming you don't have children. If you have children, forget it. I can't even imagine what you are going through right now. I just want to say remember to apologize to every stay at home parent for their constant work.
  3. Amanda Labuza

    The Value of Female Advisors

    Recently I have been struggling with finishing my PhD. The pressures to find a job, stressful committee meetings, writing, trying to get that last experiment done, etc. And I have realized how helpful it is to have female advisors. I don't have any female PIs on my committee, haven't collaborated with any, and haven't really had many classes with female PIs either. But this last week I met with two for various reasons and I am suddenly wishing I would have built these relationships a lot sooner. Speaking with women PIs has been very uplifting. They managed to help me go from completely overwhelmed to putting it all back into perspective. Maybe it is because they were a little less blunt, a little less harsh about some of the issues I was having. Maybe it was because they took the time to say "I know it is upsetting, but these are just small obstacles to get to the end." Or maybe it was because they weren't on my committee and were just removed from the situation. Either way, helped. There is a certain validation is speaking female-to-female about certain struggles. Occasionally there are still sexist comments I have to bear. I'm not saying they are all the time and worth reporting. But just the occasional side comment from my advisor that "it's your two x chromosomes" stopping you from standing up for yourself just frustrate me. I know he was trying to encourage me to advocate for myself and not to be a typical timid female, but did we really need to bring gender into it? But it was relieving to hear from someone in authority "that comment doesn't sit well with me either". Just the reassurance that I'm not being overly sensitive. And the simultaneous reassurance that it is okay to be sensitive. To hear they cried during their PhD too, but they still managed to become PIs. It gives me hope I can do it too. This isn't to say men can't cry during their PhDs too. Of course you can. And it isn't to say male advisors can't be inspiring or supportive. I'm just saying there is something special in getting to speak with someone with shared experiences. And occasionally someone with more tact than certain cranky PIs (male or female). To all the wonderful women out there, creating an awesome example for young scientists like myself, thank you. You are an inspiration. I should have learned the value of speaking with you earlier. And to all the young female grad students, go make friends with a female professor. They don't need to be your formal advisor to help mentor you through this still male dominated field.
  4. There is a bill in the state of Maryland right now to make it legal for graduate students to form a union. If it passes, our student body will be voting on whether to form a union or not. Currently we have quarterly meetings between a small group of graduate students and the administration. I’m curious if other students have unions. Have they been helpful? What is your experience? I appreciate any input!
  5. I know there is a lot of information out there already on how to prepare for SfN’s annual meeting. The one starting in just 3 days! But the truth is, if you have never been to SfN before, you can’t really prepare for what you will experience. Over 30,000 people attend for 5 days. It is beyond overwhelming. So here is my major piece of advice, don’t over plan. You can’t do everything. That’s okay though, it is the point. There are so many specialized subcategories SfN has already curated itineraries for certain interests. Even then there will still be things they included you aren’t interested in or things they left out. So relax and don’t do too much. SfN is a chance to recharge your enthusiasm for science. We have spent all year grinding away trying to get publishable data. This is the time to share those discoveries and learn about others’ work. But you can’t recharge if you are stressing about getting to every talk, every poster, and every meeting. So pick what matters most and let the rest go. Make sure to leave some empty time in your schedule. There are hundreds of vendors giving away free swag and showing off the latest technology. Take some time to see what is there. You will be in sunny California. Take time to go for a walk along the water with your lab. Enjoy yourself. If you don’t make it to everything it will still be worth your time. Relax, have fun, and get excited. This is going to be a crazy whirlwind that will be over faster than you think. Can’t wait to see you in San Diego! Oh, and wear comfortable shoes. Walking from the first row of posters to the last is literally half a mile.
  6. pizbicki

    PhD Preliminary Examinations

    As I’m getting ready for my oral preliminary examinations, I’ve been chatting with other students about experiences and formats for their writing/oral preliminary examinations. At my program, we have a grant proposal for our written followed a few weeks later with an oral presentation with pilot data. What format did you have for your preliminary examinations? Please feel free to share your experiences, opinions, advice, etc. for all us graduate students going through prelims!
  7. Amanda Labuza

    Summer at Grad School

    Dear Mom & Dad, I’m having a great time here at grad school. By now you’ve noticed that I really can’t come home for the summer. I know the neighbor’s kid came home from medical school three weeks ago, but as I’ve told you before I’m not going to be that type of doctor. Also, please stop asking me when my semester ends. We don’t really follow semesters that closely. In fact, I haven’t taken a class in two years. Yes, I’m still in school even though I’m not taking classes. As I’ve tried to explain before, my “school work” is really just lab work. And we do it year round. Sorry about missing the family 4th of July picnic. Unfortunately, science doesn’t recognize national holidays. My mice still need to be injected every Wednesday whether it is a holiday or not. Hopefully next year I can try and make it. I’ll see grandma at Christmas. Please stop asking me if she has Alzheimer’s, I’m really not that kind of doctor. I can tell you about neuronal death in Alzheimer’s disease, but I can’t diagnosis it. I promise I won’t spend the whole holiday working. I’ve made lots of friends here. Though I must say, #454 does not behave very well and has bite me three times. Jokes on him though, I put him in the placebo group. Haha! I’m just kidding though, some of my friends are human. I’m sure we’ll see the fireworks at night after work is done. You don’t worry about me, though if you had some spare quarters for laundry I wouldn’t turn them down. Give Auntie K a hug for me! Love, Your Nerdy Kid
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