Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lab A or B?

I didn’t just go to the home country to eat all of the food that we missed or to have BlueEyes be hugged by his grandparents, but also to talk about opportunities to go back to the home country in a couple years and work there to build my own research group. As I already explained, things are a bit different than in the US and the way to get to being an independent researcher means first finding a job as a senior postdoc and from there write grants to hire people. So I went to talk to two different labs, both with people that I already knew and had worked with before. The first thing that struck me was that in order to get a position I HAVE to bring my own money (well, lab B is willing to hire me even without grant, but only if there is enough money available, so no guarantees). Both labs have their positive and negative sides and I have to decide in the coming weeks who I want to write those grants with in order to move back home in about two years.

Lab A is within a big department where people work together a lot. There’s a big name in the field of my newly acquired expertise and together they publish in high impact journals, but on a pretty wide variety of subjects. They have the fanciest equipment and a good infrastructure for the multidisciplinary stuff that I’m interested in. However, the university is cutting a lot of money and everybody NEEDS to bring in grant money in order to keep the labs running. During our conversation, the PI had already figured out what I needed to write my grant about even before I had told what my interests were and what I wanted to work on in the future. After I left I felt that we had only talked about money and not about the exciting science that we were going to do. I really felt kind of depressed about the whole situation. Also, I only got a cup of tea. No lunch, no beers, and no ‘we would love to have you work for us’. I know they would like me to come, because my current PI saw Lab A’s PI at a meeting recently, but it didn’t really show. And then there are some more personal issues that I know will annoy me at Lab A. They have a lot do to with this.
Lab B is a lab with a very steady (but not necessarily high impact) output in a specific field. I talked to Lab B’s PI and another PI at the same institution about collaborating on the multidisciplinary stuff that I want to do at a previous meeting, and I talked to both of them this time too. The equipment there is okay, but less impressive than at Lab A. I would be the first person to do this multidisciplinary stuff here, but there is enough support on both ends of the disciplines to make it work I think. But more importantly: we talked a lot about how my research would fit in with their research and what kind of things I could propose in the grants. Also, I got lunch and both PIs told me how much they wanted me to come to their lab. End result: I was a lot happier at the end of that day

So it seems I have made up my mind already: I feel a lot more enthusiastic about Lab B, even though Lab A is the stronger lab on paper. What do you think: Lab A or B?

Food I normally miss

One of the exciting things about going back to the home country to visit is that we can eat all of the foods that are unavailable or hard to find here in the US. Here's a list of things we ate in the past ten days (pictures are not my own because I was either too lazy to take a picture or too lazy to take them off the camera yet):
 Raw herring, eaten with raw onion.

Bitterballen and kroketten: they're both ragout with a fried crust around them. Kroketten are best eaten with fries served with mayonaise.
Lots of awesome Indonesian food, all of it homemade by Dr. BrownEyes' family.
And last but not least: bread with cheese. And with this I mean tasty wheat bread with good old cheese!

With our suitcases filled with cheese, stroopwafels and liquorice we came back home yesterday evening. I'll write more later about the fruitful and less fruitful scientific meetings I had!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Should I stay or should I go – part I

After grad school, there are two moments in academic science where you have to decide where you want to go next: where are you going to do a post-doc and where are you going (or where can you go) for your next job (hopefully TT). Today I’ll talk about that first moment, finding a post-doc position. Coming from a small European country it is encouraged to go abroad to do your post-doc and hence the title: should I stay in the home country or go abroad?

I obviously chose to go abroad, and more specifically to America (pronounce with West-Side Story accent in this case). Even though I sometimes complain about the things that you don’t have here, like official maternity leave that is longer than 6 weeks or subsidized daycare I love living in the US (okay maybe except for that day that a guy got shot in our street. Or those days when a little wind causes a power outage). Science-wise, this is where things happen in my opinion. This is where the big meetings are and where you live in the same city as Nobel prize winners. This is where I’ve learned so much more about how to network with people and what the politics are behind getting grants and submitting papers.

So how did Dr. BrownEyes and I get here? We started emailing people about a year before we wanted to start working here. And because my graduate advisor is not a big name in the field that I wanted to work in, I sent a lot of emails that never got a reply. I think in total I sent 30 emails, and called two people that I really wanted to work with to make sure they got my email (one of them didn’t and was glad I called because my email had landed in hir spam box). In the end I got 5 interviews in 3 different cities in 2 weeks. Our way to tackle the two-body problem was by choosing a couple of big cities where either one of us knew a lab that we wanted to work in and then the other one would try to find something there too.

About 5 months before we wanted to start working here we flew to the US to do our round of interviews. It was a very exciting two weeks, because I got to talk about (rather than do) my PhD research that was almost done. And even better: people seemed really interested to hire me. Those two weeks were a first glimpse of what it would be like being a professor: when people pay you to stay in a hotel and talk about your research! 

Shortly after we came back we decided that we wanted to go to the place where we live and work now, and between finishing our thesis, selling our stuff and looking for apartments in the new city we also had to arrange all of the visa stuff that we needed. 

And now we are already thinking about the second time we need to decide whether we stay or go (more about that in another post). Do we stay here and look for a TT position or do we go back to the home country? Right now, I think the chances are biggest that we are going back to the home country so tomorrow we are flying back for a week and a half, obviously to see BlueEyes hug his grandparents, but also to have an informal beer an interview with two labs there to talk about working there. Wish me luck (mostly for the 7 hour flight with a very mobile one year old….)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Guest post: Making the postpartum transition easier with a doula

Recently, Katie Moore contacted me and asked whether she could write a guest post for my blog. Here it is:

Any mother can attest to the fact that giving birth and the time afterwards can be a challenge.  Many women opt to have a doula help them through the transition into motherhood. Doulas are trained to help a mother before, during and after childbirth. Their skills actually allow them to be useful long after the birth of a child, not only the immediate days following birth.  The use of doulas is associated with increased maternal health and can be helpful to a mother throughout her postpartum period.

The job of a doula is to help a mother learn and enjoy the experience of raising a child.  When used before delivery, a doula can be an educational resource, teaching the mother about options like pain management, umbilical cord blood banking, immunizations and circumcision. They can work with a mother to create a birth plan and work to have that plan carried out in the delivery room.

A postpartum doula performs a variety of jobs in an effort to allow a mother to experience success in raising her child, and to eventually diminish the need for a doula.  Postpartum doulas will stay with a mother as long as she is needed.  This can range from just a few visits to a few months of service.  Depending on the needs of the mother, a doula can be with the mother and child during the day, night, or even overnight. 

Doulas are very helpful during the postpartum period because they give the mother tips on how to handle their new child.  A doula will help the mother gain confidence and experience so that when the doula is gone, the mother has successfully transitioned into motherhood. 

The main concern that many mothers may have is worrying about developing postpartum depression.  While a doula is not a trained counselor, she is very helpful in preventing this type of depression.  A doula is there to ensure a new mother isn’t thrust headfirst into motherhood alone.  She can help a mother slowly transition into her new role. Doulas will also coach the mother on how to eat right and make sure she gets enough sleep.  All of these tasks will make sure that becoming a new mother is not overbearing for the mother, and may help prevent postpartum depression.  

Another worry that some women have is that a doula could interfere with their planned parental approach, but this is simply not true.  Doulas are trained to support the mother’s particular parenting approach regardless of what it might be.  A doula is not there to tell a mother how to raise her child; she is there simply to assist the mother in doing so.  Doulas will listen to the needs of the mother and child, and even encourage the mother to develop her own parenting styles and philosophies. 

Katie is an active blogger who discusses the topics of, motherhood, children, fitness, health and all other things Mommy. She enjoys writing, blogging, and meeting new people! To connect with Katie contact her via her blog, MooreFrom Katie or her twitter, @moorekm26.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Imposter mommy

As I've written before and commented about here, I don't really feel like an imposter as a scientist. But now that I think about it, I do feel like an imposter when I walk around with BlueEyes. For some reason I always assume that people must think that I'm the nanny and not his mom. I think this happens in part because BlueEyes goes to a relatively expensive daycare that we are only able to afford thanks to a scholarship, so most of the other parents are 5 to 10 years older than we are. They come into the daycare professionally dressed for their 'real' jobs, whereas I walk in my flip flops and jeans to go to the lab.
The imposter feeling has faded a bit now that BlueEyes is getting older and I feel more like a mom (yes that took a bit of time to sink in). But I still occasionally wonder whether people think I'm the nanny...

Friday, August 10, 2012

Sleeping like a baby

Baby sleep: it’s on every parent’s mind (and a lot on the internet too) So here’s an update on how things are going here:

First I have to admit that when I was pregnant and I couldn’t sleep because my belly was huge, I though to myself ‘when the baby is out I will be able to sleep again’. Yes, this shows how little I knew about babies before I had one myself. I also thought babies were supposed to sleep in their cribs in their own rooms, but his changed pretty fast with a baby who has only slept through the night once in the past year.

Back when BlueEyes was 4 months old, the sleeping started to go better. He didn’t wake up every 2-3 hours anymore, but sometimes slept all the way to 2 am (from about 8pm) in his own crib. This was awesome, but just when this started to happen we went on a trip to a time zone 6 hours away. And then two weeks later we went back to be home for 2 days before heading 6 time zones in the other direction. I don’t know if this had anything to do with it, but after we came home from this month in different time zones his sleeping was not improved to say the least. He woke up every couple hours, and putting him to bed was a lot more difficult. So even though in March I said that I wasn’t that tired anymore I think I was just being delusional back then. At that point we would still put BlueEyes to sleep in his own crib because I thought that that was what you were supposed to do. So first I would nurse him to sleep and then we would very gently place him in his crib. Half the times he would wake up and we would have to start over. This was not the awesomest way to spend the evening.

So now I nurse him to sleep in our bed. This takes anywhere from 10 minutes to 1,5 hours and then he just stays there. I put the baby monitor next to him so that I hear it when he wakes up and we sit downstairs for a little bit (I still go to bed around 9pm to get enough sleep). Also, BlueEyes knows how to climb out of bed safely so I don’t have to worry about him falling out of bed anymore. On a very good night he wakes only once to quickly nurse and then go to sleep again. But who am I kidding? This only happened maybe five times in the past year. Because whenever he is teething, has a cold, or has any other kind of discomfort he will wake up anywhere between 2 and maybe 5 times. 

The way to make this a do-able situation in my opinion is to not look at the alarm what time it is whenever I wake up, because not knowing how late it is also prevents me from thinking that I have only slept so many hours or there are only so many hours left to sleep. What also helps, is that whenever BlueEyes REALLY wakes up, Dr. BrownEyes will step in and walk around with him until he falls back to sleep. This is a way that we found works for us and that allows us to be pretty rested most of the days.

Monday, August 6, 2012

On negotiating

A lot of women are notoriously bad at negotiating (though Dr Becca and @SciTriGrrl are really good at it) but it is something that sometimes needs to happen. What I am struggling with at the moment is when you are in the position to negotiate? 

Dr. BrownEyes and I have decided that in a couple of years we want to move back to the home country, and in a few weeks we are going there and while we’re there we are going to talk to a couple labs about potentially working there in the future. The system in the home country is different from that in the US, in that there are few tenure track positions that are advertised for. Most people just sneak their way back into join a research group and from there on build their own line of research and eventually will become independent that way. So people will hire you as a senior post-doc and when you get your own grants you are able to hire more people and build your own research group. However, rumor has it that they will usually only offer you a year if you come without your own grants and if you don’t get grants in that year you’re out… (although I’ve seen examples when due to goodwill of the PI this didn’t happen). So in order to have a couple years to acquire grants, we are starting to network now and hopefully have grants when we are planning to go back. 

To me it feels like I’m not (yet) in a position to negotiate because I don’t have any grant money to bring to the table. I do have ideas and I learned slice electrophysiology which I think has increased my market value. But is that true? Or do I need to figure out what I want and ask for it? For example I will need certain equipment in order to do my experiments. And in case I don’t get my own grant(s) before moving back I want more than that 1 year contract. Do I ask for this already in this first interview? And what are other things I should consider negotiating about? And most importantly: how do you negotiate if you don’t know if and how much grants you will be able to bring?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A high-impact paper from your post-doc

When I started as a post-doc I felt that this was the period in which it needed to happen: get at least one high-impact paper. I had the experience from my PhD, and thought that I knew what to do and how to do it. I knew that this is the period during which you can dedicate most of your time to research, because after this (with which I mean if I get a tenure track position) a lot of time will go to teaching and managing other people. So this is the time in which it needs to happen: I felt like I needed to get at least one (but preferably more) high-impact papers. And this idea was reinforced by talking to more senior people around me. A couple years ago I talked to a PI in my home country who basically said: “Don’t bother coming back and think about getting a TT position unless you have at least 4 papers in journals such as Nature Neuroscience or higher”. ‘Alright’, I thought to myself: ‘ I’m on it!’

So I started off like crazy: learning a new technique, trying to get stuff going as fast as I can. But as I’ve written before; I started to feel a bit unhappy about the whole thing. And now I don’t know if it is going to happen: am I getting data that are interesting and sexy enough for that high-impact paper? Or are they going to be ‘just’ decent data that are going to go in a well-respected but lower-impact factor journal. And is that going to make or break my career?

So I was going to end this blog post by saying that I had just decided to enjoy doing experiments, not worry too much and just see what kind of data would come out and how that would turn into a (couple of) paper(s). And then I heard back from a post-doc grant that I wrote a long while back, that finally notified people today. I didn’t get it, and this was already grant #4 that I applied for and didn’t get. And now I don’t know if just enjoying doing experiments and being in the lab is going to be enough…

So what do you think: do you NEED one or more high-impact papers from your post-doc to make it?