This semester at The Pub Club…
Within the framework of The Pub Club we have the unique opportunity to develop the Diverse skills needed to become the next generation of world renown scientists – the ones who set the bar by providing innovative solutions to the world’s most challenging problems.
While our main Mission objectives – 1) Meeting on the Edge of Science and 2) Filling the Void – may not seem connected, they are integrally linked. “Meeting on the Edge” is about more than just talking about the science breakthroughs done by others; we want our research to be the cutting edge that others are talking about. In order to be the ones Providing Solutions to the world’s greatest challenges, we first need to develop our ability to Identify the Big Challenges, determine which of these challenges our research addresses and Communicate the Relevance of our work to the world (public, media, policymakers, other scientists, etc.). Of course, in this evaluation process, we may discover a need to re-position our work to better address the Big Challenges and increase the real-world impact of our findings.
This semester at The Pub Club we will be applying a teaching approach called backwards design to help us maximize the time we spend in our Friday Gatherings towards meeting this Mission. The process utilized in this approach is 1) Define objectives (what are the desired results?) 2) Determine acceptable evidence (have the objectives been met?) and 3) Select activities and instruction (what will be done to achieve objectives?).
Our main objective this semester is to be able to Identify the Big Idea or Challenge our research addresses and effectively Communicate the Relevance of our work to diverse audiences.
The evidence we will use to demonstrate this ability is verbal (Elevator Pitch), written (abstract) and graphical (graphical abstract) depiction of our research highlighting the 1) Main Challenge our research addresses and 2) How our Key Findings (may be anticipated findings) help provide Solutions to this challenge. The activities we have selected for this semester will help us towards achieving this evidence. In addition to helping us develop essential skills needed to position us as the “scientists on the edge,” we will be able to use our evidence to communicate the impact of our research for professional profiles (LinkedIn, personal websites), Publication, Funding new Research, Scientific Meetings, Research Statements for Job Applications, Public Education, Policy Making and more. As Joe can testify, even with the publications and the funding, you still need to be prepared to effectively communicate your research to others – especially when on the job market! Rather than wait until the interviews are lined up or your grant proposal deadline looms, why not begin filling your Void by learning to identify and communicate the relevance of your research today!
NOTE: event summaries are presented in reverse chronological order!
5/12/17 – For our final TPC Gathering of Spring 2017, we set out to assess our major objective of this semester – effectively communicating the Big Ideas of our research – by evaluating each other’s abstracts. First, TPC members created a list of features that make a good abstract. We realized that an abstract should be like a movie trailer in that it should have a clear, concise message that draws you to read the rest of the paper. The abstract should also be framed for the audience, and not contain too much jargon. Participants brought three copies of their abstracts, which were passed around for evaluation by multiple people. After we work-shopped the abstracts, we re-evaluated our list. We added that an abstract should start and finish strong. Lead with an interesting question or the “Big Idea,” don’t break the flow of the story telling, and finish with a strong conclusion that explains the impact of your research.
We finished by briefly discussing as a group the strengths and weaknesses of each abstract submitted for our evaluation. This is where the role of community in science really shone through. I (Miranda) brought two abstracts, each of which had been through multiple revisions by six PIs and additional collaborators with minimal feedback. TPC participants provided more feedback in the 1-hour workshop than I had from all previous collaborators combined! I attribute this to the team-based approach that occurs through The Pub Club. When everyone invests in each other’s success, science across the community improves.
If you wish to see more science updates, check out the links below:
- Regulation of Intentionally Altered Genomic DNA in Animals; Draft Guidance for Industry (Alex Corrion)
- Discovery of the nitrate-CPK-NLP signaling in central nutrient –growth networks (Danve Castroverde)
5/05/17 – What does it take to build a community? I (Miranda) have worked in three different “open concept” labs, in which multiple lab groups shared a large space, but there is something unique about working on the 4th floor of MPS. The Pub Club has been running for three years, and I have to admit that there is a certain level of community that is to be appreciated and relished here as this type of environment is often a rare find in science culture. This rarity has been noticed across the nation, and Gregg Howe invited David Gang, who will be facilitating the creation of an open concept lab at WSU, to join The Pub Club this week specifically to get feedback about how to build a scientific community.
David shared with us that his goal is to foster an enhancement of collaborations and sharing of ideas in his new building for the Institute of Biological Chemistry at Washington State University. His target demographic is a community of scientists from all different backgrounds ranging from animal biology to biochemistry to plant breeding. TPC participants talked a little about the details of a work space, such as materials that reduce noise, illusion of privacy, and the role of natural light for productivity, but the real discussion occurred when he asked us about how to build a positive community environment.
So, what makes our community work? Our answers ranged from the serious – such as the importance of PI support and participation – to the not so serious – such as the importance of our toaster oven for delicious lunches. Adam Seroka stressed that “It’s important to make a conscious decision to keep community space for that purpose and NOT fill it with cubicles. Once that space is lost, it’s gone forever.” When making a large investment, such as a new research building, it is often easy for administration to overlook the importance of a communal space, especially when filling it with more researchers seems more profitable. Researchers often get sucked into the details of their work, but having a space that allows us to step back and practice scientific skill development away from the bench promotes a healthy, thriving scientific community. Bethany Huot noted that “Meeting one hour per week affects how we treat each other for the rest of the week.” Even if we see someone everyday as we pass their desk, we may never stop to talk about his or her research. Several participants noted that even working on the same floor, they would not have interacted with others had it not been for The Pub Club. It is the collaborative interaction that occurs during our weekly meetings that promotes an engaged community on our floor.
In short, building a collaborative scientific community in an open concept lab is very similar to strategic career management (both core components of the COM!). Participants need to be consciously active and engaged, while investing their time in developing themselves into better researchers.
Thanks to Nate Havko for hosting snacks! If you are interested in science updates, check out the links below!
- NIH to impose grant cap to free up funds for more investigators (Danve Castroverde)
- National Academy of Sciences Members and Foreign Associates Elected – Notable Elected Researchers include Mug Club’r Doug Schemske (Miranda Haus)
- USDA Predoctoral and Postdoctoral Announcement (Miranda Haus)
4/28/17 – This week for The Pub Club, André Velásquez presented a segment on the proper use of statistics that also counted as one hour of RCR training. André started us with a discussion of the question: “Why do we need statistics in biology?” As scientists, we need to perform sound statistical analyses to identify how likely treatment effects in our experiment are real and to provide confidence in our interpretations of the data. In order to provide valid statistical interpretations, it is important to decide 1) how to represent the data and 2) which analyses to use before you set up the experiment.
When it comes to representing your data, keep in mind the question you are addressing to determine the best format. It is also a good idea to plot your data various ways to get a better feel for its distribution rather than only looking at a plot of means. A growing trend in the science community encourages the use of scatter plots instead of bar graphs so that all individual data points (with the means) are represented. A box and whisker plot is another way to give more information regarding the distribution of your data.
Of course, presenting the data comes after it is collected and analyzed. What about experimental design? A large sample size and multiple repetitions of the experiment will increase the power and validity of your results, but exactly how many samples do you need to be able to detect a difference? André shared an equation we can use to answer this question. It is also helpful to run a “blind” experiment in which treatments are given unknown labels (i.e. accession #1 or bacterial strain #4) to reduce bias in interpreting the results. The most important thing is to be sure to plan your experimental design with the analyses you want before you begin. If you are not sure how to do this, or simply want to confirm your plan is sound, André recommended taking advantage of the CSTAT facility here at MSU.
André also highlighted the importance of understanding when to use different tests. To demonstrate, he presented the same dataset analyzed three different ways: Student’s t-test, one-way ANOVA and Kruskal-Wallis. Surprisingly, each test gave different answers in terms of significance. Selecting the statistical analysis that gives you the answer you want is an excellent example of p-hacking, and is unethical as it will often lead to erroneous claims. Instead, we need to understand the question we are asking and the properties of our dataset to select the appropriate test to use. For those of us in The Pub Club, we often use ANOVAs to analyze our data. André pointed out that this test is based on several assumptions, including normal distribution of the data and homogeneity of variances, and showed us how to assess these parameters in our datasets. If the data are not normally distributed or the variances are unequal, transforming the data, such as taking the logarithm, may resolve the issue. Otherwise, you should run non-parametric tests such as the Kruskal-Wallis.
Finally, while planning and conducting our experiments and collecting and analyzing our data are very important steps, we need to remember the biology! Statistical significance and biological relevance are not always equivalent. An “insignificant” effect may have a meaningful biological impact and a “significant” effect have no biological relevance whatsoever. As scientists, we need to always keep the biological question and the relevance of impact as our primary drivers.
A big thanks to André for taking time to prepare such a helpful RCR discussion for us. Thanks also to Kyaw Aung for bringing homemade rice and chicken! If you would like to read more, check out the following Science Updates!
- Controversial study claims humans reached Americas 100,000 years earlier than thought (Brian St. Aubin)
- Polymorph 1001 Genomes (Danve Castroverde)
4/21/17 – Social media has permeated almost every facet of our lives, which has a large impact on our professional images. To help with strategic career management, one of the GradHacker co-founders, Kate Meyers Emery, Skyped with The Pub Club via the Aquosboard to provide key strategies on how to manage our digital identities.
Kate first reminded us that everyone already has a digital identity. The question is, are we taking ownership over how that information is presented? She encouraged us to take a goal-oriented approach by asking ourselves, “Who will see this information? How personal do I want this to be? Does my current online identity portray who I want to be?” Kate recommended keeping the personal content to a minimum, and to remember that Nothing on the Internet is private! If you would not shout it out down a hallway, don’t share it online! Also, while social media is more aspirational than reflective, you want to be sure not to paint an image of yourself that won’t ring true when people meet you in person. To achieve our goals – whatever we decide they should be – it’s important that our digital identity is consistent (i.e. same name spelling, same photo) and updated (i.e. current profile picture that actually looks like you). To put this in perspective, Kate gave an example of Tweeting at a conference. If you want to network efficiently or share your research, then your colleagues need to be able to find and recognize you in person.
After providing these general tips, Kate reviewed several social media platforms. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses that make it a powerful tool depending upon the purpose and field. While LinkedIn is more business oriented, it is a good idea to have and maintain a profile on this site to improve your visibility on Google. Another good tip, when using social media sites like ResearchGate to share your own work, it’s important to confirm the journal’s licensing agreements. Kate encouraged us to try the different platforms available to identify which work best for us, and always be aware that the tools you use may change as your career progresses. For example, prior to her new job at a photography museum, Kate did not find Instagram to be very useful professionally; it has now become a vital part of her online presence.
Finally, Kate encouraged us to create and maintain our own website. While there are a range of options that vary in cost and effort, having a site dedicated to sharing your professional information is a great way to increase your visibility. Kate is an anthropology graduate who started blogging as a way to force herself to review literature outside of her specific focus. Her efforts more than paid off. The blog site she started her first year in graduate school, Bones Don’t Lie, has become nationally recognized and is even cited in primary literature! She became the top blogger in her field, won a scholarship based on her blogging, and was known to students when she interviewed for tenure track positions coming straight out of her PhD. However, while she had planned and made herself more than qualified for a tenure track faculty job, Kate’s investment of time and effort in “extra-curricular” Diverse Skill development provided her opportunities that allowed her to become a happy member of the 83% who work outside of academia.
Many thanks to Kate for sharing her time, expertise, and passion with us! You can access Kate’s slides here, and more resources on digital identity management from Kate here.
If you want to read more about what happened this week, check out the Science Updates below! Thank you to Siobhan Cusack for catering her homemade pot roast!
- New Research Chairs program will bring the world’s brightest talent to Canadian campuses (Danve Castroverde)
- Seven things to keep in mind if you’re going to March for Science (Miranda Haus)
- MSU’s story for Gregg Howe fellow of ASPB Award
4/14/17 – This week’s TPC event was casual, in tune with the holiday weekend. Brad Day and Gregg Howe stopped by to get feedback about the recent Plant Resilience Institute candidate interviews. Specifically, Brad and Gregg wanted to know what TPC participants learned by attending the job talks. One element that stood out among the candidates was the striking difference between those who technically checked all the boxes (i.e. good publication and funding record), and those who checked all the boxes AND had well-developed Diverse Skills. For example, while each candidate presented interesting research questions, only a handful of them communicated their ideas in a way that was exciting and engaging. Along those lines, Kyaw Aung noted that he struggles with getting other researchers excited about his work. Observing the PRI candidates’ efforts to engage us with their research reinforced in his mind just how important this skill is. Gregg suggested that one way to draw people in is to start with the Big Picture, the Big Idea – how is your work connected with a big challenge or issue? Once you have your audience’s attention, you can highlight how your specific question is framed to help solve this problem.
Turning it around a bit, Gregg and Brad also asked us difficult questions regarding our own research programs, such as: “What makes you unique from your mentor?” and “Who is your biggest competitor?” Our ability to think about and answer these questions indicates how prepared we are to apply for faculty positions. Brian St. Aubin added that not knowing your competitors shows a lack of familiarity with the literature; how can we hope to successfully contribute to a field of which we are not actively a part? Brad finished the TPC meeting by challenging us to put ourselves in the candidate’s shoes: Can you see yourself as a faculty candidate? This is a good question to consider regardless of our end career goal. Whatever position each of us hopes to achieve, we need to be strategically preparing ourselves now.
Overall, this TPC event was a great summary of both the main TPC Mission and our specific objectives for this semester as it winds down: 1) Identify the Big Ideas of your research. 2) Develop your skill in effective communication. 3) Invest time in being current both within your field and beyond. 4) Strategically work towards filling the Void towards your personal career goals.
Many thanks to Pai Li for making homemade chicken and mushroom soup! If you would like to read more, check out this week’s Science Updates!
- An organ-on-a-chip approach for investigating root-environment interactions in heterogeneous conditions (Miranda Haus)
- Live imaging of root–bacteria interactions in a microfluidics setup (Kyaw Aung)
- PIF4-controlled auxin pathway contributes to hybrid vigor in Arabidopsis thaliana (Adam Seroka)
- ASBMB: Figures for the colorblind (Miranda Haus)
4/07/17 – Graphic design is used to quickly, and sometimes beautifully, convey key information and ideas. As scientists, we use graphic design in many facets, including figures for proposals, manuscripts, posters, and cover articles. Throughout this semester at The Pub Club, we have discussed many ways to communicate science effectively. For last week’s TPC event, participants went back to kindergarten and learned to make shapes (professionally)! Adam Seroka and Ian Major introduced us to some basic tools and applications for GIMP and Inkscape.
GIMP and Inkscape are free, open source counterparts to Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. GIMP is a powerful tool for modifying or adjusting images, with many of the basic tools in familiar formats to well-known software (like PowerPoint). That said, GIMP’s toolset is vast, which means it can be challenging to use initially. We were surprised to learn that some functions in GIMP can even allow for potentially better image analysis than corresponding ImageJ functions (i.e. measuring leaf area). In comparison to GIMP, Inkscape is better for building new images. Although we started with basic shapes, we were capable of creating gene model diagrams by the end of TPC event. The learning curve for these programs requires that the user have fun exploring the toolkits (and Google!) to troubleshoot elaborate designs. In the end, we did not leave this week’s meeting with expertise in graphic design, but we did have a starting point and an eagerness to create more professional looking figures!
We’d like to extend a special thanks to Masaki Shimono for bringing his homemade Japanese curry! If you want to read more, check out this week’s science updates!
- New conference! Plant Signaling: Molecular Pathways and Network Integration , January 2018 (Danve Castroverde)
- Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Meeting and Conference List (Bethany Huot)
- Japan’s cherry blossoms are emerging increasingly early (Miranda Haus)
3/31/17 – For this week’s TPC event, Gina Pham from the Buell lab presented her research project and followed it with a Q&A session. Gina framed her research by asking the big question “How do we make ‘X’ better?” From self-incompatibility to disease resistance, potato agriculture has a number of hurdles to jump through. Gina’s research approaches these problems by both using and creating genomic resources. As part of her research, she has identified that 15-20% of potato genes show significant copy number variation; and, within this dataset, many disease resistant genes show a dosage effect similar to results from research in soybean resistance to golden cyst nematode. Interestingly, 25% of genes expressed in leaves have allele specific expression, whereas 50% of genes expressed in tubers have allele specific expression. This may be connected to breeding practices for this tasty root! To help create genomic resources for future breeding programs, Gina is currently making dihaploid populations. Her next steps include selecting for traits in her dihaploid potato lines and incorporating tetraploids into her research! Thanks again for sharing your research with us Gina! We also enjoyed having Robin Buell rejoin us at The Pub Club for this great discussion of research going on in her lab.
Thanks to Nathan Havko for catering pizza! If you want to check out this week’s Science Updates, follow the links below!
- Crossing kingdoms: Using decellularized plants as perfusable tissue engineering scaffolds (Adam Seroka)
- Multiple Disciplines – Post-doctoral Fellowships (10 Positions – Various Locations) (Danve Castroverde)
- FAO Updated Poster on Food Crisis Prevention (Bethany Huot)
- MSU professors develop sensor worn by athletes at risk of suffering concussions (Bethany Huot)
- Salicylic acid interferes with GFP fluorescence in vivo (Bethany Huot)
3/24/17 – Last week at The Pub Club we were joined by Mike Thomashow and Gregg Howe – the Director and Assistant Director of MSU’s newly formed Plant Resilience Institute (PRI) – for the second session of The Coaster Club. Using our special PI Q&A box, pre-submitted questions were selected by TPC members – we also had a question submitted via the comment box on our website! Mike started us off with a bit of history, explaining that the PRI was formed with seed funds from the Global Impact Initiative (GII), which looked for proposals that would create opportunities to build on existing strengths within the MSU community. Mike recognized plant stress research as an area well-represented at MSU, and collaborated with our TPC PIs – Sheng Yang He, Gregg Howe and Brad Day – to propose the formation of a center focused on achieving plant stress resilience as a means of contributing to global food security.
After the proposal was funded, the next step was to strategically recruit existing MSU faculty who could extend the breadth of scientific expertise within the core group of “founding” members. These members include Robin Buell, Tom Sharkey, Ashley Shade, and David Lowry who bring expertise in genomics and bioinformatics, biochemistry, microbiology, and ecology. In addition to recruiting and hiring approximately six members externally, the PRI will use their seed funds to establish collaborations both locally and internationally to achieve their research mission and to position the PRI to successfully acquire external funding.
In addition to providing us this background information, Mike and Gregg graciously addressed our questions relating to specific areas of research, strategies for international collaboration, and student/postdoc training. The question prompting the most conversation related to the need for a website as a means for communicating the Mission and progress of the PRI with both local and extended communities. This resulted in a formative brainstorming session with Gregg and Mike regarding key features of a website for such purposes. The eager participation of our TPC members provided tangible evidence demonstrating the importance and achievement of one of our overarching goals for this semester: effectively communicating the relevance of our Key Findings to Diverse Audiences.
If you would like to learn more about the PRI, please check out this press release. If you would like to learn about new science this week, check out some of the science updates below! A special thanks to Xiufang Xin for catering a TPC favorite, EastSide Fish Fry chicken wings and fries!
- Gates Foundation Unveils Open Access Platform (Bethany Huot)
- Passive phloem loading and long-distance transport in a synthetic tree-on-a-chip (Adam Seroka)
- A community repository of plant illustrations (Kyaw Aung)
- Ancient Algae: New fossils suggest plants might be much older than we thought (Brian St. Aubin)
- Live Tracking Of Moving Samples In Confocal Microscopy For Vertically Grown Plant Roots (Danve Castroverde)
3/17/17 – Postdoctoral positions are designed to last 2-4 years; for this reason, it is important to take a targeted approach to identifying and filling The Void in each of our personal Diverse Skill sets. Last week at The Pub Club, we took advantage of our local COM by discussing Kyaw Aung’s reflections on how well he accomplished this and Miranda Haus’s projections for how she plans to target her long-term goals by strategically managing the postdoctoral phase of her career.
Before applying, Miranda and Kyaw each created a list of skills needed for their future careers (post-postdoctoral) and targeted labs that could help them fill those gaps. Because your postdoctoral career is meant to fine tune your skill set as well as expand your expertise, each person will have individual needs that will affect the type of lab and mentor that is right for them. Reflecting back, Kyaw shared this advice with us:
- Know what you want, but be flexible. (i.e. have a plan A and a plan B!)
- Study what it takes to land on your dream career path.
- Know your own strengths and weaknesses.
- Be practical, but DREAM BIG.
- Take advantage of the community to build your career.
- You could always be better, but don’t wait until you think you are ready to start applying.
- Try hard to step out of your comfort zone.
- ENJOY THE JOURNEY!
Kyaw emphasized the need to 1) Have a clear goal, 2) Develop a strategy to meet that goal, 3) Use your Community to help in your personal and professional development, 4) Put yourself out there, and 5) Have some fun while you are doing it!
Since Miranda is less than one year into her postdoc, she shared her strategy for managing her postdoc towards her goals. Her long-term goal is to be a PI in a R1 university, and her specific research interests involve achieving stress resilience in crop plants to help address the Big Challenge of global food security. During her PhD, Miranda was able to gain a lot of teaching experience; however, to be the one who gets Hired for the competitive position of tenured professor, Miranda knows she will need to demonstrate her ability to acquire funding, design and implement an independent research program, and manage a team to work towards achieving the goals of that program. To fill these gaps in her CV/Diverse Skills, Miranda chose a lab that would enable her to develop her own independent research project working on stress in a crop plant. She is also writing for fellowships to demonstrate her ability to acquire her own funding, acting as project lead to develop her mentoring skills in the lab, and serving as head coordinator of The Pub Club to develop her leadership, communication, time management, organization, and many other Diverse Skills.
To give us a broader perspective from postdocs outside our local COM, Kyaw and Miranda shared a recent Cell article titled “Postdocs, What Would You Tell Your Younger Self?” Each letter was personal and highlighted struggles that each postdoc had experienced during their scientific career. Still, there were a few major themes that stood out including broadening your expertise, targeting a complementary mentor, networking and building collaborations, balancing projects and managing time, and taking some time to relax and take care of yourself.
During the Q&A, many questions for Kyaw and Miranda referred to negotiation etiquette. For Kyaw, it was important to know on what he would be willing to compromise since his first priority was staying at MSU. Miranda shared that she prioritized independent research freedom and was willing to compromise on salary. Another TPC postdoc, André Velásquez, also weighed in on this confirming that the specific things for which you negotiate are determined by and are very specific to your personal goals and constraints. Once you know what your goals for a postdoc position are, then you can prioritize your needs accordingly.
If you want to learn more about the resources Kyaw and Miranda shared, you can find them on our Career Prep Resource page (look for resources labeled “New”)! A special thanks to Yanjuan Jiang for catering chicken wings from our favorite EastSide Fish Fry! Also, congratulations to Amy Baetsen-Young in the Day lab on the recent provisional patent for her work in nano technology!
3/10/17 – One of the most difficult tasks regarding science communication occurs at the start: identifying the Big Question. On March 10, 2017, Doug Schemske visited The Pub Club to discuss and advise us on this important topic. Due to an unavoidable conflict that had Doug in Florida, we utilized our Aquosboard technology to span the 1,200-mile gap and bring him to our living room via Zoom.
Doug started us off with a 2005 issue of Science listing the top 125 Big Questions in science, including “Why do humans have so few genes?” “How does a single somatic cell become a whole plant?” and “What determines species diversity?” He challenged us to consider how close or far removed our own research was from these “Big Questions.” He then recommended four guidelines to help identify Big Questions: 1) Question authority, 2) Be ambitious, 3) Follow your instincts, and 4) Think broadly. He cited both Charles Darwin and H. Allen Orr – two of the most cited scientists – as those who followed these four guidelines. While we want to be somewhat respectful in our questioning, paradigm shifts only occur when someone is willing to question the status quo. Once we have identified our big question, we need to consider how best to answer them. Consider the questions carefully, and then choose the appropriate technology. Sometimes the best answers are from simple methods. You can read more about our conversation with Doug in the post “Rediscovering the Lost Art of Thinking in Science.”
A big thanks to Doug for taking time out of his retirement to Meet with us on the Edge of Science. Thanks also to Miranda Haus for making red beans and rice this week – it was delicious! Science updates this week included the Airbus and gorilla vaccinations. Click the links to read more.
- Amy Baetson-Young: Ebola vaccine for great apes shows promise, but ethical hurdles may block further research
- Danve Castroverde: Michigan State Ranks 8th for Agriculture and Forestry
- Adam Seroka: Airbus reveals a modular, self-piloting flying car concept
3/03/17 – “Whereas about 65% of US PhD-holders continue into a postdoc, only 15–20% of those [9-13% of the total PhD earners] move into tenure-track academic posts (Powell, 2015).” These numbers are even lower when specifically comparing the biological sciences to other science fields. With a tenure track faculty position as the least likely option for a PhD holder, it is vital that we incorporate discussions of “alternative” future careers in science.
This week at The Pub Club, Cait Thireault presented her background research for building a career focusing on intellectually property and patent law. Starting to look at non-academic careers was difficult because not only did she lack the relevant information, she was also uncertain of what questions to even ask. She started exploring by working at MSU Technologies (IP department), and then met with five lawyers for “informational interviews” to educate herself regarding what is required for this career path.
Cait walked us through different law-related career options ranging from a patent agent (which does not require a law degree) to an attorney (which requires a Juris Doctorate, or JD). Some of the big “take home” messages include that law school takes 3 additional years after your PhD, and has a much greater emphasis on grades than what we are used to in graduate school. Part of the reason grades are so vital is that law students are not graded on a 10-point scale, but on a ranked scale. In other words, the top 10% of students will get an A, the next 10 percent will get a B, and so on. This may seem straightforward, until you realized that the top 10% may not have gotten lower than a 95% in the class. When you get to the middle grade categories, a single point on an essay may be the difference between keeping a scholarship that requires a B average. On a final note, the prestige of your law school has a big impact on your job choices when you are done. When choosing law schools, Cait explained it is better to spend money at a law school ranked higher by the ABA than to get a full ride to attend a lower ranked school.
Cait left us with two books she has found vital when going into a law-related career:
Thanks to Brad Paasch for catering hushpuppies and chicken wings from EastSide Fish Fry! This week’s science updates highlighted the role of DNA for storing information!
- Adam Seroka: DNA could store all of the world’s data in one room
- Danve Castroverde: Biologists propose to sequence the DNA of all life on Earth
2/24/17 – “Writing is one of the most important things a PI does.” Sheng Yang He summarized the principal point of this week’s TPC event. With a semester objective to practice scientific communication, our specific goals for this TPC event were to learn how to 1) identify weaknesses in our research statements and 2) assess others’ research statements. Gregg Howe, Brad Day, and Sheng Yang He reviewed research statements from Xiufang Xin and Kyaw Aung, both of whom are currently applying and interviewing for tenure track faculty positions.
One of the big take home lessons was to start early – start now. It is easier to modify existing statements than to start fresh. It is also good to keep your audience in mind. These are no longer just your mentors, but also your future colleagues. Let your accomplishments speak for themselves. It is smart to highlight your achievements and the novelty of your research, but this needs to be supported by facts. Lastly, remember the difference between using a technique and answering a big question. Highlight what are you going to get out of the data and what is the unique, big idea. Thank you to everyone who came to TPC this week, and to those who shared science updates! Thanks also to Yi-Ju Lu for catering pizza!
2/17/17 – Danny Ducat visited The Pub Club last Friday to talk about his experience transitioning from a postdoctoral researcher to an assistant professor. He began with a short presentation that focused on defining your research trajectory. He asked us to first consider what compels you to do science, and use that as your defining element. Without the answer to that question, all other questions are moot. After you identify this, then you can think about fundability, relevant skill sets, and competition.
The presentation was followed by a Q&A with questions from undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdocs. One theme that was repeatedly mentioned during this conversation was Danny’s emphasis on the importance of management skills. Looking back, he said his most unexpected challenge was, in his words, “bumbling around mentoring.” He encouraged us to seek out mentoring philosophies in books, fellow colleagues, and university organizations. He noted that it can be hard to recognize when you are being over-involved in the lab due to outside pressure to make sure the lab is still rolling. He finally recognized this was not a good mentoring strategy when it became too draining and the work was no longer as exciting. He also said that the first few researchers in your lab will not make or break your research program, but it is important to be hyper-aware of your first few lab members’ skill sets so you can work together to fill in the gaps. It is sometimes difficult for a brand new faculty member to recruit super stars into their research program, simply because they are still relatively unknown. Sheng Yang He joined the conversation and noted that a young PI can still spend a lot of time in the lab interacting with students, which helps mold your lab and its direction. This allows you to be less selective than older staff because you are actively participating at the bench.
While many of the questions focused on staff management, Danny gave great insights for a variety of topics. For example, he said one of the greatest pitfalls he has seen postdoctoral researchers fall into is keeping a mindset of getting “one brilliant story and everything will be set,” but in reality high quality communication skills are more useful. He also said that negotiating budgets and salary will always feel awkward, but it is important to remember that the university and department is invested in you by the time you get to the negotiation stage. Everyone wants you to succeed. The conversation was so engaging and informative, we ended up going over by 15 minutes before we officially bestowed the title of Mug Club’r to Danny by passing on a TPC mug! A special thanks to Adam Seroka for bringing BBQ pulled chicken and fresh veggies!
2/10/17 – We had a great turn out last week for learning how to communicate our online professional identities! The Pub Club’s goal this semester is to practice effective scientific communication. While online professional identities might not be the first thought to come to mind, it just may be the first communication you have and so is one of the most important when searching for jobs and building collaborative networks. As you can see from the charts on the new Digital Identity Management Resources Page, a recent Jobvite survey showed only 4% of recruiters don’t use social media in the recruiting process and 87% use LinkedIn. Because of this, we decided to focus on our LinkedIn profile summaries.
To get us started, Bethany Huot led our group through an article by William Arruda entitled “How to Write the Perfect LinkedIn Summary.” First, Arruda asked us to know our audience – specifically, not a general group, but the name of the person you want to address. What do you want them to feel, see or do after they read your profile summary? Next, he asked us to include the 6 V’s (see article) in our LinkedIn summaries. After taking a few minutes to individually write down 2 – 3 items for each category, we went through each as a group. One issue we ran into was the V’s can have overlapping items, so we brainstormed these together and learned how to present our accomplishments, interests and skills in multiple ways. During this brainstorming session, Brad Day pointed out that successful candidates for the ongoing PRI faculty interviews clearly articulate something for each of these 6 categories. For the category of “Vital Statistics,” he encouraged us to highlight how our work has contributed to specific grant funding for our lab. He also advised us to write a letter of recommendation for ourselves, as our profile summary should be considered a self-endorsed letter of recommendation.
After all the material is compiled, Arruda asks us to write and then assess our profile summary using two different tests: The Question Test and The Audience Test. The first is a self-assessment that generates a score to inform us whether our summary is good to go or needs improvement. The second test provides input from mentors, potential employers and family/friends who know us well to confirm we have clearly communicated who we are, what we have accomplished, what are our future goals and what we specifically have to offer.
Thanks to our active participants for contributing to this week’s gathering with science updates, to Amy Baetsen-Young for volunteering to take professional head shots, and to Li Zhang for catering delicious snacks and pizza!
2/03/17 – Last Friday The Pub Club took on double duty, with the postdocs primarily mentoring undergraduates on future career paths and the graduate students primarily networking downstairs with potential recruits as part of the Plant Science Fellowship (PSF) recruitment poster session.
UG Career Day – Undergraduate Career Day #2 went without a hitch! As with our last Career Workshop, participating UGs were asked to read some of our posts on Career Management, complete the 3 IDP surveys relating to interests, skills and values, and then use this information to write up draft profile summaries. To start off the workshop, Bethany briefly explained the Community of Minds concept, and how we all can tap into this resource to help us strategically manage our careers. She then had our UGs share their questions relating to navigating the next phase of their careers, and wrote them on the TPC AquosBoard. After we had a good list of questions, Miranda went through the IDP surveys, explained how to get the most use out of the information and addressed specific questions our UGs had relating to this resource. Next, we broke into two small groups so each UG had the opportunity to discuss their IDP evaluations and get feedback on their research interest summaries. We also discussed their specific career interests and the questions we compiled earlier. Finally, Miranda brought the group back together and explained how our UGs can use Informational Interviews, just like what we did together, with people employed in the careers they found most interesting to gain better insight into those careers as well as build a network – or Community of Minds – that would enable them to make informed career decisions as well as potentially help them get their foot in the door. These Career Workshops are a good demonstration of what being a part of a Community is all about – each person contributing and receiving so that everyone benefits. The UGs had insightful questions, including one that I think we are constantly trying to answer ourselves: Where do you go to find information about your career interests? While there might not be a single answer to that question, we all learned a bit about career prospects and mentoring that day! We look forward to hearing back from our UGs who participated in both Career Workshops regarding how they benefited as well as how we might improve our efforts in the future.
PSF Recruitment – TPC members joined the Plant Science Fellowship recruitment efforts down in the MPS atrium, taking advantage of this great opportunity to share the Big Ideas of our research as well as the research within our labs. Danve and Bethany also shared the Community of Minds concept with the recruits, explaining how they too can build and use a COM to thrive rather than merely survive the Graduate School experience.
When all was said and done, TPC members were able to develop and refine their Diverse Skills, including Leadership, Verbal Communication, Mentoring, Teaching, Organization and Time Management (some of us participated in both Events!). See you next time we Meet on the Edge!
1/27/17 – Last Friday at The Pub Club, we opened with interesting science updates from Brian on the association of Alzheimer’s disease and Vitamin A deficiency in the womb, and from Adam on rat-mouse interspecies chimeras. Bethany promoted the upcoming ICAR 2017 in St. Louis and Plantae’s new resource, “What We’re Reading,” while Koichi shared a recently opened postdoc position at Utrecht University.
We followed these updates by welcoming our first Mug Club’r of the year – Sheril Kirshenbaum, director of the The Energy Poll at the University of Texas. After briefly sharing her personal background in science policy, Senate experience and bridging science and communication, Sheril addressed our goal this semester of becoming better science communicators. Several TPC members shared frustration with the many misconceptions non-scientists have and asked what we can do to change this. Using a “telephone game” analogy, Sheril explained how the public can innocently believe things we know to be scientifically inaccurate due to the true message getting distorted as it is passed along. An example she used was a pervasive misconception that you burn a certain number of calories by kissing, when, in reality, that is the number of calories you consume when eating a Hershey’s kiss! As scientists, it is our responsibility to clearly and respectfully communicate our science in a relatable fashion to the public, the media and policy-makers. Here are some of the key points Sheril made for improving our communication:
- Be as clear and concise as possible.
- Use bullet points: What is the issue? Why is it important? How will it affect us?
- Be relatable. Tell a story that is relevant to the person with whom you are talking.
- Establish relationships by listening as well as talking.
Sheril encouraged us to find ways while in grad school to develop our communication skills, especially our ability to write using non-technical language. Some examples she gave were blogging and using social media forums, such as Twitter and Facebook. Another exercise she uses in a writing class she teaches is to have students find a current scientific policy issue in the news, research that topic and then write both a technical and non-technical article about it. We could also do this with our own research! For developing our verbal communication skills, Sheril recommended role playing, similar to the Elevator Pitch game Brad Day designed for us last year. One participant draws a topic from the hat, and the other draws a name representing a family member, famous scientist, policy maker or media person. In a few sentences, the first person explains the topic, tailoring the language and approach to be meaningful and relevant to the type of person with whom they are talking. Of course, another method is to simply practice with the real people we encounter at work, at home and everywhere else. This daily commitment to use various forums to interact with people and engage them with our science will help us develop the Interpersonal skills needed to be great communicators with diverse audiences.
Apart from these strategies, Sheril also cautioned us to do our own research to ensure that our communication is in fact grounded in science. It is easy to get frustrated, but allowing that frustration to taint our message will only make the problems worse. Instead, we need to embrace this responsibility of Science Communication regardless of our specific career goals, and begin developing effective communication skills today!
Special thanks to Amy for the savory meat and vegetarian pasties that she handcrafted just for our gathering! Hope to see you next time we meet on the edge of science.
01/20/17 – Keeping in tune with this semester’s objective to practice science communication, Danve Castroverde used the Figure Design information on The Broad Institute’s CommKit site to lead The Pub Club in a discussion on effective figure design. As a group, we evaluated and discussed multiple ways in which data were presented, including how the scientific message was conveyed from different types of graphs showing the same data. Our discussion took a surprising turn as we asked ourselves when not to use a figure. For example, how do we decide to use a bar graph instead of a table? Some of us thought it was easier to discern relationships when plotted in a bar graph, but others thought it was better for replication studies when actual numbers were presented. For another exercise, we evaluated how artistic choices may highlight or dampen our core message. Ian Major passed on advice from his previous mentor: When communicating your data, write down the key point of each figure and then ask if that point is conveyed clearly. One practice we hope to make a recurrence in The Pub Club is work-shopping and troubleshooting problems with our members. James Kremer stepped up and presented a heat map showing expression profiles of his recent work, while we all chimed in with feedback. We’re excited to see the final version! Overall, last week was a big success and produced results we had not anticipated. This TPC gathering proved that when members step out of their comfort zone and become “active,” everyone benefits. See you next week!
01/13/17 – We gave a fond farewell to 2016 by reviewing some of our favorite highlights from last year’s scientific achievements! Focusing on our semester objective to clearly and concisely communicate Big Ideas to a range of audiences, we set out to summarize our favorite papers into two sentences: one describing the challenge and the second describing the outcome.
Adam Seroka started us off with a recent publication from the Long Lab that describes how a rapid photoprotection recovery accelerates photosynthesis. Miranda Haus also summarized an article by Sharon Gray, et al. that found increasing carbon dioxide does not mitigate other detrimental effects of climate change. The big surprise came when we moved from topics we were less familiar with into our own research area. We tried to summarize the Big Idea from the He Lab’s Nature paper on bacterial modification of the plant apoplast, but found that when we had deeper knowledge of the topic, articles were difficult to summarize into two sentences while still meeting our standards for accuracy.
This activity showed us we are able to identify Big Ideas, we only struggle doing so with our work due to our distraction with the details. With more practice, we can become adept at identifying and highlighting the Key Findings of our work to better communicate the relevance and impact to journals, funding agencies and the public.
We also said goodbye to Bing Zhang from the Day Lab. She has worked in the lab for two years, and after two successful publications is returning home to China for her next adventure! Thanks to Koichi for organizing snacks!
01/06/17 – Welcome back to another semester at The Pub Club! Last Friday, TPC member Joe Aung (He Lab) took advantage of the opportunity The Pub Club presents to do a practice chalk talk in preparation for his Plant Biology faculty interview at Purdue University. He presented his proposed research program on how “A Bacterial Effector Protein Modulates Host Cell-to-Cell Communication.” Aided by a graphical abstract, he outlined his main aims to the TPC community. This was a great opportunity for Joe to showcase his communication and interpersonal skills, as he fielded questions and took suggestions from the group. Sheng Yang suggested making the proposed aims more targeted towards mechanistic details and less about “fishing expeditions.” Brad added how Joe needs to deftly manage how he presents his research depending on the audience. Overall, it was a great avenue for the TPC community to witness how our “Diverse Skills” can be applied in action by one of our members. All the best and good luck to Joe on his upcoming interview! Also, special thanks to Joe and Yani for providing refreshments.
Following Joe’s chalk talk, TPC members headed to the first BMS recruitment event of the year to share their research and the value the Community of Minds can bring to the PhD training period and beyond.