I attended the Innovation to Venture (I2V) one day conference at the University of Vermont today. It’s an event designed for networking, but also to highlight successful startups, technology licensing, and patents awarded to UVM students and faculty.

I was there to mostly observe and see just what the world of venture capitla, start-ups, entrepreneurship, and tech transfer are like. It felt alien in a lot of ways. It is also true that it often takes a team of people to bring a product to market. And a lot of luck sometimes.

Everyone I interacted with was friendly. I got to sit at the round table with a chief scientific officer and keynote speaker who waited 15 years to really see her vision for a company become reality (Aratana pharma– PETX on NASDAQ; a company making medicines for pets/animals, now a big market; and potentially, I imagine drugs developed for pets can translate into human medicines at times too).

It’s a world of work that I am utterly not familiar with. She consulted for years, ran clinical trials and did licensing contracts to bring technology from one market into another. Hearing about all of this still seems abstract to me. I have a hard time exactly concretely seeing what the work is like. Finding people to execute all of the proper steps is what is mostly sounded like.

I also sat at a table talking about pitching and pitch decks…basically how do you introduce your product to market. I got put on the spot to give an elevator pitch and I did for my science blog and what I’d be asking for (not money in this case…yet…just subscribers to my still hypothetical email newsletter). It was OK, but something I am really not used to doing. And of course, I ran up against my nemesis as an introvert: enthusiasm that seems brash, loud, falsely enthusiastic, very salesly.

It’s OK to sell things, but it’s not natural for me to do it in that loud way. If enthusiasm and flare are the way to sell things, I may be in trouble. It’s not that I’d be any less passionate about what I pitch, but I’d just prefer to do it in a quieter way, if possible.

And of course, the secret to networking is just connecting, asking, being curious, and of course preparing as much as possible. I didn’t have the chance to really prepare for this event. I am still glad I went to meet the vibrant community of Vermont entrepreneurs, inventors, tech transferrers. Burlington is a really pleasant kind of city too.

I don’t know if there’s a place for me in that world. I might be able to help in the tech transfer process, I suppose. I still feel like writing about or telling/teaching the stories of the people in the room suits my skills and interests better (not a humble brag about how I’m a great writer/storyteller). Or maybe even helping people manage their lives more effectively.

I’ll keep exploring and hopefully land in a place that works for me. Where I can grow, learn, and do more, and hopefully have a life too.






Short post 4.

I am doing 5 minute writing exercises this week. Some friends are doing a hangout with me in a few…will try to get 5 minutes in before that happens. 

Today was a long day. This has been a long week. Seeds aren’t germinating in one of my experiments. My fault, grabbed a bad batch of seeds, I think :(. They will be tossed. I need to write. I need to do big things.

I need to embark on a new project for myself because the ones I have are feeling stale and I just need to do something more with life. This can’t be all there is. I keep avoiding this because it frankly sounds daft in my head: ‘yes, I do communicate science, I love it and I get paid to do it sometimes’.

I seem to gravitate towards education, communication, marketing, writing, curiosity, learning, all of that. I saw that happify infographic that went around awhile ago about introversion and I found myself saying yep..all those careers that introverts work well in are ones that appeal to me, I am a scientist (or I play one, at least?).

how does all that daftness translate into a new direction? How do I make time to explore? With experiments this week, it’s not happening. I’m taking less good care of myself than I should this week so far, and that probably isn’t good for me. But I am going after things rather intensely…leavning it all on the field as it were and that feels good.


Dream on.

I was having a conversation with @Doctor_PMS (Great twitter handle, great tweets and a great profile picture— and that’s pretty much all I know about her) on twitter last night about a tweet I put out saying that I choose life over a tenure track position. While I was partly joking, I really am leaning against going down the tenure track— playing the Tenure Track Games or Tenure Track Wars, insert other movie parody title here.

She was saying how she felt like giving up on going for a tenure track job would basically be giving up on her dream. Of course, everyone has their own path. And I’ve made peace with the fact that I don’t think I want that tenure track job any more (am I open to it if I think I have a shot at one— yes, I think so). She asked if this was just a temporary feeling that could go away, which is a good question and one reason I’ve kept going and not jumped off sooner, but the feeling hasn’t gone away. But where do I go from here? What’s next? I still don’t have a good answer. One of my favorite bloggers @sarahkpeck has this picture on her blog, :

SwimOutToYourShip That tenure track job was the obvious ship to swim out to. Or it’s one that’s moored to the pier and is right there to jump on if it weren’t for the captain of the ship denying me permission to board (probably with good reason). It’s what I have been working towards for a long time and letting that go is hard. Very hard. Like I’m a complete failure. I’ve been listening back to the Brenè Brown’s interview on On Being that was re-run this weekend. One idea she brings up is the idea of shame vs. guilt. It’s the difference between ‘I am bad’ and ‘I did something bad’. I know I’ve written a lot about her work before, but I find it really hits me in my core; to the point where I tear up about something nearly every time I go back to it. So I’m trying to strongly distinguish between wrapping my complete self-worth up in my work (what I’ve basically done my whole scientific career) to just feeling like I have value no matter what I do. And jumping from the tenure track path would certainly help me prove that.

@Doctor_PMS also asked me if I was scared of the tenure track. And yes, but nervous in the sense that it would be new and different and an adjustment; all things I think I could get past. But my number one fear is that if I were to keep pursuing the tenure track job— or get one— that I wouldn’t be able to have a life outside of work. I know that there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary; PIs have lives. Many have kids, hobbies, spend time on Twitter, etc. But I need time to date someone, spend time getting to know my significant other, stuff like that. If I’m putting in 80 hours/week (more?) as a pre-tenured professor, I just don’t see that happening. And that really does scare me to the bone about a tenure-track position.

So if I’m not going to board the tenure track ship, where’s my ship that I do want to swim out to? I don’t have a good idea. @eperlste is taking the start-up path which I admire a lot but don’t think I’m in the position to do that. He’s the guy who crowd sourced a meth-lab for science! Wow. And small scale plant science…I’m not sure how that would work. I am trying some new things though, which I’m not sure where they’ll go. I do need to engage more and not stay in my own little brain bubble that I occupy a lot of the time (hazards of introversion?).

I am rooting for @Doctor_PMS to get herself a tenure track job. I will celebrate if I hear she gets one. My heart, may brain want something different for me though. I’m not very satisified with the bench work that I do; despite trying to spice it up and make it exciting with the things I’ve been working on and learning to do. I like to write (why I started a blog). I like education still even though there doesn’t seem to be money in it. I like technology/computers even though I don’t know how to code really— but am trying to learn some of it. I want to help improve the mental health of people in the world— especially scientists. We don’t do our best work in a cloud of perfectionism, despression and anxiety. Is there a career in those series of interests? Those things that seem to drive me? I don’t know. I hope so. I have to make it so.

Going back to Brene Brown, in the ‘On Being’ interview she says that hope comes out of adversity. I don’t know if I’ve faced real adversity in my life yet or not (certainly not in a lot of ways— always had shelter, food, water). It’s one reason I think I’ve become a Whovian— The Doctor faces adversity all the time and never gives up hope even when it seems like there’s no way out (it helps that he’s the smartest being in the universe I suppose— and yes, I also know it’s a TV show and writers can hand wave and get The Doctor and friends out of anything— but I still get engaged and emotional about a lot of the episodes). Or to use another movie analogy I think I’ve used before. Academia is somewhat like Shawshank prison and the Andy Dufresne character represents hope to those who want to get out but some are held back with reason— like Red being afraid of being ‘institutionalized’ and not able to function on the outside. Where’s my Zihuatanejo?

For any of us postdocs who have been seeking the tenure track and don’t see a way that it could possibly work I have some hopeful words to part with. I told @Doctor_PMS about Conan O’Brien’s 2011 Dartmouth commencement address (that I’m sure I’ve talked about before in this space too) where he talks about going for his dream job of hosting ‘The Tonight Show’— which he did—until NBC basically took it away from him. He’s landed on his feet though and has had what I think is a good career over on TBS doing some very funny things in his format. He talks about how it’s OK to adjust your dreams when life happens to you. Because it will— and for many postdocs I think it’s coming up on the now (I hope) widely known fact that 80% of us will not end up in tenure track jobs. And I have no interest in becoming a permanent adjunct faculty person. Try something new. Tenure or bust is fine if that’s really what you want, but I’ve come to think that that singular focus did more harm than good for me personally.

2013 has been a year of me trying a lot of new things. To most, I think most of what I’ve done will seem tame and my comfort zone exceedingly small. I hope I’ve laid some decent groundwork to leap into 2014 and try even more new things. And my hope for every postdoc is that you try something different and new in the next year if only to glimpse what else might be possible.

Ever on and on.



Publish or perish.

Update/Note: This isn’t my most sunny post- trigger warnings may apply. In fact, if you’re thinking along these lines (especially if it’s more than just a temporary low that everyone goes through) and haven’t spoken to someone about it- a family member, close friend or counselor- you might want to. Despite doing better, I can still get in this depressive mindset and feel like giving up on life at times- and it does sound like this in my own head. I recover more quickly from these moods than I used to- in fact, this was a near permanent state for several years in a row. As a friend of mine said, “I won’t let anyone talk about you like this, including you”. Exactly. I still don’t have all the answers to what to do other than work hard and become the best I can at what I’m working on now and being open to opportunity. Stay well, friends/readers. This blog is supposed to help people- through telling my own story of getting to a healthier place in my brain.


Publish or perish. The words every academic has spoken, knows by heart and uses as a sort of oath. Publications are the currency of the academic world. You can never have too few. The acceptable number does vary by field but the only not acceptable number is 0.

I’ll admit it. I have 0 publications as a postdoc. I feel worthless. I’m working on one now that is not exciting, not groundbreaking and in my opinion not even worth the server space or the publisher. What have I been doing in my postdoc? Mostly failing. Being perfectionist, which is a real problem. Perfectionism is good fuel for depression, which is also a problem. I’ve been working on a lot of things that just don’t seem to work out as stories- and because I’m a perfectionist, I don’t want to contribute something that’s just plain wrong because I made a stupid mistake. That’s probably my fault too. Make your own luck. Chance favors the prepared mind- all that good stuff- perfectionism and depression are not good for making your own luck or preparing your mind or opening up to anyone for that matter.

Would I dwell on this so much if I had a lot more going on in life otherwise? Probably not. But I work so much because I want to get something real done and haven’t been able to- at the expense of everything else I might spend my time doing. Maybe some time off would make me more productive- or taking time to develop other interests. Mono-focus on work isn’t healthy, even in science. As others have pointed out, science is a job- knowledge worker- and not a religious calling; even if it seems that way sometimes (and the marketing hype of becoming a scientist says so too).

0 publications. I’m worthless. I might as well perish. Tragically, I imagine some scientists take that literally (even ones who have published and don’t feel their record is good enough)- seeing no path to success- since not publishing means you’re worthless not just in academia, but anywhere else too (how do you show you were productive otherwise?). Nothing else matters as much. Teaching & bringing molecular bio to where it hasn’t been before by developing a whole new class? Who the F cares? Science outreach? Nobody cares. Writing a blog? Nope. Brewing your own (mediocre) beer? Running a half marathon? Ha! And ha! Being a (mostly) decent human and trying to support/celebrate your friends’ successes in life? So ridiculous. Your friends have other friends, they’d get on fine without you. Getting your professional society to advertise a conference hash tag? Ha! No one noticed. 0 publications = worthless human, period.

Guess I should quit whining and get back to the lab and forget a life. Because until I publish something I’m completely worthless as a human and may as well perish*.

Ever on and on.

*No, I won’t do anything to actively make this happen. This reflects how I feel on my worst days- in my worst moments. I do really worry about myself sometimes- but a lot of what I do is in service of surviving- exercise, taking a day off work (on a weekend- not a weekday) and yes, trying to finally do good science, which is hard when you’re not depressed, harder when you are.


Jobs. This is a post about the new academic job application season. Is it even worth bothering? I don’t even know any more. Every job application expects an active research program when that is very hard to get started and do these days and it may even get worse. So why should I bother? I still don’t think I’m the best candidate, but I’m working on it. This blog is about my journey to get my brain tuned into a active, thinking, creative, world-interacting machine (coming from a place of anxiety, depression, and all the life-stalling thought patterns that arise because of those things. Or as I’ve called it before, this is a blog about how not to be a postdoc and I hope I can help others as well as myself through my writing). 


What are the features of my ideal career? What areas does it involve? Here’s my list of features, in no particular order:

  • Education– particularly around science as well as figuring out how people effectively learn
  • Improving mental health/preventing problems before they arise– whether minor tweaks to life or major interventions. While you can live with depression, I don’t recommend it- you always risk being a shell of the person you are.
  • Science– This seems like an obvious one. I do love science and what it can do to transform the future, solve problems and generally stimulate the mind and spur someone on to learning new things. What question do I have that you’re passionate about? What does it take to answer them? I seem to gravitate towards environmental/sustainability/resiliency issues, so maybe there’s something there; after all, a lot of those things are plant dependent.
  • Quiet– I’m an introvert, without question and would need an environment where I could think, read, process, and then spit something out when I’m ready. I’ve always been deliberate about things I do- painfully so in many cases- but I hope in some ways that’s a good trait that is advantageous in some jobs somewhere. I do like people; I just need my alone time to recharge so I can be fully present when I do socialize. I can literally ‘break’ and freeze when over-stimulated (thank goodness for the internet- it’s a game changer for us introverts to be heard).
  • Entrepreneur- This is a new one for me and I’m not sure what it means to me yet, but I do feel like someone who wants to build things and put them into the world to help other people. What is it I’ll be creating? My science? Some fancy software app? A piece of art? In many ways, I’m not even equipped to carry these things out, but I am willing to learn. The first thing is getting an idea for something that doesn’t exist now that I wish did because it solves a problem the world needs solved. Resilient/sustainable coffee farms are one thing on my list because I work on plants and I love my morning coffee. And of course, I do like to write, but I’m not convinced that that’s a real job (for me just now, anyway).
  • Reforming the (science funding) system– I’ll almost surely be science adjacent in my work. The current system is failing in many ways it seems to me. Or a bubble is bursting and in the US, there might be a whole generation of lost scientists who would do great work that won’t because they look at the mess of the science enterprise and say ‘F#$k no’. It’s bleak out there. Any shred of good news comes from new discoveries and breakthroughs that still get made. It’s never good news about careers in STEM or good funding news. How do we prepare current postdocs and Ph.D.’s to go on to have good careers? Both training and cultural changes will be necessary. And more money isn’t the exact solution; competitive funding works well, though my feeling is that it’s too competitive now; so much great science gets left unfunded. So funding would help with that. But the closed, isolationist (both from society & other disciplines), single-track career culture that exists now has to change. Anything a STEM trained person goes on to do ultimately is a boon to the science enterprise and should be treated that way.
  • A personal life- I don’t have much of a life outside my work. I want one. So any job I have will have to have room for me to carve out a life to meet new people (maybe even a significant other), spend time with friends, possibly travel & learn new things not related to my work that I just want to learn. I know that no employer actually cares that their employees have this in their life, but I imagine it does make for happier employees.

How do I achieve those things in my life, in my career? And does obtaining an academic job make any of these features more or less likely?

One step at a time. Breaking things down into smaller steps.

Here, I’m assuming I get my dream job at JKL University and what I envision that looking like- I am completely aware of how unlikely it is to actually happen. But this is my space, so I’m going to dream out loud a bit.

I will be putting together at least a few applications for academic jobs this time around. And I think I would still love working at a small liberal arts university. My ambitions beyond research and teaching (yes, even at liberal arts schools, they’re in that order no matter what they say) would be to work with as many of that school’s learning center and other faculty to develop excellent learning environments that work for both students and professors. I feel like that’s where entrepreneurship comes in. Building something beyond the department. Perhaps this goes on already, though I don’t observe a lot of it at the universities I have visited. The other big challenge is integrating my research program and my teaching into one as much as possible. I’m not sure exactly how that’s achieved, but it is a synergistic interaction; both research and teaching get better. As would my own- and hopefully the student’s communication skills, since writing/talking about work in language everyone can understand would be necessary.

I know a lot of campuses have focused more on mental health lately. That is a good thing. As a professor, I am uncertain as to what my role in that framework is; perhaps just referrals to counseling or actively listening and paying attention, though any student asking me about anxiety, depression or impostor syndrome would get an email containing some resources/voices that have helped me get out from under those particular clouds. The thing about getting help is that you have to find the exact voices that work for you- that resonate and they may not be the same ones that worked for me. Medication can help in some cases, but isn’t the only thing. Exercise is greatly therapeutic too. A social support network is key. Developing one of those can be difficult, but it’s worth the effort; and that will ultimately help with almost everything else in life; and ideally having a diverse social circle.

I’ve noticed that successful entertainers often come in clusters. Each individual does distinct things, but a group comes up together and they keep helping each other, cheering each other on. Their sensibilities are similar enough that you’ll like a whole raft of them. It doesn’t have to be a strong tie either, it can be a weak tie and it still works. But that social network is always important. If I can successfully conflate my work and personal life in that way, I think I’d be happy with that; loving what I do and being around people I like who do similarish (yes, I made up a word) type things as I do. I don’t know if it’s too late, but I am trying to develop a stronger network of people to enable my work and my life generally. I think scientists and entertainers share a lot of DNA as both are creative endeavors and so I think there’s a lot that can be learned from each other.

Finally, at JKL U., I’d likely have my own office. I could shut the door and work for a few hours and schedule times my door would be open for visitors.

Something else?

 I get hung up on this still. What else to do if not academia? What’s my dream outside of the academy? What else is out there? I don’t even know. My academic labs haven’t prepared me to even consider looking for things that aren’t Tenure track. The river of academic culture all sweeps downstream towards that one goal. And anything else is considered failure- even if individual PIs in academia don’t think that, that is the overwhelming culture. On one level, to work in an academic lab, it takes that level of focus/ambition. However, these days, students and postdocs are ill served by that system as almost none of us will end up in faculty positions. Again, competition is a good thing, though I think there’s something that can be said that it’s too fierce; and you’ll lose people who are great, but just aren’t comfortable staying in that environment.

However, making the leap out of the academic bubble is difficult; maybe it’s not a bubble and is more like a glass wall?

On top of the academic jobs apply for- with my newly minted Ian2.9 brain that is healthier, more upbeat, more interconnected, more whole, I want to explore other things that might meet my ideal career characteristics.

Jobs aren’t easy to apply for these days. It requires a multi-media, fully integrated package that really wow’s a key decision maker/committee of decision makers. Time to continue the work of finding my ideal life. With coffee.

Ever on and on.