Friday, August 17, 2012

In the field

Deep-sea coral snapped during a
SCUBA dive. (c) Rhian Waller
All of my friends seem to have such exciting lives! Check out Dr. Rhian Waller diving in Fjords in Chile in search of deep-sea corals living near the surface. Dr. Anna Michel is stomping around Alaska with a super fancy laser to measure changes in atmospheric composition.  (No, the laser is not attached to a shark. Too bad, I know.)

Dr. Michel conquering the Alaska wilderness.
Someone at NIH once asked me why I gave up such a cool job diving to the bottom of the ocean and finding new, strange species for... well NIH? I had very specific reasons - I wanted to learn molecular techniques at a cutting edge facility to bring back to marine sciences; I wanted to decrease travel for a while, so I could be with my kids while they were young. And I've accomplished what I set out to do. I have two wonderfully annoying kids and learned far more about developmental biology and molecular biology than I thought I would. Its about time to start putting a toe back in the water. 

I'll do some traveling with USAID. I don't know where but likely to some island nations and Southeast Asia. Not too shabby. The bonus will be that I'll also be helping the people there. I'm hoping to get some proposals submitted and funded during the next year, so I can get back into the big blue head first in 2014. There's something inexplicably beautiful about the sea spray smacking you in the face while you drop thousands of dollars of equipment into the water... hoping that you'll bring up something new and exciting.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Loose Ends

Advice to all of us in temporary positions or really ANY position... start keeping protocols and inventories as early as possible and as organized as possible. Fight the urge to put off organizing all of your reagents and work. There's always a new experiment to run, but the loose ends will come back to haunt you later. And now I'm at the end... the later... I should of learned this after my graduate school experience, but some how its not the same -- field ecology/oceanography and molecular biology. 

Molecular biology has WAY more protocols, solutions, reagents, etc, etc, etc. The next few weeks will be spent sifting through catalog numbers, gene ID numbers and a freezer full of clones, probes and 5 years of work. Its amazing how much of that will literally be thrown away.

I guess it could end up being a cathartic process... like burning your notebooks at the end of school year or after graduation. It always made for a great bonfire.

The process brings home, like no other, that this phase is over. I'm moving on. Forward. For now, its just a couple metro stops away to a new realm - policy. Then its to start my own lab... scary but very exciting!!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Job Search - my one regret

Though by the end I was getting tired, I actually enjoyed almost all of my interviews. Its a joy to meeting new people doing great science who are also interested in your own science. What can I say? I like talking shop... especially since I've been at NIH where I get fewer chances to do it.
There was really only one regret I have - 'the diversity seminar'...

I applied to all sorts of job ads - integrative biologist, biological oceanographer, marine ecologist, ecologist, modeler, and a very unique ad for Diversity in Marine Sciences. I have participated in many different outreach and 'diversity' programs throughout the years to promote my own research career and to help others in theirs. However, I never thought that it would translate into helping me get a job so directly. Still, I applied and actually got an interview at a top tier place. Wohoo!

It wasn't a bad interview but it was strange because no one really knew about the position. I had 'interviewees' ask me what they should be looking for. I had to give a research seminar, which I rocked, and then a modified chalk talk. The chalk talk was to consist of two portions - 1) contributions and plans to increase diversity and 2) research plans and goals. This is where my regret comes into play.

I can make excuses (I had a sinus infection. The committee wasn't clear on their expectations for the diversity plans. etc. etc.) but it comes down to the fact that I didn't deliver. I had a plan from which I deviated... to my own demise. I didn't practice it enough to know the important points I needed to drive home and which ones could be skimmed over. I hadn't thought enough about it in depth. I've always contributed to diversity efforts and even been a recipient, but not in a planned way.

One great thing about interviewing is that you ARE forced to think about what is important to you, where you want to go with your work and really life. Although it is crazy, stressful and hectic, there is a lot of time that must be devoted to reflection and personal goals to be successful. As such ideas spring forth and priorities clarify. I regret not taking that time. I don't regret the outcome of my search in anyways. I think Rutgers is the right place for me in many many ways... but still I would have liked to have put my best foot forward throughout the entire process.