Pre-candidacy

By Erica Tracey Akhter

Fall One

Beginning jitters
Give way to anatomy,
Imposter syndrome.

Spring One

Chasing free lunches
And perfect labs, unicorns.
All are elusive.

Fall Two

Maybe we got this.
Lets breathe a few minutes we’re
Halfway qualified.

Spring Two

Beware the confound
And inadequate controls.
Man, f*ck writing grants.

Fall Three

Thank God that’s over.
Wait, shit, again qualify.
Imposter anew.

….

But then, you have passed.
They say the third year is worst
So lighten and breath

A sigh of relief
Until science proves again
Always, we’re its bitch.

Lessons in Professionalism: Emails

by Claire McGregor

I was recently told that every interaction that occurs in lab is a professional interaction and should be treated that way. I wasn’t totally certain what that meant, but my good friend Phil seemed to have it down. So when he asked me to demonstrate some techniques for him in my lab, I figured that while he was taking notes on me, I’d secretly take notes on him.

First, Phil greeted me not with the usual, “Hey, Claire!” but with a quiet, “Excuse me.” He was dressed like he worked in an office, albeit a casual one, though this quickly changed as he draped himself in PPE. He stood very straight, laughed politely at my jokes, but offered none of his own. While I was showing him my skills, he took notes, asked direct questions, and did not gum up the atmosphere with any personal questions or anecdotes. At the end of the encounter, he asked about meeting another time, and finished with “I’ll be in touch” before striding out of the room. “Just text me or something!” I called after him.

Phil had been serious about being in touch. A few hours later, I received an email. Before you read this, I’d like to remind you that Phil and I are actually good friends—we hang out on weekends, he hosts parties for watching certain TV shows, and we shared a tent at camping before retreat. So I have to chalk it up to his incredible skill for professionalism that he was able to send this email with a straight face:

ClaireEmail1

I read this and I knew two things.

1. Phil had mastered professionalism in the lab, to the extent that I was nervous we might not longer be friends so much as colleagues and

2. I was ready to try my hand at this whole professionalism thing.

After copying and pasting Phil’s signature to be my own, I responded with this email:

ClaireEmail2

Phil, not to be outdone in formality or professionalism, followed up with this email:

ClaireEmail3

ClaireEmail4

Nailed it.

Stuff you should know but no one tells you: Employee benefits of postdoctoral appointments

By Meriem Gaval

Central Sulcus picIf you’re planning on seeking a post-doc you’ll discuss your interests, skills, and ideas with future PIs and labmates during your interview. Sometime between your research talk and dinner you may discuss your potential salary and sources of funding but it is unlikely that you will hear about the additional benefits provided to postdocs at the institution. This supplementary compensation includes health and life insurance, paid time off, parental leave, and retirement plans, all very important things that will influence your lifestyle choices over the next several years.

There are many different ways to gain postdoctoral experience and, while the work expectations are very similar between these settings, your compensation and benefits are very different. These may not even be standardized across all postdocs within an organization! Some seemingly obvious choices can also radically alter the benefits you receive. What we’d like to do next is briefly discuss some of the benefits currently provided to postdocs in different circumstances, with the intention of arming you with knowledge to guide your questions during interviews and help you make informed decisions about your next career move.

If your new postdoc is in an industry setting, chances are your employee benefits will be very similar or the same as other company employees. These will include a retirement plan with employer contribution, clearly set guidelines for paid time off, health and life insurance, and the ability to contribute to the national social security program. The NIH intramural research program has defined paid time off rules and provides health insurance at no cost to the postdoc, but does not provide access to retirement benefits or social security contributions.

The compensation of postdocs working in academic institutions varies wildly, and this depends on the institution, departmental affiliation, and source of funding. Some common sources of funding include departmental funding, grants awarded to and managed by your PI, an institutional training grant such as a T32, or an individual training grant such as an NRSA. If your salary is being paid by your PI’s grant(s) or by the university itself, in many cases you are considered an employee and are eligible for benefits provided to full-time staff such as health and life insurances, parental leave, retirement plan, and paid time off. On the other hand, if your salary comes from an institutional training grant (T32), many institutions will consider you a stipendee, not an employee. Stipendees are not always allowed to take advantage of the insurance group rate provided to employees, nor retirement benefits. In this case the stipendee would be responsible to purchase private insurance. While the NIH allows trainees up to 60 calendar days of parental leave, additional paid time off is to be determined by agreement with the advisor. T32s provide a training-related institutional allowance per fellow (NIH guidelines for 2014 are $7,850/year). These are most often used for travel and supplies, but the NIH considers health insurance a training-related expense. As such, your department or institution may require you to use this money to pay for your health insurance directly, or to partially reimburse you for your insurance-related out-of-pocket expenses, decreasing the amount of money you can use for travel and supplies. It is worth noting that some institutions will consider this allowance as income, so that your tax documents would reflect an additional $7,850 to your salary, even though this was not a direct compensation to you. Also, while employees are allowed pre-tax contributions to pay for public transportation, retirement, and insurance policies, stipendees are often not. This means you would pay taxes on a greater amount of taxable income.

What about competitive funding mechanisms? We have all heard of the importance and prestige of obtaining individual training grants, such as an NRSA. Unfortunately, when you obtain an NRSA as a postdoc, your employment status may change from employee to stipendee (this is the case at Emory). If this happens, the same financial pitfalls just described may apply to you. That’s right- if you obtain your own funding you may receive a bonus in salary from your PI, but you may also lose your health insurance as well as pre-tax contributions and employee matching to your retirement plan. If you are able to get benefits through your partner’s employer and decide to go that route, be prepared to spend time and effort justifying your new NRSA as a ‘life changing event’ to your partner’s employer, so you can enroll in their benefits outside of open enrollment.

We would argue that this is an unfortunate way to disincentive truly great funding mechanisms for training. However, these small but significant differences in your compensation package are not well-known and seldom talked about, so most trainees don’t realize the financial implications of the awards until after they’ve been accepted and disbursed. This is not meant to discourage you from applying to any fellowship or from pursuing a position with T32 funding. You should use this information to discuss the implications with your PI. Speak with your PI about ways to offset the financial drawback of obtaining a training fellowship. You may be able to negotiate a salary supplement, funds to travel to specific courses, workshops, or conferences, equipment, or hiring an undergraduate or technician to work on your project and increase your productivity.

Central Sulcus figureIt’s imperative to highlight that these issues are not the same at every institution or department. This is partly due to the lack of NIH requirements or guidelines for academic organizations to follow regarding compensation and benefits. Even the “NRSA salary minimum” is not required to be met if your compensation is coming from a non-NRSA funding mechanism. This pilot survey from the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) will give you a good idea of the diversity in institutional policy regarding compensation. The NIH is aware of the desire to standardize benefits for postdoctoral researchers and recognizes that training grants carry a financial burden on the awardee, as seen in pages 7-9 of the report seen here. As you interview for postdoc positions be proactive and ask current postdocs in the lab and the department about these policies. They are a valuable source of information and can put you in contact with key personnel to answer your many questions. Find out if the institutions belong to the NPA and whether they have an office of postdoctoral research, as these are a reflection of support and commitment to improving the postdoc experience. Better yet, become involved with the advocacy committee in either or both of these organizations and help change the current system.

Are you planning to run a research lab?

By James Burkett

Rubenvent
Kerry Ressler eats breakfast like this every morning.

As a PhD graduate student, do you ever feel like you’re being trained on everything about how to run a research lab except how to actually run a lab? You’re probably not alone. Every year, the Emory Office of Postdoctoral Education runs a training workshop called “Lab Management in Academia” to teach people exactly the skills necessary to do so. Until recently, this workshop was available only to post-doctoral researchers as part of Emory’s Office of Postdoctoral Education; Emory’s training program for post-docs is among the best in the country. This leaves us graduate students in the unenviable position of wondering whether our own post-doctoral positions at other institutions will prepare us as well as Emory could.

That may change this spring. I recently spoke with Dr. Mary DeLong, Assistant Dean of Postdoctoral Education, who is in charge of organizing this workshop. She indicated that this spring, for the first time, a limited number of advanced PhD students may be allowed into the workshop on a wait-list basis. The workshop has limited space, and priority will go to post-doctoral researchers.

If you are interested in enrolling in the “Lab Management in Academia” workshop series for this Spring and are a 5th year student or above, please contact Dr. Mary DeLong at mary.delong@emory.edu. More information on this course as it becomes available can be found at www.med.emory.edu/postdoc.

Off The Beaten Path: Nonacademic Careers of Neuroscience Graduates

Amy Mahan, Editor

Originally published September 2008.

In the past, graduates of the Emory Neuroscience program have been very successful at obtaining academic post-docs and then professorships at many prestigious universities. However, many of us are uncertain if we want to follow the traditional career path. Below are the profiles of three very successful alumni who have pursued other career paths. They highlight some of the many opportunities that are available to Emory graduates with a PhD in Neuroscience.

sulcus90Mark Borsody, M.D. PhD, 1996
Former Advisor: Jay Weiss
Astellas Pharma/Northern Neurosciences Inc.

After graduate school I went to medical school and then into neurology residency fellowship subspecializing in stroke neurology. Along the way I completed a basic science postdoctoral fellowship at the Ohio State University and the University of Chicago, and some clinical postdoctoral research for the American Heart Association. Currently I work as director of CNS drug development programs for Astellas Pharma US in Chicago. Our portfolio involves several candidate drugs for Alzheimer’s Disease, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain. Furthermore, I volunteer as a director for Northern Neurosciences, Inc., a 501(c)(3) charity organization that supports neuroscience research programs.

I took this career choice because it seemed a natural fit for a medical science background. It is the truest form of translational science that I have seen, and the research seems to have the greatest impact in terms of health care. I would be happy to speak with any Emory student who feels this might be of interest as a career path.

sulcus91Lisa Stanek, PhD, 2005
Former Advisor: Mike Davis and Kerry Ressler
Staff Scientist, Genzyme Corporation Cambridge, Massachusetts

I am currently a staff scientist at Genzyme Corporation, a biotechnology company based out of Cambridge, Mass. I run the Huntington’s Disease Research program. Broadly, I conduct in vitro and in vivo experiments to evaluate treatment strategies for Huntington’s Disease. My job involved designing experiments, managing research associates, fostering collaborations with academic labs as well as pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, attending meetings on relevant projects and analyzing data.

After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard I was pretty sure that academia was not for me. I thought I would give industry a chance to compare and contrast the two. I have been at my position at Genzme for over 7 months now and I am certain that I made the right choice by coming to Industry. I love my job and really enjoy the research project that I’ve developed. I have more diverse day to day activities and I really enjoy the structured environment as well as the clinically oriented research goals that the industry setting provides. I absolutely love my job and find my career exceptionally rewarding.

sulcus92Will Clower, PhD, 1996
Former Advisor: Garrett Alexander
CEO Mediterranean Wellness

Recently, Dr. Clower came to Emory to talk the Mediterranean Diet for as part of Step UP Emory.

Will Clower, one of the first graduates of the Neuroscience program at Emory, is CEO and founder of a company called Mediterranean Wellness. Mediterranean Wellness is an Comprehensive Wellness Program provider dedicated to bringing the latest in nutritional information, behavioral approaches, and creative strategies for health cost containment for our clients.

So how did a neuroscience graduate student go on to be a CEO of a company focused on nutrition and healthy lifestyles? After obtaining a Ph.D. from Emory in 1996 Will Clower and his wife Dottie Clower, both got postdoctoral fellowships at France’s Institute of Cognitive Science. In his free time while in France, Dr. Clower took an interest in cultural comparisons between France and the United States in everything from their laws to their diets to the different ways that the French conduct science. While in France, Dr. Clower began to publish on these differences in culture. What stood out the most was the diet and lifestyle differences, which is how he began to articulate the Mediterranean Wellness plan that is company is designed around.

When Dr. Clower returned to the United States, he began getting requests to give talks on this Mediterranean Wellness plan. Talks evolved into the creation of a website, which then evolved into a newsletter, which eventually evolved into Mediterranean Wellness, LCC as it exists today.

When I asked Dr. Clower, what he learned in graduate school that was most important for the development of his career, he replied that in his seven years at Emory, “learning how to learn” (Continued from page 2) was the most valuable skill that he acquired. Our understanding how the brain works will change over time, and trying to make your mark by the research you do in graduate school is like “trying to write your name in water.” The discoveries that you make during graduate school may or may not become a lasting dogma in your field, but the ability to learn new things is a far more valuable skill in the long run.

In addition learning how to “speak science” has served him well when interpreting and disseminating nutritional information to the lay public. Dr. Clower has been very successful at communicating this information through his publications and books such as The Fat Fallacy, The French Don’t Diet, and his latest interview with Barbara Walters.

Things you didn’t know you could do with a doctorate

Erin Hecht, Field Reporter

Originally published May 2008.

We’ve all heard Yoland say that getting a Ph.D. teaches you about more than just science. But just in case the whole academia thing falls through, here are some notable things that famous doctorates have done. Not all are recommended.

Be a rock star. Greg Graffin, lead singer of Bad Religion, got a Ph.D. in Zoology from Cornell University. His dissertation title: “Monism, Atheism and the Naturalist Worldview: Perspectives from Evolutionary Biology.” And Dexter Holland, lead singer of The Offspring, almost got a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the University of Southern California, but dropped out to be a rock star. On the other hand, Brian May, guitarist and songwriter of Queen, went from being a rock star to a Ph.D. in Astrophysics – he finished his from Imperial College London after the band broke up.

… or a sports star. Socrates, the famous Brazilian football (soccer) player, has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and an M.D. from the Faculdade de Medicina de Ribeirão Preto, which he earned while being a professional athlete. And Jenny Mascaro, a current Anthropology Ph.D. student in Jim Rilling’s lab, played professional soccer for the San Diego Spirit before getting into fMRI.

… or a porn star. Annie Sprinkle, who has appeared in over 200 films, has a Ph.D. in Human Sexuality from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco. Oh, the things you can learn with Google.

Lead a country. Woodrow Wilson is the only U.S. president to have earned a doctorate; he got his Ph.D. in History and Political Science from Johns Hopkins University. Condoleeza Rice, the U.S. Secretary of State, has a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Colorado. And Che Guevera, the Latin American revolutionary leader, had an M.D. from the University of Buenos Aires.

…or blow it up. Ted Kaczynski had an PhD .in mathematics from the University of Michigan. He had an NSF fellowship, and his dissertation on geometric function theory, which won an award of distinction, is available through Google Scholar. He quit a professorship at UC Berkeley to retreat to the woods and become the Unabomber.

Prove you’re more than a pretty face. Mayim Bialik, star of the 90’s TV show Blossom, is currently doing her Ph.D. in Neuroscience at UCLA. Her dissertation is on Prader-Willi syndrome. And if you don’t have a pretty face, there’s always radio: Tom Magliozzi of Car Talk on NPR has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Boston University. Bringing down the Ph.D. coolness factor, our own Santiago Archila appeared in the Hulk Hogan movie Thunder in Paradise, Problem Child 2, and more recently on the David Letterman Show (where he neglected to mention neuroscience).

Off The Beaten Path: Nonacademic Careers of Neuroscience Graduates

Amy Mahan, Editor

Originally published May 2008.

In the past, graduates of the Emory Neuroscience program have been very successful at obtaining academic post-docs and then professorships at many prestigious universities. However, many of us are uncertain if we want to follow the traditional career path. Below are the profiles of three very successful alumni who have pursued other career paths. They highlight some of the many opportunities that are available to Emory graduates with a PhD in Neuroscience.

200805CS22Brenden Gingrich, Ph.D., 1999
Former Advisor: Tom Insel
Patent Attorney, Partner
Knobbe Martens Olson & Bear LLP

I completed my Ph.D. at Emory in August 1999. My advisor was Dr. Thomas Insel, who is now Director of the National Institute of Mental Health. My graduate work in his lab focused on the neurobiological basis of social attachments. We used prairie voles as an animal model of attachment, since they are one of the few rodents that form pair bonds after mating.

I became interested in patent law as a possible career path when one of my former professors at Emory left to join a law firm in Atlanta. He returned to talk to us about the possibility of law as an alternative career at about the time I was beginning to consider where to do my post-doctoral work. After looking into it more, and talking with a fellow graduate student who left the Ph.D. program early to attend law school, I decided law was a better fit for me.

After completing my Ph.D., I went to law school at the University of Virginia School of Law. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at UVA. I found that my graduate training had prepared me well for law school. While I didn’t have the background in history or policy that some of my classmates had, I found that the ability to think critically and reason well that graduate school had taught me more than made up for it.

In September of 2003, after finishing law school and a one-year clerkship for a federal judge, I started at Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear, LLP, a southern California-based intellectual property law firm . I was made partner at the firm in January of this year. My practice focuses on obtaining patents for the biotechnology and medical device industries. The majority of my time is spent trying to convince the Patent Office that my client’s inventions are patentable. Almost every patent application is rejected by the Patent Office the first time it is examined, usually based on the argument that someone else has already invented the same thing, or that the invention is an obvious extension of what is already known. In response, I prepare written arguments that are based on both the science of the invention, as well as patent laws. I enjoy the work because it is not focused on a single aspect of science like my graduate work – I currently represent clients with technology in the fields of antisense therapy, molecular biology and genetics, pharmaceuticals, intravascular ultrasound, blood purification, microfluid processing, and surgical fasteners. If you are considering a career in patent law, I invite you to take a look out our firm’s website at www.kmob.com.

200805CS23Gillian Hue, PhD, 2008
Former Advisor: David Rye
Posdoctoral Fellow: Science Education and Ethics, Emory University

I defended my dissertation on a Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday morning I reported for duty at my post doc position in the Program in Science and Society here at Emory. I guess I didn’t feel like I needed a day off because this is a job they probably could have convinced me to do for free.

I ended up in the graduate program in Neuroscience because, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been curious about why (and how) we do the things we do; as cellular organisms, as individuals, as a society. As a grad student researcher, I worked in the laboratory of David Rye, who fostered and rewarded curiosity and allowed me the freedom to become involved in several educational opportunities. From a perspective of interdisciplinary research and teaching, I became increasingly interested in the interactions between science and society, how science is understood and perceived by Joe Everybody, and particularly how science is taught.

During my post doctoral fellowship I will be working on several projects that are related to Science Education and Ethics. In addition, a portion of my funding comes from the “Religion and Science” sub-section of the “Religions and the Human Spirit” Strategic Initiative of Emory University. Some of my projects will facilitate science and society dialogues and public outreach on divisive issues facing our society today, such as stem cell research, evolution and genetic engineering; issues which mark the overlap and interplay between scientific pursuits and religious tradition. Emory is uniquely positioned to explore this interplay given the rich resources and excellence in research and teaching in many of these areas.

This is an extremely unconventional career opportunity and I am thrilled to have found a post doctoral training fellowship which will allow me to integrate my varied interests in a way that will utilize my scientific research background with my teaching and curriculum development experience.

200805CS24Kelly Allers, PhD, 1997
Senior Principal Scientist, Pfizer Global
Former Advisor: David Rye and Jorge Juncos

From Emory, I moved on to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to take up a postdoctoral position with Judie Walters, investigating the neurophysiology of basal ganglia circuits. In 2000, I changed fields and countries to take up a further post-doctoral position with Trevor Sharp in the Department of Pharmacology of Oxford University in the United Kingdom. In Dr. Sharp’s group, the focus of investigation is on the dorsal raphe serotonergic system and its role in mood disorders. Within this group I carried out electrophysiological studies to investigate interactions between neuronal subtypes within the dorsal raphe.

My current position is as a Senior Principal Scientist within the Genitourinary Therapeutic Area at Pfizer Global Research and Development. In this role I am responsible for running an electrophysiology group that is primarily involved in exploring the pharmacology and circuitry involved in female sexual function and in bladder sensation. In addition, we develop physiological animal models to assess efficacy and pharmacology of novel compounds for treatment of female sexual dysfunction and overactive bladder. In this position I am also responsible for communicating our science externally, making decisions on utility of various animal models, and developing the scientific strategy for our product concepts.

The move from academia to industry was more serendipitous than planned – the position opened as my Oxford post-doc ended and I knew several people who had taken up positions at the Pfizer UK site. Upon interviewing, I realized that the quality of the science in industry, the speed with which things get done, and the focus on treatment of patients were all things that I desired in a permanent position. There are downsides to working in industry – the pressure is high to achieve something useful, your role/group/title/focus of research can change quickly and often; your allocated resources are tied to the share price/productivity of your department/ success in clinical trials or FDA approval. Scientists are not able to focus on one important question – you must be able to learn a lot very quickly and do a lot simultaneously: in four years at Pfizer my team has investigated 32 compounds targeting 18 different neurotransmitter receptors and have developed physiological animal models for premature ejaculation, female sexual arousal, and bladder sensation, in addition to doing studies aimed at investigating the role of hypothalamic nuclei on apomorphine induced sexual arousal. A further downside is that only about 1/4 of this work will be publishable due to confidentiality constraints. I would recommend to anyone curious about industry to take up a post-doctoral position with a pharmaceutical company. These tend not to come with benefits or salary of a permanent position – but would certainly provide an overall view of what the atmosphere is like and if you are suited to industrial science. I would also highly recommend expanding the job search to include Europe – where 25-30 days holiday per year are not only standard but you are STRONGLY encouraged to use them. Time off combined with the ability to get anywhere in Europe within a few hours is a great combination.

My supervisors have had a huge influence on who I am today. David Rye taught me more about being a scientist than any other single person I’ve encountered. He taught me how to focus my questions, how to interpret results accurately, and how to strive towards doing the best science possible. To this day I amuse my team with Dave-isms and stories of my grad school days in Dave’s lab. Jorge Juncos is packed full of ideas and enthusiasm and kept me motivated when things were tough. Jorge is always willing to introduce students to more senior scientists as he truly cares about their welfare. From Jorge I learned how to nurture my team and keep them happy. I left Emory with a Ph.D. in Neuroscience but more importantly, I left with the actual skills to be a scientist – and the enthusiasm that can only be generated in a place where people love what they are doing and do it exceptionally well!