Category Archives: decisions

My thoughts on (yet another) rejection

This morning I found out that I didn’t make it to the interview round of the homecountry fellowship I applied for. This was the second time I applied for this fellowship and the tenth time I applied for anything. This fellowship would make sure I could stay for another 3 years and have some time to apply for other things to try to establish my own group. You can only apply twice and this was my second try. For your reading pleasure I have organized these thoughts in two categories.

1. Pessimistic thoughts

Crap, now I only have 1 year and 3 months of postdoc time left if I don’t get another grant or fellowship. And with zero out of ten so far, why on earth would number 11 be more successful. Why would I even bother trying. If I didn’t get this one, why would I be more successful with a more senior fellowship? And why am I trying to get my poor little baby who is having quite some trouble sleeping at daycare used to this place if I’m going to then do something that a couple of reviewers and a committee think I suck at? Why have I spend the past four years as a post-doc instead of invest in trying to find another job? Because so far it seems the only skill I got from this is that I am remotely capable of dealing with a whole bunch of rejections. Is that useful anywhere?

2. Optimistic thoughts

Okay so I didn’t get this grant, but a lot of the review comments were actually pretty positive. It sucks that this one guy (yes I know who you are if you ask me to only cite papers from your own group) was very negative and said my CV was poor, but other than that they liked my ideas. The new lab that I will work in is headed by this professor who is really good at writing grants and might be able to help me improve. Also, I appear to be the only one who can do what I do in this group so they might want to try to keep me beyond the 1 year and 3 months that I have signed for now. And that would give me some time to try for the next things. Because I just found out that getting an ERC starting grant or the homecountry equivalent gets you a tenure track position at this university. Maybe if I get around this corner I can see the top of the mountain?

For the past two years I have told myself that if I got to ten unfunded grants I would stop and find a job outside of academia. But I think I’m going to try again. Because I tend to be optimistic most days.

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Filed under academia, decisions, disgruntled postdoc, finding a job, funding, grant writing, leaving academia, life in the lab, postdoc, review, science, women in science, worrying

Breaking up with my science idea

I thought I had a really good and exciting science idea and wrote it up in a bunch of grants. One went to one of the Marie Curie Actions, one went to another European thing that I’m not sure was a great fit for my grant and another went with a collaborator as a multi PI R01 to NIH. The Marie Curie thing got an okay score but wasn’t funded. The other European thing was the grant with a 3% funding rate and was rejected too. The R01 was triaged.

Back when the other European thing was rejected on twitter @Strangesource told me to submit ideas to 3 different funding sources and if none got funded to seriously rethink that idea. And this morning I read this post from Michael Tomasson saying that a triaged R01 needs some serious reconsideration, because there are only rare examples that those will be funded upon resubmission.

Soooo time for some reconsideration: to what extend was this “three strikes is out”? Does the European thing with a 3% funding rate count? Does the triaged R01 count since it was a foreign submission that according to some was a long shot anyway? Do I need to break up with my what I thought was a really good science idea? (It does kind of feel like a break up in a way…) And to what extend to I change it then? I realize I have some thinking and reworking this idea to do.

Feel free to give more unsolicited advice in the comments!

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February 24, 2014 · 1:11 pm

Why I decided not to have a home birth

This blog post has been in the making (in my head at least) for months if not years. Normally I write a blog post in 10-15 minutes after having thought about it for a while, but this one has taken me way longer. It has had different titles and different angles, but I think this is the final version.

When I was pregnant with Little Brother I was debating whether to have him at home. I wanted to blog about that process but I was afraid that my search of where to give birth would turn into a heated debate and I didn’t feel like putting on my meat pants. So I kept this search to myself. I do however want to share the process after the fact.

“Why would you consider a home birth?” one might ask. I think for the majority of women having a home birth in the US it isn’t about putting videos of your birth on YouTube. It’s about looking for an environment where you feel safe and have your wishes respected where possible. I considered a home birth for what you might call selfish reasons: wanting to sleep in my own bed after having given birth, not wanting a nurse to have to take my temperature while I was pushing a baby out because that was exactly an hour after she had last taken my temperature, not having to drive to the hospital while already in labor, because otherwise contractions might stop on the way in. So I asked my midwife (CNM, not CPM) at my first visit when pregnant with Little Brother whether she thought a home birth was an option (the CNMs in this practice attend births at a hospital, not at home). She told me that even though she thought I would be a good candidate (young, healthy, relatively smooth first birth), she couldn’t refer me to any CNMs because there are no CNMs attending home births in my area.

So I turned with my question to the lady who was my doula at BlueEyes’ birth. She was also the person who gave a child birth class, not hindered by much scientific knowledge (for example explaining how the cervix is a sphincter, which it’s not). And, as an important aside: this is what I hate about the current “child birth industry” as you might call it in the US: it is nearly impossible to find people to educate you about what kind of choices you can make regarding birth, and especially unmedicated birth, that are driven by scientific evidence rather than personal opinions.

So my former doula sent me an email with a bunch of names of CPMs in the neighborhood. I googled them and found some of their names on a listserv talking about learning to suture at someone’s kitchen table. And since I had a third degree tear with BlueEyes birth, that was too difficult for my midwife to suture and required the trained hands of the head of OB/GYN at the hospital, I started to get a bit hesitant about having a home birth attended by someone who learned to suture at someone’s kitchen table.

-For those of you who are going to say that if I wasn’t in the stressful environment of the hospital I wouldn’t have had a third degree tear: I don’t think that was true. I was laboring on my knees without anyone telling me how to push (which seems to be better for your urodynamic factors) but BlueEyes came out in one push with his hand next to his face. Little Brother’s birth taught me that even with very gentle pushing, a super comfortable environment, and my midwife having her hand on my perineum, a hand next to the face still meant a second degree tear in my case.

Also: what would I do if I switched to a CPM for a home birth but my baby would be breech or it would otherwise not be a low risk birth anymore? Then I could probably not easily switch back to my wonderful CNM practice. And would I trust this CPM to know if my baby was breech? And, the most important factor in my decision: you can’t argue with data. The recent release of the home birth death rate shows the home birth death rate in the US is 450% higher than hospital birth. (although these data weren’t there yet when I was deciding whether to have a home birth or not).

Another important reason was that in The Netherlands, where many low risk births happen at home, a significant proportion of women need to transfer at some point during or right after birth (sorry I can’t find this stat anymore, will keep looking to link to it!). What would happen if I would need to transfer in a country where this isn’t happening on a daily basis? Would the CPM dare to go to the hospital or would she be hesitant to take me there because of her fear of a law suit? Would I be in time? And how would the OB on call react to someone having attempted a home birth? What would my insurance say?

I have no answers to these questions because this is where I stopped my search and decided to have Little Brother in the hospital, with the same midwife practice as BlueEyes. It is a great practice where they encourage you to express your wishes and try to adhere to them as much as possible within the boundaries of science and reason. Looking back I don’t even know why I went on this quest of deciding to have a home birth or not but I guess it was necessary to feel that I made the right choice. I might have decided otherwise if I had lived in my homecountry or if my midwifery practice hadn’t existed.

Unfortunately, my midwifery practice is having a hard time staying in business. Not because they have too few patients -they are flooded with patients- but because apparently hospitals are hesitant to have women come in with birth plans and doulas. As Emily Willingham wrote better than I can say it:

“The obvious solution to the controversy is to offer choices that reduce perinatal stress, minimize interventions, and personalize birth—the great appeal of home birth and midwives—while ensuring a safe outcome with well-trained attendants and access to emergency facilities. The absence of options in the United States leaves this solution elusive, especially where hospitals lack a homey, low-stress environment and local midwifery care fails to meet the gold standard. Strange, isn’t it, that our nation, in the 21st century, can’t offer more uniformly safe choices for a low-risk pregnant woman seeking a healthy, low-stress birth for her child … and herself?”

I really wish the kind of care that I had was available for anyone.

I avoid the words “childbirth experience” because it makes it sound like you’re looking for the thrill of a rollercoaster ride instead of the safe and supported process of having a baby. I also avoid the words “natural childbirth” as a synonym for a pain-mediation free birth because what is natural these days? Can you drive your car to the hospital for a natural childbirth? Can you eat GMO-containing food after your natural childbirth and still call it that? I think it’s a weird word. 

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Filed under baby, birth, cultural differences, decisions, doula, health insurance, pregnancy, safety, science

Do you apply for a grant with 3% funding rate?

Recently I wrote about prioritizing: when do you choose to do experiments and when do you write papers and/or grants? Over the past year I’ve invested a lot of time in writing grants, with so far not the best results. And in my mind, that is the difference between investing time in papers vs grants. Papers will always end up somewhere, even if it’s in the Scandinavian journal of a Very Specific Sub-Subfield. But grants can get rejected, and then rejected again, and then go to die somewhere. Of course grants are just ideas (+ some preliminary data), whereas papers contain results, so it makes sense that it is this way.

But it does feel like a waste of time and energy when you have a grant rejected. And with the current funding lines of 10-20% (at least for most of the things that I have recently applied for) this will likely happen more often than not. But at which funding rate do you stop trying? I’m asking this because yesterday I found out that a fellowship  I applied for had a funding rate of only around 3%. They did not mention this anywhere, so I had for some optimistic reason assumed it would be higher. It was not. And I didn’t get this fellowship. Had I known that it was only 3%, would I still have applied? In this case, most likely I would have because I basically recycled an older application so it didn’t cost me that much time. But in case I needed to start writing from scratch I’m not sure.

So, where do you draw the line? Or do you always apply regardless of funding percentage?

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Filed under academia, decisions, grant writing, ideas, life in the lab, publishing papers, review, writing

Do as I say, not as I do: advice for foreign post-docs in the US – part II

This time I want to talk about finding a post-doc mentor. This topic of course not only applies to foreign post-docs but to anyone looking for a post-doc position. Lots and lots and lots and lots has been written about finding a mentor. And when I say mentor here, I mean the PI in the lab that you decided to join. Because of course you can always find more mentors in the people that surround you.

However, there are a couple things you might want to consider as a (non-native English speaking) foreigner:

First, a major reason – at least to me – to work in the US as a post-doc for a couple of years was to become more proficient in speaking and writing in English. In order to learn this, it is important that your PI, who you will be writing papers with and who will critique your presentations, is good at these things. This does not mean that your mentor needs to be American, but it is a good idea to go through hir publications and/or see them speak at a meeting and check out their style. Also, when you interview, ask who writes the papers. Because your mentor can be great at writing, if ze isn’t willing to teach you that, it’s useless.

Another reason for me to go to the US is that there are so many great scientific meetings here. Of course there are also great meetings in Europe, but living here is a great opportunity to go to meetings that are otherwise much more expensive to fly to. But you need to find out if your future mentor would be willing to let you go to meetings or whether ze chains you to the bench and never allows you to leave the lab. Ask this when you interview.

A last thing to consider specific to foreign post-docs is funding. Since your presence (and that of your family) here in the US is dependent on your visa, it is nice if your future mentor can offer you some guarantee of funding. Because it’s not that great if after a year the lab runs out of money and you need to find something else fast or you will need to leave the country. Of course another option is to come with your own funding – I will write about that later. Again, this is important for anyone, not just foreigners, but an important thing to remember is that if you’re not a US citizen, you’re not allowed to apply for an NRSA for example.

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Filed under academia, advice for foreign post-docs, cultural differences, decisions, funding, grant writing, life in the lab, managing people, meeting, mentoring, networking, postdoc, publishing papers, role models, travel

Should I stay or should I go? –part 2


Part 1 can be found hereand is about staying in Europe or going for a post-doc abroad. This one is about staying in academia or not. I’m clearly not the only one pondering this.
I know I’ve written about this before, but the question whether I am going to stay in academia or not came on the foreground a bit more after having received a faculty position rejection (from the homecountry) and a fellowship rejection. I guess it is safe to guestimate that given my CV and ideas I usually rank in the top 15-20% when applying for grants and fellowships (yup, the n is large enough to guestimate this from). Given the current funding situation, this might not be enough. And FYI, the homecountry (to which we are sure we will return now that husband has a position there) does not have the equivalent of SLACs, so the option to do research there does not exist. 
I gave myself another year(ish) to get a position and/or grants and if that doesn’t work, I’m going to look for something else. But is that a good strategy or should I start looking now and determine what skills I need and get those skills now? And won’t that take away from the energy that I need to spend on getting myself from the top 15-20% to the top 10 or whatever % that is necessary to succeed? How do other people do this? Can you do both at the same time? Please enlighten me, people who have successfully transitioned out of academia AND people who have looked outside academia but decided to stay (and anyone else with something useful to say)!

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Filed under decisions, finding a job, grant writing, postdoc

The ‘mommy wars’ – about the hardest decision in my life

We make decisions every day: some are small and have little consequences; like what will I be wearing today? Others are more life-changing; like are we going to move to another country? Other people often make different decisions than we do, and that is usually fine. We are rarely criticized for the majority of the choices that we make (well, unless you have a very improper choice of clothing perhaps). However, when it comes to deciding how to raise your children, there are lots of people harshly criticizing other people’s decisions, which the mediacalled the ‘Mommy wars’ (why not at least the ‘Parent wars’, since fathers need to make decisions about how to raise their children too, right?).  
So why is it that these decisions about raising our children, like sending them to daycare versus staying at home cause such conflict? I don’t think it has that much to do with whether you have the money to make any decision that you would like, even though the recent discussion started by Ann Romney made some people think that if everyone had as much money as they needed this conflict wouldn’t exist. I don’t think that is true, because even in circles where people have enough money to choose whatever they want (or in societies where government has more programs to allow parents to stay at home longer) these conflicts exist.
I think this is such a sensitive subject because to me the decision whether to send BlueEyes to daycare so that I can work was one of the hardest decisions in my life. Many decisions that we make are relatively reversible: if you’ve chosen the wrong clothes you can change, if you’ve married the wrong person you can get a divorce and if you’ve moved to a country you don’t like you can move back. However, the choice to stay at home or not seems less reversible to me. Not only is your child never going to be a baby again, but the stress of being in daycare may alter your child’s brain for the rest of his life (although this doesn’t need to happen when children have one caregiver who they can bond with). On the other hand, deciding to stay at home for four or more years will most likely severely disrupt your career, which is why to me it made sense to work for nearly nothing since most of my paycheck goes directly to BlueEyes’ daycare. So not only does this choice seem irreversible, it’s also not about money at all. It’s about whether you put your own needs before your child’s needs (and not in a straightforward way, because I think I’m much happier at work than as a stay-at-home-mom, and a happy mom hopefully makes BlueEyes happier). And because it’s the hardest decision in my life, it’s hard to imagine that other people do it different than me.
When we see people in clothes that we would never wear ourselves we can be polite and not say something about it, so why not act the same way when people make different decisions about raising their children?

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Filed under baby, decisions, science, working mom