Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How to Start a Postdoc Union

It is not news that Postdocs are routinely underpaid and overworked. They often have poor benefits, such as no paid maternity leave and few (if any) sick days. It is also not news that Postdocs are doing more postdocs than ever before. A stagnated job market has led to a startling increase so called “Permadocs”. It is critical to improve the working conditions of postdocs. How to effect positive change can seem overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. In this article I will cover how to start your own postdoc union.

Step 1: Network. 

First you need people before you do anything. And not just anyone…

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Unions Benefits – More Than a Better Salary

Having always been in Academia and never in a Union, when I used to think of Union benefits I just though of better salaries, better healthcare benefits, and more time off. But recently when talking to the University of California's Postdoc Union I realized that a Postdoc Union offers much much more.

Unions Benefits – More Than a Better Salary!

A Formal Way to Resolve Problems

If you have a problem with your mentor or University, without a Union you will have to resolve these problems yourself. This results in many problems not being resolved at all, but in a Postdoc quitting. Because without an experienced team to back you up, you may just decide the “fight isn’t worth it”. And this means the subtle, persistent problems in Postdoc work continues.

Unions got your back though. Unions provide a formal way to resolve grievances if they cannot be resolved otherwise. With a union your University will no longer be able to unilaterally decide your outcomes. You will have the option of working with a third party.

Unions as Political Machines

Besides getting their Postdocs better benefits, unions offer Postdocs a unique political voice.  For example in 2011, UAW Local 5810 got involved in comprehensive immigration reform – an important issue for UC Postdocs, as many UC Postdocs are on training or guest-worker visas.

Unions as Information Sources

If you have been a new Postdoc you know how overwhelming it is figuring out your new benefits.

How much your health insurance copay is? What if you have a kid?
What is your health coverage?
Do you get sick days?
Personal days?
How many hours a week are you required to work?

Well a Union’s job is not only to get you better benefits, but to also make sure you know your benefits, AND how to collect on them. UAW Local 5810 website is a great example.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

California’s Bellwether Postdoc Union

I first heard that University of California (UC) Postdocs had a union when I was doing my postdoc in Stanford, California in 2012. I was not in the union because Stanford is not a UC school - Stanford is a private university. But was intrigued by this union. Because while my health insurance benefits at Stanford were getting worse, UC postdocs' benefits were getting better. And this got me thinking…Maybe we need to start more postdoc unions?

For those that do not know, the California University system is huge. It includes ten universities, including such giants as UC San Diego, UC Davis, UC San Francisco, and UC Los Angeles. UAW Local 5810 represents a majority of the 6,000 Postdoctoral Researchers at the University of California. 

The first round of UAW Local 5810/University negotiations dragged out for a year and a half. And were contentious. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

We Need to Reform Academic Research

There is a reason this tweet was so popular last week. It resonates with academic researchers. Who are mourning, not just the loss of their colleagues or their own careers, but also for the future of science in America. Years of poor, unstable funding is taking its toll...We need to change this.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Science or Scientology???

Has Your loved one Joined Academic Research or a Cult?

Take this quiz and find out!!

Does your loved one...

  1. have to answer to an all-knowing, all-powerful authority figure/mentor? 
  1. seem to get their exclusive validation from this mentor?
  1. seem afraid of reprisal for questioning the efficiency or morality of their organization?
  1. have unreasonable fears about the outside world? Such as #altac alternative careers? 
  1. have paranoid thoughts about a "dark side" called industry?
  1. have an irrational loyalty to their organization? 
  1. feel that former followers are always wrong in leaving? 
  1. shun former followers from social events/conferences?
  1. feel they can never be "good enough"? #impostersyndrome
  1. spend the majority of their time exclusively with other members?

If you answered "yes" to 7/10 of these questions then sorry, your loved one is part of a cult academic research.

This list was creatively adapted from Cult Education Institute and obviously should not be taken seriously.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Authorships are Not Party Favors - Not Everyone Gets One

Publications are where it is at. For better or worse, "publication record" is the cover by which scientists are judged. So make sure they are accurate. Know who deserves an authorship and who does not.

Not everyone gets an authorship. Even if they really REALLY want it. There are rules

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Ethics of Using Human Research Subjects

As a biomedical researcher, at some point you may want to use humans in your research. Involving people in your research may be a simple as procuring information from their medical records, or as complicated as running a Clinical Trial. But whatever the reasons you want to use humans in your research, you need to act ethically.

The ethics surrounding human research subjects will be policed by your mentors, other researchers, and your institution's institutional review board (IRB). However, you should not just assume that if you are not getting in trouble during your study that you are acting ethically. A recent paper found that one-quarter of all clinical trials remain unpublished because of 'ethical failures'. Do not be one of these unpublished studies.

As scientists I also believe that each of us needs to police ourselves, because without the public’s trust, we can kiss future funding and future human research subjects good-bye.

What is considered ethical in human research studies is covered beautifully in The Belmont Report.

Saturday, October 5, 2013


The government shutdown and corresponding shutdown of biomedical research makes me glad I am no longer in academic research.

Here are some of the posts on my Facebook page this week:

Friday, August 2, 2013

Story time: Work and Family, and My Existential Crisis

2011 was the year of awesome. I was 28. I was top of my graduate class. I submitted and defended my PhD dissertation, and had a blast doing it. I landed a prestigious postdoc position in a new field I was interested in. I gave the commencement address for the Graduate school -- a lifelong dream of mine. And I was pregnant with my first kid, a boy, due that summer. It was a good year.

I had always wanted to be a professor

Sophomore year of high school I set my goals upon a PhD and a professorship  The idea of spending my life cultivating knowledge, teaching, writing and doing science was intoxicating. I was 100% committed to this goal. Nights, weekends, 20-mile bike rides everyday to work in the rain. I was “in it to win it”. I knew I had what it takes, and I was doing all the right things to make it happen.

Then I decided to have a kid...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Remain a Heretic

Dr. Redig
There I am, as you can tell by my face, mid-commencement address. The follow is a transcript of that address. 

"  At first, when I learned I was going to give this speech I was excited. But then quickly I realized I had no idea what I was going to be doing. So I did what I always do when I need to figure out how to do something. I went to the internet. 
When in doubt...to the internet!
(Except I know better than to use Internet Explorer)
More specifically, I went to my Facebook page and found that little box of “favorite quotations”, which I had been adding to over my time in graduate school. And in reading these quotes I realized that my struggles in graduate school are the same struggles I will have going forward. Thus, today I want to share with you some of the quotes that helped get me through

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Writing Tip: Scrivener, the Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread-That is if Sliced Bread Could Help Your Dissertation Writing.

We all need help writing our dissertations. Writing a dissertation is daunting. Luckily you are not the first to do it and there are some really nice, if not well known, writing tools out there. Here I review the Scrivener writing software program. Scrivener was designed for fiction writers, but it is also a great PhD dissertation writing tool.

A writing tool that makes draft management easy

Microsoft Word is great for writing a letter or even a 10-page paper. But when you sit down to do serious writing, such as writing a dissertation, Microsoft Word is a totally inadequate dissertation writing software. There is simply no good way to organize your different drafts and subsections while using Word.

Most dissertations are well over 100 pages and contain 4-8 chapters, with countless subsections. And these chapters and subsections are rarely (if ever) written in the order that they appear in the submitted dissertation.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Story time: How my love for science changed after having kids...

As a women scientist, fully dedicated to my career, I feared that having a family, specifically kids, would make me love science less. Afterall, so many women in academics leave their science careers after having kids. But this was not my case. After having a kid, I still loved science just as much. What surprised me after having a kid, was how much a I loved my son -- that was off the charts.

Here is how much I loved my science career before having a family.

Here is how much I loved my science career after having a family.

So "How did my love for science changed after after having kids?"

...It didn't.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Writing/Interview Skills - Postdoc Example Academic CV

Here is an old academic CV from my postdoc days. Obviously I modified it to hide sensitive information (grey text). But it should give you an idea of how a CV can look. Note, however, there are many different ways to do a CV that still follow the 10 rules laid out above. This was just how I choose to do my CV. I encourage you to experiment and find what works best for you. For CV writing tips see my other post 10 rules to a great CV.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Writing/Interview skills: 10 rules for a great CV

It is debatable nowadays, but traditionally your curriculum vitae or CV was a comprehensive list of all your professional accomplishments. Opposed to a traditional resume, which is shorter and  just hits the highlights. Today, though, these terms are often used interchangeably. However, in academia, which doesn't change fast, a traditional CV is king. Your CV is often the first impression you make with a prospective academic employer. So make yours great. Below are my 10 tips to how to write a curriculum vitae or a professional academic CV.

1. Best at top. Put the most important (read: impressive) stuff on the top 1/3 of the page. Readers often flip through CVs, only skimming the tops of pages. This is even more true if the reader is on an electronic device. So make sure you have something intriguing at the top of each page. This will entice your reader to read further.

2. Leave white space.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Writing Tips: Need to cite a webpage? Never fear, reference software Zotero is here!

Question 1: Have you ever returned to a favorite online article, days or months later, only to find it  changed? The blog edited, the editorial removed, the old news piece gone? 
Question 2: Have you ever needed to reference a webpage, for a paper or dissertation?  Did you waste minutes searching for the website's vitals, the date added and last modified, etc?
If you answered yes to either of these questions, then you are doing it wrong. You need     an online source manager. I am a Chrome girl, so I stayed away from Zotero for years. The original Zotero was a Firefox plugin. But recently they came out with a new stand alone Zotero version for Mac, Windows, and Linux. 

I use this standalone version and I really like it. It is great, with one click I can save a website, along with all its vitals. Zotero also takes a HTML snapshot of the webpage. This enables me revisit a website, months or years later, even if the online version has changed. 

Oh and it is free.