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4 months ago

Postdoccing abroad

This is a response to a Twitter exchange you can find starting here and is about whether spending time abroad helps progression in an academic career.  The discussion involves a number of academics involved with the Society for General Microbiology, who amongst other things, support career development of microbiologists in the UK. 

The opinion seemed to be that working abroad does help career progression. My concern is that this is only one side of the story, that benefits are anecdotal and unproven. I believe it can also be detrimental, both to the individual and to employment equality in universities in the UK, but that this is something seldom spoken about. 

I’m currently on my third postdoc, the first was in Liverpool, the second University of California San Francisco and now I’m at Imperial College London. 

The end of my Liverpool postdoc coincided with the RAE in 2008, and postdoc positions for microbial ecologists were scarce.  From postdocs job-hunting currently, it seems that REF has had a similar impact, though it’s hard to separate from the economic situation.

I was unable to limit my job search to the UK as the jobs simply weren’t available. I was lucky in that I didn’t have kids or a mortgage and that my wife was supportive, feeling adventurous and didn’t like her job much. 

When I was offered a position at UCSF in San Francisco I was again lucky in that we could just about afford to go, wiping out our savings, supported in part by some relocation expenses from my new boss and in part by redundancy pay from the University of Liverpool (many universities are reluctant to pay these to contract research staff or pay less than the going rate – challenge this postdocs, you are entitled).

My wife was unable to work whilst we were there. There is a work permit available, but it cost money to obtain and had to be annually renewed. She doesn’t work in science and jobs for her were hard to come by, so we had one salary coming in whilst we were there. I also took a pay cut, relative to my Liverpool postdoc salary. Many US universities don’t pay postdocs particularly well relative to the UK, though this will vary. The National Lab system seems to pay better and individual PIs may pay better depending on their funding sources. 

SF is an expensive city in terms of rent, but we were lucky again in that there are lots of ways to live cheaply, so that’s what we did for almost two years. The postdoc ended badly, for a number of reasons I only talk about when drunk. I quit and because I had a J1 visa, this was terminated too, so we moved back to the UK. No relocation expenses this time and no job to go to. I was unemployed for 6 months and we lived with my wife’s mum whilst she temped and I job hunted, again all over the world, but this time not knowing whether we would actually be able to afford to go even if I was offered the job. I was on the verge of giving up on science jobs altogether and retraining as a [no idea], when I was lucky again and I got a position at Imperial. 

I think the ability to postdoc abroad relies on a number of factors, none of which have anything to do with ability as a researcher:

  1. Luck
  2. Family circumstance – if you’ve got kids, a mortgage, disabilities, other family dependents it will be difficult or impossible.
  3. Local laws – we had to get married (we were already engaged, so no hardship!) in order for my wife to get a visa, what about LGBT couples? Your relationship may or may not be recognized in different countries and different states within that country.
  4. Money – it is expensive and can be very expensive. You may or may not be able to afford to go. Remember health insurance, impact on pension and UK NI too.

If as an employer you favour individuals, simply because they have worked abroad, then I believe that this is in fact discrimination against those who are unable to go and limits diversity in UK universities. Employment of postdocs and academics has got to be based on scientific ability, irrespective of where this experience was obtained. Advice to work abroad in order to progress your career is also exclusionary and reminds me of advice I once heard a senior female academic give a female postdoc with regards their career: “don’t have kids”. 

I would like to see data comparing postdocs who have spent time abroad with those who haven’t, particularly with respect to:

  1. Gender ratio – I’m expecting more male than female postdocs have spent time abroad
  2. Equality act protected characteristics – likewise, I’m expecting more single people, without children, without disabilities
  3. Socio-economic status
  4. Future employment – does it actually benefit or is this anecdotal?

It’s not clear to me the proportion of current permanent academics in UK universities that have actually done it. Postdocs that have left science since spending time abroad do not contribute equally to perceptions of the impact of these career paths. Where is the evidence that working abroad is an advantage for an academic career? If it is an advantage, is this simply an extension of employment biases already embedded in UK academia?

4 months ago

The Hope Of A Favourable Outcome by Carly Paradis from The Brothers Lynch on Vimeo.

Mesmeric Victorian phenakistoscope video accompanying Carly Paradis' The Hope of a Favourable Outcome

1 year ago

230 note(s)

Reblogged From:
explodingdog
High Quality
explodingdog:

Space Dog Escapes from the Black Hole Dragons.
NEW, Limited edition print! On sale now in my store Building a World
And if you have been waiting for new matted prints, I put up some new ones.
thanks
Sam

explodingdog:

Space Dog Escapes from the Black Hole Dragons.

NEW, Limited edition print! On sale now in my store Building a World

And if you have been waiting for new matted prints, I put up some new ones.

thanks

Sam

1 year ago

76 note(s)

Reblogged From:
shrinkwrapped
High Quality
thisistheverge:

Bus-sized lump of fat discovered in London sewer
London water authority Thames Water has discovered what it calls the UK’s largest “fatberg;” a mushy deposit of congealed fat and sanitary wipes. Found in a sewer in Kingston, South West London, the fatberg was roughly the size of a bus, and weighed 15 tons.

thisistheverge:

Bus-sized lump of fat discovered in London sewer

London water authority Thames Water has discovered what it calls the UK’s largest “fatberg;” a mushy deposit of congealed fat and sanitary wipes. Found in a sewer in Kingston, South West London, the fatberg was roughly the size of a bus, and weighed 15 tons.

1 year ago

370 note(s)

Reblogged From:
laughingsquid
High Quality

1 year ago

6683 note(s)

Reblogged From:
eurydicee

Tom Phillips - A Humument (1966-73)

“In 1966 Phillips set himself a task: to find a second-hand book for threepence and alter every page by painting, collage and cut-up techniques to create an entirely new version. He found his threepenny novel in a junkshop on Peckham Rye, South London. This was an 1892 Victorian obscurity titled A Human Document by W.H Mallock and he titled his altered book A Humument.

The first version of all 367 treated pages was published in 1973 since when there have been four revised editions. A Humument is now one of the best known and loved of all 20th Century artist’s books and is regarded as a seminal classic of postmodern art.”

(Source: likeafieldmouse)

1 year ago

47 note(s)

Reblogged From:
welovestopmotion

welovestopmotion:

The Ray Harryhausen Creature List by Mat Bergman

As a tribute to Ray Harryhausen death.

1 year ago

2 note(s)

A slightly better stacked bar?

OTU tables contain a lot of data, but they’re also sparse - mostly zeroes. Sample numbers are going up and up and displaying the data is more of a challenge. In an exchange on twitter with Nick Loman and Rachel Poretsky a little while ago, we bitched about stacked bar plots. Here is my attempt on how to improve on one in R using the ggplot package and starting with a standard OTU table from QIIME.  It’s an iterated stacked bar plot - so you’ve deconstructed your stacked bar (like a posh cheesecake) and each OTU now has the same base-line.  

image

For me, I think it’s easier to spot differences in particular OTUs across the whole sample set.  I quite like it for longitudinal data too and I add a white geom_vline between samples from each individual to delineate.

The code is a real bodge, I’m no coder, please suggest improvements on both that and the plot itself - we can definitely do better!  Thanks to Saffron for her help resolving some stickier bits.

Starting off in QIIME you will have a .biom format OTU table, Mothur also supports this format. I haven’t come across an R package that can use .biom yet though (I’m sure there will be be one - perhaps via picante?), so we have to convert it back to a more straight-forward table. I use QIIME for this, making sure I keep the taxa string (why you would ever want to lose this when you’ve spent time making sure you get it in the first place, I’ve no idea).

convert_biom.py -i otu_table.biom -o otu_table.txt -b --header_key taxonomy --output_metadata_id "ConsensusLineage"

That’s it for QIIME, now we switch to R, which is much more flexible and makes nicer pics.  

The taxonomy string handling needs improvement, as does the for loop and that awful bit where the data is read out to a text file then read back in again, but hey!  It’s a start.  

If anyone has another method for displaying this kind of data that’s better or different, please let me know!

1 year ago

2879 note(s)

Reblogged From:
laughingsquid
High Quality
adventuretime:

I missed this cool AT poster, Finntastic Four, from Mondo. Sold out at $40, too bad.
Poster by JJ Harrison. 18”x24” screen print. Hand numbered. Edition of 225. Printed by D&L Screenprinting. 
-Fred

My new obsession. Everything is improved by LSP.

adventuretime:

I missed this cool AT poster, Finntastic Four, from Mondo. Sold out at $40, too bad.

Poster by JJ Harrison. 18”x24” screen print. Hand numbered. Edition of 225. Printed by D&L Screenprinting

-Fred

My new obsession. Everything is improved by LSP.

1 year ago

2 note(s)

Dark and Wobbly

An adaptation of Nigella’s Gin and Tonic jellies (delicious though they are), here we have the…

Dark and Wobbly!!!

image

We halved the recipe, it makes 6 jellies if you use these cheap individual moulds (100 ml each) available from just about anywhere.  I’ve also upped the gelatine concentration slightly, with Nigella’s concentration it was all a bit slumpy when we turned them out and I wanted pert ones.

150 ml water (from the tap - could use sparkling for extra fizz)

150 g caster sugar (I want to try something dark like muscovado too)

Zest and juice of 1 lime (actually, a bit more juice is better)

200 ml ginger beer (we use Fever Tree as it’s tasty and has a kick)

125 ml dark rum (we used Captain Morgan’s spiced, rather than dark)

7 gelatine leaves if you’re leaving it a container (shot glass or something) I reckon 9 leaves for unmoulding and keeping shape (platinum grade - mmmm, hoooves).

We’ve got electronic scales and it saves time on measuring and washing up if you weigh the liquids. 1 ml = 1 g.  Also it’s more accurate as kitchen measuring jugs are incapable of doing 125 ml. Com plettley uncappabal.

1. Put the water and sugar into a saucepan, stir, boil for 5 mins, then take off the heat

2. Zest the lime and add the zest to the hot sugar syrup to steep for 15 mins.

3. Pour the ginger beer, rum and lime juice into a measuring jug, strain the sugar syrup through a sieve to remove the lime zest and add it to the jug as well.  At this stage you’re aiming to have about 300 ml in total volume.  If it’s really under, add more ginger beer and lime juice to make it up.  Careful adding more alcohol as you will start to affect whether the gelatine sets.

4. Soak the gelatine leaves for about 5 mins in tap water to soften. In a saucepan (I just give the sugar one a quick rinse) bring about 50 ml of water (2-3 tablespoons) to the boil, it’s just a puddle in the bottom so will boil quickly.  

5. Squeeze your gelatine leaves out a bit and add them to the boiling water, off the heat. Whisk them quickly into the water and they should dissolve away completely. 

6. Stir this liquid gelatine thoroughly into your tasty Dark and Stormy mix and pour into the moulds.  Bung in the fridge to set.

The gelatine will set in a few hours, but will harden further over time, so make 1-2 days in advance if you want to turn them out of the moulds.  The jelly also retains some fizz, but this lessens over time and by day 3 is a bit flat, I reckon the night before is fine.  

We were introduced to the Dark and Stormy by Tim Scott, @picklepeppers and @mikeyj (us!) tweaked the G&T recipe and @ojatkinson came up with the name.