Ah ha, the end of my postdoc is (hopefully) in sight. I feel good about it. I arrived naive and somewhat confused on these merry US shores 2 years and 3 months ago, and now I am more confident and focused. Happier. Productive. I can do more genetic STUFF. I consider my postdoc an enormous success, thanks mainly to the wonderful environment of the SSG and Epidemiology Departments at UAB. When I arrived, I could was clutching 11 peer-reviewed publications ( 8 first-author), a single award (Young Investigator Award) and one of the WORST grant submissions ever. My skill set included twin modelling and er…. twin modelling (maybe a Pearson correlation if I tried really hard). I stand now with
-19 publications (14 first -author), 6 more under review and 4 that are utterly complete and with co-authors or publications committees for approval to submit.
-An invited book chapter in review. A ‘waste of time’ according to a lot of academics. But exciting to me!
-6 awards (although I am gutted to have just missed out on another Young Investigator Award and been listed as ‘finalist’ only. Boo American Heart Association. Boo).
-1.5 students (I say .5 because I passed the reigns over to another faculty on one student, when her project developed into something quite out of my area of expertise). The ‘1’ student just had her dissertation accepted for publication in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
-3 grants! (1 nearly funded, and 2 in review). Possibly 2 more to come.
-New skills! I have run candidate gene, gene-gene interaction, pharmacogenetic, gene-environment interaction and epidemiological analysis. I like to think I can run a GWAS with the best of ’em (power calculations for replication samples, based on LD plots?? Bring it on).
So… there is still stuff to go. I have to get those ‘in review’ papers out. I need to do some longitudinal survival analysis and get stuck into some large cohort genetic analysis and a possible Mendelian Randomization analysis. I seriously hope to have done some good epigenetic work before I move on. And it is not like I didn’t make mistakes or at least learn some things the hard way, which is what will make for good posts for Reflections on a Postdoc parts 2+ . But, for just today, I am not looking back, but forward to post-postdoc life – and where my home will be. So far I have interviews at the University of Texas (Austin), St Jude’s Children’s Hospital (Memphis, Tennessee) and University of Alaska at Fairbanks. I am 98% excited beyond belief and 2% terrified out of my tiny little mind. I really should get to writing some job talks, but in the meantime I am thinking:
University of Texas
This is a wonderful opportunity. University of Texas consistently rates as one of the best research Universities in the US. I have a friend who works there, and I am seriously impressed by their Science, kindness and drive, which makes me feel good about the place. The facilities are awesome, and I think the support would be great, meaning I would stand a good chance of getting that still-elusive big grant. Austin is (by all accounts) a fabuloso place to live. And, this position is especially interesting. Rather than recruiting a general faculty member, the Dean is recruiting ‘Public Health Innovators’ — people whose research might change the way we view an aspect of public health, the way we research it, the way we treat people. I love this — it is a very prestigious position, and harks back to why I got into Science: to make real discoveries and to make a difference. In addition, this position comes with initial research support. I.e. cold hard cash, and not just in my bank account. While this doesn’t mean that I would stop applying for grants (oh, I AM going to get one soon) it does mean the progress of my research would not be so contingent on such, and so, I might get to spend a little more time focusing on the actual research and findings. Freedom, basically. I strongly believe that NMR data, and research into epigenetics will change our ability to prevent Type 2 Diabetes and to be offered the chance to pursue this is very exciting.
Basically, Texas seems like a good, solid, respected place where I have a good shot at really focusing on, and developing, a research program, which is my main motivation for moving. On paper, it is probably a clear forerunner. But:
University of Alaska at Fairbanks
UAF is a little different. They are more of a developing and growing department. That has advantages and disadvantages. But, it is certainly exciting, and it is likely I would not be one of several doing what I do, but one. Less immediate support perhaps, but they do have good support networks set up outside Alaska, and I bring with me a wonderful research team, spanning several phenotypes and data types, across several continents. They are keen to really help me get a grant, and the Chair is fascinated by NMR data – always a plus. I can see it as a place where after a while, I could really do something big, like set up my own NMR lab. I love the work at UAF into fatty acids, and dietary biomarkers. The team is small enough there that I hope they would welcome my involvement in these data. And I am fascinated by the differences in insulin resistance between the Alaskan Native population and those of European descent.
UAF immediately want me to have students – I LOVE mentoring students, it is one of my favourite parts of this job, and I have WAY more ideas than I could ever hope to fully write up myself, so this is extremely attractive. I was told, when looking at faculty, to ‘stay in UAB’s league’. It’s good advice, and I suspect that in terms of my type of work, UAF is not considered such. But, in a smaller place, with special grant mechanisms and a staff desperate to grow their department (through you), and desperate to encourage your collaborations, maybe my research would easily be in the league of what I would complete elsewhere – and it is that which I really care about.
As for living in Alaska. Yes, it is cold and (sometimes) very dark, but I don’t see that as an immediate problem. I don’t know why – I have always had a good feeling about this place. As has my (very Southern and warm-temperature loving) husband. So: exciting development opportunities and a chance to do whatever I want with my data and learn new things. That being said…:
St Jude’s Children’s Hospital
Quite a different beast this one. One of the first things I loved was the Chair of the Department. When I sent an initial inquiry he looked up my CV and then worked hard with me to talk about the position. That speaks of a well cared for Department. They are fairly aggressive and perhaps progressive in recruitment — open to someone from a different background, and happy to let me come and not do a job talk initially (I am going to though). I kinda like a Department that will really think out of the box like that. They wanted me to just meet them, and when I said that I might get a K99 and be tied to UAB for the next 2.5 years they said they were happy to think very long term and beyond that point. It just really speaks of a well managed and well cared for department.
Their research is just awesome. And makes a real difference. And, when I spoke to David about the interview he said “Well… people there, their main goal, instead of getting XX money, or expanding their Department into XX numbers tends to be along the lines of “well…. I really think this avenue of research will cut Cancer rates in children by 2% and my goal is to do that within the next 10 years”. It’s a lot of closely knit teams. And lots of hard money, so grants tend to be less important. That gives rise to a lot of job security and so morale tends to be extremely high”.
Focused, dedicated, happy people working to make a serious difference. What is not to love? I am not in love with the idea of living in Memphis, but that’s not a biggie, and I would be able to drive and see Sasha, Liam and Rachel regularly. And Stella. The adjustment would be smaller and so it balances out.
So, thanks be to God that with 3 interviews I no longer feel the need to apply for ‘anything and everything’ and can focus on positions that I really feel I am perfect for. In that vein I now have applications at The University of Iowa, Columbia University, Upenn, and Brown. And fingers crossed that I interview well, and UAF, Texas or St Jude’s are interested, because I can see me being happy and productive at all of them.
Right… off to finalize a paper and get it to (another… yawn) publications committee. Whoop! To all those interested in, and following my ups and downs with academia, check this girl out: