I will do a summery of my week (4th December 2017 to 10th December 2017) on twitter for La Bio au Labo.
@laBioauLabo is a french twitter account welcoming each week an academic person: PhD student, post-docs, PIs, etc. The idea is to talk about sciences, our research projects, our experiments and our life as an academic researcher.
Monday 4th, I have twitted about my school history. In brief, young, I already knew I wanted to be a biologist (more specifically a physiologist) so I have followed the direct academic pathway: Baccalauréat scientifique, license degree in physiology and master degree in cellular neuroscience at the university of Strasbourg. I did my master’s internship in Helsinki where I continued with a PhD in neurophysiology, studying neuropathic-like pain in mice. Then I moved in UK to join the neurobehavioural genetics at the MRC Harwell. [cf. my CV]
I had few questions about the academic pathway:
- How and when I have decided to select my master’s degree and PhD? It was because 1- I wanted to study the nervous system and I lived not far from the univeristy of Strasbourg proposing a good physiology and neuroscience program. 2- I wanted to do my master’s internship abroad and to get the Erasmus (and others) grants I had to prepare the internship one year in advance.
- How long after the PhD I found the post-doc position and how many CVs I have sent? About 6 months after the PhD and I have sent about 6 CVs in various countries.
- How was the transition between a neuroscience and a genetic lab? Challenging and that is the reason why I love it. I didn’t do much biochemistry before as I come from a behavior and electrophysiology lab. Lot to learn and that what I like.
Tuesday 5th, was related to the MRC Harwell and genetics. I have explained that the MRC Harwell is a genetic center with different research groups. I can have and study transgenic mice. I have explained that I am studying the gene Zfhx3 obtained by ENU mutation. I have explained the ENU mutation, followed by the explanation of what and why I do qPCR with the hippocampus of my mutant mice.
Meanwhile I was making cDNA from hippocampal RNA. I have asked what people wanted to talk about:
- My research projects
- Public engagement
By the end of my bench work time, the public engagement was ahead so I have talked about public engagement after my experiment. I have explained that we are lucky to be able to do public engagement at the MRC Harwell: Various events during the year, possibility to apply for public engagement grant, internal and external (to the institute) help to develop project, etc. Then I have explained few tips I learned the same day from a meeting with an expert in public engagement event organization: Always start with a goal and always find a way to have feedback about the event. Finally I gave them the impactful moments of my public engagement: The award at the Worldcon75, the visit of the Unicorn’s school and the pupil girl who asked to shadow me in my lab (she came and enjoyed her two days in the lab) during an event in an Oxford’s school.
I said two important things in my opinion:
- One of the researcher’s aims is to communicate his work with the public.
- Ideally we would like to target people who are not already science enthusiast. This is really complex to do. Most of the public engagement events attract people already interested by science. How to do? I really don’t know. But if they don’t come to us, we need to go to them.
Wednesday 6th, I have talked about non-experiment/scientific skills which are absolutely useful to learn like management, planning and logistics.
- With other colleagues we are organizing a symposium for 150 persons and I am part of the logistic team. I have to plan the catering and the bag of goodies/badges for this event.
- I am part of the Athena Swan project. In my working group we assess and propose ideas to make the institute more inclusive by making people aware of the different social and working groups at the institute.
- I have recently joined the HealthTech development group of the campus. We collaborate with internal and external to the campus to develop collaboration in the campus and attract more healthtec company at the Harwell campus.
All of these three working groups allow me to develop different skills and at different levels (between the institute, in the campus, with sellers, etc.). Even though it is time consuming, I do think post-doc should, if they can, join similar working group to acquire management and logistics skills. Both are not learn when we spend our time doing experiments in a the lab.
Tuesday 7th, I have talked about animal behaviors starting by explaining that we have to follow rules by ethical commits and the laws when we work with animals, in this case mice. Then I have explained the light-dark box experiment (youtube video) to assess the anxiety-like behavior in mice. I have explained that I am working on the gene Spata13. Mice knock-out by this gene doesn’t show anxiety-like behavior but they are more subordinate in the social dominance test (video youtube). The next step of investigating this gene is to do at least another anxiety-like test to exclude its role on anxiety and investigating more the social aspect of these mutant mice. Finally I gave the link to the virtual tour of our mice facility. I had an interesting question about what strain of mice I use: Mainly B6N, B6J and a mixed background B6N-C3H. I also have explained that different mice strains behave differently, even in a same test with the example of the light dark box. The B6N are naturally more anxious than the B6J.
Friday 8th was calm on twitter. I didn’t tweet because of various Christmas social events with the colleagues.
Saturday 9th, I have given my opinion about working time in academia. I do think the week-end (not necessarily the Saturday and Sunday, it can be any two days in the week) is for relaxing and disconnecting from work. While I think we should read, maybe reply to e-mail, and we will always still think science during the week-end, we shouldn’t go to work several hours in the lab. Working the week-end should be an exception like finishing an experiment for a deadline. I know people who gave up academia because they had to work 60+ hours per week including the week-end. They burned-out, they are demotivated and they quit a job they liked at lot. We need to see family and friends, to sheer up and do other things than science, that is what weekends are for. Also I really do think we should work according our chronotype. Finally academic peoples have agreed with me during this twitter’s thread.
Sunday 10th, I have talked about grants: research grant, academic grant, equipment grant. I feel like postdocs who always had a salary don’t have the culture of applying for grants, yet it is an important part of the academic world. We had a small discussion on twitter related to this thread. Two things came up:
- Post-docs and PhD students don’t go to look for grants themselves. They would accept a “sorry I don’t have money for your conference travel/equipment” rather than saying “ok, I will try to find the money myself by applying for grants”.
- Post-docs and PhD are not encouraged to look for grants and/or have access to resources (databases/newsletters) listing grant proposals.
Also, someone mentioned that it is sad to see that labs always have to look for money from foundations and others organisms and some PIs can’t afford to pay the travel to conference to their PhDs/Post-Doc.
Finally I also mentioned that finding grant is a key in the academic CV so it is good to find grants even small ones like travel grants. At the end of this discussion, one person thanks me for mentioning this aspect and will try to look for grants; another person advises us to visit the French database for grants iedu.fr.
In conclusion, I have spent a nice week talking about project research and academia to the followers of @LaBioauLabo. Overall I have talked about every aspect of academia I wanted. I had questions, discussions and feedback (poll mentioned above; when I asked if people have understood Tuesday’s experiment someone says yes and one wanted a qPCR result example that I have provided; I had a “Merci”, thank you, on my last tweet) all along the week. Thanks to Tania for the invitation on @LaBioauLabo.