113: All Work and Some Play – Isaac Childres on Following Your Passion After a PhD

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Podcast: Hello PhD
Episode: 113: All Work and Some Play – Isaac Childres on Following Your Passion After a PhD
Pub date: 2019-05-01

Sometimes, a graduate school education follows the strait and narrow path through dissertation, postdoc, and faculty position.

And sometimes, it sprouts wings and takes you somewhere else entirely.

That was the experience for Isaac Childress. Isaac began his career as a physics PhD studying high-energy particles. But “Plan A” didn’t turn out exactly as he expected.

Instead he found his muse in board games, and worked to design one of the top-rated games in history.

Isaac Childres, PhD – founder of Cephalofair Games and designer of Gloomhaven

This week we talk to Isaac about the downs, and ups, of his non-traditional career path.

For Isaac, graduate school was a struggle with plenty of disappointments and feelings of failure. But outside the lab, he found inspiration while playing board and video games with his friends. As he played, he started to notice game dynamics that could be better. He imagined story lines and player interactions that would be both fun and challenging.

Near the end of his graduate training, Isaac had designed a game called Forge War and had tested it with friends and reviewers. He set up a Kickstarter to see if maybe, just maybe, he’d earn enough support to actually get it published.

The kickstarter brought in over $100,000.

Isaac followed up Forge War with his award-winning Gloomhaven game, and the rest, as they say, is history. This physics PhD was building worlds, testing game dynamics, and ultimately, delighting players around the globe.

We hear about everything from the time he was kicked out of his research group to the moment he knew his board game Kickstarter was going to be something special.

If you’ve ever wondered if there’s a place for you outside the lab or in the world beyond graduate school, Isaac’s story is sure to inspire.

Just make sure you look before you leap. Isaac concludes, “It’s alway good to have a backup plan before you start pursuing your dreams…”

Find Isaac Childres at or on Twitter @cephalofair.

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This week’s refreshment comes once again from listener Adrian who shares the TROPICÁLIA American IPA from Creature Comforts Brewing in Athens, GA. It’s the perfect not-too-bitter finish to a sunny spring day.

The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from Joshua Hall and Daniel Arneman, PhDz, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.

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122: Tenure Tracker – The Life Non-Linear with Dr. Jimena Giudice

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Podcast: Hello PhD
Episode: 122: Tenure Tracker – The Life Non-Linear with Dr. Jimena Giudice
Pub date: 2019-10-11

Dr. Jimena Giudice has all the traits of a promising new faculty member.

Through her training and early career, she has earned more than a dozen grants and awards. She’s co-authored two dozen papers. And she has trained students and postdocs, gaining a reputation as a highly effective mentor.

You’d expect that Dr. Giudice’s undeniable success was the natural result of an early immersion in science and a dogged adherence to the well-worn path through college, grad school, and postdoc.

But of course, you’d be wrong. Before discovering a love for scientific research, Dr. Giudice spent ten years answering a different calling.

Changing Focus

Dr. Jimena Giudice

Growing up in Argentina, Jimena didn’t know that her eventual career in science was even an option.

“My parents are architects, my sister is an architect, my cousins are architects, uncles are architects or graphic designers. So I really didn’t have anyone close that I could imagine you could do science as a career,” she recalls.

So after high school, she enrolled in college to study industrial engineering.

Four years into a six year degree, she put her studies on hold and made a personal decision.

“I changed my path, and that’s when I started considering being a nun. I entered a congregation when I was 21.”

Jimena knew that after three years in the congregation, she’d have the opportunity get back to school to continue her studies. Her congregation was focused on education, which gave her valuable experience.

“I was teaching at different levels. Primary school, kindergarten, secondary school, people in the street, rural schools. I was full time working and teaching,” she says.

As her fourth year of service approached, she started to think about what she could study during the next three years that would help in her congregation. She visited the university to explore the available courses, and found that her options expanded well beyond the architecture and engineering paths she had known as a child.

“I remember the first image I have in my head is seeing students with white lab coats and the labs with glass windows and walls. And I have that image in my mind. I said ‘That’s what I want. I want to do that. I want to be with a white lab coat doing what they were doing.’”

That moment was transformative. Afterwards, she says, “I always had the dream of doing experiments, even though I liked education and teaching. Thats when I saw for the first time that science is something where you can study and work and have a career.”

One Good Turn

With her passion for science ignited, Jimena had a new problem. A chemistry degree in Argentina takes six years, but her congregation allowed just three years to pursue a degree while also working during the day.

She did the majority her classes at night, and traveled an hour and a half between the community where she lived and the university.

“I had to multi-task a lot of things. My philosophy was: when I am in classes, I am in classes, and I have to get as much as I can from here because I don’t have a lot of time to study at home,” she remembers.

The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from Joshua Hall and Daniel Arneman, PhDz, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.

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059: Simple Tricks for Time Management – The Focus Funnel (R)

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Podcast: Hello PhD
Episode: 059: Simple Tricks for Time Management – The Focus Funnel (R)
Pub date: 2019-07-22

In some jobs, one day at the office looks a lot like the next. You could look through your calendar and optimize your meeting schedule and to-do list without much thought.

But working in a lab is different: your projects are in constant flux, experiments lead to other experiments, and you need to balance bench work with meetings, mentoring, and writing.

That busyness can lead to inefficiency as you tackle the items on your list one after another.  Worse, you’re forced to plan overlapping activities to fill the ‘downtime’ during incubations and time points.

This week, we encourage you to take a step back, look over your list of competing priorities, and ask some hard questions about what’s really important.

You might find you have more free time on your hands than you ever imagined…

The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from Joshua Hall and Daniel Arneman, PhDz, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.

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118: Find a Better Mentor with GradPI

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Podcast: Hello PhD
Episode: 118: Find a Better Mentor with GradPI
Pub date: 2019-08-10

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a crystal ball that could reveal your grad-school future?

You might look forward to see if that next experiment will work out, or if your research will eventually make the cover of Nature.

What you should do with the power of foresight is to take a deep look at the quality of mentorship you’ll receive over the next few years.

It’s no secret that good research advisors can be tough to find. Most are passable – you’ll learn what you need to learn and graduate on time – and a few are stellar, elevating your research beyond what you thought was possible.

But of course, lurking somewhere at every institution, are a handful of awful, terrible, no good, very bad PIs. These are the people you must avoid at all costs, lest they destroy both your confidence and your career plan.

Of course, no one has a crystal ball, and sometimes our choice of a research mentor doesn’t pan out. But there’s a website hoping to change that.

Hindsight: 20/20

Gadareth Higgs was ready for graduate school. His grades were good, he had some research experience, and he had been accepted to one of the most competitive programs in the US.

“I just assumed we would have good mentors. That was not the case,” he recalls.

In his third year, Gadareth would be forced to change labs, and his new PI was “not big on mentorship.”

Gadarath’s qualifying exam didn’t go well, and there were signs that the PI was working against him behind the scenes. Ultimately, he had to leave the program.

Then he got an idea: why not make a website where students and postdocs can score their PI on the factors that matter, so that other students can make an informed decision before committing to a lab?

Enter, which is something like for graduate students. This week, we talk with Gadareth Higgs and Paola Figueroa-Delgado to find out more about the purpose and people behind the website.

At its core, GradPI allows students to score their advisors on five factors called the “SMART” scale.

From the Frequently Asked Questions page:

S stands for Standing. Reputation is important because your advisor will serve as the springboard for whatever you do next.M stands for Mentorship. It is important to have an advisor who can serve as a scientific role model, even if not as a career or life guide.A stands for Autonomy. The degree of independence desired by students is highly variable; only you know what’s best for you.R stands for Resources. Money talks. End of story.T stands for Tact. This is essentially a personality score. But it takes into consideration how well the advisor conveys feedback, and fosters a welcoming environment for students of different cultures, genders, races, religions, and sexual orientations.

It’s important to note that low-scores in a certain category may not be a bad thing for every student. Paola described how a prospective mentee might use the ratings to find a good fit.

“Everyone has different kinds of mentorship preferences. You can provide comments and feedback on these different categories and see why for you it’s important to have autonomy. So [an advisor] with a low autonomy score is not good for you,” she explained.

The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from Joshua Hall and Daniel Arneman, PhDz, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.

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120: Advancing Open Science with Dr. Jon Tennant

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Podcast: Hello PhD
Episode: 120: Advancing Open Science with Dr. Jon Tennant
Episode pub date: 2019-09-07

As a researcher, you may brag about the open, collegial way that scientists share their findings in lab meetings, poster sessions, and journal articles.

But if you dig beneath the surface, you’ll find a darker tendency built into our habits and institutions that actually cover up a lot of what we learn.

For example, you might spend months testing the efficacy of a new cancer drug in vitro. But if that drug doesn’t have a significant impact on cancer growth, you’ll conclude your work is ‘not publishable,’ and the discovery will languish in your lab notebook.

Meanwhile, in some other lab, at some other University, another scientist might get the same idea you had, and spend their own weeks or months doing the same tests, only to learn the same result.

And so, year after year, the research community wastes immeasurable time re-learning the same lessons. And because of that, the march toward real insights and real cures slows to a crawl.

This week on the show, we talk with Jon Tennant, PhD, who wants to re-open the channels of scientific communication and transform the way we build on what others have learned.

Open Source Science

The “Open Science” movement goes far beyond sharing negative results. It builds on the “Open Source” software movement that has been vital to the software engineering community for a generation.

It encompasses all aspects of the scientific process, from planning experiments to sharing raw data to educating the public.

Jon described just a handful of ways that scientists are opening their methods to the wider world.

The first idea is the microPublication. Rather than gathering reams of data in the hopes of crafting a ‘story’ that a journal is willing to pick up, micropublishing focuses on sharing the results of individual experiments – pushing the data out to other scientists as they happen. In this way, you can collaborate in near-real-time, and inspire new paths of inquiry – even if the original idea doesn’t pan out.

Another way to open your research is through pre-registration. In this mode, you present your hypothesis and research plan to a third party for review before you begin to collect data. That way, no matter the result, the world gets to learn about your experimental approach and whether the hypothesis was supported or rejected.

While these novel modes of publication might sound exciting, they can have a hard time gaining traction in an academic setting where the Impact Factor of a journal can mean a promotion or a dismissal. How are postdocs and junior faculty members supposed to adopt these new publishing methods when the hiring or tenure committee puts so much stock in the ‘top-tier journals?’

Weaning academics from their addiction to Cell, Science, and Nature requires a cultural solution. The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment encourages signatories in academia and funding agencies to look beyond the Journal Impact Factor when making hiring and funding decisions.

They highlight “the need to assess research on its own merits rather than on the basis of the journal in which the research is published.”

Another campaign called “Free Our Knowledge” takes the pledge for open science on…

The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from Joshua Hall and Daniel Arneman, PhDz, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.

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085: Scientists in the Newsroom – The AAAS Mass Media Fellowship feat. Rebekah Corlew

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Podcast: Hello PhD
Episode: 085: Scientists in the Newsroom – The AAAS Mass Media Fellowship feat. Rebekah Corlew
Episode pub date: 2017-12-22

Pick up any newspaper and you’ll find an article summarizing the ‘latest research’ on the health benefits of chocolate, a new treatment for Alzheimers, or the long-term risks of screen time for your toddler.

As a scientist, you probably groan before you reach the end of the title: the claims are extreme, the statistics are dubious, and often, the information a reader should know is buried below the fold.
If you’d like to see science communication reach new levels of accuracy and relevance, it may be time to step away from your lab bench and pick up a pen.

AAAS Mass Media Fellowship
Scientists are trained to describe their work to other scientists in papers, posters, and presentations, but they may struggle to describe the importance of that work to a non-technical audience.
Journalists are trained to uncover facts, and tell a compelling story quickly and accurately, but they may not be familiar with the subtle nuances of a scientific field or technique.
For forty years, a fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has bridged that divide, placing scientists into the busiest newsrooms in the world.
The AAAS Media Science & Engineering Fellowship is competitive summer program that allows students, postdocs, and recent grads to spend 10 weeks practicing journalism with media outlets like The Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, The Washington Post, WIRED, and Scientific American.
This week, we talk with Project Director Rebekah Corlew, PhD, about this amazing opportunity for scientists to improve their communication skills and their networks.  She shares a few stories about past fellows (including one whose article made the cover of Time Magazine!) and tips for a successful application.
The application deadline is January 15th, so click here to apply now!
Need more information? Watch this pre-recorded webinar or read the Q&A.
CDC Word Ban
Last week, the Washington Post reported that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had issued a ‘word ban’ for their annual budget request.  The undesirable terms were: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”
Many readers, lawmakers, and scientists responded with outrage about the supposed ban, while the department of Health and Human Services attempted to claim it was all a misunderstanding.
We share our thoughts on the story, which is likely more nuanced and less villainous than the headlines would have you believe.
We also sample another German favorite, the Allgäuer Büble Bier Edelbräu from Allgauer Brauhaus from Kempten, Germany.  It travelled a long way to reach our studio, but it was well worth the trip!

The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from Joshua Hall and Daniel Arneman, PhDz, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.

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092: Making Time for Science Communication with Mónica Feliú-Mójer

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Podcast: Hello PhD
Episode: 092: Making Time for Science Communication with Mónica Feliú-Mójer
Episode pub date: 2018-05-09

“Things are not progressing as they should. You’re having a hard time focusing on the research, and we know that you don’t want to be in academia anyway.  Do you want to quit?”
The question landed like a punch, and Mónica’s committee meeting took a turn she hadn’t expected. She was in the fourth year of her PhD training at Harvard, and her committee had just asked her if she wanted to leave the program.
“That was incredibly devastating to have these four people that you respect, and that their main role is supposed to be supporting you and helping you, and to have them ask you, “Do you want to leave?” It was devastating. But I somehow found the strength to say, ‘I don’t want to quit!’”
Mónica Feliú-Mójer finished her PhD and went on to a dream job doing science outreach and communication, but that committee meeting was a turning point.
Her story holds a valuable lesson for any graduate student considering a career outside of the academic tenure track.

Many students begin graduate school expecting to land in a tenure-track faculty position.  But often, they see their own advisor slaving over grant applications and departmental politics, and decide that an ‘alternative career’ is a better option.
Dr. Feliú-Mójer realized a passion for science communication BEFORE she even applied to graduate school, and once enrolled, she poured herself into the extra-curricular experiences that fed that passion.  She worked with organizations like Ciencia Puerto Rico, and worked long into the night honing her writing skills.
“While I was enjoying that experimental part, what really brought me immense joy was all of this communication and outreach that I was doing,” she remembers. But graduation requires a dissertation, and she realized her research was taking second place.
“There was a point in graduate school where things were not looking great.  I wasn’t happy, I didn’t feel like I was making progress, I didn’t feel like I had the support I needed to succeed in the lab. And so, I wasn’t motivated, and I decided to pour all of my energy into my outreach and my science communication.  And that really affected my productivity, to the level that I was a fourth-year grad student and my dissertation advisory committee asked me if I wanted to quit the PhD program.”
Feliú-Mójer examined her motivations and had tough conversations with her mentors. She went back to her committee with the confidence to finish what she started.
“I knew that I needed to make an adjustment and that I needed to focus, so I said ‘No, I’m not quitting. And yes, I do need a PhD to do what I want to do.  So I am committing right here and now to finish, and I hope you will work with me to accomplish that.’”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Dr. Feliú-Mójer spends her time mentoring students and sharing science with a wide audience through her work with Ciencia Puerto Rico and iBiology. This week on the show, she shares her inspiring story about following your passion, pushing through the trials of graduate school, and leveraging your network to land your dream job.
You may also like:
085: Scientists in the Newsroom – The AAAS Mass Media Fellowship with Rebekah Corlew
079: The Insider’s Guide to Industry with Randall Ribaudo, PhD
035: Making Time for Outreach

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103: Laboratory of Horrors!

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Podcast: Hello PhD
Episode: 103: Laboratory of Horrors!
Episode pub date: 2018-10-29

“Hey, I won’t be able to make it over for movies tonight.  I’ve got to finish these timepoints…  Yeah, I know it’s the third time this week, but I promise I’ll leave a early tomorrow…  Okay, sorry.  Goodnight.”

Gary ends the phone call and sighs.  This is not the first time he’s had to cancel a date to finish up an experiment.   He’s starting to detect some resentment in his girlfriend’s voice.

As the minutes tick by on his timer, Gary sees lights flip off in the adjacent laboratory bays.  Even the postdocs have gone home.  Looks like it’ll be another long, lonely night – just him and an incubator full of cells.

He’s scrolling through his phone to find a playlist that can keep him awake for the next few hours when there’s a faint clink of glass somewhere in the darkened part of the lab.

He finds the playlist just as he hears a faint tap, tap, tap coming from the same direction.

“Maybe one of the postdocs left a cage of mice here by accident,” he thinks.  He pops out his ear buds and listens again… tap… tap… tap…

But the sound is too rhythmic to be mice. 

“They really need to fix that faucet.  That thing has been leaking for weeks.”

Tap… tap… tappity tappity tap.  Whatever is dripping seems to be coming faster now.

“Is someone there?” Gary asks, feeling stupid for the uncanny tightness now rising in his chest.  Tap… tappity tap tap… 

The sound that was just dripping is now streaming, a thin drizzle falling onto the soapstone bench.

Gary stands, and keeping his eyes toward the source of the sound, creeps carefully toward the light switch.  That’s when a nauseating wave of stench hits his nostrils.

His pupils constrict as he reaches the switch and the lights flash across a viscous puddle slowly growing larger on the bench to his right.  The pool has spilled over the edge, dripping foul, sticky liquid onto the floor. 

The odor is unmistakable and overpowering. He tears up, each breath a painful struggle to get enough air.

His eyes slowly follow the vile stream to its source…

“Dammit!  Who spilled that bottle of β-mercaptoethanol and didn’t clean it up!?”

Little Lab of Horrors

Life in grad school may not have many horror-movie freak-outs, but there are plenty of harrowing and traumatic experiences to thrill even the most stoic scientist.

In celebration of Halloween, we asked our listeners about their lab and grad school horror stories!

We heard chilling tales of fires, floods, and freezers on the fritz.  There are stories of dissertations delayed, pilfering PIs, and even explosions! Eeeek!

When you tune in, be sure to sample our new favorite pumpkin ale from Rogue Brewing.  It’s the Limited Edition Pumpkin Patch Ale, made from pumpkins they grow themselves!  

And here are a few of the resources we mentioned in the show:

* Caminos en Ciencia podcast*

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