Wednesday, July 17

Why not ban smoking at Miller Theater?


Imagine a hot summer evening with air that is already heavy and humid- cigarette smoke on top of that, even the most insensitive of us cannot handle it.

Take for example the first weekend of Houston Symphony concert when there are literally thousands of people in the theater- among whom is also the sensitive population that includes children, the elderly and patients perhaps (given that the theater is in the med center). On such days I wonder- why not ban smoking at all of Miller Theater (right now smoking is banned only in the seating area and not on the hill or around it)? I have seen parents smoke around their children and if they want to put their child in harm's way by smoking in the privacy of their homes-well then it is their problem. But when it comes to city property I think it is a whole different story and it is the government's responsibility that vulnerable people are protected.
It has been long established beyond doubt that smoking is harmful for the person who smokes and for the people who inhale the smoke.You can argue all you want. You can invoke priavcy, my body- my right (women folk- this is not for you, your body is not your right apparently- well that is a story for another day), or whatever else you can think of- but the evidence against smoking is pretty STRONG and it is about the collective good of the community.

 I must add though- I find it quite interesting that there is quite a large number of health care workers who smoke in the Houston med center area (I could not find any statistics on this).

Read more about the harmful effects of smoking here
Read more about environmental tobacco smoke here

Tuesday, July 2

The postdoc paradox

Where do I see myself in 5 years...

In my view, those who can answer this question, even with a broader intent, are the ones who succeed.

This is a question that has been playing over and over in my head for a few days, now that my love of research is dwindling to the point that there are times when I downright unhappy. This metamorphosis was a long time coming and it does pain me- because all said and done I am a bloody good scientist!

So why did you do a PhD then, you ask? Well, back in those days a) I could not be pulled away from the bench (no sir not for any reason); b) I would obsess about it; c) I would talk incessantly about it and d) most of all I was extremely passionate about it (Note the choice of past tense).

Those who have known me for a while now would nod in disbelief if I tell them that I am thinking about quitting research. Better believe it guys!

To me the biggest problem is that I would probably either be one among many scientists who are just a-okay or I would be a complete failure (which is where I am headed right now- given that nothing has been working the last few years). While the fear of failure does not stop me from doing what I like doing best, fear of being one among many does (arrogant you say- what is wrong with a bit of professional arrogance, I ask?). So it is mostly a personal decision.

Interestingly, I am seeing this disconnect between real-life and the imaginary job market situation (all of us postdocs finding a cushy tenure-track position). Most of us have been drilled into our heads that there is no job better than academia on planet earth (I might agree to this to a certain degree). In reality, even if you pass a certain threshold and enter the top echelons of postdocs (wildly successful ones-the stars), there is still no guarantee that you will find that dream job (at that level how are the search committee members going to decide anyway- think about it).

I was taken by surprise when it dawned on me that most of my fellow postdocs do not have a plan B. But what happens when you do not get into academia- what choices does one you have? Some people just moan and moan, while few others find an industry position. But this is where everything goes haywire- everyone including the postdocs, the Universities, the PIs throw their hands up in the air as though the world is nearing its end.

Graph generated by Paula Stephan of Georgia State University
Source: Atlantic

A 2009 NSF survey found that only 14% of lifescience PhD land the most-coveted, oh-so-glamorous tenure track positions. The plan B pharma jobs are also on the decline (I mean who is to blame given the global economy madness). It is time PIs and institutions started to give this a great deal of thought to come up with ways to help the postdocs out (after all you are our mentors).

If you are a great researcher who is still passionate about research after 4 yrs of undergrad, 6 yrs of grad school and 5-10 yrs of postdoc - by all means academia is for you. But if you being to have slightest of doubts- I say prepare for the eventuality and be smart about the decisions you make (towards end of grad school) that will land you yet another great job ( I was anything but smart about it).

Other references
Washington Post 
Bruce Alberts article