Cool tools for my fellow Science Geeks out there

As I wonder and plunder through my third year of grad school, I get a breath of confidence every once in a while that I may graduate in the near future (and then proceed to be hammered back to shore by the waves of reality). Last spring, I focused my efforts to get to research-only mode so that my advisor could save money on tuition and I could make an extra $250 a semester in stipend. Trust me, that $250 was significant. Recently, however, I started thinking about the next step: the Post Doc.

Currently, I’m putting the pieces of my doctoral puzzle together, in the form of a dissertation (it’s in its initial stages, known as The Outline). It gets me starting to wonder what lies ahead. Seriously, I know that jobs are few and far between, and being in school for so long might put me in a position to be “over-educated and underpaid”. So the best strategy to tackle my next-phase step is to ask: What is it that I want to do with my life? Since I ask myself this question every time I fill out a fellowship application or write an essay entitled “What it is that I want to do with my life”- I should really know the answer. But the truth is, what exactly I want to do with my life next is dependent on what exact opportunities are available when I defend my dissertation and move on from the graduate school lifestyle. Having flexibility, exploring new areas of science, and continuing to learn and expand my horizons, now that is what I want to do with my life!

Since I know that I want to go into academia, the next step is to look for a post-doc or a teaching position. I know that I love doing research and I love learning, so let’s say my next step is the Post-Doc.

I’ve recently discovered RePORTER from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Formerly known as CRISP, RePORTER is a new and updated version, used to find out who has been awarded a grant (or grants) from the NIH recently (updated weekly), what research they were awarded money for, and how long their grant money will be there. Want to know how much the faculty in your department were awarded last year? Type in their name. For me, I’m planning on scoping out potential laboratories that sound cool and checking if the PI (primary investigator) have money to support research. If you are a pre-doctoral life sciences student and you want to try and get funded without a graduate teaching fellowship, one option is to apply for the Ruth Kirschtein-NRSA Pre-Doctoral Fellowship through the NIH. In order to be awarded this, one must first establish a relationship with an NIH-funded faculty (ding ding ding! Use RePORTER to find these faculty). It beats going door-to-door and asking.

RePORTER is really neat, too. I tried searching for PI’s in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin who have received money from NIAMS (National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases). It was really interesting to see who was doing what research in my region! RePORTER can be used to navigate through all different search procedures, like Funding Mechanism (training grant, SBIR, research projects, etc), Award Type, State, and organization (such as university). Now you can find out who has what kind of money, because it will list the award cost, too!

Every researcher in bio-based science should know about PubMed. It’s an online database for compiling manuscripts that have been accepted to peer-reviewed journals. Depending on your university or library, you may not be able to access all the manuscripts listed on PubMed without paying a fee, but most medical schools and universities have Free-Access permissions (and if that doesn’t work, try to Interlibrary-Loan an article you can’t seem to access). The most important thing about research is knowing what has already been done, and what needs to be done next. Reading about what others are doing, and staying on top of the literature, is key! I use PubMed practically every day to try and find new articles or articles I may have missed, especially while preparing manuscripts for submission (and preparing my dissertation, too!).

Remember when you had to write papers for school, and you had to use references and form a bibliography at the end?

Please tell me you don't just cite Wikipedia!?!?

EndNote is a really awesome tool that helps make writing papers a whole heck-of-a-lot easier. First, take all those journal articles you have stacked up on your desk. Second, enter in the title, author, journal name, etc. into EndNote. Hit save. Type your paper like you normally would, and when it comes time to enter a citation, click on the paper in your EndNote database, click insert, and voila! You have an automated bibliography. If you are planning on submitting the paper to a peer reviewed journal, you can change the format of the citations and bibliography even after you drafted the entire paper. Simply change the reference format and it automatically changes all your citations. Sooo much easier than going in one-by-one on your paper. Plus, you don’t have to worry if you are using annotated, alphabetized, or numbered citations. It’s all automatic. Makes grad school survivable, anyway!!

And for a fun tool that I like to play around with on the interwebs sometimes, I bring you Wolfram|Alpha. It’s a pretty slick resource, from the makers of Mathematica, that compiles data and interprets user-input search cues to get results. It’s much more advanced than Google (in fact, its not really like Google at all), and more dense with information than an encyclopedia. For a little bit of fun, you can try this game:  Type in your birthday (day, month, year), and see what other important things in history happened on that day. Or, type in your name, and see something like this:

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Other cool (and more useful) tools with Wolfram|Alpha are:

  • job/degree searches (This is especially useful for high schoolers and college kids trying to decide what it is exactly they want to study; compare occupations and see the growth/decline of the jobs of interest)
  • compare cities (looking at jobs all over the US? type in the cities of interest and compare population, temperature, elevation, surrounding areas)
  • find a gene or protein sequence (ok, maybe a little too nerd-core for some people, but I got really geeked when I typed in “aggrecan” and got back the protein sequence, 3-D image, and atomic structure of the backbone of proteoglycans! Goooh!)
  • find out about a material and its properties (I retrieved the Young’s Modulus and density of aluminum just like that! Useful for all those kiddies in Mechanics of Materials! *snap*)
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3 thoughts on “Cool tools for my fellow Science Geeks out there

  1. Interesting fact: I drive by Wolfram Research every day on my way to work! It has a sign out front that says “makers of Mathematica”.

    Good list of tools for the grad student looking for post-docs, info, and the like. Some day I’ll worry about that stuff too (although I’m probably going to go into a residency instead, but hey, you never know!).

  2. Megan,
    You rock. Totally motivating. I need to get back in the running game and this has definately sparked the fire. Good luck in the postdoc hunt. I think you’ll be fine; I got 4 offers, so you shouldn’t have any issues. Great blog.
    Take care,
    Steve

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