CIDD lunch (3/23/2017) with Dr. Helen Wearing

Dr. Helen Wearing is giving her talk ” Modeling the expansion of dengue and Zika: what’s old is new; what’s new is old”  on March 23, 2017 (11am). Join us for a group lunch with Dr. Wearing at 12pm. 

But please RSVP.


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“Climbing the Ivory Tower” panel discussion gave tips for success

If your dream job is in academia, Monday’s (3/13) panel discussion on “Climbing the Ivory Tower: transitioning from PhD to post-doc and beyond” was a lively discussion filled with useful advice for how to stick the academic career track. We also got to hear interesting personal anecdotes from early career faculty Nita Bharti, Moriah Szpara, and Margarita Lopez-Uribe, and ask questions about the life academic.

The panel discussion was structured with 45 minutes of structured questions followed by 15 minutes of open questions from audience members. 37 students and post-docs attended from a wide variety of backgrounds and departments (biology, entomology, BMB, ecology and even engineering).

Structured questions focused on skill-sets that are useful for a career in academia, how to build a CV, the application process for post-doc vs faculty positions, timing and preparing for interviews, reasons for staying in academia, and how to balance work and life outside of work.

Here were some take-home points:

  1. There is no magic number. Publications are important. Publish. But don’t worry about having a certain number before applying for a post-doc or faculty position. Often it is better early in your career to publish more, even if that means having smaller papers in lower impact journals, but early career faculty do need to also think about “impact.” Never bank on getting a paper in a high impact journal, often good papers get rejected. Focus instead on doing “good science” and having a record of high quality data and writing, you can still get a good academic job without the “Science” or “Nature” paper.
  2. Networking is the key to landing a job in academia. Connections to other researchers turn into job opportunities, sharing resources (reagents, people, ideas) and eventually, people you can ask for tenure letters.
  3. Start early. Margarita said she started writing her teaching statement and building her CV for the jobs she would want later as a graduate student. She got her first faculty job after only one 2-yr post-doc and early preparation helped.
  4. Beef-up your CV for the jobs you want. According to Moriah, applying for jobs that aren’t a perfect fit (e.g. topic not ideal, location not preferred, more/less teaching than you wanted, less pay, etc.) can be a good strategy for practicing interviews and figuring out what you do want. But you ultimately want to start the job hunt early (within a year of graduating a PhD) and start shaping your CV to match the criteria listed in job posts for the jobs you do want.
  5. Use your network. Have other grad students and post-docs give feedback on practice job-talks or your CV. Look out for future CGSA workshops or other resources at Penn State that might help as you prepare for post-doc and faculty position hunting. Send out an email on the CGSA listserv if you want feedback on a job practice talk. We are here for you.
  6. Remember to interview “them.” When you interview for a job, it is not about whether they want you, but also about whether you want to work for them. Suss out the community in terms of how they receive your unique traits. Is the work environment family-friendly? Open minded with regard to race and gender? Are the people happy? Moriah mentioned being proud of her kids and family and using that as an asset rather than something to hide from the interview committee.
  7. Find your own funding. Having a proven track-record of getting grants will stand out during the interview process. Publications are good, but publications and money are even better. Nita found a fellowship that gave her 5 years of independent funding before starting as a faculty member. Having your own money gives you more freedom to pursue the projects you want and do what you love.
  8. Use Google. Sometimes your personal network isn’t enough. Google funding opportunities and job listings as another way to win an obscure grant that most people haven’t heard of or find the dream job that your network didn’t know was available.

Thanks Nita, Moriah and Margarita for their tips for success! Look out for future CGSA workshops and events that focus on some of the skillsets and CV writing skills mentioned today to put their advice into practice.


Panelists (L to R) Nita Bharti, Moriah Szpara and Margarita Lopez-Uribe with moderator, Jo Ohm.

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CIDD LUNCH with Dr. Koenraad Van Doorslaer (March 16th, 2017)

If you’re interested in having lunch (March 16th, 2017; 12-1pm) with Dr. Koenraad Van Doorslaer after his CIDD seminar “Comparative genomics as a tool to understand papilloma virus evolution and disease“, please use this form to RSVP.



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Friday Link Round Up (3/3/2017)

Capture.PNG Short this week, but here are some interesting links around the internet.

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CIDD LUNCH with Dr. Santiago Elena (March 2nd, 2017)

If you’re interested in having lunch (March 2nd, 2017; 12-1pm) with Dr. Santiago Elena after his CIDD seminar “Exploring the constraints to increase genome complexity in RNA virus”, please use this form to RSVP.



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Upcoming March For Science

The CGSA Board wanted to pass along this time sensitive info to the CIDD grad community, from an email we received regarding the upcoming March for Science on April 22, 2017 from the group WE ARE for Science.  This group is organizing buses to attend the event and you need to register for a spot on the bus by March 1 on this form.   Cost details can be found in the message below.

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Professional Development at the Voices 2017 Conference

Earlier this month, I attended the Voices networking and professional development conference for the first time.  The conference is held annually in early to mid-February at the Atherton Hotel by the Graduate Women in Science (GWIS) group – a wonderful group on campus that is not solely for female scientists.  This year’s theme was ‘Teamwork.’

The all-day event was wonderfully organized – transitioning smoothly from a full talk schedule to abundant built-in time to network with other attendees and the speakers.   First, we heard the opening talk on teamwork from Penn State Laureate Rebecca Strzelec, followed by remarks on transboundary and transdisciplinary science by Dr. Robert Swap (University of Virginia).  A professional panel including Dr. Moses Davis (Penn State), Emily Campbell (Bucknell University), and Scott Woods (President, West Arete) followed these talks.  After lunch, the keynote speaker Dr. Donna Nelson (University of Oklahoma) inspired us by chronicling her experience as the science adviser for the hit TV show Breaking Bad.  Finally, we had breakout sessions with Dr. Carolee Bull (Penn State) on self-mentorship and Valerie Bayes (Monsato) about teamwork in industry.

I will share a few of my favorite take-away points from the talks:

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Making a Difference – Outreach!

I really enjoy doing science outreach and I have been doing it in various forms since middle school.  It is great to be a Penn State, where there are so many ways to get involved in science outreach.  I want to highlight a few  opportunities for our CIDD community.  You can help with Science U summer camps, DiscoveryU camps, mentor undergraduates and young graduates in your own labs or sign up to mentor undergraduates you normally might not meet.  In my case, I am paired with a talented undergrad through the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program, and we meet about once a month.  You can even go farther off campus – volunteering at Discovery Space or signing up to be a penpal in the popular Letters to a Pre-Scientist program (it’s fun to get mail!!).

For the past two years, one of the outreach days I look forward to the most all year is when I serve as a mentor for the Expanding Your Horizons in STEM Career Day, typically held in late January at Penn State.

This one-day event aims to engage young female students in grades 6-12, a crucial time when studies have shown a drop off in female interest in science (still a vigorous area of research! You can read more here and here).  You can volunteer to work behind the scenes, to lead a workshop with your colleagues, or to be a mentor.  As a mentor, I meet the girls and escort them around campus to three science workshops, have lunch with them, and chat with them as much as I can about what life is like as a graduate student in science and what life can be like working as a scientist.  I also listen to the inspiring advice from the keynote and panel speakers throughout the day about their experiences in science….and knock off some items on my bucket list –like holding a giant walking stick insect! (I was not ready to hold the hissing cockroach on display…)

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CIDD Graduate Lunch – Dr. Lance Waller, Emory University

Please RSVP for CIDD lunch (12pm) on 2/23/2017  with Dr. Lance Waller after his talk.  Dr. Waller is from Emory University and you can read more about his research here.

This lunch is a great opportunity to talk to the speaker in a casual group setting.  Lunch is provided if you RSVP.  Planning to try some new, yummy food this week – previously tested on a series of Biology graduate students and approved!  See details in the RSVP form.




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A mini R Link Round Up (2/17/2017)

Due to travels, no Friday Link Round Up! However, here are some few links for learning R or trying to improve in R.

Learn R with free, interactive tutorials

swirl: Learn R inside Rstudio
tryr: Learn R inside a browser
datacamp: Learn R with this interactive course


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