Career Advice on PubChase

We are launching a “Career Advice” forum on PubChase. There is an interface to anonymously submit questions and we assembled a panel of good mentors so that a single question can have 2-3 experts replying to it. This is not a Q&A forum for research questions. Rather, it is a space to get mentoring help for science life-related issues (problem with advisor, how to transition to industry, what to do with competitive labmate, etc.).

The motivation for it is a serious problem in academia. Academic faculty appointments at universities do not select for teaching or managing ability. We look for talented scientists, not mentors or teachers. And as with teaching, there is a natural distribution - some mentors are gems, most are mediocre, and some are nightmares.

If you are a group leader at Merck or Novartis, you will be trained on how to manage people and be a boss. Alas, no such mandatory training exists for professors. The tragedy of this is that a researcher at Merck, even if the boss is a disaster, can switch to Sanofi, Genentech, and so on (this researcher already has a PhD and likely has worked in the industry for many years). But a graduate student or postdoc is in a delicate relationship where a switch from an abusive mentor is far from easy. Advisors hold a power over their lab members that can be devastating when misapplied.

And even if you have a terrific mentor, some times you need advice from a biotech founder, from a pregnant graduate student, from an editor, from a junior professor in a university across the ocean, and so on. Therefore, the responses on this forum will be semi-crowdsourced, with a mixture of replies from our mentors and other users of PubChase.

We welcome all to contribute not just questions, but experiences and suggestions for dealing with difficult situations. So please, ask, answer, and comment!

P.S. Several scientists have asked why a new forum on PubChase instead of simply using Twitter. Here are the main differences:

1. If you don’t have a twitter account, you can start one and ask a question. But you will have zero followers and will get zero answers. On PubChase, you will get answers right away.

2. I want to ask a question about a problem with my advisor. But my advisor follows my twitter feed. Not a good idea. Twitter is not anonymous. In contrast, on PubChase, you will have the option of asking the question non-anonymously, but it will be up to you. Same in reverse - to answer, if it’s not controversial, you will display your name and be seen in the advising role. But if it’s a touchy subject, you will be able to post the reply anonymously.

3. There is no mechanism on Twitter for the good replies to float to the top. We will have StackExchange-like voting to make it easy to get the good replies instantly.

4. Twitter is ephemeral. Probably 80% of the time we all have the same questions and problems in science. On Twitter, there is no way to see answers to your question. On PubChase, it will be tagged, searchable and visible, even if the answer to your question was supplied a year ago.

5. When a student comes to you to talk about anti-gay slurs and jokes from the lab mate, is your advice and response going to be 140 characters? True mentoring  needs to be unconstrained by character counts.


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3 Responses to Career Advice on PubChase

  1. Hannah says:

    There are lots of problems in academia. We all usually work hard, and most of us have a true love for science. The pressure is just too much sometimes - and if you have a bad advisor, you’re screwed. Although - maybe the advisor him-/herself could need some help and is just too pressured.

    The idea of such a site is great. I’m just thinking if anonymous is a good idea; but I see the reason why. Good luck with this, may good things come out of it.

  2. Lenny Teytelman says:

    If you click on the “Ask Your Question” button you will see a little checkmark in the lower-left to toggle the anonymous option. It is great if people will post openly, but in many cases, those clicking on this button will be doing so precisely because they need to ask a question anonymously.

    Moreover, we have already had several mentors ask for the ability to post some candid answers anonymously.

    We will certainly monitor the questions and answers carefully to make sure that no personal attacks happen on our site.

  3. Pingback: PubChase launches a career advice forum for researchers | Connected Researchers

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