Spring Break 2017

It’s been a crazy few weeks. We had two deadlines due the Friday of Spring Break, which as we all know in grad school is a productive time to get work done without the undergrads being around. Needless to say, it was a bit hectic!

The first of these deadlines was the American Society of Biomechanics conference abstract submission deadline. My advisor and I have been working on creating a new method to compute Achilles tendon moment arm in vivo, using motion capture and ultrasound (I’ll talk about this in a future post) and by Monday of Spring Break we were ready to start collecting data. I had received IRB approval a week prior, and so was able to test the first of my subjects. Over two days, I ended up collecting data from 8 people. Post-processing the data was a multi-stage process.

Step one involved going over the motion capture data in Cortex, labeling markers, and trimming the motion capture so it was synchronized to the start and end of the ultrasound data. While this sounds simple enough, I hadn’t used the post-processing tools in Cortex before so Monday and Tuesday nights were spent learning the software and labeling my trials. I had 6 dynamic trials plus a static and calibration trial for each participant. Lots of labeling!!

Step two took the .trc files from the labeled Cortex data and imported them into Matlab. I then digitized points from the ultrasound and ran the data through some custom-written scripts. As is always the case, my code needed editing as the results I was getting were a little bit ludicrous (70 cm moment arm?!). Eventually, we fixed it and we got some exciting results. The abstract was written by 6pm Friday evening and I was excited to sit back and relax for the weekend.

On Tuesday of this week, Snowstorm Stella hit State College and we got a rare snowday. While knee-deep in grading and doing all the jobs I’d postponed during deadline season (including tackling American tax returns for the first time), my email pinged. It was an acceptance to my first conference – ISBS in Cologne, Germany. I can’t tell you how excited I was. Of course, a flurry of activity ensued – applying for travel grants, editing the abstract in response to the reviewers comments, figuring out timing and costs and all the logistics that come with conference acceptances.

That’s a quick catch up of the craziness of Spring Break and the following 5 days. I’m hoping to update the blog shortly with some more detailed posts, and some interesting talks I’ve sat in over the past month or so. For now though, it’s time to get back to grading…

Finding your lab feet

Today I want to write a little about my frustrations in learning how to use different versions of equipment you already can use. I’m currently working on advancing a method of identifying Achilles tendon moment arm using ultrasound and motion capture. In both my undergrad and masters training, we learnt how to use MoCap – using the Qualysis system in a very guided step-by-step process in undergrad and using Vicon with a lot more freedom in my masters. I felt I had a relatively competent grasp on how to collect movement data using a passive 3D motion system. And then I started my PhD.


I came into a lab at a time where very little data collection was actually going on in the lab, and had to figure out how to use the systems here predominantly solo (with a little guidance from our lab tech). We run off the Eagle cameras and use the Cortex software from Motion Analysis Corp, neither of which I had prior experience with.


As with all motion systems, the first step was calibration. After opening all the cupboards in the lab, I found our calibration L and wand (in hindsight, asking our lab tech where things are should have been my first step. Oh well, you live and learn!). I figured calibrating would be the same as before – place the L on the center of the capture space (normally on the force platform), enter the capture space and wave the wand high and low making sure all the cameras see it sufficiently. This is how it works, but it took me a few times messing up before I found the screen in the software that shows all camera views and turns green when each camera is properly calibrated (data views, all cameras for those of you querying this).


Next up of course is data capture. My current testing involves markers on rods and an ultrasound probe so this is what I learnt the system with. A few trial and error attempts and I figured out the system. After testing a few times, I think I’ve got a handle on the way it works but I’ll feel more confident once I’ve run a few more pilot tests. My main apprehension at the minute is processing the data in Cortex after it’s been collected – especially with dynamic tasks which have the risk of marker drop out. I’ve been doing my analysis in MATLAB (which again is a whole new set of skills I’ve had to learn), and have been surprisingly pleased with how I’ve been getting on. It’s always a wonderful feeling when you show your advisor something they didn’t previously know – even if it is as obscure as playing a video in Matlab!


We also had to figure out the ultrasound system – a Telemed LogicScan 128. This is a PC based system that plugs in via USB, and all the controls are on the computer, which makes saving data and editing settings nice and straightforward. For the most part, learning this has been fairly intuitive despite having very little prior experience with ultrasound (observing its use in a single class in my masters).  Integrating the two systems with synchronization is still a problem we’re figuring out – while we have an analog signal that shows when the ultrasound is collecting data (on/off), it would be excellent to get the sample rate of the ultrasound system (frames/second) so it can be linked to the MoCap accurately.


That’s a little overview of the equipment I’m using, and some of the challenges I’ve faced and am working on in understanding it. I’m hoping my next post will also be informative – I recently submitted an IRB (ethics) proposal so I’ll detail that process soon.

When two heads are better than one: strategies for successful collaborations

Today we had a panel with three professors at Penn State University (Dr. S, Dr. D and Dr. R) who talked to us for two hours about successful collaborations, driven by questions from the audience. All three professors have appointments in kinesiology, with Dr. D focusing on obstetrics and gynecology, Dr. R focusing on gait and skeletal muscle function and Dr. S investigating neural mechanisms of multi-joint movements.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” – Helen Keller

“L;enfer c’est les autres (Hell is other people)” – Jean-Paul Sartre

“Tell us about a collaboration you’ve entered into – either one that’s gone really well or one that’s gone south”
Dr D: I’ve never had one that’s failed. However, some have pushed the limits. My training is in exercise & sport psychology, and clinical psychology and I was also a college athlete.  My research focuses on specialized populations, specifically pregnant and post-partum women. From day 1, if I was going to be successful I had to know what I was looking at as a researcher, working together with clinical faculty – all of my work is collaborative in nature. With this, we have to appreciate and understand different expectations and work load between academic and clinical positions.

I would also say, don’t just work with those you need to work with, work with those you like! Sometimes there might be professional differences which can make working out agreements challenging and force you to deal with different mindsets. This pushes me to be more appreciative of a boarder perspective and taught me patience. I think by working with peers, colleagues and other to form mentors, you get access to broad populations to work with. Use your connections in your field, you never know when they might recirculate – don’t burn bridges. That’s key in building effective collaborations. Pulling the plug may be permanent –  understand the consequences.”

Dr. S: “You can classify collaborations in different ways. Someone on campus, which is more contractual. That’s not really what we’re talking about. Collaborationss are those things are 2 PIs working together on big funded projects. I’ve had one that’s been going on for a decade, we went through a number of cycles of R1 and other awards originating at each place of work. She has a different perspective; we did most data collection at her location as we had easier access to specific populations.

Collaborations are necessary to do some things. There is nothing intrinsic about a collaboration that’s desirable just because it’s a collaboration – it’s an inefficient way to do things! You have to make up a bunch of rules – some are concrete, how are you going to deal with publications, who’s going to be last author etc. You need to communicate; we would have co-lab meetings. Sometimes a lot of that communication isn’t necessary if you’re not separate.

My view is collaborations allow you to do things you couldn’t do without them, without specialized skills and knowledge. If you enter into a collaboration – it costs more in time and in effort. There are personalities, no matter how well you get on with someone, there can still be issues. You spend a lot of time doing mundane things – how you are going to transfer data is a common one. But they can be important if you need the collaboration. Before you enter into it, ask yourself if you can do it alone? If you can – do it! Otherwise, plan everything out in advance, make sure you get along. Arguing isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”


“If a junior faculty member has a good idea, and they could do it themselves, should they do it or enter into a collaboration?”
Dr. S: “DO IT YOURSELF! If you can get publications, lead a project and so you, you then have something to offer a collaborator. If you’re just starting out and collaborate, you can get pulled in lots of different directions. Little contract things are acceptable, but careful with multiple PI situations.”
Dr. D: “I think it’s a multi-pronged approach. As grad students, life is inherently collaborative – you have a mentor who’s published with you. When you move, the data you’re moving with is owned by your graduate university. For the first few years in the new job, you’re still allowing mentorship relationship to be productive but start to separate yourself and establish yourself as an independent researcher. While maintaining that mentorship relationship, you also need another pocket of brand new independent work at your new location. You need a multi-pronged approach, understand what you bring to a collaboration, what can flourish in initial collaborations & what your new line of research is in the transitional period. I was building a lab, own students, publishing PhD work, and building own work. You need to be multi-faceted – your own work & collaborations”

Dr. S: “I think this is field dependent. You gain some skills as a grad student. As a postdoc you use those skills, you might pick up a few more but you’re primarily developing skills and direction. In a postdoc, you breakout into your own direction. My opinion is when you realize you need a collaboration, think of it as a business arrangement, have something to offer or start out equally unskilled & unknowledgeable. Both approaches are what Dr. D is describing – collaborating. Part of this preference is to do with personality!”


“Wouldn’t you say that a grant with a single PI sticks out? I looked at what NSF are funding – there’s grants with 3-5 PIs, I don’t think I saw one funding in a single PI. Is it odd to submit a grant with one PI and no co-I’s?”

Dr. S: It’s odd not to have co-I’s but that’s not necessarily a full-on collaboration. That might be just consulting work. It’s odd to have 1 PI and nothing else but it does happen. There’s usually someone for stats, some clinical person. The Co-PI thing is rare.”

Dr. D: “This again I think is discipline specific. It would be odd to have a single PI. Submitting to NIH – one of the scoring criteria is your team.”


“You’ve mentioned pulling in someone from outside. How do you identify someone to collaborate with?”

Dr. S: “I had an idea of what I wanted to study, I read background research, found papers that I liked and called the author who ended up recommending someone else. Usually you have an idea and you know the other people in the field who think your idea might be good.“

Dr. D: “My approach is different. Depending on the environment where your PhD is – I came out of a lab where you represent the lab & it was positive in pushing students forward. They gave plenty of opportunities for authorship. This has built me a network of colleagues I trust, so if I was looking for collaborations I would rely on my own senior mentors as well as other peers. At this point in my career, I can allow some of those collaborations to be strategic.

At some point, you’ll be bombarded by people who want your time, attention and collaboration – be aware to not over-load yourself. Your field becomes narrow – in my area, there’s maybe 10 people globally who do what we do. It’s very narrow! You get to know these people through your network, knowing who you can rely on and trust in the field and who would be suitable to collaborate with.”

Dr. S: “I think you need to be aware that there’s predatory behavior in senior faculty. That’s why I’m saying its good to have something to offer. Be careful to not get too one-sided in your relationships. There are senior faculty will take advantage of people coming in and not think what’s best for those people’s careers:”

Dr. R: “You’ve got to go in with a savvy mind. I’ve worked with several collaborations & the most impactful one was a PI who was aggressive & you had to push back. But it ended up being very productive. I was an assistant professor at the time, maybe a bit vulnerable. It became an understanding that he opened up avenues that weren’t attainable at the time, and I was providing publications”

Dr. S: “Essentially two people using each other – and understanding how they’re using each other.”

Dr. R: “We weren’t friends but it was a very productive collaboration. Of course it’s more fun if you get on with them but it’s not always necessary and this collaboration led to some really great work.”

Dr. S: “It’s a business arrangement. If you need what they have, and you have something to offer what they need, then I suppose you should work with them regardless of personality as long as you can be productive.”

Dr. R: “We had extremely good clinical links, a pool of subjects you could recruit from. It would have taken a career to build up the environment, but this collaboration enabled me to use this. It was a hierarchical system as well. It is a lot more fun if you get on with your collaborators but it can work otherwise”

Dr. D: “I think the set of clear expectations at the start is key. Before you enter any collaboration, what are you both bringing to the table? What are you producing? What are your expectations? Even with the greatest laid plans, when things change, how do you continue to work through when expectations change? How do you navigate the muddy water?”

Dr. S: “What Dr. D is saying, there’s a lot of work time and effort to go into maintaining collaborations.”


“What point do you get into a collaboration? When do you decide to back out?”

 Dr. S: “Once you enter into something, you’re going to see that person at conferences. You don’t want to enter into anything lightly. There’s grants, authorship & papers – that’s what we spend all this time on. That’s what you have to negotiate, you really have to work these things out. What responsibilities are, how you’re splitting grants. That grant has to go through one center, and that determines who takes the leadership role.”

Dr. D: “To add to that, I haven’t burnt a bridge and I’m proud of that. I’ve had collaborations where I’ve been asked to be Co-PI and nothing came to fruition. Sometimes you have to respectfully decline & not go there again. Give everyone a good first effort, if that first effort doesn’t work out well then I don’t do that again. I’m careful to not roll that coin again.”


“Do most collaborations start at the grant level or how are they born?”
Dr. S: “I needed someone to recruit patients  & do the neuro-psych aspect. We didn’t write a grant off the bat. We put something concrete into it. Then we started to collect data & then pretty quickly work on a grant. I think you need to have resources to be able to sustain collaboration. It’s different when you’re working with something on campus, where you can play with ideas and experiment in your lab. With 2 big groups it has to turn into resources.”

Dr. R: “My most intellectually fun collaborations don’t start off as grants. You have colleagues/friends who share an interest, passionate about what you do, and its fun. Those can sometimes lead to grants, and once they do its important to establish some expectations. You don’t want to fall out then! You’ve had a fun experience and now it’s gotten to a point where you have money. What we did is we had a document, like a contract & guidelines for publication, from a grant with 8 PIs on it. This agreement would start off with everyone on the paper, and then it was left to each PI to decide what study they worked on. We could call out our co-PIs and say they didn’t do anything, you shouldn’t be on the paper. I don’t think that happened ever – it was understood that if you didn’t have any role in that publication other than being on the grant, people stepped back off authorship for that publication.”

Dr. S: “We’re working on a coordinated collaboration. We won’t get a grant unless we’ve shown we can work collaboratively together.”

Dr. D: “I’ve started collaborations that have been about a paper, contribute something and that leads to something collaborative in the future. We can generate a lot of papers and I contribute to the bigger grant. I’ve had other situations where I contribute to grant proposal as a consultant, thru the grant writing process in the meantime we should get a paper out. If it’s successful it’s generated papers in the interim between projects.”

“When someone approaches you with a project, how do you evaluate whether it’s a collaboration you want to work with?”
Dr. S: “You have to respect the person scientifically & believe that they share your ethical perspective. As you go on in science, you build a reputation, you get more requests for collaborations. You have to know your limitations. Especially early on there’s a tendency to run in every direction & that can hurt you. Make sure its something your passionate about & it fits your goal scientifically. If it does, great!”
Dr. D: “What’s their motivation? Is it predatory? Can you read between the lines, what’s their need? Is it mentoring for you? What are you going to get out of it your end – if it’s only one paper but a new positive collaboration is it worth it? The more you go in understanding expectations & cost-benefit, you make a strategic decision.”

Another professor from the audience: “Sometimes people approach because you have something they want, but their question isn’t interesting to you. That doesn’t mean you can’t work together, you could create a quid-pro-quo but that’s not a collaboration. There has to be some interest in the same question.”

Dr. D: “Additionally ask some questions. Where’s the proof? I’ve been working with so and so, where is that on the CV? If you’re investing lots of time that’s not resulting in an outcome, maybe intellectually that’s great. In the early part of your career, you should be focused on the productive pathways for you. Later on in your career, then you can do a few more of those intellectually stimulating things that have less productive outcomes. We can maybe feed those things then. Think about how many of those collaborations you have and what the outcomes are for that stage in your career.”


“Have you been part of something you didn’t like how it turned out? The end-product isn’t something you want your name associated with? How do you explain it on your CV?”

 Dr. R: “I’ve taken my name off because I felt I couldn’t contribute. I’ve been in an awkward collaboration before, I was close to saying I’ve had enough & things didn’t turn out so well on that particular project. In the acknowledgements, they said I said I cleaned the computer screen! They diminished my role in the paper that came out.”

Dr. S: “I had a postdoc who was with me a while. We had an argument about the interpretation of one of our findings. You are your faculty’s children in a way, and we really feel very passionate about our research. This thing happens when you’re a grad student where you move out the house, there’s a bit of friction about who gets to do what. I said to our post-doc, if you do this, take my name off the paper. I was being a baby about it, I was an idiot! A few months later, I see the paper without my name on it. I thought that’s not what I meant! I have never said take my name off it since! That was stupid of me. It’s difficult to transition from the personal mentor-mentee relationship, it is like your kids growing up.”

Dr. D: “ I have not pulled my name off but I will. I think more important than the cut is navigating those conversations in how you express with what you’re unhappy with & leading you to speak up. I’ve had incidences where I’ve had to have those difficult conversations. I was clear saying I will support this endeavor, if the grant is funded we will have a very clear discussion on how this will work. I was clear – communication is key. Going forward here are the expectations.”

Dr. R: “We’re talking about us as PIs on collaborations and pulling out of papers. In your early career, as a grad student, you’re much more vulnerable. Maybe you collaborate with a friend, it’s important to establish some guidelines & expectations. All of a sudden you can be in a position where their PI asks what did they do.”
Dr. S: “Really good point. When I was a grad student, we made our data collection apparatus. I had constructed some things & written some code. I did it for my work, some others in our lab used it. I didn’t get even an acknowledgement. That’s something I’m sensitive to in my lab, and if someone’s contributing they have to be an author. You have to know your mentor. Bring this up!” 

Dr. R: “If you’re spending a lot of time on it, you should get authorship.”

“People who do essentially the same work, bringing same skills – they’re just really good friends and want to work together. Is there anything wrong with working together just because it’s fun even if no one is bringing anything new to to the table?” 

Dr. S: “I’ve been toying for 20 years with a project to do with a friend, and we haven’t figured it out, so we just drink together. Here, we were out to lunch with a collaborator we have different theoretical approaches and that turns into a collaboration. If you don’t have something substantial from 2 different places to turn into a collaboration it can be difficult.”

Dr. D: “In our field, a meta-review, stats analysis we write with colleagues who have overlap and respect. Right now, I’m working with a colleague because we like each other and get along. This is a great way to produce something relevant – it’s a book chapter. Those are a little bit more selective”
Dr. S: “Same with conference organization.”

Dr. D: “When you’re in charge of a conference and you need people to help you, your collaborators and their students are the ones you want to be pooling from.”


“When you have collaborators how do you figure out authorship?”
Dr. D: “I think we do all. If there’s a clear distinction between areas, it’s clear. Otherwise right from the start, we make a manuscript plan. Lay out expectations clearly, how do students fit in, who’s getting first author etc.”

Professor in audience: “First author is primary responsibility for work. Last author is the advisor. I know this varies by field.”
Dr. R: “I think for the most part, it’s pretty clear. There’s not disagreements who go first. It’s the students typically who go first. Mainly the discussion comes with who goes last, I think it’s clear but if it’s not, you can either rotate, or we use two corresponding authors. Stating they’ve done equal work or some other concession.”
Dr. D: “It’s definitely field dependent. For many of you who will go into assistant professor positions, if you’re going thru promotion and tenure process. There are different ways of looking to being first author on your mentor’s papers, and then switching to last author. It’s not that fast, but then you need to be first author on your own papers. Maybe you don’t have a grad student who’s fully trained, or you work fully alone. As you build a lab and develop a deeper mentoring relationship, as you’re growing, you primarily build your senior author papers.  One of the feedback we give junior faculty reviewing their CV’s, where’s the first authorship on your work? You go from first author on your mentor’s work to being senior author on your own work.”

Dr. R: “I think that’s definitely field specific. I didn’t feel that. I started with an honors student and they need to go first. There’s times where I’ve had instances where a student left, and I finished doing the papers and I felt awkward going first because I didn’t want people thinking I’d stolen the paper from my student!”

Dr. S: “All things being equal, going back to collaborations, you should rotate being last author. Usually the trainee or student is working very closely with one of the senior authors. Normally they will be last author.”


“How much of that transition you talked about happens as a post-doc?”

Dr. S: “You’re probably first author. But if you’re a post-doc and you mentor a student, then you should be senior author. But usually it’s when you start striking out on your own.”

Dr. D: “Often as a post-doc you’re still first author.”

Professor in audience: “It’s fair to say you don’t want a bunch of middle-authorships when you go up for promotion and tenure.”

Dr. D: “You need that transition separating from your mentor, showing your independence and then showing your mentorship.”

Dr. S: “There’s nothing wrong with having middle authorships as long as you still show your transition.”


Thanks to our professors for this talk on collaborations, it raised some very interesting points to consider.

Life after Grad School

The other day we were lucky enough to have a chat with a graduate of our program (who will remain nameless). She graduated in 2008, having to deal with the post-market crash job market, underwent two postdocs, was offered a tenure-track position in 2012 and recently moved to another university. To add to the job-market difficulties, she has a husband in a similar area in academia and they had to deal with being competitors for the same jobs.


“What did you end up choosing in regards to research vs teaching load?”
“I wanted to be in research, with research as primary position. Tenure-track positions comprise of differing requirements in research, teaching & service hours. Offers are structured either as a solid percentage (for example, teaching two 3 credit courses = 40% teaching) but I knew I wanted research as primary focus. I entered job market post-recession, there weren’t many options. I needed to cast a wide-net and decided to make the tough decisions when they happen. Of course, this debate is only a problem when you get an offer. My first position was primarily research.”


“Can I ask why in why you’ve been interested in research?”
“I think it stemmed from scientific curiosity – something you can foster in grad school. The faculty here are scientists at heart, it was something I really found satisfaction in. I love mentoring, it allows you the chance to connect with students that’s hard when you’re teaching a large class.

I wanted to be in an academic environment, to operate there & enjoy learning the science behind it. My advice would be to take advantage of teaching opportunities you have. If you haven’t had much experience in teaching before you have a first faculty job, then you find out you hate teaching, you have to write a bunch of grants and buy yourself out!”


“Can you comment on how you sort out postdoc opportunities, timing and who you talk to?”
“I can’t recommend this as the right way to find a postdoc, but it’s the way I did it. As a lab, we attended the same conferences each year – make sure you’re presenting & going to the same one several years in a row. Figure out who’s who in the field, see who do you want to work for. Talk to current lab personnel and find out the direction the lab’s going in, and what sort of advisor the PI is. A byproduct of attending conferences is finding out who’s work is of interest to you. There was an individual I’d gone out with and had beers with over the years, and he told me to apply for his un-advertised post-doc position, that I ended up taking. A lot of it is being in the right place at the right time.

That sounds fatalistic, but if you position yourself the right way you can take advantages of opportunities as they present to you. Go with your gut! At every stage in my career, if there was a decision to make, I went with what felt like the right fit. It’s not permanent. People move and switch gears a lot. There’s lots of time-points in your career to go try new things. You can always change the course of your career, it takes the pressure off the sense that it’s a ‘now or never’ thing.

Think about what sort of skills you want to gain; what sort of networks you want to build. Post-docs can really be a springboard for your career. The things you can look for – can I get grant writing experience & can I publish? Can I take some of the work I do with me to my next position? In the last 4 years I have sat on committees and gone through the academic search process myself & I can tell you there’s criteria on CV’s that you need. You need first-author publications!

When I accepted my first position it was the best fit at that time. You take a hit in productivity when you relocate but I felt I was unable to grow my career, expand my research questions, in part because I wanted to answer clinically oriented questions. I was looking for critical mass of faculty interested in similar things. I get the most out of informal conversations about science, checking each others work & I was lacking those opportunities. I either had to change my expectations or change my position. I put myself out there to see if I could change position; it just happened that I could. I was happy there but not forever. As a side note, at points in your career you have more negotiating power than other times. And I’d also say that the world is extremely small – your scientific field is so small. Never badmouth anyone or any place because it gets back to people pretty quickly.”


“How do you find yourself in your own research group? How do you find your groove & go your own way?”
“Great question – that’s what makes or breaks junior faculty, whether they find that groove. It’s difficult because post-docs are grant funded so you have an obligation to do science that’s not your own. A good conversation to have with your post-doc advisor is to strategize about how to develop your own ideas and become an independent researcher. You can get dinged at promotion if you continue to publish with old mentors because it shows lack of independence. I found my groove being driven by the data: ‘what do these data suggest?’ design a follow-up study & you spin off and find your own questions. It ended up happening without me really realizing – driven by data & the scientific process. Every study generates more questions & you spin off from that. One of the challenges as a faculty member, judging which projects to give to whom, what can this person handle? There’s value in postdoc, you may get different perspective on mentoring too.”


“When do you decide to give up on a track of research?”

“You circumvent some of that when you design your study correctly – we’re testing hypotheses rather than supporting hypotheses. Certainly some lines of work are more fundable than others – that’s where going to conferences & having mentors – not you’re your advisor but other career mentors too. There’s more to academia than just science. Mentors may be excellent in time management, teaching, work-life balance etc. Making sure a line of work is fundable is important as junior faculty member. No single study is conclusive.”


“What’s the process going from academia to industry or bridging that gap?”

“In academia you have a CV, in industry you have a 1-page resume. You need to think about whether your experience is going on a CV or resume. If you’re interested in industry, make a CV now. What’s missing? Go get it now! There are things you can do now to make sure you have a compelling resume and compelling CV. Internships, industry connections. In academia you can rely somewhat on pedigree, the connections aren’t going to hurt you but you have to build an industry network.

There’s a bunch of post-docs are funded by companies. There’s post-docs who present to the companies, making connections. You can do post-doc & go into industry & tailor what you’re doing.”


“Did you go through a spousal hire process?”
“I was offered the position and I said I wasn’t taking it unless there was a position for my husband too. I didn’t have to give up other things in my negotiations. When to disclose that is a hard thing to say. Talk to mentors who’ve sat on search committees, find out how they view things. How does the university handle spousal accommodation?”


“What’s the negotiating process like?”
“If they’re state universities, faculty salaries are published. Ask your peers what they make. For estimating start up funds, you can get a rough idea from your peers – that’s where conferences can work in your advantage. It’s so dependent on type of research that you do – talk to people who have the lab you want. I didn’t negotiate my salary when I moved because I had a grant.

In academia, there’s lots of things you can negotiate on. You don’t want to ask for too much, ask for what you need at the moment. It’s much better to go to your department head that you outgrew the space that you got and the two of you sit down and figure out a solution. That means you’ve been productive, successful, and if they don’t give you what you need you can go somewhere that will. There’s things like salary, although there’s not really room for negotiation at state universities. I don’t recommend pushing on salary, it gives you less wiggle room for start up or teaching releases.

When you hit your groove (about year 3), I suggest asking for a reduced teaching load, or a pot of money for students to travel with. You can negotiate what benefits are available, how much your one-time chunk of money is and what that’s linked to, for example an external speaker fund. Everything is negotiable too.”


“Can you negotiate your post doc salary?”
“It depends who’s funding it. A lot of times that salary is written into the grant. And it’s such a big pay bump from what you’re making as a grad student! Unless your PI is rolling in dough, it’s going to be pretty fixed. A lot of fellowships pay better than state-funded postdocs where you get for example $70k a year instead of $40k, and they’re a lot more competitive.”

“There’s always postdoc funding that’s not always listed, put it out there. “Hey I like your work, if you ever have a postdoc let me know”. A lot of times you write a grant with a PI, talk to them years in advance and think about how to write a grant together. As a PI now, I have expectations for my postdocs – they have to write grants. It’s relevant work experience. Also, you never know when you will relocate, there are opportunities where post-doc position might be written into a new position’s start up.”


“If you have a shortlist for people you want to do a post-doc with, how many people would you recommend reaching out to?”
“I don’t think there’s an upper limit on it. Personalities may come into play. Everyone knows that this is going on. Everyone’s incredibly busy & self-absorbed to remember whether someone contacted them or swing by the lab. Persistence & commitment are key!”


“As far as looking for a postdoc, what’s your opinion on the amount of retraining you should undergo?”
“That’s a conversation to have with potential mentor. You want someone to come in and be your right hand person. But the level of hands-on retraining is probably project dependent. Are you there to help train grad students? Many times you may be hired for a specific skillset, and you’re there to learn. There’s a balance between where you want to learn and what they want you to do.”


“How do you make the jump between clinical populations? Is a postdoc the time to do it?”
“That’s a good post-doc move e.g. switching from researching MS to stroke. You can also find those people via conferences – go to the medical conferences – but it’s largely going to be self-taught, or lucking out and finding a mentor in that area.

You can make career shifts but you have to plan in advance. When you give a job talk you tell a story. This is how I started, this is the transition phase and now I’m interested in this. My advice would be to not come across as someone with shiny ball syndrome. It’s hard to develop a strong national reputation when you haven’t spent a lot of time in that field. A post-doc is a good time to get that experience though. This applies with new techniques too, not just populations. I’ll also say that collaborations are great for increasing your knowledge in a new-to-you area.”


“How do you find the balance between the projects you’re doing for your research vs the side projects that explore other interests?”
“You need to make sure you have a body of work which is yours, showing independence before you hit the job market/tenure. I guess you need to make sure you’re not spending the time on others work. Make sure you’re addressing your own work; you need clear conversations upfront who’s going to be senior author will be for different papers. In my lab, we have that conversation up front, and make sure everyone’s on the same page on leadership role. Make sure you’re taking that role on your area and, otherwise, collaborate away. There are also people who don’t want to collaborate and that’s fine too.


I want to end by saying NEVER SAY NEVER. I started out in the west, it was a big move to come to Penn State for grad school. I’ve loved everywhere I’ve lived because the common thread has been the academic environment.”


Thanks for your time and answering our questions!



Today I ended up having a chat with a lab mate over coffee about interesting and novel ways of communicating science. This is something I think we as scientists recognize as a challenge to disseminating our findings, but struggle to implement effectively. My friend mentioned a video she saw on Twitter (link here), which was a PhD thesis summarized into a short animation. I think this is a cool idea, and would be great to see more science communicated this way. Another way is that from Lizooth Sloot, where she made her thesis a blog (click here to check it out)!

In biomechanics specifically, I could see findings from simulations, motion analysis, and experiments being communicated very clearly through video – and we do it to a certain extent at conferences. It would be great to put these videos onto websites with little jargon so others who may not be in the field, or are just starting out can learn.

I remember first starting to read journal articles and feeling very daunted by the fancy language, the official looking layout, the black-and-white figures and the assumptions of a background knowledge. It would have been useful to have the findings, which I was interested in, communicated in a less isolating way. More and more scientists are trying to do this – take Richard Baker’s blog as a great example of disseminating science in an interactive and fun way!

With this blog, I’m going to try and demystify the world of grad school, including the science that I encounter. So with that in mind, below I’m going to link some interesting blogs that talk about science (not specifically biomechanics, but hopefully related). I’m also going to feature a few “classic” papers and my interpretation of them, in addition to papers I’m reading for my own research. I’m also going to start an “equipment of the month” piece where I talk about different tools we have around the lab and how we use them, maybe comparing set-ups where I have experience in two or more systems and link some studies using the equipment I’ve talked about.


Science Blogs:

Walking with Richard – biomechanics, with a focus on clinical gait

It’s Okay to be Smart – a fun look at all things science

The Research Whisperer – life in academia

PhD Comics – not science specific, but very representative of grad school!

As I find more I’ll update, and please leave suggestions in the comments