Thursday, August 16, 2012

More Webinars from Bio Careers

Here are some more webinars from Bio Careers that you might be interested in:

1. Applying and Interviewing for Industry Science Jobs
2. The Real Global Challenges
3. Research in Unexpected Places: Biomedical research in areas beyond pharmaceutical
and biotechnology companies
4. Leaving the Bench - Tapping Your Inner Entrepreneur
5. Staying Connected to Science: Research Administration as a Career Choice for PhD Scientists
6. Moving to the Dark Side – The Administration!
7. Positions in Academia: The liberal arts perspective
8. From Academia to Entrepreneur: How to Start Your Own Company
9. Is this the right place for me? Choosing a new lab or workplace

To register visit their Events page:

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Summer Break

Hello Readers!
I am taking a summer break so I'll be writing more in the Fall.
Hope to see you then - enjoy your BBQs and poolside fun!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Free Bio Careers Webinars!

Here are some helpful webinars you can check out that was passed onto me by BioCareers. Enjoy!

1. Presenter: Samantha Zhang, PhD
Topic: Career Path: "Graduate fast with a Ph.D!"
Wed, 2012-07-11, 1-2PM EST

2. Presenter: Bob Kilcullen
Topic: BioAnimator - Scientific Presentation Tool
Wed, 2012-07-18, 1-2PM EST

3. Presenter: Jennifer Reineke Pohlhaus, PhD
Topic: Career Path: "Science Policy: Making the Switch"
Wed, 2012-07-25, 1-2PM EST 

4. Presenter: Matthew Seavey, MD
Topic: Job Search: "Applying and Interviewing for Industry Science Jobs"
Wed, 2012-08-22, 1-2PM EST 

More details about each webinar can be found by clicking on the registration links. 
The webinar recording will be given to anyone who attends.
If anyone attend, please comment any feedback - thanks!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Topics for Graduate Professional Development Course

Some students have asked, so here are some of the topics (not all included) which will be discussed in our new graduate development course for basic medical science graduate students.

1) How to Cultivate Essential Skills outside Benchwork
Some include problem-solving, project management, communications, leadership, multi-tasking, collaborations, perseverance, analytics, initiative. Questions to discuss are 
1. Why are you in Graduate School?
2. What do you hope to achieve during your training?
3. Which skills would you like to develop?
4. How do you think you can do that during graduate school?
5. What are your career aspirations?
6. What services might you use offered by U of T?
7. What services would you like to see more of or initiate?

Guest Panel: Various Leadership, Career, Professional Development Program Leaders at U of T.

2) How to Obtain and Succeed in an Academic Position
Topics to discuss are navigating through competitive academia, lab management, collaborations, grants, teaching, administration, academic mentorship.
1. Given your own research, which collaborations do you envision forming in the future and why?
2. How would you optimize your chances of achieving a successful academic position?
3. Research and list some of the grants available to you after graduation.

Guest Panel: Four Successful Academics

3) Importance of Mentorship
Topics to discuss are the importance of the PI/student or postdoc relationship, mentorship, how to find a mentor, and training the future mentor/PI.

1. Of you were a PI/mentor, develop a feedback form for your student and career plan is they wanted to pursue a) academia or b) science writing.
2. How would you find a mentor outside your department?

Guest Panel
Mentorship Experts, Professor with Start-up, Innovations Officer

4) Postdoc Choices and Succeeding in a Nonacademic Career

Topics to discuss are the nonacademic pathways available, how to find the hidden job market, how to land the job and how to succeed as a nonacademic scientist.

1. Which labs would you pursue your postdoctoral studies towards an academic career? Why? If your goals change during the process, how would you change the direction of your postdoc?
2. What are your career objectives? This question should be asked every year during your career.
3. What is the hidden job market?
4. What are the nonacademic options are you interested in at this time? How would you find out more about these jobs?

Guest Panel
PhD & LLD, PhD Clinical Biochemist, PhD Dean of Students, MSc Director of Sales and Marketing

5) The Big Picture: Global Concerns and Science

Topics to discuss are thinking outside the box, TED talks, relating to innovate, market trends in the biotech industry. Finding your passion.

1. If you had a scientific breakthrough with your research, what are the issues and concerns getting it to marker?
2. List some of the global scientific concerns facing us today.
3. List some biotech companies that interest you and state why.
4. Which causes funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation interest you?

6) Career Transitions and Development Throughout Life

Topics to discuss are the skills to develop for career transitions throughout life’s changes such as the effects of relationships, finances, marriage, children, aging parents, re-entry after childrearing, company restructuring, grant losses, and retirement.

1. If money was not an issue, what would you research on and why?
2. What career development resources are available to you throughout school and life?
3. Research and find re-entry grants after childrearing or other family responsibilities.
4. If you decided to be a full-time caregiver, how would you stay connected to science?
5. What are some of the career issues facing postdocs and scientists today?

Guest Panel:
MSc Innovations Officer, PhD Science Writer, PhD Pharma, PhD Pharma Communications

7) Research Ethics
1. What, if any, ethical issues do you see arising from any part of your research?
2. List other researchers involved with the R&D of any topic related to your research.
3. What topics around research ethics did you learn today?

Guest Panel:
PhD Management Consultant, PhD Recruiter, PhD R&D Scientist Biotech, PhD Bioinformatics R&D

Written Assignments (50%)
Oral Presentations (30%)
Class Participation (20%)

Paper Presented at Education Conference

Hi everyone, here is the paper I presented today at CICE. Since it is in the proceedings and people have taken photos of my presentation, I will make it available here. Enjoy!

Innovative Integration of Professional Development into the Curriculum for Bioscience Graduate Students

Nana Lee and Reinhart Reithmeier
Department of Biochemistry, University of Toronto, Canada


To accommodate the changing career and professional skills required for graduate students in the current and future employment market, we are implementing an innovative approach to graduate education at the University of Toronto. With the increasing production of graduate students and severe competition for academic research funding, an increasing pool of PhD students are leading roles in business, finance, social programs, government, start-ups, education and other areas outside the traditional academia. We propose a much needed supplement in the curriculum of higher education to help train the future scientific leaders both in and out of academia. The graduate professional development course trains the graduate student in areas of communication, leadership, taking initiative, problem-solving, creative ways in serving the world with their science and passion, thinking “outside the box,” mentorship, ethics, achieving and developing a successful academic or nonacademic career while integrating family and outside interests.

1. Introduction

     University higher education was established to train and cultivate new university professors. A national survey of over 4,000 doctorate students showed that today’s doctoral programs show a “mismatch between student goals, training and actual careers” [1]. Current surveys have shown that more bioscience graduate students choose nonacademic careers, due to fierce competition for academic positions or other reasons. According to Helm et al [2], four types of graduate students emerge from doctoral programs: 1) those pursuing academic careers who eventually acquire such positions, 2) those who prefer to teach versus research and acquire positions in community colleges, 3) those whose first choice is academia, but are unable to do so and are forced to seek nonacademic positions, 4) those who choose a nonacademic career altogether. The current rate of PhD production has increased to a “surplus” [3, 4], and new PhDs must work in nonacademic positions where other skills besides research are just as important.
     Employers seek out skills such as communications, leadership, administration, interpersonal skills, and technology skills [5]. Other skills include creativity, initiative, maintaining life balance and wellness, networking, and mentorship. Academic curriculum are misaligned with the PhD student’s career options and intentions and restructuring graduate education has been proposed since 2000 [5]. Professors are apt to mentor and advise with academic issues but most are not aware of the nonacademic directions available to students. Graduate students are left finding their own guidance through student-run career organizations, societies, and websites.
     Higher education administration has the responsibility to guide its graduate students throughout their career development, whether it may be academia or not. Tools, resources and skills should be made available from the first year of graduate school, and throughout their graduate experience as studies have shown shifts in career trajectories through time [2]. We are proposing a pilot course at the University of Toronto to all Biochemistry graduate students so they are aware of career development options and skills to be acquired during their graduate studies, outside the realm of scientific experiments. We hope that such changes in the curriculum will better prepare the graduate student in pursuing a rewarding and satisfying career during and after their academic studies. We also hope that with the acquired career transitions skills, students can apply them throughout their early, mid, and later years as a scientist. We envision this course to serve as the foundation in a long-term goal of establishing a collaborative program within the university to serve the need for career development and leadership skills for graduate students.

2. Body of Knowledge

     Current career development workshops for bioscience graduate students are student-run organizations (Life Science Career Development Society), but they do not reach all students, and most students do not think career development is a priority early in their graduate studies. Mentoring programs do exist (Life Sciences Ontario,) but at the financial expense of the student. Organizations such as MITACS also provide industrial fellowships that match companies with PhDs and postdoctoral fellows; however, not all applicants receive a position. Although career centers do provide excellent workshops, they are mostly marketed and geared towards undergraduates. The pursuit of career development in graduate school is sometimes discouraged as running another experiment to publish is deemed as more important.
     Through recent career symposiums and discussions with life science graduate students at the University of Toronto, not many had a mentor outside of academia and “soft’ skills had not been sought after and developed throughout their graduate career. Many were not aware of the nonacademic career options available. Some were not aware of the importance of LinkedIn and social media networking. Skills such as oral and written communications, finding the hidden job market, finding appropriate career mentors, leadership, conflict negotiation, client relations, and life balance need to be integrated with the academic curriculum to ensure the success of our trained students. The curriculum must also include career and life development skills as career paths change with marriage, family, aging parents, and outside interests. Women scientists, in particular, should be provided with the resources available with maternity leave options and the fellowships available upon their return (CIHR, NSERC.) They must be given the options and tools required to re-enter the system after childbirth and childrearing.
     Helm et al [2] proposed nine recommendations for graduate student administrators which are briefly summarized here: 1) provide tailored career services through departmental collaborations, 2) offer programs so students can explore nonacademic career options, 3) encourage internships and job shadowing, 4) assess PhD programs for all types of careers so students develop in teaching, research, service and outreach, 5) expose students to different career paths via alumni, 6) help students understand the range of roles they will have as faculty and range of institutions available for employment, 7) provide professional development workshops, 8) adapt faculty awareness so that advisors can support student’s career path regardless of their choice, 9) develop a PhD database to track career pathways to provide faculty and students a realistic picture of the PhD job market. A program at U of Toronto which can address these and the previously mentioned recommendations can provide bioscience graduate students career guidance during their studies (early, intermediate, and later) and alumni with career transition services through websites, forums, discussion groups, and one-on-one consults.
      With the career transition skills acquired through the proposed course and continued career consulting, the graduated scientist can use these throughout her/his career, as the science career outside academia is usually dynamic and changes every few years. Mid-life scientists also undergo career changes as companies restructure with economic and science-based transitions within the biotechnology market. As retirement age approaches, most scientists from academia and industry, still desire to contribute. Career transitions skills are also needed in finding ways to maintain scientific connections with roles such as publishing books, establishing non-profits, board memberships, fundraising, continual mentorship, and outreach programs. These early, mid and later life career changes are very individualized, but the acquisition of career transition skills will certainly help with each experience.
     Other graduate departments at UCSD, USC, Michigan State, NCSU offer a graduate student career development and leadership program, led by a faculty director. The long-term goal at U of Toronto is to establish a similar program in conjunction with Career Services, Student Life, Continuing Studies (Mentoring,) OISE, Institute of Wellness, Life Science Career Development Society, U of Toronto Postdoctoral Association, School of Graduate Studies, Faculty of Medicine and partner with corporate sponsorships which fund leadership programs in higher education. The proposed pilot course will provide preliminary feedback to establish a long-term goal of such an innovative program at the University of Toronto.

3. Conclusion

     To meet the need for more graduate students choosing nonacademic careers, we are establishing a graduate level course focused on cultivating the professional development skills required to succeed during and beyond graduate school education in the biosciences. It is offered to all entering graduate students and strongly recommended for current MSc, PhD students and postdoctoral fellows. Interactive lectures will include expert lecturers and classroom discussions regarding the practical aspects of succeeding in graduate school, choosing and training as a postdoctoral fellow, integrating family commitments, career options in and out of academia, career transitions, internships, and developing strong communication skills. Topics to discuss include effective networking, best methods of searching for and landing the job, management of start-up biotech companies, global scientific issues, bioethics, outreach, clinical applications, social implications, maintaining career development, finding a mentor, and the importance of clear communication with mentors. Students will develop skills in writing proposals for scientists and the general public. Students will also develop skills in oral communication through actual networking and presentations in class. Most classes will be followed by a question and answer period with guest speakers from various industries and careers such as those from Patent Law, Biotech Toronto, Career Centre, Office of Research Ethics, Management Consulting, Science Writing, Health Policy Management Evaluation, Public Health, MaRs, OICR, Government, Non-Profit Organizations, Education and World Issues. Included with the class is personalized career consulting for each student, specific to each individual’s career and life goals.
     We envision that the pilot course will grow so that all bioscience graduate students at the University of Toronto will be trained with these skills and tools in the near future. We also hope to develop a collaborative career and leadership program to provide an innovative and much needed service to all current graduate students and alumni bioscientists from the Faculty of Medicine. Another long-term goal includes a creation of a national network with all graduate departments in Canadian universities to share mentors, internship opportunities, alumni experiences and other career development programs.

4. References

[1] Golde, C.M. and Dore, T.M. “At Cross Purposes: What the Experiences of Today’s Doctoral Students Reveal About Doctoral Education.” Pew Charitable Trusts. 2001.

[2]  Matt Helm, Henry Campa, III, and Kristin Moretto. “Professional Socialization for the PhD: An Exploration of Career and Professional Development Preparedness and Readiness for PhD Candidates” Journal of Faculty Development. Vol. 26, No. 2, May 2012. 5-23.

[3] “Doctoral Degrees The Disposable Academic: Why Doing a PhD is Often a Waste of Time, Dec 16, 2010. The Economist.

[4] David Cyranoski, Natasha Gilbert, Hedi Ledford, Anjali Nayar, Mohammed Yahia. “The World is Producing more PhDs than ever Before. Is it Time to Stop?” Nature. 20 472, 276-279, April 2011.

 [5] Jody Nyquist and Donald H. Wulff. “Envisioning the PhD: Recommendations from National Studies on Doctoral Education.” 2000.  

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Recent Articles on Improving Graduate Education

Hi Grad Students and Educators,

Here's a 2011 article about recommendations how to improve bioscience graduate education - things we all knew, but validated with stats. Now, let us implement.

Also in the Journal of Faculty Development (May 2012, Vol. 26, No. 2) Matt Helm et al write about nine recommendations for graduate school administrators. I will summarize them here:

1. Provide tailored career services through a collaborative effort with the department and career centres.
2. Aid students in exploring potential career options.
3. Encourage internships, job-shadowing for nonacademic careers.
4. Assess PhD program for all types of careers.
5. Expose students to various career paths by internships, alumni speakers, networking.
6. Aid students in helping them understand the roles they will have as faculty and how to best be prepared for employment.
7. Provide professional development workshops.
8. Adapt faculty reward structures so that they are rewarded for whichever career pathway their students choose.
9. Develop a public PhD career destination database to track career destinations of PhDs to provide faculty and students the realistic job market.

His article is a good read, so please log on via your e-journal provided by your institution.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Graduate Enterprise Internship

U of Toronto just announced their new Graduate Enterprise Internship program! Exciting! Internships for STEM MSc and PhD students - partly sponsored by the employee. Giant step forward!

I always thought if MDs have internships, residencies, and continuing career development programs, why not PhDs? Engineering students have always had great internship programs - now we have them for the science students.

If your university does not have one in place, direct your Dean to our website so they can start one of their own! Perhaps you can help establish it! I believe that future graduate students will definitely check out the internships programs when choosing their higher educations.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Summer Program For Our Future Leaders

Know any 13-15 year-olds who would like a different education in promoting leadership skills?
MaRS Discovery District has a cool, one week summer entrepreneurship boot camp for future leaders. Check it out.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Presenting at Education Policy Conference

The official program has been released. I will be presenting at the Canada International Conference on Education at the University of Guelph in June, 2012.

Section: Educational Policy and System, Leadership
1112- Innovative Integration of Career/Leadership Development into the
Curriculum for Bioscience Graduate Students 

This is my first time at an education conference, but I am happy I am able to share my ideas with the higher education circle. It will be great to receive feedback and comments from peers. I will post up a link to my paper when it is released. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Graduate Professional Development Course

Hello Dear Grad Students:

As some of you know already, I am coordinating a Graduate Professional Development Course at U of Toronto. The pilot is to start September, 2012. A number of people have inquired. Those of you who are interested, you must be a U of Toronto graduate student in the Biosciences, Faculty of Medicine. The course is open to Biochemistry grad students (as that is my department). Any others will be added to a waiting list.

The course will focus on ways to optimize your graduate experience and cultivate skills such as collaboration, leadership, initiative, creatively thinking "outside the box," and communication while maintaining a satisfying family life. Some topics to cover are how to succeed in the highly competitive academic arena and to find the nonacademic career right for each student. There are 12 interactive lectures, each followed by a guest panel of 3-4 PhD or MSc graduates (academic and nonacademics) to discuss their career pathways. Evaluation is based on class participation, oral presentations and written homework.

If any of you qualify and would like to take this course (postdocs can also check it out for a fee), you can find me on linkedin, connect with me with an appropriate message, and I'll send you the details. We may also offer it in the summer as a workshop, condensed version.

Also, if you are at another university and would like to start one at your department, you may contact me as well for more information.

Good luck  - perhaps see you in class!

Monday, May 14, 2012


Hello to all Readers,

Thanks for your support. Just to let you know that I will be writing in this blog less frequently now - probably once/twice a month with updates on papers or the curriculum I am currently planning for professional development for graduate students. Since I am "working" on my cause, I will be blogging about the lighter side in life at Moments to Smile for. A preview was found on my earlier entry. I wanted to share those fleeting moments in life you smile for. Hope to see you there!

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Tribute to B

One of my best friend's nephew passed yesterday morning, after a strong battle with brain cancer. He put up a great fight.

We honour his 6 short years of life on Earth.
Although are all saddened by the loss, he had touched many lives within his family, friends and church. He made a difference while he was here.

Although he was quite frail when he passed, I am sure everyone will remember him as the smiling boy who loved to play.

Hug somebody today.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Moments to Smile for

Once or twice a day, I experience or think of moments which I would love to capture forever but cannot. The moment passes and the actual experience will never be the same in the future - it may be similar, but never the same.

Here is one of my favorites:

Holding my daughters' hands. As we we walk hand in hand, I hold those 5 little soft fingers gingerly with much love. The curvature of their tiny fingers remind me when they would squeeze my hand as a newborn. And I think - wow, they have grown...but are still very little. I know that in a few years time, I will never be able to hold that little hand, as they will grow into young ladies. The hands that write, flip pages, hold bike handles, play piano, caress my face, give me hugs; I hold them, every chance I get.

Other moments to come...
I am writing these on my separate, new blog entitled
"Moments to Smile for" at
See you there for life's moments.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


I picked up a book the other day about the "Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin.

I am in the middle of reading it, and I like the overall message of how we can change just little things in life, our outlook - to be happier.

I look at the people walking down the streets or on the subway sometimes and I wonder - are they happy? They don't seem to be. Are they merely transporting their bodies and brains to an uninspiring cubicle all day? Or, are they inspired by their work? Perhaps it is just me, but the sea of black winter coats does not do anything for inspiration. What happened to the colours? Why are some walls just blank? Empty canvas walls fill in the city. We should promote an art program with the city to colour them in! There should be musicians on every other street corner.

Perhaps I am affected by the trip we took to Paris, France and Iceland last summer. Wow - those Europeans - really know how to LIVE - the art, the music, the food. Inspiring. They did seem happier. Colour was everywhere.

Perhaps we will also grow like that, as our young North American cities age. Perhaps our subway stations and building walls will also serve as canvases for future Impressionistic art. Perhaps we will have more musicians in every restaurant, cafe and brunch place.

Creativity, art, colour, music, how we react to situations - I think all play intricate roles in our own happiness. Scientists don't really talk about happiness. I am not sure why. Perhaps because it cannot be measured with any unit. Perhaps it's not relevant to some scientists. Perhaps because if you've published in Science, Nature and Cell, then you are allowed to be happy.

In any case, I think that we as scientists, can only address the issues in the world, if we ask ourselves - what makes me truly happy? What sort of work will make me content with my research? It's not an easy question to answer; but once you achieve it, you are all set!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Life's Changes

It's been a while since I have posted, not due to lack of material, but I am undergoing some major transitions in my life as well. All exciting!

All I have to say right now is that inspiration and passion are two very important drives in a career and all of life.

I am at stage in my life where I am comfortable with my choices, forging ahead with my ideas, with no fear. It's a liberating feeling.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Intermissions in Life

Break between Undergrad and Graduate School.
Break between PhD and Postdoc.
Break between Postdoc and Job.
Breaks between Jobs.
Breaks between Jobs and Parenthood.

For some reason, most straight A students feel this need to jump into the next step. I have heard stories where students give themselves a week between thesis defense and postdoc, start the postdoc even before the defense, straight from one job to the next. Scientist-types feel a need to keep moving to the next search of that "final" destination.

Which is?

There is never a final destination, especially in this era. Even if you do achieve the tenure-track academic position, some may think this is the "final" career destination. However, many professors are continually supplementing their careers with side businesses, participating in start-ups, task forces, new initiatives, politics. The "career development" never ends.

So why do we feel this burning desire to just keep on moving?

Take a vacation!
Travel the world!
Take a break.
Become a musician at a local cafe.
Dabble in the arts. Photography.
Learn a new language.
Try something you have never done before. Scuba? Sailing? Grab a hammer and help Habitat for Humanity. Volunteer.

Nobody will grant you these extra times during a take them during your intermissions in life. Pat yourself on the back and take a break! It's all about the process, not the end result. And the end result? You may never know you are already there.

The job title does not define you.
Try to think of a word that describes yourself. Not an occupation, just a word. That, is real life. That is your legacy you will leave behind. It's not just the science, the publications, the long hours in the lab. Those are given.

What is the extra something you bring to life? Remember, just one word. That description should explain you wherever you are, during all the times you are at a "job" and when you are on an intermission.

Some examples:

Try it. And the next time you have a rare intermission in life, take an extra week or two or three or four (depending on other circumstances) and enjoy just being here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Passion II

Students of Science!

Where did the passion go?
Where is the creativity and innovation?
Wake up!

During your training is the best time to explore what gets you fired up. You are the next generation of leaders - explore the world!

I have met some individuals that took it upon themselves to find volunteer positions in the business or non-profit sector while working on their MSc or PhD degrees. These are the leaders. They know what they want or need to do to obtain their goals, They do not only meet the rigors of the graduate student curriculum, but they form their own internships and reach out to people on their own. They find a passion on how to change the world, and they talk to the right people. This passion alone is very attractive and somehow along the way, this very passion will land them the project and/or job.

Leaders that change the world did not look for the boxed job just to pay the bills, they followed their heart...the money will most likely follow. And if you are in the boxed job, try to change things from within! Perseverance, believing in yourself and establishing a support network are the key ingredients.

You are intelligent - invent, innovate and change something for the better! Take a risk - you only live once.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Living Your Dream

If you could work on whatever project in the world, without worrying about any other outside issues, what would it be? Given unlimited financial resources, a Mary Poppins nanny for your children, 5-star resort quality care for your aging parents, an immaculate housekeeper, a personal chef, what would you work on to better the world or even the science project you are currently working on?

One weekend day, think about this question, and follow-through.

Here are some examples:
1. I want to study the link between diet, personalized medicine for cancer, and outcome.
2. I would like to design a more efficient, comprehensive diagnostic method in screening for pediatric hereditary diseases.
3. I want to write about the effects of environmental toxins, food biochemistry, and effects on child development.
4. I want to combine my science with policy and find a career in governmental intelligence.
5. I want to change the infrastructure in the health organizations of some third world countries so they are self-sustainable.

Some of your free thinking days will be related to science, sometimes not. However, if you keep thinking about the same issue you would like to challenge yourself with, you have a passion for it.

Not many PhD students are told this, but "You have a PhD! You are intelligent and with motivation, you can be a leader of your own cause!"

Students tend to think they have to apply to the "boxed" jobs, but the best careers are those that you have driven yourself. If you have the passion and motivation for something, start with small steps. Perhaps a few hours week with basic research, getting to know the players in the field and discovering what has already been done. Next step is to contact those who are already in the field, chat with many people. Write it all down in a notebook with date, person and contents of the chat. Offer your services to an organization that will support your passion and your accrued knowledge. It might take a while, but within a year or two with the right support, you will enter the field. Within 3-5 years, you will have established yourself and be expanding your career. Remember to keep reading, publishing and communicating your ideas. Only communicated ideas are innovated.

Only if you take those initial baby steps and keep persevering will the dream become a reality.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Non-Invasive Prenatal Tests

Last October, I attended the American Society of Human Genetics conference and spoke to a representative at a booth for Verinata about noninvasive prenatal diagnostics using state-of-the-art genome sequencing technologies.

A few weeks later, Sequenom announced it offered the same test.

There as been some "legal banter" between the two companies.

Verinata just recently released its manuscript in Obstetrics and Gynecology verifying its accuracy.

What does this mean for the future mothers?
I have not read the publication in thorough detail, but if non-invasive sequencing methods can detect chromosomal abnormalities, will they become the screening method of choice in the near future? With invasive sampling techniques, patients are always anxious over miscarriage rates, however low they may be. Some mothers, choose not to do any screening. However, given a non-invasive, no-risk blood test, would mothers choose this to carry on the pregnancy with a prepared mind?

To those of you who are interested, it is not part of Canada's healthcare yet. It is not available in Canada, and at the current moment, only US physicians can order the test. I am not sure about the cost, but apparently, you can send in a blood sample in the 10th week. Turn-around time is 8-10 days. I am sure it will enter Canada soon.

I have been following this story for quite some time, ever since the conference, as I think it affects many mothers-to-be all over the world. I had a "scare" with my first pregnancy, and the anxiety was very, very stressful. Something like this would have been wonderful.

So to all those planning on having babies in the future, keep informed of this topic - it may really affect your life.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Higher Education Conference Paper Accepted!

My alma mater's data shows that with graduate students from the past 7 years, only 15% of the them were currently in academic appointments. Academic mentors supervise them. What about the other 85%? We need non-academic leaders back in the ivory tower to advise and mentor.

In the spirit of academia, I wrote a paper submission to a Higher Education Conference about implementing a shift in graduate education with mandatory career development courses and my overall vision for the future. After peer review, it was accepted! I am presenting it in June, 2012.

When it becomes officially published, I will link it in.
It's an exciting time when a passion grows and becomes a career!

Thursday, March 29, 2012


You can now follow me on Twitter!
Nana Lee @NanaLee03

Symposium on Preparing for Your Career During Graduate School

I will be delivering this interactive discussion at U of Toronto, Main Campus on Thursday April 5 at 11 am. If you are interested in attending and not already on the mailing list, please contact me through LinkedIn, and I will send you the details!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Essential Soft Skills

Here are the soft skills required to enjoy a successful career and overall life during and after school.

1. Leadership. Take the initiative to create something you have a passion for, science related or not.

2. Collaboration and teamwork. If you think your science or other works would benefit from a collaboration, make it happen.

3. Interpersonal skills. Learn to work with many different types of scientists, teachers, entrepreneurs, students, other members of society outside your circle. This can be strengthened if you work on 1) and 2).

4. Effective communication. Learn to keep emails, oral presentations, discussions, reports as brief yet informative as possible. Less is more. Edit your emails. Listen. Follow-up. Ask for feedback. (See my entries about Listen, Follow-up and Feedback) This is critical for 3).

5. Networking. LinkedIn and other social media make networking something you can do even from home while the baby takes a nap (See Networking, LinkedIn.)

6. Multi-tasking. Time management is critical for any profession and integrating life (See Dividing the Hours in a Day.)

7. Problem-solving while meeting deadlines and within budget. Skills 1-6 are needed to make sure this happens.

8. Mentorship. Accrue a personal advisory board. Mentor others.

Everything is a full circle.

If one sentence can wrap all this up, it would be: live life with passion, initiative, fair communication with respect and good will to all others. That's it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Life's Career Transitions

Here are life's transition moments:

1. Undergraduate to Graduate school
2. Graduate school to Postdoc(s)
3. Postdoc(s) to a "Real" Job
4. Early Scientist to Mid-Career Scientist
5. Mid to Late
6. Official "Retirement"

Somewhere in there, there is also a side-step transition into motherhood or fatherhood, and then back. Some may have more than one postdoc. Some may have many mid-career transitions. Some may have multiple careers such as an academic administrator, CEO, author, mentor.

One of my advisors retired recently, and I found that he was faced with a similiar career transition. He still wants to give back, but was always the professor and researcher. It may take him a while to find his niche after the "official" retirement. Having said that, he faces the same issues as we do, transitioning from postdoc to industry, motherhood back to career.

Career transition skills continue throughout life. It only really hits grad students and postdocs, as they are no longer told which class to take, which papers to write. Students and postdocs have to use their own career transition skills, combined with their science to come up with their career niche. That's challenging for some, as these skills have never really been fostered for them.

Going from school to postdocs and perhaps even the first job is the easy part. When the expected job progression is "modified" with children, aging parents, downsizing companies, outside interests, then life becomes interesting. Life brings forth an "intermission" time which you can reflect and self assess. These are the rare moments in life when you can see what you are really made out of.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Parents with PhDs

These three words open up an explosion of discussions.

Let's look at some examples I know of.

1. Mom defends her PhD a few weeks before delivery of her second baby and with 2 year-old. It has been a climb, but she is finished! She takes time off with newborn, is involved in community projects, but how does she re-enter science after years away from research?

2. Dad is stay-at-home with 2 year-old and 3 month old as Mom is a Director. He has had biotech industry experience; but the last 2 years, he has not even had time to pursue his own interests, let alone read an article! Now what?

3. Mom leaves her Director position to have three children. Five years later - now what?

There are no support systems to help these parents. Fellowship funding after childrearing is often limited to 2 years (any other information out there?) And, older parents who were already in mid-management science positions do not qualify for fellowships.

I will tell you though that these parents are just as effective, if not more, in performance. Multi-tasking, meeting deadlines, budgeting, negotiation are all skills perfected in parenting. The only thing these parents need to have are the "refresher" conferences, meetings and time to read the latest science articles.

The only way to do that is direct financial and time investment.

1. Attend a conference.
2. Dedicate at least 2-5 hours a week on reading up on science (while they sleep), and global scientific issues.
3. Keep in touch with the network - ask them what they and the organization are up to.
4. Mentor. You still can.
5. Be mentored (mentornet).
6. Sit on an advisory board.
7. Speak at career development talks for students.
8. Organize a local Moms and Dads in Science Group or Peer Mentorship Group.
9. Volunteer for a science-related cause.

To all these parents, you have to squeeze out the time. Somehow, it has to be done, to keep in touch. Then, through all these activities, you will make connections and assess your own career eventually find your path.

It may be lonely sometimes.
Sometimes you will doubt yourself.
This "career transition" may be the toughest one yet, but don't give up! You have the intelligence. Just add some creativity and you'll get there.

Just New: LinkedIn Group "Parents with PhDs." See you there!

Another resource:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Really Live Each Day

If this was your last day, would you be happy with what you accomplished, what you contributed to the world?

It's the little things. Did you listen to your loved ones? Did you take the time to really listen and hug your children? Did you contribute to your work with as much passion as you wanted to? Did you say good night with nothing left unsaid and no one left upset? Were you content with your actions and your words towards other people?

Did you sing or dance? Singing, whether you are a vocalist or not, is an expression of your soul. You must sing - in the car when you are by yourself or out loud with a huge audience. You feel better. I am a scientist, but my whole life would be very empty without the expression of the spirit. If you haven't carried a tune in a long time, try it. Hum while you walk or email.

Sing, work, play, laugh, love, stay good... it's your last.
"Live life with your head, each day with your heart."

That is happiness.

Virtual Job Fair for BioCareers

Bio Careers is organizing a Virtual Job Summit, the only online event for life science PhD's and MD's. Sounds like a great opportunity for everyone! Check it out at:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Seeking Career Advice

I am not quite sure why people prefer to remain anonymous or hesitant when searching for answers for a job, career, or self-assessment.

Perhaps, there may be some instances if you are applying for another job and you don't want your current employer to know. Having said that, that in itself means there is a lack of communication somewhere. If you are not happy with your job, try to address why and try changing the job within the organization.

Or perhaps you feel "embarrassed" to be asking questions about career and life. Perhaps there is a voice saying "How could I not know? I am a PhD!" Please do not feel that way. Everyone has career development and transition issues more than once in their life. Life is never a straight path. No need to feel inadequate about asking for some directions. I still do! And so do many mid and late career scientists.

If you have questions about career directions and would like some help, coming out of the shell with good questions is more than likely going to help you more. Because more than likely, somebody else is in the same shoes and wanting to ask the exact same question. To those who ask, the answers will come. And if there is a name and face behind the inquiry, key people will remember you and that extends your network.

Think Outside the Find Your Career

As mentioned in a previous entry, some of our education systems zap the creativity right out of us. All through school, university, even graduate school, jobs we are given a task to complete. We are told this is it, and thus, it is so. Some of us are not given the chance to create our own curriculum, our own collaborations, our own "Fedex" days. "Fedex" days are those in which everyone in the lab, company or organization takes 24 hours to work on anything they want. At the end of the day, presentations are given over a social meeting with food and drinks. Some of the most innovative ideas to improve efficiency, save money and resources have been invented during these "free" to create days.

I remember a colleague of mine who took the initiative to create her own major in university, something she had a passion for. She took an assortment of classes and proposed a major to the administration, and she was awarded that degree. Wow - how many of us had that creativity way back at age 19?

Creativity and thinking outside the box are critical when finding the passion for a career, not just a job, but a career you love and jump out of bed for. There are no set rules, just the scope of your imagination and self-assessment. Career objectives change throughout graduate school, and one must be flexible with that as well.

I will illustrate with an example. Student A is tired of the academic pursuit and wants to try something else. But has no idea what. Her goal of the ivory tower has changed since starting her fourth year of a PhD. During her last year, she reads up on nonacademic career options from various organizations and blogs. She fills out her LinkedIn profile, attends networking events, and realizes she has always been interested in scientific policy. There are no internships in her area. She begins talking to people about her ideas, and a colleague says she knows somebody in Washington she can talk to. Moving to DC is not an option, but she speaks to her colleague's friend and learns all about the policy world. She is given the name of another connection in her own city. She volunteers once a week in their office during her thesis write-up, and loves it. After graduation, she is given a paid position. She has entered the first year of her career.
(More on Career Transitions entry.

This pathway is not set in a box, not outlined for anyone to follow. There is no manual. Creativity, people skills, networking, communications, self-assessment, and thinking outside the box will get you there.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Week Away

Hello Readers!
I left "electronica" behind during my vacation and I found much activity! Thanks for reading! I have published all of your helpful comments and look forward to writing more tips for everyone.  More to follow later...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

"The Future of the PhD"

Are there too many PhD's in the world?

My thoughts? No, not too many PhD's, I think it is marvelous we have so many educated individuals. However, it is long overdue to rethink the system that was built to train professors. Some institutions are creating graduate student career development and leadership programs, but much work remains to be done. There are not too many PhD's, but too few of these programs alongside the PhD. All higher educated individuals need some sort of guidance and options made available to mold the PhD experience into their own business tool.

Most schools have student-run career and volunteer mentorship groups. Some programs funded by university administration are scattered across North America, but some of the funding sources are up to the creativity and leadership of the program directors. Some of these are at NCSU, UC Davis, UCSF, Michigan State University. Graduate career and leadership programs need to be part of the curriculum and not "extracurricular" as they are just as important as the publications.

If your university does not have a graduate student career development office, you need to find these workshops and explore your options on your own. And find a mentor! I cannot stress this enough.

See "How do I find a Mentor?"

Relevant articles are found at:

Friday, March 2, 2012

Fast Healthy Meals with Kids

As a working mom, you want to feed your family the most healthy and tasty but not take too much time. It's all about planning and selecting kid-friendly cuisine, and realizing that you do not need to make a gourmet meal each time.

My kids love rice, the rice that is mostly brown, only sold at a Korean grocery store (Galleria.) The rice is so yummy, my kids and I could eat it just plain; but it is high in fibre and contains extra vitamins and minerals. We eat it at least once a day, usually at dinner time. I have a rice-cooker with a timer, so I just wash and time it so it is ready by 5 pm.

The kids also love plain or seasoned dried, flat seaweed sheets (the same kind that you wrap sushi, called "nori" in Japanese). Nori is high in iron and is "one of the richest in protein (up to 50 percent of the plant's dry weight), and one sheet has as much fiber as a cup of raw spinach and more omega-3 fatty acids than a cup of avocado. Nori contains vitamins C (a potent antioxidant) and B12 (crucial for cognitive function) and the compound taurine, which helps control cholesterol." (

One of their favorite meals is the rice, nori, cucumbers and cheese, which only take minutes to prepare once the rice is done.

Other quick entree favorites are listed below.

1. "Smart" pasta (has extra fibre without the "wheaty" taste) with shredded cheese and some pasta sauce.
2. Tacos with cheese.
3. Homemade pizza with Fleishmann's Pizza Dough Yeast (no need to wait for it to rise, just mix it in with the flour)
4. Udon noodles (frozen or dried) in soup with fishcakes
5. Hand-made frozen yummy Dumplings (just boil)
6. Buckwheat noodles with soba sauce
7. Boiled tofu, sliced and then topped with some soy sauce with rice
8. Organic soy chicken with rice
9. Veggie, Kidney bean, mozzarella cheese Lasagna

Along with the entrees, I usually chop up at least one vegetable (peppers, cucumbers, carrots) or cook corn or peas. After the meal, I serve one type of fruit. They like all fruit. I find that if I serve a mix of fruit everyday, it loses its novelty, so I serve only one fruit per meal. Having said that, we serve much of that one fruit, as my 2 daughters are known to finish one strawberry container in one sitting. After fruit, we sometimes have ice cream.

These meals only take less than 30 minutes except for the chicken and lasagna, which may take about an hour with most of it baking/boiling time.

Breakfast is usually a high fibre cereal (I add wheat bran to each bowl) with organic milk, pancakes, toast, or leftover rice and miso soup from the night before with some fruit.

Lunch is sometimes leftover dinner, sandwiches, noodles and soup, or simple tortilla wraps with veggies and fruit. One mom friend mentioned she wanted to make a lunch muffin with cornmeal, bran, cheese, carrots - sound yummy and great to pack in a lunchbox!

Hope that give you some ideas to think about.
Have fun in the kitchen - recruit the kids to help too.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I was chatting with a colleague of mine who shuddered at the term "networking." He had a PhD, an academic postdoc abroad for several years, and had found a research associate job back at his alma mater university. I was on my way to give a career seminar to speak about the importance of networking, among other topics. Talk about contrasts.

From his perspective, he thought that the CV, cover letter, publications, and interview should be the only items needed for a job application. Networking? He thought the whole concept was a personality contest, a social medium invented by people to "act nice" to the right people to obtain a job. This is an opinion that some people may have, particular those who were never given classroom instruction about networking. They usually go straight by the book, nothing too out of the ordinary, usually not likely to start their own company based on a passion and a network of qualified colleagues.

How was I to explain to this colleague the whole concept of LinkedIn? The concept of finding a potential partner, mentor, corporate sponsor or organization through a network which could change or supplement my career was too foreign to him. Since he was satisfied with where he was at with his own career, I decided not to pursue the debate; but he knew where I stood.

Networking to me, is a way to meet like-minded colleagues. Of course, you will be cordial and respectful, as you are with all professional interactions. No need to "butter" on the charm, but a face-to-face meeting is more memorable if the person has an energy about them. This is not being "fake". It is creating a fun, genuine, personable environment for that person to remember you by. If you share a passion for an idea, a connection is born and usually stays for a long time.

Creating a network is not just about attending a meeting or reception and talking about trivial ideas. Effective face-to-face networking involves self assessment and research. Assess what you want to know more about. Where do you want your career to be? What drives you? Research up on who is attending the event. Read about their backgrounds and science interests. Find those you are interested in and ask pertinent questions that relates to them and that would help your own career goals. Go home and write a professional follow-up email with a thank-you. If you found the interaction a success (personality and like-minded in the scientific or career ideas,) maintain the relationship with a LinkedIn invite and few relevant emails throughout the year.

With the power of LinkedIn and Groups, I have broadened my own electronic network and have made email connections to those individuals I find to share similar interests and goals. For example, I am currently helping with finding guest speakers for a career development course. Some of them I already knew, some of them I met at a networking reception, and some have volunteered through my a LinkedIn discussion I started. I have met a myriad of people, all of them eager to help support my cause. "Networking" to me is not "evil." It is a great tool to support an individual's pursuit to achieve a common goal and passion.

Along the networking journey, I have also helped others in return. It's a lovely circle.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Our Education System..from Child to PhD

I guess I am on a TED talk kick, but here is one you can't miss (almost nine million views), especially if you are in education. I thought his whole section on university professors was especially entertaining.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Where are the Women Leaders?

Just wanted to share a TED talk. Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) summarizes her view on why there are too few women leaders and suggestions to change that. In brief, 1) believe in yourself, 2) don't "leave" before you leave, 3) make your partner a real partner.

Here's a great peer mentorship idea especially for women with careers. Thanks to Jim Austin, Editor of Science Careers, for bringing it our attention.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Nonacademic Careers for BioScientists

According to the National Postdoctoral Association and NSF, more PhDs will eventually pursue nonacademic careers.

Here is a list I have thought of and compiled of non-academic careers/areas pursued by bioscience graduate students and PDFs.

1. Management Consulting
2. Science Writing/Editing
3. Pharma Field or R & D Scientist / Sales
4. Biotech Field or Application Scientist / Sales
5. Patent Agent / Tech Transfer Officer / Patent Attorney
6. Science Communications
7. Government Research and Development
8. Research Administration (Federal, Provincial)
9. High School Teacher / Head of Science
10. Science Outreach Programs
11. Science / Medical Liaison
12. Science Policy (see first resource below)
13. Market Analyst (Consult biotech for Finance)
14. Intelligence Analyst (for the Government)
15. Grad Student/PDF Career Advisor (after some experience)
16. Science Translator (for foreign labs wanting to publish in English, recently saw an ad in LinkedIn)
17. Non-profit, Independent Science Research Foundations
18. Applications for Social Programs, Public Health Organizations
19. Environmental Policy and Research
20. Forensic Science
21. Research Projects for Biodefence
22. Think Tanks
23. Science Consultant for Entertainment Industry
24. Venture Capitalist (after years of experience in biotech)
25. Cosmetic Industry Scientist
26. Global Health Scientist
27. Medicinal Plant Research and Development

And more, suggested by other colleagues:
28. Market Research Consultant
29. Regulatory Affairs
30. Clinical Trial Management
31. Science Recruiter
32. Food Science
33. Nutrition and Food Supplement Industry

Read my "Career Transitions" and "Serving the World with Science" to help you achieve any one of these dream careers.

Also, you are an intelligent, problem-solving leader! You can make your own career that is not even a list. Add some creativity, your expertise and some passion - read "Living your Dream."

For those with children, join a new linkedin group "Parents with PhDs" to form peer mentor groups and keep focused on career development even during the hardest times of integrating family.

Here is my Science Careers Article
Here is the updated 2013 list.

Other resources:

Good luck!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sincere Appreciation for Motherhood Update

In my last entry for "Sincere Appreciation for Motherhood," I wrote about a boy who has terminal cancer and how his life has affected mine. I also wrote how I could not think of a song for him.

Well, the song and lyrics came out the other day. I wanted to give him a song that was about him and celebrated his each day, the present. So that is what I composed about: the present, his name, his age, his sister, his favorite stuffie. The melody was not melodramatic and it was something that I hoped he would enjoy, hearing his own name in a song.

If there is anything we can all take from this story is what my Mom used to say. Plan life with your head, live each day with your heart. Be grateful for each day you are here.

Serving the World with Science

For some of those in graduate school, you may not know how you are going to apply your research and leadership skills in your future career. Here is a suggestion. While you are inventing in the lab, keep up to date on the social implications of medical and life science research. It is not just big Pharma out there; other options do exist.

Listen to TED talks which showcase worldly "ideas worth spreading." Keep up to date on the social impact of science, such as organizations like Union of Concerned Scientists.

Check out the Martha and Bill Gates Foundation.

Learn about research agencies like the International Development Research Centre and CIDA with programs such as the maternal and child health program.

One inspiring story is when a group of graduate students got together to design a baby warmer, to save premature babies in developing countries.
Foundations like Edesia produce Plumpy'nut for famine relief.

Read up on environmental issues.
Find independent research and think tanks that you might want to intern or work for.,

Check out the founder of Genetic Alliance. She is inspirational.

Think outside the box, and develop a passion.
Follow-through with networking and internships, and you may end up working for your cause after graduate school or postdoc.

Good luck exploring the world!

Work Titles for Moms and Dads

It's funny how different people react to a parent's decision to make child nurturing her/his number one "work." Not that anyone should be judged on that decision, but it does come up in conversation sometimes.

Many people define themselves with the title they are given at a particular institution. It is easier to say "I'm an Applications Scientist at Company X" than "I am the Lead Director of Household X, Developer of Children's Programs, Psychologist, Primary Care Provider on call everyday and night, Head Chef, Manager of Housekeeping, Director of Social Relations, Event Planner, Head of Transportation, Inter and Intra-personal Relations, CoChair of Finance, Music and Visual Arts Director, Athletic Coach, Charity Organizer."

Moms and Dads who are at home with your children, these are all the titles you earn. You do not need a paycheck to define who you are. Keep your head up, even when there are days you question your choices. If your spouse were to hire all of these people, you would be in serious debt! And I always say, at the end of your life, you are not going to think about how you "lost" 5-7 years of your full-time work life getting to know your children.

Having said all this, I do know that some parents have no choice, but to work full-time outside the home. Trophies to all the single parents out there! I have no idea how you do it. I am very lucky to have this choice and thankful for my supportive husband.

For those thinking of transitioning back into more "outside work," you can click on the "Children, Career, Life" labels to view more entries.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


The art of communication is most effective with brevity. Keep it brief, but informative. If I am reviewing a written document or email, my attention wavers if the message is a rambling outline of the thought process. Capitals, correct punctuation and spelling are key in relaying effective communication. Even in this day of instant messages and quick emails, every exchange that you make should be professionally written especially to work colleagues and mentors. "Hi Sam" looks much better than "hey." The context of the email should stay brief. Find phrases of words that relay the same meaning but are shorter. It is more effective, grabs the attention of the reader, and keeps it professional.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


The resume and CV may become obsolete in the near future, if not already. Most companies, when looking at your application, will check out your LinkedIn profile. If you are a graduate student and you do not have one yet, please make one. I am mentoring high school students who have profiles which are quite impressive. Remember, this is a professional networking site so anything you do not want on your CV or cover letter, please leave out.

A few years ago, I introduced some friends to LinkedIn and they were a bit wary. A few year later, they all have profiles and business networks have grown.

All of my initial LinkedIn connections were those people I knew as friends and colleagues. Here are some examples of my personal experiences. 1) A connection of one of my connections wanted a biotech consulting job and posted it for those connections. Hence, only the "inside" group knew about this job. 2) I asked a question on Science Careers Forum, and through this, one of the moderators linked me in. Through his connections, I found some relevant professionals I wanted to speak to. 3) I linkedin to Women in Science and found a potential speaker to help with one of my talks. I emailed her, chatted with her and now I have found a professional who shares the same career interests. 4) I received an email about a potential job through someone looking through my profile. All of these would not have been possible in the old world.

The world is becoming more connected. Stay LinkedIn, especially if you promoting a business or yourself in finding the dream career.

Groups to consider:
Parents with PhDs
PhD Careers Outside of Academia
Life Sciences Ontario
Biotech Toronto
Women in Science and Technology Businesses
Association for Women In Science

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Effective Teaching Tips

I recently found some teaching articles by Dr. Barbi Honeycutt, PhD (NC State) which promote a more exciting, interactive classroom experience as opposed to a "one speaker show." Perhaps you can try them next time... I think I already have. In brief, 1) it's not about you but providing the space for group learning, 2) it is about your energy, 3) stop talking too much.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Shopping...Our Eco Footprint

Perhaps it is because of my experiences or just being more aware, but I have noticed that the older I become, the less and less I am interested of acquiring "things."  The whole notion of going shopping for the fun of it or because of a great sale has long since passed. Perhaps it is because I am more aware of the whole global market industry. Perhaps it is because I want to purchase local items, even though the "Made in Canada" are hard to find. Perhaps with children, we want to make sure they are taken care of too. But I think one big reason is that I do not want to leave too much of an eco "footprint." The more you buy, the more chance it will end up as "garbage" one day.

I now only buy clothing if it is a classic piece that I hope to wear for a long time. Before I pick up a houseware item, I ask myself, do I really need that? I got along perfectly fine without it. The other limiting factor is that our home does not have much storage so we are forced to purge every six months. Kids outgrow many things so their items are donated to friends, Goodwill, or sold to "Once Upon a Child." Some of our furniture are second-hand. Our lovely Heintzmann piano was listed on Craigslist from a family that had used it for three generations. My husband has purchased used cars from ebay. Yes, ebay. We try to take the subway whenever we can.

Sometimes, I imagine I would love to live in a home with just a piano and minimal furniture. In the older Asian homes, people used to have one closet and one folding table that was low to the ground. In the evening, the folding futon mattress would come out on the floor for sleep. In the morning, it would be folded back in the closet. Breakfast would be served on the one table while family members would sit on the floor to eat. After meals, the table was folded back up and set aside. Studying was also done either on the same table or another similar one. People would sit on flat cushions on the floor. And that was it. No bed frames, no tables with chairs, no sofas, no loveseats, no cribs, no headboards, no night tables. Floors were heated in the winter. Although that would be a great ideal for me to live in, the houses here are not built for that lifestyle and people are not as comfortable sitting on the ground. It would have to remain as a thought for a rainy day...

Living in a home in North America with cars leaves a large eco footprint. I hope we can learn from other models in other countries like Brazil (thanks to their sugar cane) to improve North American fuel resources as well. I know a few young scientists interested in pursuing biofuel development. This is a topic that can be easily take several pages, but I will end it with...

Good luck and a big thank-you to our environmental scientists and policy makers! You have a hard job ahead.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Graduate Students Networking Reception

I attended a reception tonight to help "advise" graduate students on career paths and choices. Thanks for all those that enjoy my blog and find it helpful. Thanks for all those who stopped and chatted with me. All of you reminded me of how I was before the whole career experience. Unsure, tired, but excited to face the unknown with new questions. I am happy these functions exist now for grad students, as the option into academia is the road less taken. For those trying for academia, do not give up! Read about the hidden secrets of an academic career in my blog and other resources and find other mentors. Opting for industry? Talk to people already there and how they got their jobs.

The take home message today was: network and find those mentors.

Thank-you to the organizers!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dividing the Hours in a Day

Some people have asked me "What is your typical day like?"

Well, the days can be different, according to the activities lined up. Some days, the kids need more of my time if they are sick, or I am volunteering at their school. On days which I am on conferences, meetings or speaking engagements, I do not see the children as much.

However, on a typical day, I see my kids for breakfast and off to school, at lunchtime, and after school. I try to walk most of the time, to fit in my exercise. My work fits in during their class hours and after they are in bed by 7:30/8 pm until midnight or so. My husband and I usually work side-by-side in the evening. Hence, it is important to set up an reasonably early sleeping routine in their earlier years (see Healthy Babies, Sleeping Babies.) Once in a while, my husband and I have date night (see Date Your Spouse.) Once a week, we each take one night for our own exercise activities or friends. My music students take lessons on weekend early mornings and some right after school. I also squeeze in my own piano practicing all over the day. At night, I use the damper pedal as my little ones sleep.

Speaking of seeing my kids at lunch, I played a game with my 4 year-old the other day where she put a rice cake in her mouth and I ate the other half. Her incessant giggles brought forth more silliness. I laughed. She laughed. I am happy to be at home with them at this time.

On that note, I'm off to work on this week's piano piece....

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Importance of Communication

As graduate students and postdocs, we are rewarded when we discover new concepts. "I have invented!" I am sure most of us have "danced the happy dance" when the critical experiment goes well.

However, the innovation, the actual application of these inventions do not happen without other people. We need a peer review, a legal team, patent officers, policy makers, market analysts. One person cannot run science alone. One of my consulting jobs was for another management consultant (Dave). Dave told me he had a client who claimed he had the best thing ever since the discovery of electricity. However, Dave did not understand a thing about the biotechnology he was explaining. Dave asked me to talk to him and clarify. I am sure the scientist I talked to was genius and he had discovered something amazing. Unfortunately, I could not fully understand his details either. He spoke to me on the phone and sent documents. He did not have any publications, as he wanted to patent the idea before it became public.

This scientist could have invented the next best thing. I am not sure if he continued with it or not. However, if his ideas could not be communicated to an ivy-league trained management consultant and another PhD scientist in the same field; his invention may take a while to be innovated.

Communication is critical. A clear, concise way of transmitting your scientific thought and its applications makes all the difference. The best way to practice is explaining the basic ideas to a four year-old child, a high school student, your friend who is not in science, and then to a colleague not in your lab. If you can master these four audiences, your communication skills are developing well. With children, try to explain your science using illustrations and simple analogies to everyday processes, such as cooking and food. Think outside the box to explain your box. It will expand your thinking and communication skills.

A Music Break...Sistema Toronto

What a wonderful music program to start in Toronto. I know some of the musicians involved in this charitable program that changes these children's lives. I highly respect their work. Thanks for making it happen!

You can view the recap on

Friday, February 10, 2012

How do I find a Mentor?

During your PhD and postdoc, it is always beneficial to have at least two mentors, one that is associated with your work (perhaps your academic advisor) and somebody who knows you but does not know the exact details of your work, especially for career development advice. Finding which type of mentor depends on what your career goals are. The first step in any career move is self assessment. Where do you want to be? Then find someone either within the department or university that you know and respect and can visit once in a while.

If you need to broaden your search, potential sources can be from mentornet, national postdoctoral association, networking opportunities from campus student and postdoc associations, Science career forum, professional society meetings such as AAAS. Contact a scientist in industry and send a short email asking for an informational interview with a link to your LinkedIn bio. Help organize a conference, volunteer to be on a panel. Attend workshops that will help strengthen your areas broadbase knowledge, communication skills, networking, project management.

Once you have found a mentor, set goals and expectations. Discuss what you want to get out the experience, the objectives, and divide the timeline into achieveable goals. An example of long-term goal is an academic career. Having just started a postdoc, the immediate short-term goals would be to design research projects towards high numbers of publications. If the long-term goal is industry, the projects should also include more collaborations.

You may want to write out the boundaries of the mentor/mentee relationship so that it remains constructive, predominantly work-focused, and keeps a professional relationship. NIH provides suggested mentoring guidelines. Work/life issues will always come up, and it should be up to the mentor/mentee on how they agree on handling them.

With my mentees, I exchange and agree on 1) expectations, 2) time per month, 3) they come up with an agenda, issue or question before the meeting or phone call, 4) they provide a list of 3 short term and 3 long term goals and how they think they will accomplish them. An example of an expectation list is: I can help you with career interests, skill development and setting goals, but not fundraising, getting a job or university applications.

Finding a mentor has become much easier since my days. Having said that, it is still up to you to find the mentor that you will "click" with who can help you with your career path. Also, if you plan well, you will have many mentors along the way. Even I, found my most recent mentor, at a recent conference at a networking luncheon. She was one of the speakers, I liked what she had to say, so I approached her with a question about my career path and followed up with an email so she would not forget about me. She was very accommodating and supportive. Due to this interaction, I have had several contacts with new opportunities.

Good luck with your search!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Job...after Baby #2

Between the 2.5 years of my two children, I had a great integration of science and life. As Director of Application Science, I was responsible for sales, marketing, scientific collaborations, and customer relations. The miracles of webinars and conference calls made working from home with 2 kids possible. I had some babysitters in the home, but I still nursed and spent time with my babies. Throughout my several years at the start-up company, I had worn many hats. With the upcoming delivery of my second child, I worked until the week before I was due. Although I had proposed to find my replacement, my CEO again took care of it for me. I mostly trained the new Sales and Marketing guy, as I wanted to continue the other work from home.

After a few months of maternity leave, I came to the realization that I wanted to work as a Consultant basis, mostly on finding potential new partners. Some days were busier than others; I mostly spend time nurturing and helping my daughters develop into people of good character. I have gone through months on just being a Mom, especially while the kids were younger. For all those parents who are faced with taking care of newborns while trying to stay on top of science: don't worry too much. Your science career, publication record and network will not go anywhere. Taking the extra time for children is lovely. I would not trade it for the world! Just remember to keep reading, try to consult for your previous work, attend a conference when you can, try to sit on a scientific advisory board, stay in touch with your network, ask one of your mentors if you can review some of their papers, keep mentoring others.

As my children are finishing up the last lap of "primary" years, I find myself newly inspired to dive into more work. Some people who take time for children may be accused of "not being serious" about science. I find that unfortunate. Life is interwoven with work, children, parents, circumstance. Since I have taken this time, I feel more inspired. I am a professional multi-tasker. Yes, I have directed a conference call followed immediately by a nursing session and then tending to toddler while making dinner. I am more inspired to tell my story and help other graduate students. Perhaps even change the career direction myself. It's a life-long process. I am currently engaging in more mentorship roles and giving career development seminars at my alma mater. I am linking up students with colleagues who I think can help them. I find this work to be very rewarding.

In short, I would say the "job" right now with 2 kids in tow would be full-time Mom, part-time science & career consultant, part-time music student, composer and teacher, part-time artist (yes, I also attend a School of Art,)  full-time wife, and full-time at living life to its fullest.

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