Sunday, February 27, 2011


I need to recruit some post-doctoral fellows. This sounds fairly simple at first glance, given the general state of the economy and the good reputation of the Institute, but there are a few complicating factors.

First, there is the possibility (depending upon my application) that I, and therefore these positions, will be moving to a different institute in a different part of Germany. I should know by mid-April, but until then I need to be somewhat vague as to the location.

Second, my boss is also recruiting, and effectively has first dibs on any of the candidates except those I independently recruit. So there are a couple of interesting candidates coming through the Institute's training courses, but he plans to offer them positions. In so far as there is a pool of local talent, I can't readily draw on it.

Third, although quite a few people have now seen my review article, I am still not widely known. This means no one is going to be just looking me up to see if I have positions available.

Fourth, I need to recruit some people with fairly specific and distinct skill sets and interests. A statistical demographer, a experimentalist to work with small aquatic invertebrates, and a developmental geneticist to start with. Good candidates for these three positions are likely to be reading three different sets of journals, going to three different types of meetings, and so on. Further, what I will ask them to work on is a bit outside the purview of each field, meaning candidates with specific plans for what research they want to do would have to change those plans considerably to fit within the bounds of the project.

Fifth, Rostock as a location is not a big draw. While not a bad lace to live for a few years, the place doesn't add anything to the appeal of the job for most potential applicants.

Finally, while my Institute is very well known to Demographers internationally, most biologists don't know of it and the biology that goes on here, and may be turned off by applying to a demographic institute.

Post-finally, I've not recruited anyone more senior than an undergrad before, and so I'm learning as I go.

Which all goes to say I am going to have to put some time and work into getting the word out. I frankly doubt I will fill each position in the near future, but I sure will try.

Friday, February 18, 2011


First the bad news:
I will not get the grant. The interview went well, but the Human Sciences committee included no one with knowledge of my field (either of my fields, really), and my claims that no one else is focusing on this important topic, while true, were not entirely believed. Out of >60 applicants, I am told they interviewed 10 and will fund three.

Second, the good news:
I have been encouraged to apply for a nearly identical grant in the Biology section, deadline this Monday. If I don’t get that, I have been generously offered enough funds to recruit a couple of grad students and a post-doc, while keeping my current position. So one way or another I will have a research group, although not necessarily one as well funded or official as I would have had.

Friday, February 11, 2011


We turned the living room into a seminar room for the night, all the couches and chairs facing the blank white west wall, onto which we projected my PowerPoint slides. The audience was diverse: in addition to a dozen adults from several professions, I spoke to two little girls (neither of which understand English), an eight month old baby and a big old shaggy dog who curled up by my feet. Before I had gotten through my introductory slide the dog was snoring loudly under the table I was using as a podium, one of the little girls was raising her hand wanting to go to the bathroom, and the baby was waving at me with both hands and saying, "bob bob bob bob bob bob bob bob." As I described the success of my laboratory experiments to date, the dog woke up and began snuffling in the trashcan next to me, and at some point one of the little girls came and tried to sit behind the podium. Despite these disruptions (or perhaps because of them?) the presentation went well, the assembled nonexperts seemed to think the presentation clear and convincing, and their comments, while helpful, require only minor changes to the talk.

I hope that the distinguished scientists I am to present to on Wednesday will be somewhat more decorous. If they are not, it may give me an unfair advantage over the other applicants.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

My morning walk

Most mornings as I am walking to work I try to think through what I have to do that day, what was left undone the previous day, and other science related things. Today, instead, I made up this song:

No you can’t make a soup for your belly from your head,
No you can’t make a soup for your belly from your head,
No you can’t make head soup, for you’d surely wind up dead,
No you can’t make a soup from your head.

No you can’t make a soup for your mommy from your head,
No you can’t make a soup for your mommy from your head,
Tell your mom you want soup, she’ll see that you’re well fed,
No you can’t make a soup from your head.

No you can’t make a soup for your wedding from your head,
No you can’t make a soup for your wedding from your head,
If you served self-head soup, then you probably would not wed,
No you can’t make a soup from your head.

No you can’t make a soup for your belly from your head,
No you can’t make a soup for your belly from your head,
No you can’t make head soup, for you’d surely wind up dead,
No you can’t make a soup from your head.
It may be a sign of stress, or just plain silliness.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

All I have to do in 15 minutes...

according to my boss, is convince the committee that I am brilliant, that my work is revolutionary, and that I am a natural leader.

I have now completely reworked my talk, put the phrase "path breaking" in there, redone all my figures to make them more non-specialist friendly, and made all the font real big in case anyone of the ≤ seven audience members is sitting way at the back of the room. My next task is to run through it several times before my next practice talk this Thursday.

Friday, February 04, 2011

This is why we give practice talks.

I gave my practice talk yesterday. About 25 people came, including my bosses, my students, and most of the people I collaborate with in the Institute. The talk went well, I presented lots of cool results, I answered all the questions comfortably, and then asked for suggestions on how to fix/improve the talk. The audience gave me so many helpful comments that I pretty much have to start from scratch. It was a great talk for presenting my work to others in my field, but not so much for communicating with an audience of non-biologist non-demographers. So the beautiful Lexis Diagram has to go. The bar graph has to be chopped down. The definitions have to be less precise in order to be more clear. I need to have less detail on my research process and more on why the question is original. The slides should be prettier. And so on. It is sort of exhausting.

I am giving another practice talk next Thursday, this time to complete non-experts. By then I hope to make it comprehensible to that audience.