Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Seminars, meetings and clubs...just kill me now

I know that, at least in theory, journal clubs, group meetings, lab meetings and that fancy seminar given by a speaker from out of town are for my own scientific good. However, the fact that all of these things occur on a weekly basis is wearing me right the fuck out. My days are already a study in multi-tasking. I need to be productive. Just like everyone else I have deadlines and expectations to meet. Now that I have my own funding, I have progress reports that loom. I also have imaginary or self-created stresses, like worrying about my productivity post-child being compared to my productivity pre-child.
In the first month back at work, I know I wasn't all that productive, but I've seriously picked up the pace since then. I also want to prove to myself and any other nay-sayer, that I can still kick some scientific ass. As a result, my days are very busy and I get seriously annoyed when other work-related activities take me away from the bench. I feel like I need every minute. Seminars, meetings, whatever; they all cut into my day. Sure, they cut into it before, but now I can't just stay late. Of course, most of these things aren't optional, so I begrudgingly go and get nothing out of it. Why? Because I spend most of the time thinking about everything I need to be doing instead of listening and (hopefully) learning. Because of this, I get nothing out of these meetings and they truly do become a waste.

So what's a busy post-doc to do? Can I skip any of these meetings and not create a shit-storm for myself?

Lab meeting - For the most part, I don't actually mind lab meeting. I like to see what my co-workers are up to and provide (or receive) helpful suggestions. Besides, lab meeting takes place during lunch time, so at least I can multi-task my lunch.
Verdict: Skipping is not an option. Lab meetings are absolutely mandatory unless you are on vacation, sick, at a meeting or trapped under something heavy.

Group meeting - This is the departmental meeting. Sometimes people from other labs in the department present, sometimes people from other labs from local institutions present. Some of them are interesting, some of them are a snooze-fest. Like lab meetings, group meeting occurs at lunch so at least I can kill two birds with one stone.
Verdict: There are a lot of people that attend these meetings, so I'm not likely to be missed, but Magnum, PI attends them religiously, so missing too many is probably not an option.

Journal club: I fucking loath journal club, especially at post-doc university. The papers people choose are lame and I rarely ever get anything out of them. Plus, a dumb-fucking donkey from another department often attends these clubs and asks stupid and inane questions every five minutes. Also, they always run 10 to 15 minutes over.
Verdict: I think I can blow these off. Magnum, PI sees these more as required for students and I am not a student. Other post-docs in the department do not attend and nobody says boo about it.

Fancy seminar: To some degree, I think everyone should attend these. After all, I wouldn't want to give a talk at another institution and have only five people show up to listen. However, at least 50% of these talks are way, way, way out of my subject area. They are so far out that I would need to spend a week reading papers just to prepare to listen. Even then, I would still probably get lost half way through. This is because the speakers are invited by PI's from within the entire center and the center is composed of some very diverse departments. My department reminds of the sesame street song, "One of these things are not like the other."
Verdict: I think I will make an executive decision to only attend the seminars that I find (a) interesting or (b) are at least tangentially related to my area of research.

Final verdict: Attend lab meeting and the departmental meeting every week, attend the fancy seminars when I am so moved and give journal club the finger. This sounds much, much better.

What do you guys do? Do you attend every seminar or do you have the luxury of picking and choosing?


unknown said...

I know what you mean about too many things to attend, however, when you don't have them you bemoan their loss. I think picking and choosing is a good strategy! I agree, just say no to the lame discussion groups!

tideliar said...

TBH sounds like you have good strategy. I eventually decided, when podoc'ing, that as much as I agree with attendance at seminars needs to be good for the look of the event, if no other PI enforced, mine wasn't going to bully me into it as he fought for tenure. I got very selective...

Anonymous said...

We have journal club on a monthly basis instead of weekly which is very nice, I actually end up looking forward to it!

Unknown said...

Multitasking (or good planning) are a must!
This is the overview of my afternoon.
2:21- realise canteen will close in 9 min, I have another 37 (±2) samples to pipet before lunch- .
2:27- run in to canteen, grab lunch while 15 min incubation is going on...
Fast forward to 4pm (all this time running between the preparation in the lab and the running machine in the basement... same old same old)
4:00 Go into what you call "Big and fancy talks" while Lys C digest is going on
5:00 Leave talk, finish pipeting trypsin.
6pm: Leave for home.
7pm: Go to the gym
9pm: Come back home- remotely monitor the MS which has been running non stop for about a week already (with luck, all will be well till morning)
All in all multitasking is great when it works!

About the seminars, we seem quite OK compared to you .
1 group meeting /week (attendance compulsory)
1 big fancy talk/ week (you can get away with not going if you show up most of the time)
1 institute wide talk/week (oficially attendance is compulsory, but it's on Friday at 9 am... so people show up in the middle looking like zombies and carrying coffee).
Our literature seminar takes place approx. once a month and it's incorporated within the group meeting- so instead of projects we talk papers. But also the seminar is quite unortodox, compared to what I have heard about other groups.

For your case- I'd say: select, select, select!

microbiologist xx said...

GPD - I do miss the invited speaker seminars from graduate institution. They were all microbiology/molecular biology since the seminar series was run by and for the micro. department.

TL - In grad school, my PI forced me to go to everything to the point that you got called into the office and lectured about it when you did not attend. I am glad that I at least have the ability to be selective about a few of the seminars and meetings now.

Anon - I am totally jealous. I so wish we had journal club on a monthly basis. It's just too painful to endure every week. It would be nice if, aside from lab meeting, all the seminars and meetings were at least every other week.

Bori - Yep. That's pretty much how my days look too, except I have to get home way earlier than 9:00. It's effective, but exhausting. I think at this point I have to be more selective about what I will attend and when or my time will get eat up with that stuff.