New PI advice

Kat Milligan-Myhre, 2020

Congratulations! You’ve been hired to a new university or college as a faculty member! This is a huge step in your academic career. For some of you, you have been working towards this for a while, for others, this came more quickly. In any case, welcome!

I am starting a tenure track position in biology for the second time in five years. Given how much I learned the first time, at a large primary undergraduate institution with almost 50% underrepresented students and with open enrollment in my home state, I thought I’d share those lessons with you as I start my second position, at a large R1 institution with a primary white student body that is literally a country away from my home state. This is targeted towards tenure track faculty with teaching, research, and service in their workloads, although this advice may be applicable to other situations as well.

First and foremost, this is an unusual time to start a new position, which will add to all the things that can overwhelm new faculty. This is not the first time that faculty have had to start in situations that are overwhelming: think about those faculty who started shortly after a natural disaster, 9/11, at campuses that were facing financial crises, or personal loss. If you have someone in your department who has started under such situations, reach out to them to find out how they successfully navigated all of this *gestures wildly all over*. Please be patient with yourself and those around you over the next year.

You are likely overwhelmed with all the new information coming at you in faculty orientations, emails, faculty meetings, in addition to the *gestures wildly again*. Here are the things that I learned my first five years that I will be paying attention to as I start again:

People and structures to learn:

  1. Administrative staff: Take a minute to understand who you are working with. Which administrative staff are the go-to people for help with your classes, your research, budgets, grants, building maintenance? Hopefully, you were given a list of these people. If not, make a list. If you did get a list keep it handy and add the people not included on the list that you think you may need in the future. Treat them like the colleagues they are. They are a large reason you will be successful or not, for a million small reasons you do not fully understand yet.
  2. Administrators: Take a minute to look at the administration (President, Chancellor, Provost, Deans, Graduate Program Directors, etc) structure and find out what each administrator can or cannot help you with. You may or may not get this at faculty orientation, on a website, or in a faculty handbook. At some campuses these positions turn over frequently, at others people hold positions for years. Some of these people will look at your promotion and tenure files, so it helps to know early on who they are. If possible, get to know them.
  3. Union and other faculty governance: You never know when the union or other faculty governance will be needed, so it is important to know what the faculty governance structure is, especially in our current situations. Tenuous budgets lead to stress within education systems. In the best cases, Unions and Faculty alliances/senates will help make sure that faculty are not taken advantage of. Changes you may want to make may have to go through a faculty senate, so get to know these governance structures.
  4. Student Support Services: You are on a campus and a primary concern for faculty is the health and well-being of our students. At some point you will have a student who needs support for academic concerns, mental health, or other personal or academic issues. Find out who to contact for these concerns so that you are not spending precious time emailing/calling/searching websites when a student is in need. This may include information for military students, international students, students with disabilities, first generation students, and how to report abuse (physical, sexual, racial, or others). Keep this information handy so that in an advising session you can access it quickly. Update yourself on FERPA rules and other rules that govern student interaction.

Promotion and Tenure preparation:

  1. Determine what is needed for your Promotion and Tenure. This may be available in a handbook for your department and university/college or on a website. Some departments provide vague P&T guidelines and others are more specific. Speak with the head of your department and/or mentor and/or members of your department’s P&T committee to get more guidance. Get guidelines in writing. If your department does provide P&T guidelines, determine whether that is the maximum or minimum that is required. Ask more senior faculty for a copy of their dossier from their promotions or tenure packages. These are helpful, especially if they went up for promotion or tenure recently.
  2. Start a folder and a living document in which you place documentation for *EVERYTHING* you do. This is especially important for the promotion and tenure packages and for annual reporting. Documentation can include class evaluations, peer evaluation, fliers for seminars that you give, pdfs of posters that you or your students give, copies of any papers that you publish, documentation of grants that you submit proposals for, service outside the campus such as editing papers or sitting on editorial boards or grant panels, or anything else that relates to the items that your program and administration values in promotion and tenure packages. My folder is divided into subfolders that include the three things I am judged on for my P&T: Service, Teaching, and Research. My living document started as a resume, and then I added everything to it.
  3. Mentors: Find MULTIPLE mentors who can help you navigate the academic career. At least one mentor should be in your department, one outside of your department, and, if possible, someone on another campus. The person in your department should be someone who knows the department history and can give guidance about P&T and who knows the strengths and challenges within the department. People with perspectives outside of your department and campus will help you gain perspective of your position. The outside mentor may be able to provide an outside letter of support for your promotion and tenure packages, but should also give perspective about your field that people in your department may not have. It is also OK to change your mentors if you find that someone is not working out for you. Set up regular meeting with your mentors with discussion topics to get the most of your mentoring.
  4. Peer mentors: Set up regular meetings with other junior faculty at your institution and/or join the New PI Slack group (see @NewPI_Slack on twitter). These peers are good sounding boards for research and teaching ideas, and the New PI Slack has great resources for all aspects of your first few years.
  5. Professional development resources: Take advantage of these. These may be offices dedicated to teaching or grant writing/submitting/reporting, or workshops dedicated to promotion and tenure, or mentoring students, or budget writing. Determine which of your skills need strengthening and seek help. As a tenure track professor, you are now running a small business (a research lab), teaching, participating in multiple committees, and more. These all require skills you may not have had a chance to sharpen yet.
  6. Be mindful of your appointment workload. If you know your breakdown of teaching/research/service, make sure your weekly workload aligns with that breakdown. Of course some weeks one of those things need all of your attention, but don’t loose sight of the workload that you will be judged on for tenure.

Other considerations:

  1. Balance: It is really easy to get sucked into the 80-100 hour work week. This is a fabulous way to burn out early. Learn what works best for you and regularly check in with friends and family to make sure you are not stretching yourself too thin. If possible, outsource help for personal things, like cleaning, meal prep, or childcare.
  2. Empathy: You are in a position in which you will have to work with a lot of people on a daily or weekly basis. To support your students and colleagues you need to understand their challenges and strengths even though they are different than yours. Empathy is critical to do this.
  3. No: Learn how to say no. If you have a mentoring committee or department head that support you saying no, you can say that they recommended that you limit your activities at this time.
  4. Yes: Figure out your priorities early and say yes to the things that align with your priorities. This is different for every professor and will likely change as your career advances.
  5. Procrastination: Some tasks suck more than others. Consider tracking your time in a spreadsheet or using a time tracking app to determine where you are spending your time. If your scheduled time doesn’t match up with your activity time, learn what tasks are best to do when (maybe you’re an early AM grader) and schedule them accordingly. You likely won’t report to anyone on your daily schedule, so it’s up to you to control it in the best way for you.

Advice specifically for Underrepresented (UR) faculty:

Whew, you are in for a ride. Hopefully you are on a supportive campus, but we all know that even at the most supportive campuses, challenges can and will happen. Here is some advice specifically for my fellow Underrepresented colleagues.

  1. No: I said it before, but it is especially important for UR faculty. You may be asked to serve on more committees so they appear “diverse”, or you may have more students to advise, or you may have colleagues at other Universities who ask to put you on their grant because they think the grant will be more likely to get funded with “a minority” on it, or you may be asked to be a faculty mentor for UR student groups, etc. You will be compared to your non-UR colleagues when it comes time for promotion and tenure. You need to make sure your teaching and research are at (or for some Universities, above) their level. If service is not valued at your school and you are doing a lot of service, this will hurt your ability to continue.
  2. Build or join an UR support system. Meet regularly with other UR faculty, staff, and students, and if you can, join a non-academic group of people who share your background. This may be in a mentoring or support group, a strategy group, or a casual hiking/biking/other activity group. These people will be important if (when) you face a hostile work situation, or when tragedies hit your family or friends outside of work, or for a million other occurrences. Non-UR folks will be able to build these support groups easier because there are so many people who share their background. You may have to actively seek out a group that you can relate to.
  3. Learn the reporting system. At some point someone may cross a line between microaggression and abuse against either you or someone you mentor. You will need to know who to contact about this abuse and what documentation they will need for the complaint. Make sure you document everything and have a plan in place if your complaint is not addressed.
  4. Pick your battles. There will be many things that anger you about academia, just as there are in any position. Make sure you pick which battles you put your time and energy into. If you don’t, you will burn out quickly.
  5. Don’t try to be the perfect X. In my case, it was the perfect Inupiaq. I was certain that if I failed, no other Inupiat would be hired in my position. This. Isn’t. Your. Job. Your job is to be the best faculty member you can be, not be the best X or best faculty member ever. If your department or university/college is using you as a model for the rest of the people who share your ethnicity, socioeconomic background, sexuality, etc, that is their problem, not yours.
  6. Find joy in your job. It is so easy to focus on the things that go wrong, but this can be an amazing job. You get to mentor students, serve as the role model you might not have had, teach the classes you wish you had taken as an undergraduate, work with colleagues that help you build on your body of research. You have a chance to change your field, or your campus, or your department, or your student’s lives. Embrace those moments of joy, write them down or put them into a folder that you can refer to when you feel like you want to leave. If you are on a great campus and department, you may never need this. But at least it is there if you need it.

I know I left things out. I am assuming that by now you know how to schedule your days, for example, or have situations that are specific to you. I really do wish you (yes, you personally!) the best first year and second year and third year and beyond. I am rooting for you, and I know you have others who are rooting for you too. Remember to breathe, and remember to take care of yourself and the ones you love. This is a job, not your life.

Big thanks to Drs. C. Savio Chan, Jen Biddle, and Dave Baltrus for their feedback!

Summer 2019 lab update

Oh wow, it only took me a couple of years to get bad at updating information about our lab. I have reasons, but let’s focus here on an update of our lab over the last year.

In the past year we had a ton of people leave, and some new people come and go. I will never get used to this in academia. Several of these fine folks are looking for graduate school (see Cooper Danner) or permanent positions (Drs. Amber Nashoba, Lucas Kirshman, and Emily Lescak; Dr. Lescak is also doing consulting work). Please take a look at their information on the “Former members” part of the “People” page for contact information!

It has been a rough year. In addition to losing several fantastic people, our lab survived a huge earthquake in November, fought for funding in the spring and summer as the legislature and Governor fought over the budget for the University of Alaska, survived smoke and high temperatures that almost threatened our fish in our vivarium this summer, and are now facing the uncertainty of the future of the University of Alaska Anchorage as the University of Alaska has declared financial exigency and is debating becoming one accredited University rather than maintaining three separate accredited Universities.

However, we were also able to overcome some big hurdles. After several years, we now have a good protocol for sequencing the 16S gene from adult fish, and are in the process of analyzing gut microbiota from at least 6 different large experiments. Our former technician Katie D’Amelio (now with NOAA) was instrumental in getting an efficient labeling protocol going, and former technician Rachael Kramp (now a PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh) was able to improve on the protocol and together they were able to get several libraries sequenced this spring. Our grad students Ryan Lucas and Levi Wegner have been working diligently to get these analyzed in Qiime, while I have been attempting to get these working in Mothur. Hopefully we’ll have established pipelines by the end of this month in both.

Our former postdocs Dr. Emily Lescak and Dr. Lucas Kirschman are both very close on finishing manuscripts from their work in the lab. Keep an eye out for both!

Master’s student (and former undergraduate) Kelly Ireland started a new project identifying gut microbes that can degrade crude oil for potential bio-remediation during oil spills. This earned her a fellowship with ADAC, which comes with funding and more research experience related to Arctic issues. See a story about her research here.

Master’s student Levi Wegner earned funding from the Sloan foundation, which will help him complete a project examining the relationship between MHCII diversity and gut microbiota diversity in several stickleback populations. Congratulations!

Finally, we are part of a huge evolution project headed by Dr. Andrew Hendry and Dr. Michael Bell. Under their leadership, over 10 labs from across the world are working together to study the evolution of fish in several lakes. Look for a story from Dr. Hendry on this topic soon.

 

 

Old news

I am going to remove the lab news part of this page and just use posts from now on. For archiving purposes, here is the old “Lab News!” portion of our website.

 

July 2017

Dr. Kat attended the Summer Internship for Indigenous Peoples in Genomics (SING) in Tucson, Arizona.

June 2017

Emily Lescak and Kenneth Sparks presented at the Evolution meeting in Portland Oregon. Emily gave a talk titled:  Gene-By-Environment Interactions Drive Developmental Responses to Antibiotic Exposure in Threespine Stickleback Fish. Kenneth presented a poster: Effects of Antibiotic Exposure on Growth of Bacterial Strains Isolated from Threespine Stickleback Guts.

Dr. Kat gave a talk at the Fish Microbiota meeting in Trondheim, Norway: Gene-by-environment interactions drive microbiota variation and response to antibiotics.

Dr. Kat also presented a poster at the ASM Microbe 2017 meeting in New Orleans, LA: Fishing for Contributions of Host Genetic Background to Host-Microbe Interactions.

May 2017

Kelly Ireland, Kenneth Sparks, and Jeremiah Lewis received the OURS/Aalska INBRE undergraduate research assistantship awards! Congratulations to all three! Kelly used hers to create a qRTPCR protocol to measure immune response genes in stickleback raise in different microbial environments; Kenneth created two mock stickleback gut communities and compared their ability to withstand antibiotic challenge in vitro vs in vivo. Jeremiah designed a survey to gather information about Kombucha brewing so that he could collect samples from various sources and characterize the microbes associated with kombucha.

Ruth Isenberg presented a poster at the UABRC in Fairbanks titled: The Effect of a Host’s Environment on the Composition of Their Gut Microbiota.

April 2017

Emily Lescak gave a talk at the Pacific Northwest SETAC meeting in Anchorage, Alaska: Gene-By-Environment Interactions Drive Developmental Responses to Environmentally Relevant Levels of Antibiotic Exposure in Threespine Stickleback Fish

March 2017

Master’s student Ryan Lucas presented a poster at the American Fisheries Society meeting in Fairbanks Alaska: Effects of tetracycline on somatic development in threespine stickleback fish.

February 2017

Undergraduate Kenny Sparks received a UAA Honors College Undergraduate Research Award for his work determining how the microbiota of fish respond to exposure to antibiotics. As part of this project, Kenny will be creating a stickleback artificial gut microbiota community that we hope to use in future studies as well.

Kat gave a talk at the Oceans and Atmosphere Colloquium at Stony Brook University.

January 2017

Kat was featured in an article about her participation in the National Research Mentoring Network program, highlighting her experience learning how to write grant proposals with their GUMSHOE (Grantwriting Uncovered: Maximizing Strategies, Help, Opportunities, Experiences) group.

December 2016

Research in the Milligan-Myhre lab was highlighted in the Green and Gold paper. It included a video with interviews from several lab members!

Fall 2016

September 2016: Kat gave a talk at the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology.

Undergraduate Kelly Ireland has received a UAA Honors College Undergraduate Research Award and the American Fisheries Society Alaska Chapter Molly Ahlgren Award for her work validating qPCR assays to measure immune response in stickleback. This protocol will be used in many aspects in the lab, including the ability to measure the immune response in fish from different populations that are exposed to microbes isolated from stickleback guts.

Summer 2016

We are excited to have been chosen as mentors for the American Fisheries Society’s Hutton Program. An Anchorage high school student will be working with us this summer on metagenomic data analysis.

Masters student Ryan Lucas has received an Alaska INBRE graduate student fellowship to study the effects of clinical levels of antibiotics on microbial community composition and immune response in stickleback.

Postdoc Emily Lescak has received an NSF Broadening Participation postdoctoral fellowship to study the effects of environmentally-relevent levels of antibiotics on microbial community composition and development in stickleback.

Lab Members on the Road!

Kat gave a talk at the Evolution Meeting in June.

Emily attended ECOGEO in July 2017.

Foster attended the Research Institute at MIT summer of 2016.

Fish Tech position opening

The Milligan-Myhre and Weber Labs at the University of Alaska Anchorage are hiring a full-time technician to oversee fish-care and help with a diversity of research projects.

Links to lab websites:
Dr. Milligan-Myhre and Dr. Weber

Your duties (among other things):

Help lab mates (undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs) with their projects, including research on microbiomes, immunology, genetics, parasite infections, field studies, etc. See our lab webpages for full descriptions of people and ongoing research. All of these projects are united around their focus on a powerful model organism–the threespine stickleback fish.

Maintain and breed several populations of fish from both Alaska and BC in the lab

Experiment with freezing and recovering fish sperm and eggs

Maintain and expand microbe and parasite stocks

Maintain a copepod colony, which will be used for experimental parasite infections

Play with (or, formally, experiment with) microbes and parasites in our collection

Order supplies/help keep things orderly

Opportunities:

Gain experience in animal husbandry, sterile technique, high-throughput DNA sequencing and analysis, and flow cytometry

Conduct field-sampling expeditions for fish, microbes, and parasites throughout Alaska

Opportunities to do outreach in the STEM fields throughout the year

Contribute to data collection, analyses, and writing, with the possibility of authorship on lab publications

Minimum Qualifications:

Bachelor’s degree, preferably in Biology-related field

Enthusiasm to learn new techniques, organizational skills, detailed oriented, record keeping, ability to work well with others required

Currently reside in, or willingness to move to, Anchorage, Alaska

Preferred Qualifications:

1-4 years research experience involving fish care and husbandry

Other details:

40 hours/week

Research Tech level 2-4 (see descriptions below)

Funding for position through Dec 2019.

How to apply:

The position is listed as temporary. For UAA, this means 18 months, after which you will need to take 120 days off.  We may be able to extend that, depending on funding.

Please send Kat an email (see “Contact us”) with your CV, 3 references, and a cover letter, and apply to the link below.

http://careers.alaska.edu/cw/en-us/job/506368/cas-research-20172018-research-technician-14-pool

Research tech levels

Research Technician 2: One year college coursework in relevant field and one year experience in a field relevant to the research or an equivalent combination of training and experience.

Research Technician 3: Two years experience in relevant field, or acceptable combination of education and experience.

Research Technician 4: Bachelor’s degree in a field relevant to the research and four years experience in a field relevant to the research, or an equivalent combination of training and experience.

Additional descriptions of each job level can be found here.

Minimum Hourly Wage/Salary: Varies according to project requirements and level of position to be filled.

Research Technician 2: Grade 76, Step 1, $18.18/hour

Research Technician 3: Grade 77, Step 1, $20.47/hour​

Research Technician 4: Grade 78, Step 1, $22.36/hour

Notice of Nondiscrimination:

Equal opportunity employer. We encourage women and minorities to apply.

The University of Alaska is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and educational institution.  The University of Alaska does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, citizenship, age, sex, physical or mental disability, status as a protected veteran, marital status, changes in marital status, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, parenthood, sexual orientation, gender identity, political affiliation or belief, genetic information, or other legally protected status. The University’s commitment to nondiscrimination, including against sex discrimination, applies to students, employees, and applicants for admission and employment. Contact information, applicable laws, and complaint procedures are included on UA’s statement of nondiscrimination available at www.alaska.edu/nondiscrimination

#NewPIAdvice/#NewPI

As I prepare for my 4th year review, I have time to reflect on my first 3 years in a tenure track position at a primarily undergraduate university. For those of you just joining the ranks of TT, I thought I’d pass on advice that helped me the most these first two years. As an under-representative minority (URM) and woman, much of this advice will be shaped by those experiences.

Research:

  1. Your first semester will be spent ordering things. If you have funding in your start-up, hire a good lab manager to handle ordering and negotiating deals from reps.
  2. Go to conferences and make the most of them. Call/email your funding org (NIH or NSF) ahead of time and find out if your PO will be there. If they are, set up a meeting time, and have questions ready to ask. Set up meetings with potential collaborators and potential mentors. I have gotten a lot of great advice from both. If you aren’t great at meeting people for the first time, ask a mentor or outgoing friend to introduce you to people. Don’t be afraid to talk to folks in your field with more experience or expertise than you. The good ones will be open to talking; the ones that blow you off are folks to cross off your list of potential collaborators.
  3. Find collaborators who will be supportive and who value your expertise. Steer clear of those that want you on their grant because they believe it will improve their chances of getting funding if they include an URM or PI with early investigator status.
  4. If your University has a heavy research requirement for tenure, make sure you protect your research time. This means learning how to say no.
  5. If offered, attend grant writing and/or manuscript writing workshops. I attended GUMSHOE through the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN; https://nrmnet.net/) and found it extremely helpful.

Teaching:

  1. If your University offers teaching assistance, use it. My University provides workshops in effective teaching styles, student assessment, etc. I wish I had spent more time my first two years attending those workshops.
  2. If you are teaching a class that was previously taught at your university, get as many of the previous year’s resources as possible. You should design your own syllabus/lectures/exams/etc, but it helps to have a starting point. If you are designing a class that has never been taught, talk to people who have taught a similar class at other Universities.
  3. If you are URM, be prepared with a response for students that question your qualifications to teach. I run through my qualifications my first class (almost 20 years’ experience in microbiology, classes I’ve taken, quick rundown of my studies) in a 2 minute summary, and restate that summary when challenged by students. My qualifications were challenged my first four semesters.
  4. Have a teaching mentor. Have them come to one of your classes to watch you teach, and get feedback from them in person and in writing. The written comments should go in your tenure track portfolio.
  5. Get advice on how to best use teaching evaluations. Few students (5 out of a class with 130 students) responded to the on-line evaluations my university uses, so I get feedback from students during class. I used Google Surveys these last two classes and feedback went down again. It’s more laborious to get in-class comments, but you get higher quality comments that way.

Mentoring:

  1. Figure out how many people you can handle. I have ~15 people in my lab currently. I started with one postdoc my first year and that was about all I could handle at that time. My second year I added a tech, master’s student, and 5 undergrads. I think that was too many undergrads. I added two postdocs this year, who will help mentor the undergrads, and two part-time techs.
  2. Have weekly meetings with the people in your labs. I have a group meeting weekly and one-on-one meetings weekly for people in my lab 40 hours a week, and every other week for the undergrads.
  3. Get feedback from your mentees. Remember that each person is different; some will require more supervision than others. Be upfront with your mentees about how much time you can offer, but also be generous with these folks.
  4. If your University offers mentoring for you, take advantage of it. I have a mentoring committee that meets with me yearly to give me feedback. More importantly, those are three people that I can contact with questions almost any time.
  5. Keep track of who has been in your lab and what their major accomplishments were for letters of recommendation and for grants. I started a spreadsheet with every person who has ever worked in my lab, when they started, what they worked on, what their major accomplishments were, and where they went after their time in my lab.

Service:

  1. Be protective of your time. This is especially true for URM, LGBTIQ, and women. Figure out which activities are going to make the most impact, both in terms of encouraging up and coming scientists, and in giving you satisfaction and do those.
  2. Choose your university service wisely. Find out which are related to your research and passions and serve on those committees.
  3. Learn to let others lead. You likely became a PI because you have exhibited leadership ability. It’s easy to want to lead the committees you’ll be on, but that can be time consuming during a time when you should be focused on teaching and research.
  4. Learn to say no. I said it before, and I’ll say it again because it is so. Very. Important. Also, learn when to say yes.
  5. Put all your outreach/service/leadership activities in a master CV so that when you are writing your annual report and/or your workload, you are given credit for all the service you do. It’s also a good way to look back on your year and figure out if you have spent your time wisely.

Organization:

  1. Keep a master CV with ALL the things you do. This will be used for activity reports, updating NIH biosketches and NSF CVs, completing just-in-time documents for grants, etc. Mine has a table of contents so that I can find each section easily.
  2. Keep a folder for every academic year that breaks down the tenure requirements. For example, I have a master folder called “Tenure Track” with subfolders for each year; within each of those are the subfolders “Teaching” “Research” “Service” “Other”. Teaching has evaluations and syllabus for each class; research includes the submission and acceptance letters for each grant; service includes letters for each committee; other includes mentee information etc.
  3. Figure out what calendar/to-do list system works best for you.
  4. Keep notes of the weekly meetings with your mentees (if you have weekly meetings) or updates on their projects.
  5. Find a communication tool that works best for your lab. We use WhatsApp for day-to-day conversations, email for formal things, and online shared folders for documents.
  6. Read an email but didn’t do the thing that was asked of you? Mark it unread and keep an unread folder or to-do folder in your email box.
  7. Find a way to organize your other stuff. I use spreadsheets galore. I have spreadsheets for everything we’ve ever ordered in the lab, every collection we’ve done, every sample we’ve processed.

Self-care:

It’s so easy to lose yourself in the first year or two. Make sure you maintain good self-care. These are some steps I took; you’ll need to find what works best for you.

  1. Exercise! For me that was running. I have a running buddy who makes sure I prioritize a long Sunday run. Releases tension, clears my head, and gives me an outlet. My running partner my first year was also another first year TT in the department, so we used that time to support each other as well.
  2. Prioritize family. I have a standing lunch date with my spouse and keep (or try to) 6-9pm for my kids.
  3. Don’t let health issues slide. I didn’t get a sore shoulder checked out and ended up with over 1.5 years of physical therapy trying to get a frozen shoulder back in working order.
  4. Reward yourself. It’s easy to not celebrate an accomplishment. They can be few and far between…make sure you acknowledge when you and your mentees have done well!
  5. Find what work/life balance works best for you. I take each Saturday off, for example.

Keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list, just a quick jot-down of the things that I’ve found helpful. There are SO many great resources out there for new PIs. Take advantage of the Slack NewPI channel, twitter, read books on teaching and mentoring, and remember to take all the advice (even mine!) with a grain of salt. Find what works for you, and reevaluate once in a while. Remember to breathe, not to take it all TOO seriously, and realize that this is a job, but it’s also a part of your life. If you aren’t enjoying it, find a way to make it enjoyable.

New Kat MM lab members!

I am very excited to announce that we have several new members of the Milligan-Myhre lab. In alphabetical order:

Katie D’Amelio, research technician, completed her M.S. at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA where she studied the gut microbiome of army ants. Her research focused on identifying how different factors such as host genetics, transmission mode, and host natural history may shape the diversity of microbes found within the army ant gut. She has switched from insects to vertebrates and now studies the gut microbiota of stickleback fish in the Kat Lab.  She will focus on sequencing bacterial communities of stickleback guts and creating whole genomes of bacterial isolates.

Lucas J. Kirschman, postdoc, is a physiological ecologist who studies how life history trade-offs affect animal development, immune function and how these interactions can scale up to ecosystem level processes. He recently received his Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University Carbondale where he studied the pleiotropic effects of neuroendocrine stress on during a critical window of development in larval amphibians. Dr. Kirschman will initially focus on host selection and shaping of gut microbial communities, including both developmental tradeoffs and immune response genes.

Amber R. Nashoba, postdoc and research professional, is interested in the application of evolutionary theory to understand and address environmental change. Her dissertation research studied population-level adaptation, natural selection, and the response to selection of a native prairie legume (Chamaecrista fasciculata). This project focused on the empirical application of Fisher’s Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection and among-year environmental variation in the form of trait relationships, adaptive capacity, and fitness landscapes. She recently completed a Future Faculty Fellowship at the Northeastern University; during this time, she examined allele frequency change in drought and salinity associated genes in newly restored Spartina alterniflora in a Rhode Island salt marsh. In our lab, Dr. Nashoba will focus on phenotypic changes in a population of stickleback that is undergoing rapid selection and adaption to a novel microbial environment. Dr. Nashoba has been a member of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society since 2011.

Kat O’Brien, fish technician, previously worked at Northeastern University modeling Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) in the Gulf of Maine. With the rising ocean temperature and cod stocks declining, EFH is a good indicator where the few remaining cod could be. This information enables researchers and managers to make cogent decisions on fishing area designations. O’Brien now works as a husbandry technician at UAA, working in both the vivarium and in the Milligan-Myhre labs. She will focus on creating a vivarium for our recently funded stickleback stock center. O’Brien enjoys fly fishing, beach combing for sea glass, walking her dog, and SCUBA diving (not in Alaska).

I’m very excited about our newest members!  Now, back to the science.

Pros and cons of traveling as an assistant professor

I (Dr. Kat) have had an incredibly busy summer in terms of traveling. I have been trying to determine whether this amount of travel was appropriate/worthwhile for an assistant professor ending the 2nd year on the tenure track. Rather than just turn it over in my tiny brain, I thought I would write a post on it, to give others insight as well. Time permitting (ha!) I’d like to write a blog post for each of the work-related trips to summarize what I learned from each.

My Summer Travel:

ASM Microbe 2017 meeting in New Orleans May 31-June 5

Field work various days

Fish Microbiota workshop in Trondheim Norway June 17-25

SING workshop in Tucson Arizona July 9-15

Talkeetna trapping trip a weekend in July

Family trip end of August for two weeks

Wedding for close friends a weekend in August

Camping mid-week for two nights

 

Other obligations:

Teaching ANSEP high school students Microbiology 3 afternoons per week for two weeks

Hiring research tech/post docs

Committees (students and departmental)

 

Pros:

Networking. I met several people in person that I follow on twitter/studied their work/used their assays/etc. I’ve gained a new perspective on their work, received great advice for how to proceed down the tenure track, and received valuable advice for my work/TT path/balancing work-life/becoming a better mentor/giving back to my tribe. There are a couple of possible collaborations that may come from meeting various folks, including a chat with a person I sat next to on the plane who happens to work in my field. That networking is much harder to do over email/twitter/phone calls/skyping.

Visiting new places to gain a bigger perspective of the world. This is true in terms of place, people, research, mentoring, and insight into how I can become a better contributor to both my scientific and personal networks.

Exposure for my lab. This overlaps with networking quite a bit. Although I didn’t get much traffic at my poster at ASM, I was able to talk to quite a few people about the work our lab is doing and get feedback during one-on-one meetings. My students/postdoc also presented at Evolution and came back with some great ideas for their own projects. I gave a talk at the Fish Microbiota workshop that was well received, and may result in some collaborations.

Insight into what others are doing in my field. As a PI, I have almost no time during the day to catch up on the latest in publications. While I read abstracts/peruse papers from links via twitter, or take a quick look through the latest titles/abstracts that come to my email from pubmed and google scholar updates, listening to a talk provides more information in a short period of time. At meetings I also tend to learn more about things happening outside my field, or studies that are only tangentially related to my studies but that could have a big impact in the way we proceed. Not to mention the papers online are summaries of work that was done years ago, and typically don’t include the negative data or failed assays that are presented at posters/talks/gleamed from talking to people at a meeting.

 

Cons:

Time away from my family. This was especially hard as I have two daughters who are asking questions like “Do you love your work more than you love me?” (seriously folks, this was asked between trips 2 and 3.)

Time away from mentoring. While I feel like my lab handled my time away from the lab OK, this summer I didn’t feel like I was being a good mentor. In my mind, that includes weekly meetings, having time in the lab to help trouble shoot assays, handling my own project, etc. I obviously wasn’t in the lab or field as much this summer, and my disconnect from my mentees reflects that.

Time away from data collecting/processing. I need to publish papers from my own lab, and yet I collected very little data myself this summer. Since I teach during the spring and fall semester, this means I won’t have as much data for the year as I would like. This is weighing heavily on my mind as I enter my third year on the tenure track.

Time away from teaching prep. My teaching load is heavier than some and lighter than others. Theoretically I don’t need much teaching prep time, but I still would like more time to process the feedback I got back from my students last year, and to develop new classes.

Less time for subsistence and no time in Kotzebue. Summer is prime time in Alaska for fishing and berry collecting. Due to my travels this year I made the hard decision to not go home to Kotzebue to help my dad with fishing or my folks with berry picking and hunting. My parents are getting older, and my chances to camp/fish/hunt/pick with them is getting smaller with each season. One of the reasons I moved to Alaska was to be closer to my folks and home so that I could regain a connection with my family. The professional travel and decision to use vacation time in the Lower ’48 is stripping away my chances to do so.

I am so so so so far behind in administrative duties. As in my inbox is overflowing, and a student is waiting for me to finish my IRB training so that he can proceed with his work. (which also means it’s time to wrap up this post)

 

Conclusion:

While the networking and perspectives gained this summer were valuable, next summer I am going to prioritize time in Kotzebue, writing, and in the lab. I will send more of my students/mentees to conferences rather than attending myself. As a new PI, this summer was a good time to travel in that I was able to make valuable connections and get exposure to our work just as we’re prepping manuscripts. Strategically, although it was time well spent overall professionally, I think I could have shortened a couple of the trips and still gotten as much out of the conferences. I arrived a day early for each trip (traveling from Alaska means that most of my trips took an entire day for flights) and left either the last or next day for each trip. I will shorten that for future trips and lose a day or two on either end.

I am going to push to have my family join me on more of my trips next year to minimize my time away from them. This will cut back dramatically on my networking (many of the connections I made were over drinks, meals, or hikes).  I will also likely only attend a few days of a conference, rather than spend a week away at a time.

One final thought: There are pros and cons to attending big general meetings (ASM microbe) vs small meetings (Fish microbiota and SING). I was able to get a broader look into research that is only tangentially related to my work at ASM microbe and I met some great potential collaborators at ASM who didn’t attend the smaller meetings. However, the connections I made at the Fish Microbiota and SING meetings were deeper because we spent so much more time together (hiking trips, several dinners, social hours) and single sessions (as opposed to the multiples sessions in different rooms in large buildings at ASM) meant that I gave my full attention to each talk at the smaller meetings. I like the balance of a large meeting and a small meeting. Because the work in our lab is so interdisciplinary (microbiology, immunology, ecology, evolution), I think I will send my mentees to more meetings next year and only attend one small and one large meeting myself next summer.

One more final-final thought: I have some personal travel time at the end of the summer. This is the first real vacation with my entire family in three years. While it comes at a tricky time (just before classes start!) due to a family event, I am hoping it provides a desperately needed break just before I dive into year three. I also hope to incorporate real vacations in future summers.

Farewell, Alaska!

As I wrap up my final weeks as a research technician in Dr. Kat’s lab, I find myself reflecting on the past year I have been working here.  It’s a bittersweet time; I’m going off to further my career as a scientist, but I’m leaving a wonderful lab filled with great people. These are my thoughts as I prepare to leave.

I had just graduated from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington with a Bachelor’s in Molecular and Cellular Biology, and I was looking for a lab tech job in a microbiology lab. I first heard about the tech position in Dr. Kat’s lab from my undergraduate research advisor, Dr. Mark Martin (AKA Doc Martin). Doc Martin was very generously helping me find a job for my gap year while applying to graduate school. He knew Dr. Kat from Twitter, and when he tweeted that I was looking for a tech position, she responded saying she was looking for a tech with microbiology experience. After a couple of video chat interviews, I was offered and accepted the position. I was hesitant to accept a position in Alaska at first, but when I heard about the interesting research Dr. Kat was doing, I knew it was the right place for me to spend my gap year.

I started in Dr. Kat’s lab this past September, and I have done and learned so much in my time here. Working in a stickleback lab taught me a lot about aquaculture, building fish facilities, collecting stickleback in the wild, dissecting stickleback guts, and making germ-free stickleback.

2017 Mud Lake Ruth Kenny Rachael RyanCollecting stickleback at Mud Lake, May 2017. (Left to right: Ruth, Kenny, Rachael, Dr. Kat’s daughter Jade, Kenny’s dog Oberon, and Ryan)

Stickleback 7 dpf
Stickleback embryo, 7 days post fertilization, May 2017. 

Some of the experiments I worked on include refining a phenol:chloroform DNA extraction procedure, extracting DNA from stickleback guts (almost 600 of them!), preparing DNA for whole genome sequencing and 16S rRNA gene sequencing, testing the growth of stickleback gut microbes at various pH, and testing the motility and ability to form biofilms of stickleback gut microbes. I was even able to present a poster on some of my findings at the University of Alaska Biomedical Research Conference in Fairbanks this past May.

2017 May_UABRC
“The Effect of a Host’s Environment on the Composition of Their Gut Microbiota,” UABRC 2017, Fairbanks, Alaska.

While I learned a great deal in Dr. Kat’s lab, I think the most valuable lesson I learned was independence. In my previous experiences, there were usually more experienced people around me who could instruct me in how to do everything I needed to do. Here, I found myself alone in the lab much of the time and had to figure out how to carry out various tasks on my own. Learning how to be independent in the lab has made me a stronger researcher and is a lesson I will take with me to graduate school and beyond.

In addition to doing great science here in Dr. Kat’s lab, I’ve also gotten to know a bunch of great people.  Our post-doc Emily has been a great help to me as I learned the ways of the lab and applied to graduate school. Our master’s student Ryan has helped and worked with me on several projects. Our undergrads Kelly, Kenny, Koral, Rachael, and Jeremiah have all been wonderful to work with on all of their various projects. Dr. Brandon Briggs and his master’s student James Wilson from the lab next to ours have been very helpful, as well. And of course, Dr. Kat has been a fabulous mentor through all of my projects and graduate school application process. I am very grateful to have met all of these great scientists.

Lab January 2017
A rare day when all of the undergrads were in the lab at the same time, January 2017. (Left to right: Koral, Kelly, Ruth, and Kenny)

Mud lake collection May 2017
Group photo after a long day of stickleback collecting in the Mat-Su Valley, May 2017. (Left to right: Kenny, Rachael, Ruth, Dr. Kat, and Ryan)

I am so glad I decided to take the opportunity to move to the beautiful state of Alaska for a year and work in Dr. Kat’s lab. I have met so many great people, learned a lot about the research process, and bettered myself as a researcher.

I would like to thank Dr. Kat for letting me join her lab and for all of her guidance and support. I would also like to thank the rest of the Kat Lab for being so welcoming and working with me this past year, and Doc Martin for putting me into contact with Dr. Kat last summer when I was a fresh college graduate looking for a job. Working here has been an experience I will never forget, and I have all of you to thank!

In just a couple short months I will be off to start the Microbiology Doctoral Training Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (where Dr. Kat did her PhD!). If anyone wants to follow my adventures in graduate school, you can find me on Twitter @RuthlessRuth15.

UAA logo in microbes
University of Alaska Anchorage logo painted on an agar plate with a microbe isolated from a stickleback gut.

UW Madison bound
I’m off to University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall! University of Wisconsin-Madison logo painted on an agar plate with a microbe isolated from a stickleback gut.

May 2017: Awards and travel

Both Kelly Ireland and Kenneth Sparks were awarded the OURS-INBRE undergraduate research award! Congratulations to both. This funding will allow Kenneth to create a Stickleback mock community from bacteria isolated from stickleback guts in Oregon and two Alaskan populations, and allow Kelly to use the qRT-PCR assay she has been developing to determine the immune response to microbes in several different stickleback populations. Well done to both students.

Curious about what we do? Chat with one of us at the following meetings!

May 18/19 – Fairbanks, Alaska – Research technician and soon-to-be graduate student Ruth Isenberg will present a poster at the University of Alaska Biomedical Research Conference: “The Effect of a Host’s Environment on the Composition of Their Gut Microbiota”

June 1-5 – New Orleans, LA – Dr. Kat will present a poster and give a poster talk at the ASM Microbe meeting: “Fishing for Contributions of Host Genetic Background to Host-Microbe Interactions”
Poster talk:  6/2/2017 1:45:00 PM – 6/2/2017 2:35:00 PM
Poster: Poster Presentation Date/Time: Sunday Jun 4, 2017 12:15 PM – 2:15 PM
(For a meeting of this size, we are not able to consider special scheduling concerns)
Poster Board Number: SUNDAY – 887

June 19-23 – Trondheim, Norway – Dr. Kat will present a talk at the Fish Microbiota Workshop titled: Gene-by-environment interactions drive microbiota variation and response to antibiotics

June 23-27 – Portland, OR – Postdoctoral fellow Emily Lescak will give a talk titled: Gene-By-Environment Interactions Drive Developmental Responses to Antibiotic Exposure in Threespine Stickleback Fish

Other recent presentations:

Emily Lescak gave a talk at the Pacific Northwest regional Chapter of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry meeting in Anchorage Alaska in April 2017 titled: Gene-By-Environment Interactions Drive Developmental Responses to Environmentally Relevant Levels of Antibiotic Exposure in Threespine Stickleback Fish

Graduate student Ryan Lucas presented a poster at the American Fisheries Society Alaska meeting in March 2017 in Fairbanks titled: Effects of tetracycline on somatic development in threespine stickleback fish

Postdoctoral Fellowship in Microbiology and/or Immunology

Update: We have hired a postdoctoral fellow. More details will follow in an updated post.

We are hiring! A postdoctoral position is available immediately at the University of Alaska Anchorage Biological Sciences Department in the laboratory of Dr. Kat Milligan-Myhre. We are interested in someone who has strengths in microbiology and/or immunology, and who is interested in using threespine stickleback fish as a model to study host-microbe interactions. You will study the contribution of the host genetic background on the interactions between the host and the microbiota, with a focus on the ability of the host to resist developmental delays due to the disruption of the microbiota and/or immune system.

Qualifications:

  • PhD in Biological Sciences, with an emphasis in microbiology, immunology or evolution preferred
  • Enthusiasm to learn new techniques; good organizational skills; detailed oriented record keeping; ability to work well with others
  • Willingness to move to Anchorage, Alaska

Opportunities:

  • Grant-writing experience
  • Mentor undergraduate/graduate students
  • Outreach opportunities throughout the year
  • Teaching opportunities available, but not required
  • Experiment with freezing and recovering fish sperm and eggs
  • Play with (I mean experiment with) microbes in our collection
  • Learn lab management skills through duties shared among lab members (fish husbandry, microbe stock maintenance, ordering supplies, etc)

Other details:

Full-time position

Funding for position through Dec 2018, possibly through Dec 2019

How to apply:

Equal opportunity employer. We encourage women and minorities to apply.

Please send Dr. Kat Milligan-Myhre (kat.mm at alaska dot edu) your cover letter, CV, three references, a statement of research interests and career goals (not restricted to academia), and favorite winter activity.