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Patrick L. Sheets, Ph.D.

Patrick L. Sheets, Ph.D.

Dr. Patrick L. Sheets earned his B.S. (General Health Sciences) and M.S. (Toxicology) from Purdue University. In 2007, Sheets received his Ph.D. in Pharmacology from Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis where he was trained in the disciplines of electrophysiology, signal transduction pathways, and drug-channel interactions. He next moved to Chicago to do his post-doctoral work at Northwestern University where he became proficient in retrograde labeling in the brain, slice electrophysiology, and optogenetics for studying mouse cortical circuits involved in motor control. In 2012, Patrick joined Indiana University School of Medicine-South Bend as Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology. He also holds an adjunct position in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame. His current research involves a multifaceted approach to elucidate the circuit properties of neurons that influence anxiety and pain pathways in mice. He is fascinated with how strongly fear and pain impact decisions and behavior.

Patrick was born and raised in central Indiana. He has a very understanding wife and two precocious sons who keep him busy outside of the lab. When the ever elusive “free” time is available, Patrick enjoys being with his family, cooking, fishing, traveling, and catching up with friends and colleagues.

Conducted and contributed by Brian | May 2013

“The value of a Ph.D. is being able to tackle challenges and be independent. It is being able to ask the right questions and develop the right experiments and use the right tools to find the answer. Most experiments will tell you something if they are done right. It may not always be what you want them to, or what you expect them to, but it will always give you something as long as you are confident the experiment is done correctly. This is a real skill that takes cultivating and time."

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Featured songs: "Last Friday Night" by Beacon and "Holocene" by Bon Iver

Conversation Highlights

Defying the odds. When are you ready to make the transition from postdoctoral scientist to assistant professor? With statistics suggesting < 14% of your academic colleagues will secure this coveted position, how do you prepare for this incredibly overwhelming change? Let’s take an audio journey with a recently hired assistant professor fresh out of his postdoctoral position at Northwestern University. Welcome Patrick L. Sheets. Neurobiologist. Father. New faculty member challenged with the daunting task of mentoring future scientists.

“Graduate school is definitely not undergraduate anymore. It is more about time management and more of a job than a school environment.”

Of his Ph.D. mentor: “He was fantastic. He was very understanding and patient. He always found a way, no matter what the data were and how things were going, or if I was running into dead ends, he was very good about redirecting me or helping me look at the data in another way. He gave me a lot of confidence when things were going wrong or not as hypothesized. He helped me take a step back and refocus.”

Of his postdoc mentor: “He had a very different style than my previous mentors. He was very hands off and gave me nudges in the right direction. As a postdoc you are expected to take over for yourself and be independent.”

“If you get good mentors throughout your career or at different stages in science it is an incredible advantage.”

“As a new faculty member, it is up to you to seek out faculty mentors or career mentors.”

“The faculty career mentors meet with me to check on my progress and give suggestions on what to do. They are there to guide me in the right direction. Part of it is implementing yourself – you want to be as prepared as possible when you present to them.”

“As I was working my way through the postdoc, I worked my way through the project and published. But there were other things I was interested in doing. The more I realized that I was interested in something unique compared to my current mentor I determined that I had three choices. I could start a new project for my current mentor, start gaining some preliminary data for a research statement that I could send out for jobs, or look for a second postdoc.”

“It would not hurt to throw out the feelers and see what sort of response you get based on the data you are gathering.”

“When you look at job postings, people are looking for very specific areas. When I was writing research statements or cover letters I wanted to tailor them to what I could contribute to their interests based on the posting. No cover letter was the same to ensure that what I was proposing would fit into their program.”

“When people look at your application, they are going to see if you have a very nice flow to your research and a nice idea of where you want your research to go. This is based on your publications. For example, are they consistent and are they flowing in a coherent direction towards answering an ultimate question? In addition, you want to have a strong research statement that is short and to the point. Really knock them over the head so that they would put you at the top of their list.”

“For postdocs that are looking for jobs, the first thing you must realize is that it is a very long process. You must start writing your K99 (transition to faculty award) relatively early. If you start writing it near the time you want to move on, it is way too late. You need to start writing it 2-3 years before you think you are going to start looking for positions.”

“I cannot count how many applications I sent out, but it was around 50. To find a position that fits your skills is incredibly hard.”

I do not want to send my students down a path that will make them miserable. If academia and the struggles of grant writing or things that do not pertain to science make them less of a contributor to the field, you have to be sensitive to that.”

Whether it is industry, academia or something else, it is important to instill that fascination in research and love of science. But on a more broad level, you want them to be organized and understand how to put together a good work day, think on your own and be independent. These are all things that would beneficial in most, if not all, facets of life and careers.”