Monday, January 31, 2005

Wiggle Your Big Toe

Applications sent: 9
Rejection letters received: 4


So last night, my boyfriend got a call from his advisor. This is not unusual, the phone calls at home on the weekend, in the evening, from the advisor.

I never had an advisor like that.

This particular call was about a deadline to submit an abstract for a Japanese meeting. My boyfriend had previously suggested we should both apply to go, but he forgot to mention this to his advisor. (Forgot? Freudian slip?)

Anyway, he felt bad and tried to download the info from the web, but none of it was in English. Google translator gave us some barely-intelligible gimish, so we managed to pull out some dates and decided that the 'deadline' hasn't yet arrived, despite what his advisor said. So theoretically, we could still both apply for travel awards.

Unfortunately during this process we discovered that one of my 'competitors' will be speaking at the meeting. Not as a postdoc, in a tiny little time-slot, but as a Speaker, on the main program.


I'm not sure what happened. His advisor, who actually is a woman, regularly gets invited to these things and doesn't want to go, so he gets sent instead. This same thing happened at a meeting a few months ago, when I was excited to give a tiny little talk, and he got about three times longer to tell his story (which I didn't know until I got there... I just love surprises).

I find myself green with jealousy, not to mention resentful. It seems unfair that the system is so political that some postdocs are given these opportunites that really put them above and beyond what anyone else could reach just by trying. It really does seem that if you don't pick the right lab, you're screwing yourself out of inumerable, unimaginable opportunities. Mainly the ones where people learn your name and invite you on all-expenses-paid trips to showcase your accomplishments.

I'm sure this guy will have no trouble getting job offers. But I don't think he's going to apply until next year.

I begin to think that since nobody teaches this stuff, you probably have to be born with a manipulative streak in your genes?
Does it take one to know one? My boyfriend is not manipulative, but he picked an advisor who never hesitates to give his people lip-service.

So then another friend sent me this personality test at the Science Advisory Board Take the Test . The four categories are described in 2 or three paragraphs, but I'll summarize them here: Leader (unquestionably going to be successful); Explorer (obnoxious, creative, self-centered and bitchy); Organizer (methodical, OCD-type), and Enthusiast (spineless team-player who doesn't usually have their own ideas). Anyway the friend who sent it, and his wife, both got Leader. His undergrad helper got Explorer, but she thinks it's only because she's young, or something.

I got Explorer. I'm annoyed by this, since the definition of Explorer is that although they are supposedly 'visionaries', they are doomed to never getting along with anyone. Didn't seem very helpful to me. I wasn't clear on whether we're all supposed to strive to be Leaders, or what. Maybe I was a little too honest with my answers???

My boyfriend's advisor is an Explorer. But it's clear to me, he couldn't behave the way he does if he were a woman. And I have to wonder if he was like this when he first started out. I suspect perhaps less so.

Anyway I was not in a great mood about coming to lab today, perhaps because of all of this political stuff. It really makes me feel beaten down, like it's an insurmountable hurdle and I don't see anyone reaching out of the sky to help me conquer it. And it doesn't matter how good my science is, if nobody knows about it.

And who knows if it's really any good. It seems to me that it's pretty difficult to interpret what you're getting in paper reviews when it's clear they're not entirely objective. People don't even bother to try to hide their motives, it's really sickening.


This morning my cell phone rang, which is unusual since I don't give that number out. I thought for a brief moment that it might be about a job (ha ha ha). Turned out it was our not-so-handy man, saying he has no idea why our roof leaked again.

I did hear a good quote this weekend from Morgan Freeman on the Actor's Studio on Bravo. He said something about how if you lay down, people will just step over you, but if you keep moving, someone will always give you a hand.

Too bad most days it's all I can do to wiggle my big toe (yes, that's a reference to Kill Bill).

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At 4:58 PM, Blogger Megan said...

I want to be able to respond with some words of wisdom that will give you a big epiphany, but I don't have any. I can feel your frustration with each word you write, and I wish I could do something to help. Although I'm not a science person (nor a post doc), I do know how competitive it is in the science fields with publication. My last two jobs before teaching were working as an editor for two scientific journals (one a much higher caliber than the other). It was cut-throat and political, and it sucks that it's that way.

I'm curious, are there other women in your program? Is there anyone at all at your school who can relate to what you are experiencing? I'm sorry I have nothing useful to say, I just wanted you to know that I'm totally rooting for you!

At 5:48 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Well, thanks for the support.

Yes, there are other women postdocs here. But it is not a program. There are very few programs for postdocs. You're pretty much dangling in the wind.

The other women postdocs that I know, the vast majority of them, are not interested in staying in academia, and even if they are staying, they're planning to be perma-docs. Or they are applying for faculty positions in their home country. The one postdoc I knew in grad school who really wanted to be a scientist is now an assistant professor in France.

I have one friend who is currently interviewing for positions, but she lives far away so I don't get to talk to her that much.

This is a particularly crappy time in one's career for having friends who are at the next level, since the next level keeps you so extremely busy and stressed out. I have several friends who are what you would call "young faculty members", but none of them have enough free time to really keep in touch on a regular basis. And in every single case, it's unclear to me how they got their jobs. Luck is a major factor.

I can't think of anyone else I know, female-wise, who is looking for jobs. And it's tough, because as I have mentioned, most of the guys I know who are looking for jobs are people who would be competing with me for the same faculty positions, even if we don't work on exactly the same thing.

What really bugs me is that most people I talk to have this weird selective memory thing. They're so unprepared for being faculty members, when they get a job, all they can do is whine about how great it was to be a postdoc. This is totally ridiculous to me, since every senior postdoc I know is just like me- unhappy with being stuck in a non-school, non-job situation. Some talk about it, some don't. Just because I'm talking about it doesn't make me an outlier in terms of how I feelt. I'm just an outlier for being honest about how much it sucks.

At 5:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got Enthusiast, which doesn't surprise me at all based on your quick summary. I can lead a group if I have to and delegate, but I much prefer having the input of others. I'm not very analytical either. However, I am stubborn and goal-oriented. I will finish this PhD! After that, I don't know.

At 1:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yer a darlin' girl obviously. Explorer is good: You can be an Explorer with an agenda and a vengance. Not otherwise.

HOWEVER, the fork did not evolve from the spoon, but from fingers. The hand evolved from the spoon. Thereby demonstrating the circularity of evolution, especially cosmic evolution. Big bang, little whimper, big bang, ...

Yer friend Edo


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