Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Postdocs without purpose

So this weekend I went to a going-away party for a friend who is going to be a consultant. Just by chance, I ended up sitting with a couple of postdocs who had gone to grad school where I had gone to college. They hated my favorite professor, so you can imagine I had to suspend judgment until they said they did postdocs in chemistry only because they didn't want to deal with getting a real job and didn't know what else to do.

These are the people who need to get fired, ASAP.

I'm sorry, but if you're a postdoc by default, because you're so lacking in creativity and motivation that you can't think of anything else to do with your PhD, you definitely don't deserve to get paid to work in a lab. And you probably didn't deserve a PhD in the first place.

Anyway we all drank a lot and changed the subject-!

In fact, I'm feeling the effects of too much Ethiopian beer, Sangria and Mike's Hard Lemonade this weekend. How to turn Tuesday into a Monday: have a hangover.

Meanwhile, my lab meeting went well, and I am starting to feel stressed about all the experiments I obviously have to do before I will be anywhere close to publishing another first-author paper. But I have plenty of ideas on what to do, it's just a matter of getting it done and avoiding too many stupid technical glitches along the way.

And user-error. Don't forget the human factor.

The good news: one of my collaborations finally got accepted for publication, at long last.

One down, one not yet submitted, and one not yet written. I guess this is a spread I should get used to.

I still think we need some kind of culling machine to separate the unmotivated losers from what a real postdoc should be. They're seriously dragging us down.



At 4:59 AM, Blogger James said...

I'm always puzzled why people take for granted that PhDs should have a finer or greater sense of purpose than the vast majority of us. I don't out-of-hand excuse someone who goes along with something because it's the only thing they can think of doing, I just don't kid myself that it's all that uncommon or that it's not a case of "There for the grace of God go I" --- many of us are not able to find a niche where we're truly happy, and know that THIS, whatever it is, is what I truly want to do with my life. Of course most of us who don't find a niche will find ourselves miserable or at least unhappy/unsatisfied with our work, but hopefully we'll make amends for that in other places.

As for the following:

"I still think we need some kind of culling machine to separate the unmotivated losers from what a real postdoc should be. They're seriously dragging us down. "

You're not using this to a tactical advantage. They're there, the system indirectly and even at times directly ENCOURAGES them to be there, so they therefore become an opportunity to excell, and measure one's self against. If you're not beating our their quality of work, if you're not able to present yourself more professionally than they, then you know you're scraping the bottom. Otherwise they become part of the all fodder against which one can stand out --- a cynical perspective on the latter consideration, but you'll also find it's VERY common out there.

At 5:39 AM, Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Getting a postdoc is more about politics and less about creativity than anything else. Sad, but true. Getting an Adjunct college teaching position is more about creativity (especially the creativity it requires to live on poverty wages) and endurance (can you survive the abuse without completely losing your mind or self-respect?) than anything else. Science is in a sad state right now, and it's getting worse, especially with the growing influence of wingnuts and their thought-choking agenda.


At 10:23 AM, Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

"I'm sorry, but if you're a postdoc by default, because you're so lacking in creativity and motivation that you can't think of anything else to do with your PhD, you definitely don't deserve to get paid to work in a lab."

Oh, pulleeeze! Unimpassioned postdocs don't deserve their peanuts pay for the skilled labor that lies behind most published papers? You're just retreating into zealotry because your experiments are making you miserable. Just bite your lip and don't take it out on the rest. Very socially Darwinist of you to wish that more postdocs were fervent and creative, given your knowledge that the vast majority are going to be culled. Ever thought about how people's enthusiasm might be related to their cognizance of what lies ahead and perhaps just a wee bit of insecurity?

At 10:41 AM, Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

Here's an exercise: Remember how the professor who was your doctoral adviser could occasionally be impossibly clueless and unsympathetic? Well, you're almost a professor now yourself....

At 11:23 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

I gotta say, I'm really amused that I clearly hit a nerve with you guys!

At 2:22 PM, Blogger kstrna said...

Shouldn't part of the blame lie with mentors at both the graduate level and at the post-doc level?

There is a push by professors to have their students to become professors at research universities. It bolsters the reputations of the professors. There is also the superiority complex many such professors have over those at small liberal arts colleges and other jobs a PhD in the sciences can take.

Mentors might not be giving the right advice. They are cultured to encourage students to become like them. Being a post-doc is now a de facto requirement most of the time to get such a faculty position in the biomedical sciences. Someone might be better served doing something else with their PhD but they might not be getting that advice, hence they become post-docs without purpose. They are doing what they are told. Many labs work that way, you do as your PI tells you (glad mine is not like that), no questions.

Those looking for post-docs should also do a better job screening. Many post-doc interviews/visits I have seen are jokes & do not really identify whether their is a good fit between the lab, the PI, and the applicant.

At 10:09 AM, Anonymous psilo said...

Damn postdocs, get off my lawn!


At 7:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually those postdocs were just screwing with you. It's unlikely that they didn't have a sense of purpose. They just didn't like to talk about it and wanted to come off as humble. Maybe they get their motivation from work and not talk, unlike you.

At 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My institution has a culture that states that there is only one track for PhDs.

Grad student > postdoc > academic PI.

All people are expected to go on this route. If you try to deviate people will look at you as if you've grown a second head. If you go to industry you're automatically a "sell out." Teaching is tantamount to wasting your education.

You will never be informed our counseled as to the kinds or availability of positions outside of the aforementioned route. Even if you say "I don't want to be a PI, the lifestyle isn't for me." you will still be told to do a postdoc.

But if you think about it, this makes sense. Its in PIs best interests to keep the supply of overworked, overeducated and significantly underpaid labor cheap. Hence the great push for everyone to be a postdoc.


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