Friday, June 10, 2005

Non-Postdoc Jobs for People with PhDs

There's one we haven't talked about at all: Staff Scientist.

This is where I think you should go if you want to work at the bench and don't want to teach or write grants. You don't need to do a postdoc at all to get this kind of position. And you can do it in industry or in academia.

Why should we redefine what a postdoc is to accomodate people who can't decide what to do next?

If you're producing good work, as one person said, go be a staff scientist. Postdocs should not be producers for other people's projects. A postdoc should be training for YOU. You should be working on your own, independent projects. If you can't come up with something to work on that's your own idea as a postdoc, why do you think you'll have anything to write a grant on as a PI?

If you're not sure you want to be a PI, you're never going to be. Do you think someone's going to pat you on the head every day as a postdoc and build up your ego? Never gonna happen . It's even less likely than it was when you were a grad student. And people who stay in a postdoc position for 5+ years because they weren't sure, are going to eventually apply for faculty positions, if they can just stay as a postdoc for a few more years??? In fact, just the opposite.

So then we're back to, why didn't you get a staff scientist position in the first place? Insecurity?

If you want to be a PI, get sure, get your act together. Floaters don't deserve faculty positions. I've probably said this before, If you can't handle the stress of working hard as a postdoc, you're definitely not going to be able to handle the stress of writing grants, teaching classes, serving on committees, going to meetings, training students and technicians, and doing research.

It doesn't get easier as you go up the ladder, it just gets harder. Have you looked at the NIH budget lately?


Having said that, in response to that last comment on my previous post, get a therapist. Read some self-help books. If your ego has been crushed by abusive advisors and crappy situations, you have to ask yourself:

1. Why did I put up with that situation for several years, when it was so clearly bad for me?
2. Why do I take that abusive person's opinions as more valuable than my own?

There are very few situations you have to just put up with, and take the abuse. In most cases, I firmly believe, it's better to just get out of there and find some people who will support you. It's like the song from A Chorus Line , "Nothing." If the teacher is bad, and mean to you, go find a better class.

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33 Comments:

At 3:42 PM, Blogger she falters to rise said...

You definitely raise some interesting points; I think, however, some of your comments may be a bit naive. Maybe my discipline is different than yours or maybe we're talking about different situations--I'm not sure where our conflicting opinions are stemming from.

"If you're producing good work, as one person said, go be a staff scientist. Postdocs should not be producers for other people's projects"

Few of the floaters that I know are working on someone else's projects. They are working on their own projects, and many of them are working under postdoctoral fellowships or grants that they obtained via their own ideas. I think, thus, that you are talking about people that I refer to as "duds".

"If you're not sure you want to be a PI, you're never going to be."

I've been working on a nation wide project (CID) on improving doctoral education. Many, if not all, of the faculty on this panel are extraordinary researchers and successful (and tenured) faculty. Many of them have expressed how insecurities, fears, and frustrations left over from grad school or early postdocs kept them in an undecided state of limbo for various amounts of time (minutes to years). One of the most pressing issues that we are trying to improve is mentorship. If you believe that mentorship does not impact the quality of training and, thus, the success of the mentee, you and the NIH are on different pages. Mentorship is a part of the training process (pre and post doctoral) and impacts the funding process of all training fellowships.

"Why did I put up with that situation for several years, when it was so clearly bad for me?
2. Why do I take that abusive person's opinions as more valuable than my own?"

1.Many people don't have a choice as to whether they stay or leave a lab if they really want to get their PhD. These days, funding limits labs and sometimes you may have one or two to choose from.
2. You've asked the million dollar question that every shrink, Oprah lover, and pych book has anguished over since the beginning of time. You may be Superhuman, but the rest of the world is not.

A post doc is not purely training for people who want to go into research or academia. It is training for applying your doctoral degree in a variety of settings and it is ridiculous not to do one because you may decide to leave science.


If someone is willing to fund a postdoc for years, then that person is obviously happy with that person and what they are getting from the relationship. I've had no problem getting postdoctoral offers so I don't really see these people taking up slots that I could have. Again, maybe our disciplines are different.

These are definitely important issues so thank you for raising them.

 
At 4:22 AM, Blogger James said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 6:09 AM, Blogger she falters to rise said...

I agree with James. The word "naive" was definitely not the one I was trying to use (that's what I get for posting while riding on the metro), and I regretted using it afterwards. James explained what I was thinking when I wrote that.

 
At 8:12 AM, Blogger kstrna said...

How many staff scientist positions are there? How many post-doc positions are there in this country? How many openings in each any given year? At my university, the jobs us grad students & post-docs are informed about overwhelmingly side towards post-docs and faculty positions. Also, people who are unsure after finishing their PhD are smart to go for a post-doc. It leaves pretty much all doors open as long as they figure it out within a couple years what they want. Mentors push grad students to post-docs as it looks good for that professor to have students who go on to work in other labs. It also keeps the system going. The system I have seen pushes people to be post-docs.

As for being producers for other people's projects that depends on the lab and what the PI wishes unless you have your come with your own money. Some PIs are very much the type you do as I say. These PIs do view post-docs as a labor force to churn out publications.

 
At 3:11 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

kstrna raises the only valid point I've seen yet. I don't know how many staff scientist positions there are. Yes, that is exactly my point: the system tries to tell everyone they should do a postdoc no matter what. I don't know why everyone just repeats this as if it's good advice, I guess people tend to just say what they've heard without actually asking- even scientists!- if there's any truth to it.

Some schools have more staff scientist positions than you realize- they're not always advertised, and it takes the initiative of the PI to set this up as a job title available in their lab.

I think we should push for more of these positions to be available.

Also there is always research track , which again, many postdocs could qualify for more easily than Faculty Positions of the more traditional kind.

As for the people calling me 'naive', etc.... you're a bunch of morons. You'll notice one of your posts has been deleted... I don't want to read this crap and I don't think anyone else does, either.

But back to my point. I'm trying to raise debate here, I'm being deliberately provacative . I'm not saying this is the only way I look at things. This blog is not about me, it's not meant to be a representation of who I really am, it couldn't possibly be that.

And I don't plan to force my personal life preferences on everyone I meet. But I think the system is broken and if we don't talk about extreme measures and discuss the pros and cons, it's never going to get better.

 
At 3:55 PM, Blogger James said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 10:32 PM, Blogger kstrna said...

"Also there is always research track , which again, many postdocs could qualify for more easily than Faculty Positions of the more traditional kind."

How many research faculty (as they are called in the department I am in) are there? We have two. One is the spouse of a professor in the department. The other seems to be an older professor. There is also another who runs one of the centers that is within our department. The numbers aren't exactly enticing to say the least.

Since the positions don't really exist, people are encouraged to be post-docs. Usually they receive fewer benefits and get paid less. There is no incentive for universities and departments to change, especially when they are not receiving more money.

It is more than just not asking. Who are you going to ask about jobs you don't really see? PIs? Most don't know themselves and the tendency is to push students/post-docs to be professors. Many universities, I have seen, have poor career guidance resources for graduate students in the sciences.

How do we push? Who do we push? Universities are the ones who need to make these positions but they need money and that means moving the government. This administration has not been exactly in favor of keeping the science research budget up with inflation let alone expanding it.

 
At 8:08 AM, Blogger she falters to rise said...

Again, I do apologize for the word naive, and you really should have removed my comment instead of that by James since his was written with more care for word choice.

I guess I'm still not clear on what type of postdoc you are displeased with. Are you upset with all post docs who take 5+ years, or just those who take 5+ years because they don't want to move on? Certain types of research can actually require you to be a postdoc for 5+ years (electrophysiological recordings in live, non-human primates for example).

Second, in an attempt to bring the conversation back to something that we all can have a tangible conversation about, I would like to bring up an interesting conversation I had with Thomas Insel, the current NIMH director. His advice to all graduate students is to do a postdoc, since a postdoc is a necessary extension of your doctoral training and truly important in evolving your scientific skills. He also suggested that young PhDs and graduate students really sit down and consider all of the career paths available to us, as many of us will not choose to stay on the same track as time goes by. Two of his best students are now lawyers. I think this is sound advice, and since it is coming from the person who decides where all of the money ends up, it is advice that should be taken to heart.

So, my question to you:
Are you against people doing post docs if they know they are going to end up in an alternative career paths or are you against those people who are staying in a postdoc unnecessarily (they have the publications they need to move on) because they can't make a decision as to what they want to do? Maybe that will clarify your arguements a little better and help feed constructive comments.

 
At 9:00 AM, Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 9:10 AM, Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

BTW I've felt reason to worry about sexism here too.

 
At 10:27 AM, Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

BTW2, I wasn't surprised by the censoring, because I noticed awhile back you've got a temper, MsPhD, but in case despite what you say you do care what other people think, I'll tell you I too consider that to have been very poor form. In particular, it's insensitive to the effort that James put into articulating his thoughts at length. It also suggests you're charging James with bad faith or ill will, and that's serious, because not only James is watching this blog. Finally, it's bad form because it goes against what you led James and probably most other people here to expect. While you may use this blog to "rant," you rant thoughtfully, without profanity and in a way that seems to take for granted the ostensibly altruistic and liberal values of college culture--plus you literally write under a sort of academic banner ("Young Female Scientist"). So while it's true that this is "your blog" and that "this is America" and so "you can write or do whatever you want here," you can still surprise and do injustices to people, not to mention embarrass yourself.

 
At 10:53 AM, Blogger she falters to rise said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 12:19 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

It's my blog, I decide what's "thoughtful" and "constructive" enough to stay up here.

Despite James' and Murky Thoughts' claims to the contrary, they both come on here and call me names, so I don't see why I can't delete their posts and do the same. I don't go to their websites and insult them. Frankly I don't think it's worth my time.

Having said that, I'll respond to the other comments, which were actually on topic.

"Are you against people doing post docs if they know they are going to end up in an alternative career paths or are you against those people who are staying in a postdoc unnecessarily (they have the publications they need to move on) because they can't make a decision as to what they want to do? Maybe that will clarify your arguements a little better and help feed constructive comments."

Both. And I think the director of the NIMH is giving you bad advice. Again I say, this is the standard line everyone will give you. It's in their best interest to have you work for them. It's the same phenomenon that allows graduate departments to admit, say, 20 physics students, have them all act as TAs for two years, and then fail all but four of them. Supply, demand, and the need to exploit cheap labor. The postdoc issue is the same, it's just more insidious because for some reason, we're more willing to buy into the idea that it's 'good' for us somehow.

You all need to check out the National Postdoc Association. I've posted much of this before, but you're obviously too busy - probably not, since you write such long posts- or lazy? to read back issues of this blog.

The NPA lists many relevant statistics to explain some of the issues about 'grazing in the desert' and other lovely metaphors for trying to convince the herd to redistribute, or go extinct.

 
At 2:55 PM, Blogger she falters to rise said...

Thank you for deleting my post which was in no way offensive. Thank you even more for answering some of my questions.

I think we differ in how we look at doctoral education and what being a steward of the discipline, what having a doctorate of philosophy, actually means. A postdoc is an extension of the doctorate. It historically evolved not to promote cheap labor but instead was a construct of the traditional concept of an apprenticeship. In fact, I was offered a postdoc that I would not classify as "cheap labor" since it payed very well. This indicates that you don't have to submit yourself to being cheap labor if you are a marketable candidate. While I agree that it serves everyone to have graduate students move into postdocs, that doesn't negate the benefit to the actual postdoc. You gain skills as a postdoc that are necessary (and often required) in almost all scientific career paths (including alternative careers). If you don't see the benefits of doing a postdoc, maybe it's a reflection of your particular situation.

I can't say anything about the weeding out/TA thing because my program does not weed out students. We are fully supported by NIH fellowships and are not expected to TA or RA or to do any other labor other than our own research. Most of our postdocs are also on such fellowships.

I've not only checked out the national postdoc association's site, but I've been a contributor to its works. I've read you former posts as well--I didn't get where I'm at in life by being lazy, and it takes little time to write a long post. I just feel that you are not clear in explicity expressing where your discontent lies. You generalize a lot and are often hard to understand when it comes to your exact points, and I did not want to comment on making assumptions about where you were coming from.

I welcome your opinions because they reflect your individual experiences and add to what I know about the world of science. I'm just trying to point out that not everyone is having the same experience as you are--not every postdoc is unhappy or exploited and not everyone enjoying a postdoc will stay in a traditional career.

 
At 6:31 PM, Blogger James said...

Well, appreciating that this will be deleted as well, I'd like to point out another instance of hypocrisy. Your comment:

"Despite James' and Murky Thoughts' claims to the contrary, they both come on here and call me names, so I don't see why I can't delete their posts and do the same."

Actually, no, I didn't call you any names. I think I said you were crude, rude, sexist, AND hypocritical. I'm not sure that, strictly speaking sexist is in the realm of "name calling" as it's rarely a term that's used without some measure of stimulus from the person so accused. In your case you deleted a post that had no name calling in it at all, while retaining a post from a woman who called you naive. Maybe you're not sexist, but evidence would seem to indicate that you are.

Let's replay the tape on my last comment, shall we? Oh, just to be sure I knew with certainty what i said I retained a copy. Here we go:

"To say that I'm surprised that you felt compelled to remove my comment, which was not in the least bit disrespectful or profane, and then to find myself classified as a moron stuns me. Are you really that sensitive? Or did something I say come too close to the truth and you didn't want to deal with it? However you want to cut it, when we come down to:

"I don't want to read this crap and I don't think anyone else does, either."

"The person following me (though she was the one calling you naive --- maybe a sensitivity to men making comments?) not only read my comment but seems to have substantively agreed with it. But she calls you naive and her comment stays and the only difference seems to be gender, hmmmmm.

"I would have to say that calling people who don't "seem" to "get you" morons truly does give us a glimpse of your caliber (as you say, who you are and what you are is not divined merely by your blog, but add in your actions we do get closer to the mother lode), or maybe your standard for a moron exceeds that which most of us come to associate it. Well, however you look at it, you're being derogatory so you dear lady need some manners. Moronic I may be, at least by your standard, but crude, rude, sexist, and hypocritical I don't stand accused of being, unlike at this point I would hold you.

"You want to be provocative, you tell us, so join the discussion ---but no, you prefer to delete that which you don't like (from men anyway). Massive opportunity for discussion there.

"You really should re-consider having a blog, I mean if you can't handle the comments, the respectful ones made by people of some measure of intelligence (well, of course, you would seem to differ on that perspective --- we do seem to have a problem there) in a way shy of removing them you likely really shouldn't bother joining or engaging the fray as you're not really looking for what you're telling everyone you are. I look forward to seeing this deleted, too."

 
At 6:32 PM, Blogger James said...

So let me add liar and immature to the list of offenses. Maybe liar is a bit over-the-top, actually, but one who likes to see the facts in a very subjective and not entirely realistic perspective (very, very bad sins for a scientist, ones you really need to give some thought to) comes close enough to calling it I should think. Immature, though, fits perfectly.

Here’s a deal for you: Delete this, and the “James and Murky Thoughts called me names”, and we’ll be even. What do you say? And henceforth I’ll make a definite point to never visit your blog again --- surely you don’t care for me to, and frankly given your reception and your treatment of guests I see no reason to.

 
At 8:41 PM, Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

I see you've deleted an entirely substantive and trenchant point of mine without rebuttal. I guess I'll have to count that as a bulls eye.

 
At 8:47 PM, Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

I don't believe I called you a name or names BTW.

 
At 4:41 AM, Blogger she falters to rise said...

So, the problem with your opinion that you should not do a postdoc if you are considering an alternative career in science is that alternative careers, more likely than not, require you to do at least one postdoc (since their belief, the historically appropriate belief, is that a postdoc is the final step in becoming a fully-evolved steward of the discipline). Even those jobs not requiring postdoctoral experience pay a lot more if you have done one.

The FBI, NSA, and CIA all either require or highly advice you to do a postdoc.

Most scientific journals desire applicants who have done a postdoc, and they pay you more if you have one.

The non-bench jobs at the NIH (ex. technology transfer) want to see postdoctoral experience.

The patent law office favors applicants who have done a postdoc.

The list goes on and on.

So, my question again is. Why do people who do postdocs for reasons different than you bother you? We've already decided through your posts and these comments that they are not sucking up tax paper dollars without the proper return since they are producing work (often their own independent work) and publishing their work in the true art of information dissemination. There are plenty of postdoctoral positions available--so many, in fact, that PIs are actively recruiting graduate students at meetings and conferences; so the arguement that slots are being taken up is not valid at this time.

I'm just curious.

 
At 9:19 AM, Blogger trisha said...

In this post you say:

"In most cases, I firmly believe, it's better to just get out of there and find some people who will support you."

I guess that should make it clear why you are deleting comments.

 
At 3:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This used to be an interesting read, but the way comments are being handled makes we cringe. If that's the way an open discussion is being resolved I wonder what kind of review publications are going to receive which do not agree with a given point of view.

 
At 6:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's sad that you deleted some comments. If you can't handle the criticism, than what makes you think you can handle being a scientist?
A good part of science is criticizing other's work and having your own work dissected in return. How can others read the string of comments and draw up a clear picture of the discussion if there are holes in it?

 
At 6:17 PM, Anonymous Rae said...

This question is actually directed to "she falters to rise":

Are there websites and/or other published information that provide the application statistics that you listed in your previous post? I am a graduate student just beginning my graduate career, and wanted to spend some time researching the purpose and importance of having a post-doc, and how this parallels my current post-PhD goals.

thanks so much!

 
At 10:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Anonymous has point.

"If you can't handle the criticism, than what makes you think you can handle being a scientist? "

Your behavior is ridiculous, and it scares me to think someone like you is seeking a faculty position. Let's hope I never end up in your lab.

For the sake of your future students/postdocs, I hope you never get a faculty position. You don't deserve it with that attitude.

Better yet, if you do get it, I hope you lose tenure track.

 
At 5:20 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

I would never hire someone like you.

 
At 5:33 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

re: the issue of taxpayer money and the value per postdoc, I have a simple answer: just do the math.

We can pay each postdoc more, and give them a better quality of life, and give them more funding to do quality research, or we can have a horde of underfunded people with no defined career goals and no investment in the work they're doing, who don't mind being floaters. Which would you choose if you were the person in charge of the NIH budget? What do you think is going to be the most productive use of taxpayer money? I would want a smaller number of highly-qualified, motivated individuals, who are paid enough to be able to worry about work and not about how to pay for the dentist.

I think I've said this before, but you claim you've read the back blogs so maybe I didn't. What's really sad is that there was a period of time when people our age were already faculty with the amount of experience we have now as postdocs. They were making decent salaries, with full benefits. The shift was caused by the increased number of postdocs .

What's even scarier is that a lot of these people are the PI's we're currently working for, and some of them probably should be asked to retire now, given their attitude that they can sit on their tenured asses and do nothing all day. Some countries do that, you know, and I'm not sure it's all bad to tell people they can only be professors for so many years before they have to hand off the baton.

As far as I can tell, the current system is a step backward, not forward, and I don't see why we should be happy with the current status quo when it's worse than the old one.

Just because tons of faculty are recruiting tons of postdocs doesn't mean it's good for anyone. They do it because they think that more people = more productivity, but anyone in industry can tell you it's not a linear correlation, and it doesn't necessarily get better as the numbers go up. It's just propagation of error.

 
At 8:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MsPhD said: "I would never hire someone like you."

I think I'd knock on wood to make sure.

 
At 9:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anyone who thinks a postdoc isn't a holding pattern is completely clueless and doesn't understand the system.

of course it is a holding pattern - there aren't enough faculty positions.

and yes it is "a means to an end", because it is a prerequisite for a faculty position.

Good luck with your work. I am worried though, as others have pointed out, by your inability to take criticism.
As a faculty member, I can assure you there will be plenty of it. And you won't be able to delete criticism in the real world.

 
At 9:32 AM, Blogger John Thacker said...

Have you looked at the NIH budget lately?

Why yes I have. It's right here.

An increase from $17.8 billion to $20.4 billion from 2000 to 2001 (some 14.5% increase in one year), followed by an increase to $23.3 billion in 2002 (another 14.2% increase), followed by $27.1 billion in 2003 (16.3% up). Then from 2003 to 2006 near flat.

But the exact level of the budget is pretty unrelated to the shift towards more postdocs. It happens with or without funding increases.

Lots more people are getting PhDs. Everyone says that we need more education. Well, you'll always need staff scientist-type people. Not everyone is going to be a PI. The more PhDs that are out there, the more universities are going to use PhDs (as postdocs) in place of people with BS and MS degrees to act as Staff Scientist-type positions. That trend is and has continued.

Now, I understand that it's an issue because it means that the postdoc has become much less of an automatic stepping stone to tenure. Instead getting a tenure track job is rare, and some postdocs act basically as lab technicians or staff scientists who have PhDs.

Isn't it a good thing that some people recognize how rare tenure-track positions are and are willing to act as technicians, rather than being totally misled? Or is it that you want the technician/staff scientist PhD holders in academia to have different titles, like adjunct, so that they aren't confused with the "real postdocs" who are going for a tenure position and becoming PI?

But why? Why should they be fired? Just because they're not on the management fast-track to succcess, to compare it to business?

 
At 4:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi!
I am looking for some advice and hope I can get some help, if you don't mind!
I'm a third year graduate student in science, and I feel like I'm mostly being used as cheap lab technician labor for another senior (male) graduate student (I'm a girl.)
I'm trying to figure out whether or not I should stick with it, or leave.
My project consists of PCR, primer design, cell culture and protein expression and purfication.
BUT!!! I didn't come here for a degree in Molecular bio. I came here to learn more organic synthesis. Bad luck for us...the o-chem department shrank by over 50% and we were not made aware of that until after we accepted our stipends and had already moved out here.
The professor I wanted to work for moved to the opposite coast and didn't allow anyone new to join his lab before he left.
So, I got stuck with a different advisor who is an abusive jerk. He's also a very influential abusive jerk in our department, and I feel like I have nowhere to turn for help. One of my fellow grad students got her arm broken by this man, and NOTHING happened to him. She filed a restraining order, and she was then forced to leave the program. Nothing happened to him at all, and there were witnesses!!! He got a slap on the wrist by the cops, and then everything was hushed up. I really think he could kill me and nothing would happen to him.
I'm not learning anything.
I'm losing skills I used to have as an undergrad.
I'm stuck doing stuff that I don't want to do.
I'm getting stressed out to the point where I now have total insomnia. I don't want to go to sleep after the end of the day because I know after I fall asleep I'll have to wake up, and face another day of doing this crap I don't want to do with this abusive advisor screaming at me. I
I'm going into huge debt with school loans, so if I leave, I'm just going to have all those loans to pay and no degree to show for it, just like my broken armed co-worker.
I'm totally broke. If I miss even one of our measley little paychecks I'll have to declare bankruptcy.
It's obvious now that he is never going to let me do what I actually came here to learn.
So, I stick around because I don't know what else to do, and have nobody I can turn to at our school.

Should I just stick with it? I'm not a quitter, and maybe my next boss will be even worse than he is? Am I learning a good lesson being able to survive with this abusive jerk, or am I just putting myself through needless stress and anxiety for nothing? Are all graduate schools this bad? Or, should I try to start over somewhere new? And, how can I be sure I won't get duped again at a different department? Will I ever find a place where I will be allowed to learn what I wanted to learn?
So, I guess the fear of the unknown seems to be keeping me here at the moment...that and total abject poverty.
Any thoughts would be appreciated.

 
At 3:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even though your supervisor is a total jerk, you have to talk to him about it and tell him how you feel and be strong. If he isn't willing to change anything then consider leaving. All grad schools aren't like that for sure and you don't have to put up with it.

 
At 6:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah, academics. much of this conversation is a great example of why it is so hard to be a scientist. a lot of useless bickering over nothing. imagine what happens when grant dollars are at stake? appaling.

 
At 4:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He broke her arm??? I think you should change 'jerk' to 'pyscho'! I'm sorry your situation is so bad. I don't know if my own experience can help. I found this blog and thought of seeking help too, but my problem doesn't really compare. However, it is highly relevant to the post on here so here goes:

I did a 4 year PhD in the UK; I started it when I was fresh from undergrad, no masters, as a 21-year old. (I'd just turned 21 the June before I started in October, so had made the decision to do it at 20 - seems too young to know what you want, and to know where you want to go - it was).

My PhD experience was difficult, but then no PhD is without its challenges. My supervisor (advisor if you're in US) designed the PhD project outside of their own area (to try and get more grants ultimately). However as a 20 year old undergrad, I believed they could guide me through the project without hinderance and to the best of anyone's ability. Things started to unravel when I tried to take ownership of my project. If I said I needed this tool or that antibody, I was refused. A significant collaboration that would have helped me out no end was turned down by my supervisor. On a day-to-day basis, their training methods made me feel very stupid. We (yes other grad students felt this way too) were never allowed to make honest mistakes - even in our knowledge of the literature. It was never a learning experience, if we didn't know something, we were humiliated rather than taught. My supervisor may not have realised or intended it (they were under some pressure themselves -no money and pressure to publish at the prospect of losing their faculty position), but this began to affect my science - I'd do experiments in secret -just because I was curious - and not tell anyone the results.

The reason I'm telling you all this background is because I recently passed my Viva/Defence (with minor corrections). This was an eye opening experience. I was very lucky to be examined by an expert in the new field my supervisor had forayed into (as opposed to their own). This examiner showed me some of my ideas were not rubbish, that I could think of experiments rationally and delivered it in a very educational and respectful way. In fact I left wanting to work for him (not that this is a possibility any more).

So you see, I think it does come down to your choice of supervisor for a particular project. (I don't want to insult my supervisor, they know their own stuff fully - interesting that they don't take criticism well though). Person above, get another advisor/supervisor if you can - my university had a support system that allowed you to do this without loosing your stipend. Maybe make confidential enquires into this?

Getting to the crux of my problem, I was told by my supervisor - for whatever reason, be it their own experience - never to do a postdoc. This is really bad, and I'm trying to make this as anonymous as possible for all involved, but once they actually said "no grad student on this floor would go onto make a good postdoc" Thanks a bunch.

As my PhD reached its conclusion the other day, I left the examination room feeling a little bit let down by my supervisor, misguided and like I didn't do my PhD justice out of fear(thankful to get it though!) I left it wanting to find a good, well funded lab to do a postdoc - I want to realise my potential! I know I love science, and yes maybe ms.PhD, I may feel I have something to prove; but everyone deserves a second chance.

Due to my financial situation, I had to get a job as soon as my funding ran out. I got a permanent desk job in the Biotech industry. There doesn't seem to be any road to a postdoc now. I doubt I'd get one after two years away from the bench (I'm kinda in this job for that long).

Make of it what you will, a cautionary tale maybe.

 

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