Monday, January 30, 2006

Happy Year of the Dog!

Well, for me supposedly it will be a good year. So far it seems better than last year, ha ha ha. 48 hours and counting...

This morning coming in to work it dawned on me that I might actually get my grant funded and thus, all of this freaking out would be totally unnecessary. How stupid to waste all that energy!

So when I came in I found an email about this waiting for me and decided hey, I really haven't exhausted all the possibilities after all.

Had an interesting chat with someone at NIH about these new grants. He said yes, it might be a good thing. But it might cause a few people a nasty surprise in a couple of years when the first batch of wanna-bes start applying for the 'independent' phase of funding... and find that no one wants to hire them because they're too green. He was very much of the opinion that search committees always err on the side of experience, rather than accomplishment, which was interesting to me since I had never heard that before.

I always assumed a handful of Science, Cell and Nature papers trumped more years of experience. I have more data points for that, I think.

So let's consider the possibility that no one wants to admit the real reason postdocs are dragging out to 10 years is because that's how much experience they actually think we need.

More conspiracy theories???

And, of course, I would tend to disagree. But what do I know, since I only have about half that in postdoc years... It's hard to get across, of course, that I started working in a lab as a teenager. You'd think that more years of raw experience should count for something-?

If it's really experience they're looking for?

Something just doesn't add up here.

But, it turns out that I will hear about my grant sooner than I thought, so that is potentially really good news. Probably by the end of February I will have a vague idea what my chances are of getting funded. That will give me enough time to revise it and at least have it resubmitted over the summer. And today I'm in a good enough mood that I could actually consider working on a grant again.

In the meantime... yes, a career in the arts had occurred to me. Not sure how to get there from here. Suggestions??

I may have an excuse to take a few unfunded months off in the summer... a much-needed vacation. Might not be such a bad thing. I've just always been afraid that if I left, I might never come back. Seeing it written out, it seems like a really stupid thing to be afraid of, not coming back.

I think some part of me is craving a hard deadline, like running out of funding and having to say:

"Ok, Once and For All, that's IT. I tried, I tried really hard, I did my best. I got my Nobel Prize, as far as I'm concerned, I published that fucking paper all by myself and it will sit there on the public record forever, for all I know, at least I contributed SOMETHING. There is a record that I did something. I should just be happy with that and move on, no regrets. The END"

I'm a little tired of these neverending things, like grants and papers, where you never really FINISH, you just stop working on it because you have to stop sometime. And these stupid job applications hanging over my head, I've said this several times, but one, centralized repository and finding out ALL AT ONCE MIGHT NOT BE SUCH A BAD THING!

Aside: Had a weird thought this morning since I'm still holding a grudge against my former advisor. Do you think there are any regrets in Heaven? I'm thinking probably not, which is kind of a shame.


At 2:44 PM, Blogger Milo said...

If I was going into academics, the NIH PI program is something I would really consider. It seems that the NIH is starting to realize that academic science might be falling behind the rest of the world.

At 4:59 PM, Blogger DrSiege said...

m a little tired of these neverending things, like grants and papers, where you never really FINISH, you just stop working on it because you have to stop sometime.

At many of the professional development conferences that are directed at females, one of the reasons cited for women's slow advancement in comparison to men is their perfectionism. Apparently, women feel the need to release something only once it's perfect, while men have no problem sending out a first draft of something to be commented upon and reviewed by others. It seems that perhaps you are also falling into the trap of wanting to release the final, perfect version instead of just deciding it's time to stop. Oftentimes things are never perfect, they are never done. If you can't let them go, you won't advance. Sometimes, it's really okay if something isn't finished.

Also, one way that we used to judge potential PhDs in my former program was their willingness to just say, "That's it! I've had it, I'm done." When they said that, they were ready to graduate.

At 8:26 PM, Blogger NeuroChick said...

I think the question of whether "accomplishment" or "experience" is more important might depend on the particular field you're in. Personally (and I think we agree on this), it seems to me that if you have a high-impact journal paper (or a couple) under your belt, that will put you up a few notches above someone who may have more papers and more years of "experience," but whose papers are in lesser-known journals and never cited.

I'm not sure the NIH guy's definition of "experience" was necessarily how many years you've been a postdoc. Some grad students do better research and have higher capability as independent researchers than many postdocs. I think the concern about not getting hired in the "independent phase" is perhaps premature -- most universities would love to hire someone who walks in with 1-3 years of guaranteed funding. Now, you might run into a problem if afterwards you are unsuccessful at getting an R01 and have to leave that university, but I don't think that's a risk that's unique to this grant.

It seems to me this grant is a way to allow the postdocs who are truly capable of becoming successful independent researchers a small cushion to transition to independence while still under some protection of a postdoc lab. It seems like a pretty good idea to me, and definitely one I'll be looking for in a few years.

At 7:39 AM, Blogger The Leaky Pipeline said...

I have just set up a blog to compile information for female scientists starting their reserach careers. I am hoping women will send me comments about their experience as female researchers and ideas about where to get advice and avoid discrimination. I thought you might be able to help.

My blog is at The Leaky Pipeline.

At 7:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think that search committees think that you need a decade of experience - they are looking for colleagues who they can tolerate throughout many years of faculty meetings. Older postdoc's have proved their emotional & psychological stamina, whereas many younger job candidates are simply hopeful -- smart, but untested by the rigors of writing grant after grant, and paper after paper. Try to look at it from the departmental point of view -- are you going to teach boring intro courses year after year? mentor students successfully? slog away at grant writing? It's incredibly expensive to recruit & hire junior faculty, and schools are stuck with you for years once they hire you. It's not a plot. It's just a bad system, populated with humans who are trying to survive it, too.

At 7:30 AM, Anonymous Carla said...

I enjoy reading your blog very much. While I am in a completely different situation than you are career-wise, I have friends who are post-docs, so I can definitely sympathize with your job search angst and other laments.

I was in a PhD program, and I did not make it through. I stopped with a Masters degree. Long project sucked and wasn't working, and my mentor was planning to leave the University I was at because he was not going to get tenure. Bad situation. I left the graduate program and never looked back. Best decision I ever made. I work at a different university now in another state. I still do science as a senior lab tech/manager in an academic research lab. It works really well for me...I am intellecually challenged, I have independence and control over what I do (my own project!), I work normal hours, and I do not think about coming in on the weekends. It also works well for me because I have a very full life outside of the lab...and I am NOT talking husband and kids here!!! (although I am married).

Everyone's situation is different of course. Each person needs to find what make them happy, and then do it. Easier said than done, I know.

Have you considered a job in the government sector? USDA, FDA, military research? I have no idea what you work on of course, but the research scientist jobs available in the government can be very satisfying. Years ago when I started my PhD, they pretty much told me that a job in academia was next to impossible to get, and basically to not even try. They told all of us that. Realistic approach I guess. Tenure-track may not be attainable for you, so Plan B is extremely important. Not to insult your intelligence of course...I am sure you know this already.

And my number one recommendation...find something OUTSIDE of science to be passionate about. Heck, find alot of things to be passionate about. Don't let science define who you are, or be the only thing you do in life. I teach fitness classes on the side -- and some days, I find that entirely more rewarding than a lack of scientific data.

Be who you what you what you do.

Good luck, and keep on writing!

At 2:56 PM, Blogger Meredtih said...

Hi again. I read about the NIH PI grants- sounds like a good option if your grant doesn't get funded. But I will keep my fingers crossed for you (actually, I am keeping my fingers crossed that you get a faculty position and you can leave that postdoc- but you will be in a much better position for faculty jobs if you get your grant funded. Search committees are impressed by the ability to obtain independent funding).

But anyway, I think that whatever decision you ultimatley make about staying in science should be something you can live with and not regret later- I don't ever want to have to look back and say, "what if I stuck it out longer?" or "what if I revised and submitted that grant proposal one more time?". I just want to be satisfied that I tried my best and didn't leave just because it got hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would be doing it, right? Good luck.

At 4:35 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Again, so many thoughtful comments, I'll just go down the list:

Milo, yes, I hope NIH is waking up to reality.

Dr. Siege, no, I am NOT a perfectionist. Not even close. If anything I am trying to learn to be more of a 'finisher'- I have a tendency to quit early and say "good enough" when I'm actually shortchanging myself by not pushing it to the final mile.

NeuroChick, sweetie, I love your optimism. I hope you can hold onto it.

The Leaky Pipeline- great! I'll stop by soon.

Anonymous, so sad, but probably true. I hope it's not so bad at the college level where teaching is so dull- I've heard plenty of public school teachers complain about how incredibly boring it is, year after year, but I've always hoped that at the college level, the professor has a little more discretion- and responsibility- to update the lectures regularly.
And slogging away at grant writing? It's actually not so bad writing them, at least for me. I like the brainstorming and the writing. It's dealing with the competition, paperwork of submitting, and the realities of funding that make it so unpleasant. I'm sure some of that gets better with practice- I still feel like I'm reinventing the wheel each time I do it, but I think that will dissipate with repetition.

Carla, yes, have considered government sector, see previous posts... I'm really happy for you that you like what you're doing, and I think it's awesome that where you went to school they told you jobs in academia are next to impossible to get. I wish more places would do that now. I have plenty of passions outside of science, I'm just not feeling very passionate about anything right now. Stress does that to a person.

Meredith, always good to hear from you! I totally agree that you don't want to regret later that you might have given up too easily. I've had a few moments like that about my last paper- "what if I had just stuck it out for 6 more months and scratched and clawed my way into a High Impact Journal? Would I have job offers now?" But ultimately I think you have to trust your gut and try not to second-guess your instincts too much. In the case of my paper, I didn't like the all-or-nothing aspect of dragging out the process any longer. At least with the decision I made, it's published, and one in the hand is better than two in the bush.


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