Sunday, January 08, 2006

To go, or not to go, abroad

re: Dr. J's suggestion from Friday's post, the suggestion was What About Jobs Overseas?

I had thought this would be a viable option at one point, but then I visited some collaborators and interviewed for a postdoc in Europe, and decided it probably wouldn't be good for me. Here are some of the reasons:

1. Work as a job vs. a lifestyle. I've always worked at places where everyone is there evenings and weekends. Research = lifestyle. Most places in Europe, I'm told, are not like that. It's hard enough getting good people to work for you in the US, but everyone I know in Europe complains that none of their students or postdocs work hard enough. Much as I would like to hope I'd be more patient, balanced and understanding, I think the slower pace of research would frustrate me.

2. Supplies, supplies. In the US, I've been very spoiled. Most things you can get the same day, the next day, or later that same week (usually at the latest). Double or quadruple that for most other places in the world, and add in issues with shipping on dry ice, shipping animal or human samples, etc. And did I mention that I really hate waiting for things. Really, really hate it.

3. Uh, cluelessness. I know next to nothing about how the funding works, and I speak only one language besides my native one. And that one, not very fluently anymore.

4. Sexism. Yes, other countries may have just as many, or more, women in science. But my impression is that the women still can't make it to the highest levels. My impression is that the glass ceiling is even worse, in general, outside the US. And by that I mean, the PI level. Nevermind director of an institute or department chair. This is partly because of the more hierarchical organization of research departments outside the US. Did I mention I have problems with authority? More hierarchical = definitely bad.

5. Uh, connections. Clearly, I'm not well-enough connected in the US or I would have gotten some interviews here by now, right? But I have even fewer connections overseas. So I think my chances of getting an interview overseas are just as bad as they are here, or worse.

Maybe these are stupid reasons. But, see #3 up there. I started looking at the application process for the equivalent of a foreign NIH, and let's just say it was at least as bad as the one at NIH, and in my second language it was that much more confusing. As usual I have to say, if anyone is confused about why research is slow, it's because we waste huge amounts of time trying to make sense of convoluted, unintelligible paperwork. At some point I have to say, I've done a helluva lot of applications, maybe my time would be better spent doing experiments so I can publish one last paper.

One last hurrah.

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At 3:35 AM, Blogger Dr J. said...

Well I have to comment on this one, don´t I?

Just a couple of points where I don´t necessarily disagree with you, but perhaps have a different perspective.

1. The worktime issue thing I think comes down to a quality of life issue. Many scientists I´ve met and worked with here (myself included) do have lives outside the lab and like to keep them. In fact consider them an absolute necessity for a healthy life, something a bit at odds with the American Japanese-like working culture (we also get a lot more holiday days and if you wanted to take 3 weeks off straight your boss wouldn´t blink). This doesn´t mean they are bad scientists or lazy. They work a 10-12 hr day solid lab work, whereas I have seen a lot in the times I´ve had interviews and visited the US that many in the US disappear during the day for shopping, the gym, etc and only start the solid working after 4pm. Both are generalisations, there are enough examples in each direction to try and prove me wrong, it´s just how I see the working mentality differences.

2. Supplies. For some specialised things we may have to wait a week. But for the vast majority there are European suppliers, or American suppliers with European branches.

3. Cluelessness. Yep tough one. I certainly suffered it in a big way. I´ve stumbled across the funding issue a number of times, although I must say Americans have it better than Australians as there is a lot of funding but only open to Europeans, Americans or Third World citizens. Oz falls through the loophole.

4. Sexism. I agree. Fully.

5. Connections. Agree with you. If you are in a field where not many Europeans work, this could be a tough one. If however there are big European groups working in it conferences, papers etc will increase your connections. And I´ve yet to meet a scientist who wasn´t happy to get an email from an interested postdoc/collaborator/person-just-interested-in-his-stuff.

I know you are trying to get your own group now, so it doesn´t really make sense to apply only now in a foreign country. Lots of obstacles, extra difficulties re funding/students/teaching etc etc. If, however, you are willing to (oh no, am I going to say this?) do another post-doc, or if there´s a PhD student reading this who is looking for positions, moving internationally I think can help your career and certainly round-off your experiences. There are large research organisations where English is not a problem eg. Well anywhere in England, EMBL, Max-Planck, Pasteur Institute, CNRS are just some I can think of quickly. And they often have young investigator programmes.

At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually, I find the fact that in Europe people separate work from life to be a very good thing.

And if you consider science a lifestyle, I'd have to say, that is a pretty crappy lifestyle to have. You can enjoy science and life at the same time... it's the concept of either/or that I don't like and find really silly.

Besides, haven't some studies shown that europeans are more productive per hour than americans? from what I have seen as a foreign PhD student in the US, most americans like to keep up appearances of having worked a 12 hour day when in fact there is a lot of coffee breaks/water cooler breaks/going to the gym for two hours, etc...

i'd rather just focus on my work 100% for the day and leave it behind when I'm done for the day.

At 6:40 PM, Blogger NeuroChick said...

A lot depends on the country and the individual lab that you're in, but my experience working in a European lab was that it was extremely hierarchical (grad students were basically glorified technicians, and didn't really design experiments). This particular lab, in my opinion, had too many projects going on, with the result that each individual project went along in slow baby steps, so in the year I was there hardly any progress was made on the projects I was assigned to.

One thing, though, that was rather nice about that lab was that everyone (at least, postdocs and grad students) would all have lunch together. In my lab here in the US that would never happen.

At 1:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that by saying she is anti-authority what she really is saying is: "I want to be at the top of the hierarchy".

afterall, isn't that why we all want to be the PI?


At 2:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to Ms.Phd for the interesting blog.

Speaking of work as a lifestyle vs a job. I personally wouldn't like to treat work as a lifestyle for the rest of my life. What is the point of living if all you do is work?

I can't imagine continuing the remainder of my life as I currently do, working nights and weekends as a postdoc and previously as a grad student.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever get a break from that sort of mentality. Some things in life are more important than work/research. I wish there were more balanced people in the sciences.

And what happens if I get pregnant? In Europe they give women far more job safety and time off when pregnant compared to the US. I find the european system more "woman friendly" than the american system in this respect.


At 12:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great job. you went from your normal activity (generalizing your own life) to something new (generalizing the entire scientific world outside the US). You are truly, truly ignorant of what's happening outside your bubble.


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