Declaration of Extreme Independence
Not too long ago, I was going through some old memorabilia (my mom's a total pack rat), and found some ratty little project I did in elementary school. Thanks, Mom. We were learning about American History, of course, and the assignment was to write our own declaration of independence from our parents.
Leaving all the Freudian stuff out of it, the subject on my mind today is, how to communicate my extreme independence to the Powers That Hire New Faculty.
I realized this week from talking with other friends about their labs, just how umbilical cord-free I've been, and for sooooooooo much longer than most of my peers.
I realized this is one of the key things that really sets me apart from most postdocs, and that it's also the most likely thing that no one knows about me. I realized that I previously had no idea what most people assume is typical for a postdoc of my age. (I still really think the ageist bullshit is hurting me, on top of the sexist bias that apparently not just men but also women have toward female scientists).
Now that I have some idea, I gotta say. No wonder they didn't want to hire me. They really had no idea what they were missing out on. How could they?
One friend widens her eyes when I vent about what I think of as the usual stuff. It's irritating, because I frequently feel like I'm the only person who wants all the equipment in lab to work. I go out of my way to find manuals, call companies, get repairs done, etc. I'd like to think the reason I do this is because I appear to be the only person who cares that I need to use it. I never thought of this sort of venting as anything close to shocking, until she told me that the look of horror on her face was because this is the first she's heard of anything like it.
Another friend said something I've heard now and then from the rare, truly empathic souls, and it goes like this:
"God, just imagine how much you could get done if you'd had access to all the resources and help I've had all this time, while I totally took it for granted. Squandered it, even."
Well, yeah. I choose to take it as a compliment, though I'm sure he didn't squander it at all, since this particular friend seems to have his shit together. (Figures that he wants to go to industry).
So, assuming that I've finally homed in on an important missing variable in the application equation, and on the off chance that I take time out to do any faculty applications this year, what's the best way to make sure people know about it?
I'm pretty confident that all my recommenders used the word 'Independent' in their letters for me in the past, which evidently didn't really get the message across. Is there another word or phrase that would carry more weight? Dashboard Thesaurus suggests "self-reliant" and "self-sufficient", which both sound pretty good to me.
Would a better turn of phrase help?
As I think I've mentioned here before, someone told me that my letters were probably missing the "catch phrases" that apparently only PIs "in the know" would... know about. This person said they basically have to make it sound like you can walk on water. I'm pretty sure my recommenders would have said that, and in so many words, if they had known that was what it would take. But they're none of them very experienced at placing postdocs in faculty positions, at least not in the US. So having a list of Required Wording to give each of them might help.
I'm sure having more funding would help, but it's a catch-22, because postdocs aren't allowed to apply for money without letters from their "advisors"... I can't tell you how much this catch infuriates me, because it means I have to hunt down my advisor, and several levels of admins, deans, and business officers, to get signatures, etc. Which is really stupid when it's just at the stage of submitting something, but they don't let you send it in without getting permission first.
Just for comparions, keep in mind that grants are getting funded at something like the 10th percentile. So let's compare that to everyone's favorite risk analyses borrowed from this site chosen at random from google:
Event --- Chance This Year
Car stolen --- 1 in 100
House catch fire --- 1 in 200
Die from Heart Disease--- 1 in 280
Die of Cancer ---1 in 500
Die in Car wreck ---1 in 6,000
Let's say most of the grants I'm applying for expect anywhere from 300 to 3000 applications each round, and some of them do 3-4 rounds a year, while funding keeps going down (thanks, warmongerers). I'm not going to do the math because the comparison stats are based on national averages, but you get the gist of it. Them statistics is pretty grim.
It's so bad, that recently I had to apply for some safety clearance for my own project, as you're required to do periodically. Because the grant is technically to my advisor, my name is not listed anywhere on it! But I did all the paperwork, made all the phone calls, with NO ADVICE WHATSOEVER FROM MY ADVISOR... as usual.
So tell me again, if I have such little chance of getting the money in the first place, why make me jump through hours of university hoops just to be allowed to apply for it?
Argh. Just thinking about these ridiculous restrictions on who can apply for funding gives me a headache. Literally.