Friday, November 17, 2006

Being a mentor is tiring.

Today I did a lot of mentoring. A little peer mentoring, but mostly student mentoring.

Maybe I'm just feeling the cumulative lack of sleep lately, but part of the time I found myself thinking on some level,

This person just needs to vent

I know exactly what to say to make her feel better

....but I have other stuff I need to do

God, I can't get a word in edgewise! (see venting, above)

If I listen a while longer then she'll feel better

....and I can still get some work done today

Oh good, I think she gets it now

She certainly seems to feel better, so that's good

....At some point I'm going to have to get out of here and go home

People have stayed late and talked to me a few times when I really needed it, and it's only fair to pass it on, so I shouldn't mind doing this now...

But it also makes me feel old. Being tired, hearing them say the same things I said when I was going though similar things, hearing myself say what I finally figured out but wish someone had told me at the time. Somehow it's a little too much of reliving everything I've been through, and it makes me tired to think anyone else should have to go through it.

Why does history keep repeating itself? Isn't this the whole point of the mentoring system?

I'm sure some of this goes in the category of "I should write a book someday" so everyone can stop reinventing the same wheel.

Want to contribute candidate titles for the future YFS book?

The peer mentoring made me feel even more old and tired, maybe because I expect my peers to ask for my advice the way my students do, but they don't. So it's the same thing but with a past-tense twist.

Fellow postdocs who, instead of coming and asking me ahead of time, are now figuring out things I already learned the hard way. Then when they vent to me about it, I can tell them what I knew already and how I found out (and what never occurred to them I would know).

That just makes me feel underestimated.


The strangest thing about all of this is that I feel, more than ever, like the girl in Sliding Doors (the Gwyneth Paltrow character with the two haircuts). Both lives seem equally plausible from this point forward.

In some ways, I feel more than ever that I'm already doing most of what I would do in a real faculty appointment, without most of the resources that come with one, so there's no question I would like it and that I could definitely handle it.

(aside: Does anyone realize that as postdocs today, most of us are the same age, and have the same experience, as our current PIs did when they got their first jobs? And yet we're expected to stay in postdoc positions and not complain.

Why not complain? It's about as fair as if we suddenly decided to raise the driving age to 25, or the drinking age to 27. There would be all kinds of rationalizations, but none of them would make up for the fact that we know what we could have had if only we had been born earlier!)

But in other ways, I feel like I can't picture it. The way I visualized my life at this point wasn't completely inaccurate, but I really had no idea where I would be now when I started on this path. And I keep feeling that the Job On A Cloud is not likely to happen.

Ironically, two people this week said they really want me to make it, or really think I will (if I play the game the right way or just have enough luck). I guess on some level I know that, if I left now and never came back, this is as close to being a professor as I'm ever going to get.

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At 11:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In case you didn't get enough venting, here's some more. You don't really need to respond to this if you don't want to, but I think it'll make me feel better if I see it down "on paper".

I think I've reached the point where I really hate coming to work every day. I've been a postdoc for about 1.5 years, in the biomedical sciences. I work at a very prestigious institution, for a PI who is a major player in his field. His lab is set up in that it is basically a junior faculty-run operation. Postdocs are assigned to work with one or more junior faculty. In some ways this is a good thing, in that early on you get a lot of individual attention and hands on training, and you get to feel like you are in more of a team environment than is found in many labs. On the other hand, you never feel like a project is truly yours. In lab meetings our PI often directs questions about our projects to the junior faculty (which makes one feel like a technician). Apparently there have been issues in the past with authorship, as our PI doesn't often let the jr faculty take last author, so it ends up being a co-first author with the postdoc. The junior faculty don't hang over our shoulders much, but there are definitely a lot of "how's everything going" conversations which end up turning into meetings going over data, getting suggestions, etc. In other words, things that should be done by the PI. Anyway, since starting in the lab I've been moved around to several different projects, most of which were small portions of someone elses' work. I wrote and was awarded a fellowship by a nonprofit society, so I'm funded for the next few years at a salary that is actually a little better than the NIH guidelines. The fellowship, however, was based on a project that my PI never intended for me to continue (I did a small portion of it, but the rest was subsequently done by one of the aforementioned junior faculty, leading to a submitted first author paper for him). So I feel like we deceived the funding agency. When I expressed my reservations about this to a couple of the junior faculty, their response was "it doesn't matter, once you get funded you can do whatever you want with the money."

All in all, a potentially crappy situation. A conundrum for me, because the benefits of finishing my postdoc here could be high (high profile papers, name recognition, having the fellowship). But I'm not sure its worth the stress I'm going through on a day to day basis. I'm thinking of bringing these issues up directly with my PI, and asking that I be allowed to do my own, independent work without supervision from junior faculty. Or, I may just jump ship, if I can find another alternative (probably industry at this point). Anyway, sorry for this long rant, and if you don't end up posting the comment I wouldn't blame you. I do think it is another illustration of what can go wrong in the life of a postdoc (as if we need even more examples)

At 4:11 AM, Blogger MissPrism said...

I quite like "The Job On A Cloud".

At 12:18 PM, Anonymous Virologista said...

The happy character in Sliding Doors got hit by a truck at the end...the other one just waited longer to find happiness. Or something.

At 2:06 PM, Blogger Depresso said...

However, (most) people are extremely grateful to good mentors. I've bugged other people for their time and I am very grateful to them. Your reward for this mentoring relationship is probably the lifelong friendship that will come out of it.


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