Monday, April 02, 2007

Is this a female thing?

I'm having a stupid problem. At least, I think it's stupid that it's even an issue.

In my quest to find out how to get a faculty position, I've been told numerous things by people with varying levels of expertise.

One person told me to focus on publishing above all else, and don't worry about funding.

Another told me if I have funding, it will make all the difference.

And so I am in a quandary about what to spend my time on: papers, or grants?

Papers, of course, papers. But some days, I wonder if having more money wouldn't also help the papers come faster, since I'm dealing with a lot of little problems that money would cure.

So in my quest for funding, I have found some things I may be eligible for, but since I am a postdoc, all of them require some level of commitment from my advisor and/or my university.

In particular, I am at the stage where any money worth having requires that my university promote me and/or make a certain type of statement that they will promote me and provide me with sufficient lab space, etc. if and when I get one of these grants.

I have tried to make this happen in the past, with no help from my advisor at the time, and I am still adding things to the list of what I did wrong. I should have bribed the business officer, I'm told. I should have gotten more outside letters from collaborators. And so on.

All of this makes me feel like I have no aptitude for the funding game whatsoever. It seems that every time I approach the grant issue, I find out a whole slew of unwritten rules, all of which, once revealed, make me feel stupid and none of which make me feel empowered and informed.

How on earth was I supposed to know any of this?? Do they give out a handbook in the men's bathroom? Somehow I doubt it.

The people I know who have gotten funding have had supportive advisors. But I have not had one of these, nor do I expect to have one in my lifetime.

In fact I am a bit intimidated by bringing up certain topics with my advisor.

MsPhD? Intimidated? Impossible!

But seriously, I have limited interaction with my advisor, which means when I get any attention at all, I have to use it wisely. And when the answer is no, it usually stays no. And when the answer is no, it usually means I do not get an answer at all, from which I am to infer that the answer is no.

So I am back at the same old question, which is this:

How best to approach my current advisor to get the support I need, to get the funding I need, to get the job I want.

Keeping in mind, of course, that my advisor wants nothing more than to:

a) keep my project when I leave

b) keep me working only on papers and not 'distracted' by things like wanting a career

c) do nothing whatsoever, including the part that is, at least on paper, my advisor's job (e.g. getting the department and university to provide the appropriate paperwork, writing the career development letters that some of these grants require, etc.)

I've realized I've been avoiding applying for funding for precisely this reason: that I don't want to have to ask my advisor to do anything to help me get it, because I expect that the answer is no anyway, so why bother asking?

If I could get it just by writing something on my own, I would do it.

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At 6:38 PM, Blogger Depresso said...

If you have the time, listen to "Everybody Knows" by Leonard Cohen. Here are the lyrics:

It just might help you release some of your frustration which is directed at the "system".

At 7:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have to have both papers and money. Papers enable money. Get enough of a publication record and be focused enough in what you've accomplished that it's clear that you can do whatever it is you propose in your grant application. Then have 2-3 manuscripts sitting in various stages of completion from (in preparation) to (submitted) so that you can demonstrate progress as you apply for funding.

From what I've seen (which admittedly is looking at the CVs of people who have gotten the jobs I have wanted), there are two major models for success, both are incredibly difficult. A) Get two first author publications in the top journals. B) Have a solid stream of first author papers (minimum of 3 if they fall into a niche that the department really wants filled but it's more like 8-10) in a moderate impact (ISI Impact Factor ~5-7) journal (or small family of related journals).

If you accomplish (A) you are immediately more salable to anywhere. But it sounds as though you haven't done that and probably won't from your current position. If you are on your way to (B) then you will probably have to do the staff scientist, sponsored faculty, institute fellow, or whatever its called at your institution thing.

I'm certainly not the A type scientist (by my definitions above), but then there really aren't that many out there. They just get all the jobs by the traditional method of applying for what is advertised.

At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you had your own funding then you could easily get a position. But getting your own funding is really hard, and in this current political climate its almost impossible. You have to be way more established. And even then it takes a long time. I sit on study sections for NIH, and its rare that we even discuss proposals that aren't in their 3rd (and final) submission.

To get funding you also need a lot of mentor support.

You should focus on papers, its better to have published papers than rejected grant proposals.

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Breena Ronan said...

I hate to say it, but your adviser loses out if you get a better job, so what's that person's motivation to help you? That sounds terrible, but I think it's true.

At 10:35 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

No, Breena, you're absolutely right. This is the central hypocrisy of the current system.

In theory, when you get a better job, you make your mentor look good, and your mentor gains a colleague.

In reality, they also gain a competitor.

Actually my advisor has started hinting that I should follow an even more independent path (read: go scientifically where the mentor has no interest in following). I would probably take that option in a heartbeat, if it didn't mean I would have to abandon my already existing, totally independent project... until my advisor decided it looked tasty.

The pro of getting your advisor interested in your project: they give you resources.
The con: they want to take it from you.


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