Monday, June 11, 2007

Response to anonymous from two posts ago

"You seem to willfully put yourself in situations where you will be exploited, and then wase [sic] a lot of energy complaining about it"

Based on the first part of this comment, the commenter is clearly trying to be helpful, but doesn't quite understand the use of hyperbole in (or the general point of) blogging, but this part seems (willfully?) clueless.

Nevertheless I must agree, insofar as:

Attending grad school = willfully submitting to exploitation

Postdoc (with anyone, anywhere) = willfully submitting to more exploitation

Since neither of these is at all optional for becoming a PI (my stated goal), then yes, strictly speaking, you are correct.

I think the number of PIs out there who hire postdocs with anything other than exploitation in mind is very, very low. It's not as if there were, as many people have suggested to me here and in the Real World, a centralized directory with complete reviews of PIs, scientific and psychological.

Don't we all wish that such a thing existed? I would love to know what your grad students would say about you.

"If you get to be a PI someday"
Oh, and thanks for the vote of confidence.

"the way you interact with people will be a huge determinant in how you do. Just wait until your graduate students, with mids [sic] of their own"

I hope I'm lucky enough to have graduate students with minds of their own, and that I never need to force my graduate students to rush around at the last minute because I might be trying to, as you say, "stick one more peice [sic] of preliminary data in your grant proposal."

I hope you're duly embarrassed to actually have written that, anonymous or otherwise, because that's pretty pathetic.

I currently have enough preliminary data for at least two grants, but I'm not eligible to apply for one until I get a faculty position. How's that for backwards?

Dear taxpayers, if you want your loved ones cured of disease, write to your congresspeople and tell them to restructure research in this country so we don't have to waste our lives agreeing to be exploited by idiot assholes, in the hopes of eventually getting some actual work done.

I actually had a cancer survivor say to me the other day that she wants me to be funded, because my work is actually relevant to her disease and I actually want to get things done, unlike most of the crusty old professors at the university where she works.

Oh yeah, and blogging. Because all this cathartic complaining is just a waste of energy? Tell that to my hit counter on this site. I wonder why they would want to read this, if it's all a waste?

Does it occur to you that I have so many readers because everyone is in the same position as I am? I'm not just complaining, I'm saying what lots of people think every day.

And if we're all being exploited, not willfully so much as that we have no other choice, doesn't that support my ongoing point that the system is broken? Why else would we choose to live this way?

We actually want our own labs. And some of us actually want to change the system when we get there. So, you're just wrong. I'm not wasting energy complaining. Sometimes I think blogging, and having things to blog about, is the most important thing I can do, because it's one of the only things I can actually control.

What's the point in willfully putting yourself in situations to be exploited if you aren't going to document all the abuse?

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At 4:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear YFS,

1. you are perfectly right to complain.

2. hopelessly, there is no other place to complain than in an anonymous blog. Because we (yes, I'm a postdoc too) can not afford to burn bridges by telling the truth to some of the responsibles of the current situation inside the labs.

3. and it's still a pleasure to read your blog.

Please continue

At 6:26 AM, Blogger Kate said...


Oh, and rock on especially here: "Dear taxpayers, if you want your loved ones cured of disease, write to your congresspeople and tell them to restructure research in this country so we don't have to waste our lives agreeing to be exploited by idiot assholes, in the hopes of eventually getting some actual work done."

I'm in the same situation right now -- I've got the data, I'd love to write a grant, but I need to be in a t-t job to apply. And by the way, the average age a person FIRST gets an NIH grant is 37 years. I'm 27.

At 8:59 AM, Blogger Bill Hooker said...

I currently have enough preliminary data for at least two grants, but I'm not eligible to apply for one until I get a faculty position

You probably already know this, but you don't need your own lab or an existing faculty slot for all grants. You do need a decent relationship with someone way up the foodchain, but there are grants for "young scientists" for which a mentor, but no lab of your own, is required. It's also the case at most institutions that, if you have a solid-looking grant application together, the thought of all that lovely money coming in will get the Dept head salivating, and he/she will write a weasel-worded letter promising some kind of junior appointment if the grant is awarded. It's not great but it does at least let you submit the damn thing.

At 6:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel very similar to how you feel sometimes, but I suspect the original poster meant that you put yourself in a situation where you help everyone but nobody helps you.

Not every PI exploits students and postdocs. In fact in majority of cases I see, the abuse of long hours and hard work is self-imposed by postdocs willing to do anything to succeed.

In other words, even if every PI was making sure postdocs are treated as nice as possible - the number of faculty positions would still be the same, and the competition just as fierce. There are some PI's that can channel the desperation of postdocs for their own needs, but very often PI and postdoc have common goals - publish, get big results, publish, do cool experiments, publish and publish.

At 7:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess the downside of both of us choosing to remain anonymous is that I will never get to see you in ten years, if you do become a PI (it’s not a given, by the way. The market is variable, and you may or may not find something acceptable to you), and ask you how it’s going. All this “change the system” stuff makes me cringe and laugh at the same time. It’s not quite clear that you understand “the system”.

You cannot possibly know how much preliminary data you need for a grant until you get your reviews back. When it’s one month to submission time, you always think you need more, especially if it’s a first grant. And the reviewers will always tell you need more, especially if it’s a first submission. You cannot imagine the insecurity you feel when you are not under the protective umbrella of the “asshole idiot”, when your start-up is running out, when your grad students’ salaries are on the line. And, since we’re bragging, I got a 3rd percentile on my A1, so I know a few things.

As other posters have indicated, youcansubmit a grant before you are independent. But consider the down side of that before doing so. Getting a first grant is hard. Getting a renewal is way hard. You will spend the first years of you faculty job being shocked at how muchharder it is to be productive. If you have a grant during that time, you will spend many grant dollars on that unproductivity. This has NOTHING to do with you-I don't know you. How can I have confidence in you or not. It is what it is, and I have seen several colleagues crashand burn because they could not renew the grant they came in with.

And, yeah, I don't know why I read your blog, though I don't read it very often. But, yes, in some strange way, for some reason I can’t explain, I am trying to be helpful. Maybe one reason is because you remind me of me and people I knew as a postdoc. We worked for an “idiot asshole”, a female one, and the lab was a cesspool of complaint and negativity. Not good for anyone. We complained so much we drove our spouses and partners crazy, and we were generally socially isolated from other people in the institute. We’d go out for beers and bitch, bitch, bitch. Some took their fellowships and left. I hit the job market early, without a letter of recommendation from my PI, got a great job (must have been those three top teir papers), but struggled in the first few years to compensate for the fact that I prematurely aborted my training period. Other stayed and festered, went on mood stabilizers, and dropped out of science. You need to decide whether your situation is bearable or not. If it is, bear it. If it’s not, change it.

The second reason has to do with all these dumb-ass “women in science” seminars they make us attend, as if we have nothing else to do, where people attribute every little problem they have to gender. Where, if you say something like “I feel fortunate that most of the interactions within my department do not have an obvious gendered component to them”, or, "Well, maybe just hitting the critical mass is more important and more realistic than achieving parity", you get accused of being self-hating, stupid, or exploitative. I stopped attending these after I got tenure, but I am beginning to wonder if I might serve my sisters better by going, and saying, “Stop. Forget this stuff. It’s not all gender. Go do your work. Go read your junior colleagues' (male and female) grant proposals. Go finish up that pile of work on your desk so you can pick up your kids before the day-care lady gives you the 5:55 glare. Go on a date with your partner and enjoy the fact that you've made it this far.”

At 7:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Contact an asshole with

At 5:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

exploitation in mind, eh? interesting thought. I think I hire with training in mind, however I do tend to expect the postdoc to 1) work, 2) work on something at least somewhat related to the ongoing lab interests, 3) generate publishable work and 4) write papers. There is no doubt that these things benefit me as well as the this exploitation?

back to my real point though which is that some of us who have our own labs, and are trying to hang onto them in these interesting funding times, were not much different from yourself at one point. some of us are indeed trying to change the system now that we "got here". feel free to read over some of my comments with respect to grant review and you can see what I mean. we are not all the enemy (even if we're male, see recent Zuska/Absinthe rantings). some people, possibly the anonymous you quote, try to help by giving trainees advice based on personal experience. i'd suggest not reflexively dumping on well intentioned advice and not assuming that just because someone has "made it" this means that they are part of the regime oppressing you in your career hunt.

to address the rant/complain critique, well I do plenty myself. but understand that the well-intentioned reader might sit back and say... hmm, of all the trainees i've been around, which ones "made it" and what are the common traits that predict "making it". (yeah, yeah, XY and white, we know, we know). what are the traits that seem common to trainees that never get anywhere? and then the reader might just use his/her experience to give some advice....

At 8:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous Young Female Scientist,

I don't know what you are talking about with regards to not being able to apply for grants until you get a lab. If you do have enough data then there are several funding opportunities. The most obvious is the NIH Pathway to Independence (PI) award (K99/R00) which is awarded by the federal government. The following comes from the announcement for the funding:

The PI award will provide up to 5 years of support consisting of two phases. The initial phase will provide 1-2 years of mentored support for highly promising, postdoctoral research scientists. This phase will be followed by up to 3 years of independent support contingent on securing an independent tenure-track or equivalent research position. The PI award is limited to postdoctoral trainees who propose research relevant to the mission of one or more of the participating NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs).

Noah Dowell

At 11:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear MsPhD,

Would you post this on your blog? I received it from a friend who is studying neuroscience. I believe it is important to get the word out to the members of Congress, seeing how they are the ones in charge of the laws (and $$$) in this country.


President Bush's FY 2008 budget proposes to cut funding for the National Institutes
of Health by more than a half billion dollars. Further, it is expected that the
House of Representatives will approve its version of the NIH spending bill with only
a 2.6 percent increase in funding. This amount is below biomedical research
inflation, and is effectively a cut in NIH funding. It is critical that the Senate
include more than the House in its NIH spending bill.

Please contact your Senators by clicking on the link below where you will find a
pre-written letter urging them to provide additional funding for NIH. The letter
can be easily emailed to your legislators. Thank you in advance for your

At 8:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating discussion. Thanks for the post!


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