Thursday, December 06, 2007

On switching fields.

On my last post, someone commented that they really can't relate to my statement about how money matters more than ideas, but proposed that it could be field-dependent.

I think there are a lot of differences among different sub-fields of science. I find it odd that no one seems to care if other fields are unfair or corrupt, so long as their own field seems okay.

This person also suggested that I should consider switching fields.

I have. It's a little more complicated than it sounds. There are some times in your career when it will make sense to switch fields, or migrate, or straddle multiple fields. There are other times when it is virtually impossible.

Let's say you did your PhD in one or more fields, and now you're debating about what to do for your postdoc (this is geared toward what I think is my demographic of readers- mostly PhD students and early postdocs).

It's perhaps a little-known fact that NIH postdoctoral fellowships are preferentially awarded to people who switch fields- or at least appear to switch fields. (Note that this is not generally the case for other funding sources or non-postdoc-fellowship types of grants.)

I can state for the record that I met someone who served on the review committee and he confirmed for me that this is true, and that it is an unusual feature of the postdoc fellowship funding level. The belief system of this review committee is based on two main assumptions:

1) Switching geographical location is good for scientific training/career experience.
2) Switching scientific field is good for scientific training/science in general.

However, it is also very beneficial to have preliminary data for even a postdoctoral fellowship application.

There are a few ways to get this.

1. Bring something with you from your PhD. This only works if you stay in the same field or if your PhD advisor let you go off on a tangent at the end of your thesis work. I think this scenario is probably rare, but I'm sure it happens sometimes.

2. Use data your postdoc PI had lying around, for example from their R01. Think you can't use the exact same data in two different grants reviewed by different committees at NIH? Why would you think that? I know of multiple examples where the PI offered/insisted and the postdoc agreed. In none of those cases did anyone ever get caught for plagiarism or simultaneous submission.

3. Work hard and fast your first few months in your postdoc lab, and then apply. If you do this, there are three ways to get enough preliminary data to get funded:

a) Join a good lab where they will train you in their techniques and help you get up and running

b) Be a genius at the bench and work wicked fast (not me)

c) Do something related to your PhD experience, because you can do this quickly thanks to all those years of training.

d) Some combination thereof.

All of this sounds great, very simple when you break it down like this into pieces.

Now here's where it gets interesting. Let's say you get the money. Then what do you do?

1. Work on what you proposed.

2. Work on something other than you proposed.

For both of these scenarios you could say the following:

If it a) has something to do with what your current lab does, you're probably in good shape. You can rely on their existing reagents and expertise, and your advisor will happily supplement anything else you need because it overlaps significantly with his/her R01s.

If it b) has very little to do with what your current lab does, congratulations.

You're now straddling fields, whether you meant to or not. You may or may not get as much support from your advisor as the postdocs in your lab who work on sub-aims of the lab R01s. You may or may not have the resources you need. You will probably have to make and/or buy new reagents and you will probably have to hard time paying for them. It will take you longer.

The good news is, you might go outside your main lab and find other mentors in other labs. These contacts should be useful to help you get a job later, especially if you want to migrate over to this other field.

The bad news is, your advisor most likely will not understand what you're working on, and more importantly, he/she won't care very much, because you're going to take it with you when you go.

So now you're like a hairdresser renting out a chair in somebody else's shop. Everyone knows that's not a permanent arrangement, so they don't have to be nice to you, and in fact might be deliberately not nice to you, in an effort to hurry you out.

But I'm going off on a tangent.

Now let's say you're farther along in your postdoc and you've been straddling, as a tenant-hairdresser, for a while now.

You'd like to switch fields entirely but you can't easily do that, because your advisor is not an expert in your field of interest (and maybe people in that field have never even heard of him/her).

So although you've done work in this new field, it's hard to make the connections you need since you'd have to pay to attend meetings out of your own money, and do your own PR (since your advisor isn't do it for you). In order to get a job, you also have to publish in this new field, which again is hard since you and your advisor are unknown in this area. Your collaborators try to help, but it's not enough. You've even thought about switching to join your collaborator's lab, but for various reasons that didn't seem like it would work out.

And you're too expensive at this point for anyone to want to hire as a postdoc in your field of interest (and frankly too tired).

You have a blog where you occasionally write about these things, where well-meaning but clueless people occasionally comment with suggestions as if you haven't thought at all about how you're living your life.

So, to sum up: if you're going to switch fields for your postdoc, beware. One of my friends took the easy way out. She wrote her fellowships on a project unrelated to her thesis work, got the money, and then she didn't do what she proposed. She went back and worked on a followup to her thesis project, and got a faculty position BY STAYING IN THE SAME FIELD.

Newsflash: search committees are not impressed when you switch fields, unless you become a star in the new one. Oh and you better do it ultra-fast.

Even worse, if you're straddling fields, departments don't want you because they don't know where to put you. There's a lot of lip service about 'interdisciplinary' and 'cross-departmental partnerships' and yada yada, but in reality most departments are still very old-fashioned and provincial, and they want candidates who are that way, too.

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At 2:30 PM, Blogger Bucky said...

"Even worse, if you're straddling fields, departments don't want you because they don't know where to put you. There's a lot of lip service about 'interdisciplinary' and 'cross-departmental partnerships' and yada yada, but in reality most departments are still very old-fashioned and provincial, and they want candidates who are that way, too."

Boy, does that hit home! I'm nearing the end of my PhD and am coming out of an 'interdisciplinary' program/group. Just starting my job search, but am already encountering a lot of head-scratching as to how I would fit into the more "classical" departments. Definitely feel like a round peg trying to fit in a square hole, but am trying to remain naively optimistic that something will pan out. If I only knew then, what I know now...

At 2:47 PM, Anonymous JR said...

All of this can be addressed with appropriate mentoring and training. Isn't that the point? How are you supposed to navigate your career when you have just started and are on such a time crunch. There is just no time to be able to fumble through yourself and learn from your mistakes.

By the way...I don't think of myself as a "clueless commentor". My experiences in research have been almost identical to what you describe here in your blog. I'm sure I'm not alone. Many of the people here post very relevant comments.

At 3:41 PM, Anonymous CC said...

The belief system of this review committee is based on two main assumptions:

I'd add that changing fields also demonstrates that the person a) is aware that there are at least two different fields out there and b) has sufficient critical thought to drop one in favor of the other. That already demonstrates more sophistication than a lot of grad students have.

So, to sum up: if you're going to switch fields for your postdoc, beware.

Or go to a lab that can support you for a year, go to a lab that is willing to provide data to support your application (this is *not* plagiarism , for crying out loud), go to a lab with a good enough track record that their reputations plus your solid publication history and references from grad school (they are solid, right?) are enough to get you funded...

I don't see any compelling reason to go to a lab that offers none of those things *and* doesn't work on what you want to do!

Incidentally, "changing fields" means that you study a protease instead of a transcription factor, that you have to become a physicist or an oceanographer.

At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You have a blog where you occasionally write about these things, where well-meaning but clueless people occasionally comment with suggestions as if you haven't thought at all about how you're living your life."

Please! One would think, that people who read your blog would have some common interests as you. At least the readers who are not your relatives or friends. I believe that the suggestions that people are giving you reflect that they are NOT infact CLUELESS. Could it be that people are actually trying to help you? Oh, that's right, that would disprove your two main assumptions about people:
1) Everyone is out to get you or at least stand in your way. Often because of your gender. (but not so much lately :) )
2) You are the only Postdoc that has experienced obstacles to success.

I would suggest that you actually listen to what people have to say without being so defensive. Sometimes the critical words that are hardest to hear are more often then not right on the money!

Thinkin' and tryin' to answer your crys for help,

- Clueless, Occasional Commentor

At 5:21 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Yes, JR, clueless commentor [sic] et al.,

of course I am not the only postdoc that has experienced obstacles.

Yes, that is part of why I have a blog. Didn't I say that several times already?

But thank you for pointing that again out to some of my much-more-clueless commenters, who seem to think I am an anomaly!

Bucky, thanks for coming out of the woodwork as someone having a similar experience.

Some days, it really does feel like it must be just me, even though I know it can't be.

At 5:28 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

btw JR,

All of this can be addressed with appropriate mentoring and training.

I really think our generation of young interdisciplinarians is pioneering new kinds of hell that our most well-meaning mentors never experienced.

Add to that, our advisors are busy, distracted, and clueless as it is, so they haven't noticed that I'm barely treading water.

They're alternately forgetting that I'm in the pool ("MsPhD who?") or wondering why I haven't already reached the other side (without realizing they're the ones who should be throwing me a lifejacket).

At 6:34 PM, Blogger EcoGeoFemme said...

What happens when you tell your advisor(s) that you are barely treading water?

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

My personal experience is somewhat different from what you suggest in your post. So I thought I'd write a comment just to provide contrast to your friend who stayed in her field. I switched fields completely from grad school to my postdoc--model system, approach, everything. And, I worked on something pretty different from my postdoc lab, so I was building a lot from scratch while not really knowing what I was doing except that it was really interesting. As you suggest, it took forever (over 6 years) to get a job, but I have a *great* academic position now. I don't think I'm a "star" in my new field by any means, but in my experience, search committees are interested in people who look for new opportunities and can bring expertise from several fields. I didn't do it ultra-fast, and I don't think that hurt me. In fact, I think there this a big advantage to "straddling" because you get to make your name for yourself more easily, and search committees know that you won't be competing with your postdoc lab.

So I feel that there are two perfectly acceptable and reasonable routes to go in your postdoc (staying in the same field or branching out) and they both have their advantages and disadvantages. The most important thing is to pick something that you are excited about.

At 10:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for saying this, YFS. Finally, there is somebody who realizes that interdisciplinary science is fine for grad school admissions or research positions in well-funded groups but not so great for academia. And for the dissenters, nope, it does not work for industry jobs either.

I agree that academia/industry likes the idea of interdisciplinary work but they modus operandi seems to be hiring several people who have strong, demonstrated capabilities in a narrow field and then doing the skill-integration themselves at a level higher than the benchworkers.

-yet another anon

At 8:23 AM, Anonymous Noah Gray said...

Since I haven't read too many entries of yours yet, I don't know if you ever mentioned the field in which you work, but in neuroscience, being interdisciplinary these days is a must, simply to get a solid study out. It seems that one has to do molecular work to build an appropriate virus to deliver siRNA, complete the histology to determine your neuronal subtype, record electrophysiological characteristics to get at functional implications, before setting yourself up for the complicated behavioral tasks to further bolster physiological relevance, all the time writing and de-bugging custom software in MATLAB to run your equipment and complete your data analysis. By the way, producing the knockout and doing the biochemical controls are not an option, but a requirement (and they will probably go into supplementary material).

That laundry list of requirements necessitates people to cross over a little further within fields (meaning physiology, biophysics, molecular biology, genetics, and behavior) than from a transcription factor to a protease. Therefore, YFS is absolutely correct that the older generation of PIs had no experience with this and did not experience the difficulties with getting a job in this type of atmosphere. Look at the number of authors on papers today vs. even 15 years ago. The average number has leapt up quite a bit, indicating that since it is often impossible to do everything in one lab, at the very least, one needs a lot of collaborators, if not a number of post-docs spanning the biological (and sometimes physics and engineering) world in one lab.

This is the fault of both rapid progress in neuroscience research as well as high expectations by the journals. But to diffuse the blame from the journals a bit, remember that they are there to give the field what they want; this is based on what the reviewers say. If the bar is lowered by the reviewers, then it is lowered by the journal. With biological research having exploded during the NIH budget scale up of 5-10 years ago, the bar was raised right along with the number of studies produced. Thus, interdisciplinary research was shoved to the forefront and nobody quite knows how to handle it, ESPECIALLY old-school faculty departments.

Sorry for being long-winded...

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Breena Ronan said...

Oh, I agree with your statement about interdisciplinary work being a new and special kind of hell. Also, your hairdressing metaphor cracked me up because I have been using hairdressing as my metaphorical field of study.

At 2:46 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


I can't tell them. It's all about keeping up appearances. Any sign of weakness will just get you eaten by the wolves.

Once in a while I'll complain about something and a burden will actually be lifted ("Why didn't you tell me sooner?" says the PI. "Because you're always out of town" is what I can't say out loud.)

Most of the time, though, I get the look of disappointment if I say anything that indicates frustration, impatience, etc.

It's like a video game where you can see your recommendation letter points dropping on the counter in the corner of the screen.

mental note: Must locate the Bead of Approval and fight the dragon that guards it.

Anonymous next,

I find your story encouraging. I am hoping my career will end up looking the same - at least from a distance. Up close it's a bit uglier, but a happy ending would go along way to glossing it over.

Yet another anon,

thanks for the thanks! you're welcome!


I agree... but I'm not convinced this is the best or only way to do things.

Maybe in neuroscience it's needed, necessary, and helping. I wouldn't know. I've seen fields that need to adopt this strategy, and I've seen fields, like my own, that are mired in it and collapsing under their own weight and unrealistic expectations.

It would all be fine (great, actually) if peer review worked and everyone was held to the same standard.

Politics dictates that it doesn't and they're not.

At 3:35 PM, Blogger Drugmonkey said...

While Noah's description is certainly what is considered the pinnacle of modern "neuroscience" it is patently false to think that you need to hit this standard or you are SOL careerwise. There are many journals other than Nature Neuroscience and I see plenty of grants being awarded to people who do not do work as Noah describes.

At 3:37 PM, Anonymous Noah Gray said...

Then you should slip on over to Drugmonkey (the last few comments under ...I think it's a lurker") to comment on whether anonymizing papers during the review process (simply cutting off the authors names before sending it to review; the author can choose whether or not s/he actually wants to make an extra effort at anonymizing further in the text) could be useful. I think that it is worth a try, although I am well-aware of the shortcomings. It is likely not to hurt, so why not try.

At 7:29 PM, Blogger Field Notes said...

Oh god isn't this the truth. Thank you for this post. I am definitely in the position of potentially straddling fields and I want in some ways to publish in the new field, and post doc in it because that's where my passion lies and research applies, but on the other hand, there are scarce jobs in the area. Jobs are not as scarce in the other area and in it, the perception is that I would need a Sh*tload of money to do my work (primate labs, expensive field work yada yada) but that is *not* true. So what do I do? Do I go for the other field or stay in the one I ma in currently so I can actually get a job? It seems like you're saying two things - switch so you can get the post-doc so you can be hired, but don't switch because then you won't be hired....


At 9:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Newsflash: search committees are not impressed when you switch fields, unless you become a star in the new one. Oh and you better do it ultra-fast."

This is, no doubt, insight gleaned from all your years on search committees? Just like how you know what happens on grant panels? Come now, YFS. You really don't know whereof you speak, and some of your "clueless posters" actually do. I am currently sitting on my third faculty search committee. We always consider whether someone switched fields or not when evaluating applications. Someone who stayed in the same field must have many many papers and demonstrate outstanding depth of understanding and show some openness to new approaches and be devoid of any hint of inbred thinking. She or he must be able to communicate clearly with people outside of the field. Someone who switched fields is usually given more slack in terns of number of pubs (still must be a strong candidate, though). These people usually do demonstrate outstanding communication skills-they usually speak two "languages". And they get extra points for the degree to which they have cross-pollinated and integrated the methodologies, approaches and paradigms of both fields into their thinking and planning.

But then again, what do I know? I switched fields after an amazingly productive run in my first field, then had a decidedly non-stellar performance in my second field (only three papers, none of then in CSN journals), but got a job anyway because, I guess, I'm good looking and fun to party with, or something (sarcasm alert).

At 4:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

would you consider going into neuroscience?

At 8:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


What is your plan? I mean your plan for getting out of a situation you find unbearable, and into a positive one? I think you are encountering many well-meaning folks who think they can see a way out, and post their suggestions. I think you're right that they are unlikely to help you because they don't know you. You're describing your "cancer" and folks are suggesting how vitamin C turned around their cold for them.

But, I also think that they are posting things that have worked for them, and in fact might help others, by pointing out what worked for them. The fact is that there are people who are successful and happy out there, and are so without cutting corners or "cheating." (that's not to say that there are not also examples of everything else).

I hope you have a strategy for your life, both a plan for what works, and what to do if it doesn't work, and that you have real life advisors who both encourage you and tell you the truth (but fear that might be a fantasy on my part).

And, by no means should you de-anonymize this blog. Any commenter who suggests that you wouldn't be shooting yourself in the foot, or worse, if people knew who you were is dead wrong. No one I know would consider hiring the author of this blog into their department. Mind you, that's not the same as saying no one would hire you into a department, merely that the persona you present here is not one that anyone would want to take on.

At 11:20 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Field Notes,

Yes, if our fields were well-funded or inexpensive, and if there were plenty of jobs, it wouldn't be such an issue, would it?

Sarcastic Anonymous,

Well, I guess I'd want to know how recently you did all of that.

And I'd also like to point out that, for those of us who, for a variety of reasons, do not have the "amazing" pedigree from grad school, it's too late to do anything about that now.


It's too late. I'm not arrogant enough to think that I could learn neuroscience without putting in a lot more years of training. I'd basically have to go back to the drawing board and take a bunch of classes!

Last anon,

Yeah, that's what I think too. The only job this blog would get me is some kind of Offensive Columnist position. Anybody here ever watch Chelsea Lately? I'd be like the Chelsea Lately of science politics.

Someday, they should have that show...

Anyway what is my plan. Well I'll tell you. I decided to take an escapism break this weekend so I was playing a really challenging RPG yesterday. I love this video game.

What have I learned playing video games?

That even when everyone else on your team is dead, and you're almost out of spirit points, if you just keep healing yourself and hacking away at the bad guy, eventually you will win.

It might take a while, and you will probably think it would be easier to quit and start over since you're going to die anyway, but you don't die and you're glad, when you win, that you didn't quit.

And then you bring the rest of your team back from the dead, and they don't even thank you.

And your reward is usually some useless little trinket.

But hey, one more bad guy down, thirty million more to go.

At 11:42 AM, Blogger Drugmonkey said...

"What have I learned playing video games?

That even when everyone else on your team is dead, and you're almost out of spirit points, if you just keep healing yourself and hacking away at the bad guy, eventually you will win.

It might take a while, and you will probably think it would be easier to quit and start over since you're going to die anyway, but you don't die and you're glad, when you win, that you didn't quit."

This is the most essential determinant of "making it" in science IMO.

At 1:14 PM, Anonymous JR said...


I have an interesting question for you and your readers (both male and female). What would you do if you were Lucy Southworth? I'll let you provide the background.

At 3:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How many years of postdoc experience do you have? I'm wondering how long is too long to switch fields and, more importantly, start looking for real jobs.

At 3:58 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Thanks, Drugmonkey!

Now if I could just get the Sword of Obedience to work on my advisors...


I had never heard of Lucy Southworth so I had to google her. I don't understand what your question is- would I retire if I were marrying someone insanely rich?


I'm not going to answer that. I have more than 4 years postdoc experience. I think that's enough to start looking for jobs (should be, anyway) and a bit too late to be switching to an entirely new field.

But it all depends on the person. I know there are people who love being a postdoc, for example, and wouldn't mind doing it forever. So switching fields would be fun for them, a whole new adventure.

At 4:44 PM, Blogger Drugmonkey said...

With respect to "switching fields" some of this is in the detail of how far of a jump are you talking. Some "jumps" that are very minimal in terms of experimental techniques and only modest in terms of background knowledge can get you a very large jump in terms of entrenched personalities/OldBoyz, productivity expectations / ImpactFactor chasin' expectation, etc.

Sure, you (the generic you) may not get to rely as much on your present accomplishments which is a cost. But sometimes, the receiving field does look at you as bringing some hot new techniques or innovative approaches to "their" field. Especially when their fields are pretty old school and you are doing stuff that is modern, even if not bleeding edge.

This, btw, is another reason to subscribe to the NIH Guide weekly email list. Program announcements and especially RFAs will point out where funding agencies feel that their stable of investigators is deficient. Reading through the ones from ICs outside of "your field" you may be surprised in the course of a year to find they are begging

At 7:28 PM, Anonymous JR said...

This is off your topic, but I don't know how else to post to you...

Lucy Southworth is expected to marry Larry Page of Google fame.  The point of interest is that she is also a PhD graduate student in Bioinformatics at Stanford.  What I was getting at was knowing what you know now and if you were in the same situation, would you:1. finish graduate school?2. do the postdoc?3. continue on your career  slog or do something else?  if something else, what would that be?4. say adios everyone.  good luck curing cancer without me. you can find me at margaritaville.If it was me...I would finish school.  Skip the postdoc.  Help move Google into the life sciences to use their stengths of money, technology and people to make an measurable and significiant impact on people's lives.But hey, that's just me.  Some might want to run gels for the rest of their lives.  That's why this is fun. 

At 7:39 PM, Anonymous bsci said...

I think you have one thing about postdoc NIH fellowhips that isn't completely accurate. The bias towards encouraging field switches is in the (bad?) assumption that a postdoc position is actually a continuation of studenthood and you're supposed to be learning something new. I've seen people submit quality grants that continue the path of their grad work only to be rejected because they haven't sucessfully outlined their new skills.

As for as applying, when I did a slight field switch I was able to do a slightly new analysis on existing data from my postdoc lab and submit an NIH fellowship application several months before I started the job. Since rejection is highly likely for first submissions, that mean I got my rejection 4 months into the postdoc and was able to build up 8 or 9 months of work and data collection before the second submission. Of course funding is generally terrible now and I didn't get funded anyway, but it was a good idea in theory.

Also, as an interdisciplinary neuroscientist, I can say the problems are just as bad in neuroscience. Everyone wants to work with me because I'm a valuable bridge across fields and I could be hired as a support scientist at virtually any top university in the country, but since I don't fit neatly into any one department, faculty openings for people with my skill set are rare.

At 6:26 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


Let's take it even a step further and play it out.

Let's say that undergrads should be reading this list to help gear their grad school choices accordingly.

The problem with that is how fast trends can change in science. By the time you finish grad school, [picture Heidi Klum saying this]: "siRNA is out and nanobots are in."

If you did your PhD on RNAi... "Sorry, you're out."

The problem for grad students and postdocs is that you're usually really entrenched by the time you figure out where you should have been heading. E.g. I realized at some point that neuroscience was going to have more job openings, but I wasn't interested in it and couldn't see how to get into it.

Contrary to popular belief, many labs do NOT want to hire a postdoc who got a PhD in an entirely different subject. And how are you going to evaluate a good lab from a bad lab in a field you can barely understand?

By the time I figured out a way to maybe trundle over into that direction, it was a bit late to get into the game and make up for all my educational deficiencies in that area.

So here I sit, watching all those ads for neuroscience jobs flying by...

And while you make a great point that the receiving field might welcome you with open arms, if you're like me, the field you were 'trained' in will be furious and see you as disloyal at best, or reject all your papers at worst. It would be best if you could make a clean break, rather than trying to be a bridge (as bsci describes so heartbreakingly).

Unfortunately for our careers (though good for progress), the bridges is where the science is!


Well I would never choose a career just based on whether or not I could afford to do it (or retire). It might not feel like such a slog to do science if I were donating my salary back to the government in marriage taxes, or even better, if I were rich enough to fund any experiment I wanted to do out of pocket.

But I'll never know, will I!

Hmm... wasting away in margaritaville... would be fun for a week, and then I'd get bored.

I'd start a margarita blog!

I think the idea of Google getting into biotech is interesting... I can't quite picture where they're going to go. I guess I'm curious to watch from the sidelines but can't imagine what I would do at a place like that with my current skill set. Maybe if I were a biophysicist who happens to look like a supermodel... nope, that's Lucy Southworth, not me!


Oh, dear. Very sad what you say about everyone wants to work with you but nobody wants to give you a faculty position. It's so easy to see this happening on campuses all over the country. And universities aren't always smart enough or creative enough or flexible enough to see that you're a gold mine and figure out how to make a position for you.

This is exactly why NIH needs to realize they're missing the boat with our generation.

At 8:15 PM, Anonymous bsci said...

Hey! I'm 2 years post PhD and I have a great postdoc position! I'm definitely interested in a faculty job, but there are some great staff positions out there and being in high demand without a great rush to move on means I can hopefully have my pick at some point. It's frustrating that faculty jobs are rare, but it's not like I have no choices of interesting jobs with reasonable salaries.

I also understand that some of the faculty issues are beyond NIH funding problems. Small to medium schools have departments with 5-15 faculty total. Each member has a vital role to play in terms of teaching and providing a skill set to help with collaborative research. Using one of those slots for a person who might not be able to teach core classes and directly contribute to the department's mission is risky. Only schools with larger departments and endowments can afford to hire real interdisiplinary people without affecting the core missions.

The real visionary change would be for schools to create extra-departmental or more joint departmental positions. While some of these exist, I'd had to see the tenure granting process with the personalities of multiple departments/administrators are involved.

I'm generally optimistic about my career now, but check back in a couple of years.

At 9:45 AM, Blogger Drugmonkey said...

"If you did your PhD on RNAi... "Sorry, you're out.""

Oi. Look it is a bit hard to have this discussion absent specifics. But especially since we're talking neuroscience... This is such a broad field, technique and model-wise, that it is very hard to understand where you have biology-related skills and wouldn't have a home somewhere.

With respect to RNAi, double oi. It is so easy for trainees, yes even after 7 yrs of postdoc'ing , to be a bit myopic about science as a career. Heck, one can be a 7 yr in investigator and be a bit myopic. just because the hottest of the hot sneer at the techniques of 5 yrs ago does not mean that you can't get a job and a grant based on such skills. Heck I see people getting jobs and grant $$ based on paradigmns that haven't really changed much in 30 years!

At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with you. i am a postdoc in a successful lab of a high-profile researcher. i would not have gotten this postdoc if it was pretty much exactly the same thing i was trained to do as a grad student. this is supposed to be my training period, so where is the fancy training? heh. in any case, i am relatively new and i love my position at the moment.

to other commenters: can we stop harping on RNAi and neuroscience already?

At 12:25 AM, Anonymous Praveen said...

Hello FSP. I've changed fields, albeit not at all through choice. I've been hired by a prestigious national lab as a prestigious postdoc and I was put into a group that was thought to be suitable given my background. However, after four months, I was 'kicked out' of this group by the group PI (who was a prick in my opinion) and my main boss (who hired me as postdoc) took me into her group. Needless to say, I, as a brilliant guy felt let down and very disappointed. Fortunately, I think my current position is coming along (touch wood) rather well, and I actually feel I am learning lots of new things (instead of continuing in my old field as an application programmer).

But life is not easy, as this is not my area of speciality. Fortunately, also, the people here are a lot more encouraging and are trying to get me to work with a bunch of important people (I am now working with lots of people, and this is a multi million dollar proposal). So I think there is plenty of opportunity to do well here. That said, I retain a lot of feeling for my old field and quite a lot of ability too, as I was basically an 'expert'.

What do you think I should do? I might some day become an expert in my new field (at least that's what my boss and I hope). But I do not want to give up on my old areas.


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