Monday, May 26, 2008

It's definitely not all sexism.

Was talking to a friend last night who has run into many of the same kinds of problems I've had.

We're in different fields, and opposite in many ways, including gender.

But we do share certain personality features, which I can only describe as lack of natural talent for academic politics.

The only friends I had in grad school whom I'd say are similarly handicapped have all ended up in industry. They couldn't, or wouldn't, play that part of the game.

Four out of six are women. Three realized early on they didn't have the patience or the stomach for it. One realized painfully this was a weakness, still isn't particularly happy in industry, and sometimes talks about coming back to do a postdoc (I keep telling her not to).

The two remaining who stuck with it AND got interviews for faculty positions are guys. (Coincidence?) But they apparently never understood why none of those visits yielded offers.

And who is still sticking with it? .... Yours truly.

...


On the one hand, my friend says I'd make a great investigator. He thinks I'd be good at running a lab, I would know how to set things up from scratch and manage people and so on.

And his perceptions of sexism are entirely different from mine (although he himself often makes what I'd consider highly offensive comments).

Most of the women from the last lab he worked in have gotten faculty positions, so he thinks things are improving. (Somehow he forgets about the lab he worked in before that, which is more like the kind that I've worked in, where the women all end up quitting.)

But to him it's much more universal than sexism, or at least, it's not sexism alone. Even he has to admit that sexism only makes it that much worse. But he has a much broader theory about what's wrong.

He thinks this is the worst possible time to get into science.

And I've been hearing that a lot lately. My own advisors seem to think it's a bad career choice for... just about anyone. Which is probably why they're not exactly overjoyed that it's what I want to do. They keep asking me if I'm sure.

The more they ask me that, the less sure I am.

If nothing else, writing this blog has made me realize all the times people tried to discourage me from a career in science. And that I stubbornly ignored all of them.

In college, my grad student friends told me not to go, that it's a miserable existence.

During grad school, the faculty told me I wouldn't make it.

And so on until now.

Now, my friends who are PIs are all saying it's not the great fun they thought it would be.

Aside from some few happy examples like FSP, most of them are not particularly happy at all.

Almost all the new PIs say - and this really makes me cringe - they wish they could go back to being postdocs.

...

My former-scientist friend is doing something else these days, but all he can talk about is science.

The people he worked with, the disagreements they had, how frustrating it all was. But I have to assume the real reason he can't just let it go and get on with his life is because he really loved it.

I don't know how I could live like that. To me, the worst thing would be to quit, but then never get over it.

I would not want to end up like my friend, who might never stop obsessing over the wonderful time he spent working in lab. That part just makes me really sad.

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25 Comments:

At 1:15 PM, Blogger Peter said...

Have you seen the article about the future of science funding and about how the culture of science has to make a transition from science in a time of funding abundance to science in a time of funding scarcity?

http://www.its.caltech.edu/~dg/crunch_art.html

 
At 1:55 PM, Blogger ScientistMother said...

reading you post today made me think about all the people who told me / tell me not to do the phd thing. I do know that overall I enjoy science. There are a whole shitload of parts that I dislike, but I don't think anyone could love all aspects of every position. What I do know is that taking a break from science, made me realize that I do enjoy it and that I missed it. Maybe doing something else for awhile could give you that focus? Its not like if you leave the bench you can never come back.

 
At 2:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you have it pretty good. if the PI thing doesn't work out, you can go to industry. it is not the end of the world. in fact, it is a hell of a lot more lucrative and possibly less headache-inducing. this is what i tell myself. i am a first year postdoc.

 
At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do not give up YFS!!! Yes I agree life sucks at the moment - I am a postdoc (going on 3rd year). I had a ROUGH 2 years, doubting myself, being depressed, going on faculty job interviews to be disappointed by facilities, salary, startup, political bs... I've been in school forever, and dammit, I'm gonna make IT happen. IT being a job I love, in a place I want to be, surrounded by non-freaks, and making a salary that's way above poverty level. Have your moments of discouragement and then get pissed off and then keep on keeping on....I didn't come all this way to throw in the towel. Neither did you. Keep going!!!!

 
At 3:56 PM, Blogger Wallflower Physicist said...

What do the people who tell you not to go into science expect you to do as an alternative? I, for one, would be miserable working a 9-5 job in business, accounting, or pretty much anything other than science. The way I see it is that even if science isn't the best place to be these days, it's still probably the best place for me to be.

 
At 4:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes I don't get it: why the stigma about careers in industry? There are plenty of interesting things happening for scientists outside of academia. Or even, pushing further out, why the stigma of working in a non-scientific field? Scientists learn many ways of thought that, if applied properly, enable them to analyze systems, find root causes, and propose innovative solutions to problems. If someone simply uses science as a stepping stone to something else, what's the fuss?

Indeed, to succeed in graduate school, scientists must become mentally agile, and have an appetite for seeking out new chellenges. On the flip side, these very qualities can lead to a lack of tolerance for the same old thing in the lab. So, perhaps, moving onto something else that sparks a scientists curiousity and problem solving skills can lead to greater career satisfaction.

Those are my $0.02. Your thoughts?

 
At 11:07 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Peter,

Hol-eee crap. That article is fucking amazing. Everyone should read that. I wish I had read that in 1994. I could have read that in PLENTY of time to not go to grad school.

Sigh. This has been one of those weeks when I wonder if I shouldn't have listened to that postdoc who told me I should go to med school. It's pretty clear to me that I would have hated med school; and that I would have a much better chance of success in research and getting funding if I'd gotten an MD. Just having that background and that degree seems to be much more highly valued in biosciences than a PhD nowadays, at least at all the funding agencies and with all the university hiring committees...

So yeah, I'm not enjoying being the trickle in the pipeline OR working in the coal mine. However you want to describe it. I think the coal mine analogy is perfect. And I have to wonder why it never caught on.

And the other main analogy... yup, I am definitely in the black hole. What drives me nuts is that the vast majority of faculty are standing outside and can't see what all the waving and yelling is about. They just say I'm being Negative.

ScientistMother,

If I left, I don't think I'd ever come back. See back posts about quitting.

Anon 2:29,

I thought EXACTLY the same thing when I started grad school.

Do you know how many of my industry friends are unemployed? How many times they've changed jobs and had to move and had to make their spouses move to a new city? How many of their biotech startups have gone out of business?

Well of course you don't. Or you wouldn't be talking about industry as an obvious, easy backup.

Anon 3:05,

You rock. I will keep trying. You too.

Wallflower Physicist,

They tell me to go to industry.

They are faculty, though, and none of them have ever worked in industry. So it's easy to see how they've always wondered if that grass was greener.

Most of them work so hard, travel so much, and are so stressed out, that they literally make themselves sick all the time.

It's hard not to wonder if they're trying to tell me hey, this is your last chance to get out before you end up like us. Most of them are entirely dependent on their job to define who they are, they just can't imagine what would happen if they ran out of funding and had to leave before they could afford to retire.

Anon 4:32,

See back issues of this blog. There is no stigma. On the other hand, since so many of my friends have chosen a different path, I don't have as much of a network of peers or role models who came from where I've been who are still going where I want to go.

Many of our struggles are the same, sure. But I have a lot of days when I really just wish I had a couple of real friends who were also going to be applying for faculty positions on a similar timeline.

My best friend at work right now? Also wants to go to industry.
We talk a lot about the day-to-day of lab stuff, and it's nice to have that, but we just have different goals.

And using science as a stepping stone? Is a massive waste of resources and time and effort for EVERYONE involved. It's not summer camp. Grad school is not something you do for a little while just to see if you like it.

Other than that, I totally agree. Agility is good, challenges are good.

 
At 7:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

honestly, i think choosing industry is a more difficult decision to make than staying in. if you stay in, you kind of know what you need to do to get by. whether or not it actually happens is another story.

 
At 7:27 AM, Anonymous bsci said...

You seem to think of "industry" as a monolithic thing. Just like academia has everything from research centered universities to community colleges, there's no such thing as an industry job. Even within a single company, there are PhDs going around selling or repairing equipment, and there are PhDs spending much of their day at a lab bench or directly supervising benchwork.

As for losing industry jobs and moving around cities, how is that any different from 2 postdocs followed by faculty positions at a couple of places before getting tenure? The main difference is that those faculty jobs are even harder to get and the industry salaries are high enough to have a greater total income even when you are unemployed for a few years.

Granted I'm still a postdoc and looking at the academic track, but it's important to understand industry jobs better.

There are also other options. Some staff scientist jobs both in academia and industry allow you to stay at the bench and do interesting work IF you find someone you enjoy working under. Other staff scientist jobs are peonships that disappear when your boss retires or leaves.

I'm currently a postdoc at NIH, which hopefully insulates me from the worst of the budget downturn until the funding situation gets a bit better.

It sounds like you really need to figure out what you enjoy about the scientific process and what jobs in and out of academia will allow you to continue doing it. One might suggest finding a career counselor, but they are often clueless about PhD life and your advisor doesn't seem to be doing his job in this regard. If anything, this blog clearly has given you access to many career counselors in the comments. Perhaps you can more explicitly use it as such. It would also benefit others in similar situations.

 
At 7:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"you have it pretty good. if the PI thing doesn't work out, you can go to industry. it is not the end of the world. in fact, it is a hell of a lot more lucrative and possibly less headache-inducing. this is what i tell myself. i am a first year postdoc."

From the mouths of babes (or first year postdocs)...... Good luck with that. Industry jobs, in addition to being highly unstable as MsPhD points out, are not plentiful and are extremely hard to get. If one could "just go to industry" there would be a lot less bitter academic postdocs like us....

 
At 9:59 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

bsci,

Although you often visit here, this last comment reads like you have never before read this blog.

It's still astounding to me how many people comment here in such a condescending way without having considered that they haven't read many of my previous posts. As if I haven't already written extensively about what O enjoy or don't enjoy about science and the various career choices; haven't worked with a career coach (worthless, wouldn't recommend it); haven't been using this blog to chronicle all these things and as a source of feedback. Of course I have. Feel free to visit the archives!

That said, your choice to work at NIH is a smart one, I think it will insulate you quite well and probably for long enough. I'd like to think there are some major changes coming, but they probably won't get here fast enough to affect your postdoc position.

There are a variety of reasons I didn't go to NIH myself, but suffice it to say, it did cross my mind since there are many advantages to being at NIH. There are disadvantages, too, but it just depends on your priorities.

 
At 10:39 AM, Anonymous bsci said...

I do read your blog fairly regularly and I'm not intentionally condescending. I have my own experiences and what I observed in others. I try to present my opinions in the context of my own background. I'm not a postdoc pretending to be a tenured professor and I know my own job situation and choices might change over time. When I feel I have something to add, I write it. When I don't, I don't comment.

I'm trying to say this in a constructive manner, but assuming that someone with a different perspective /conclusions is condescending might be an example of your lack of political skills relating to academic jobs that you've mentioned.

As for this specific post, many grad school/postdoc mentors look at academia as THE job track and everything else as falling off that track. You seem to have absorbed some of that. I've done and informal survey of graduates of my PhD program and found that over half of the recent graduates are not in academic positions. About 30-40% of the total # have some type of active research job in industry or government (about have of those are in companies large enough to not be considered start-ups and many of the people in the start-ups are executives or company founders). I didn't find anyone who worked for more than 2 companies since graduating in the past ~10 years.
These numbers vary by field, but the picture of instability in industry isn't as negative as you make it sound.

That said, if you really want the life of a tenured/tenure-track professor, go for it! If not, pursuing it is insane.

 
At 6:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a grad student at MIT...and it SUCKED!

(Even though my thesis advisor declared my thesis a "masterpiece" and wrote one of the "most important papers" of HIS career)


I am a postdoc now at a gov't lab...and it SUCKS!

(Although the money is pretty decent.)


I'm getting the hell out of basic science. I love the science, but I hate the politics. And politics is about 95% of the job.

I've never seen a group of adults act like such a group of children in my entire life. Most of the people I know who "enjoy" the job are insecure people who have something to "prove".

Whatever...I'll be happy to take >$100k/year and a 9-5 job on the next turn.

 
At 7:27 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

bsci,

My point was that your comment came across as though you were assuming all these things about what I know or don't know. It's true that I don't have room to discuss everything in one post, so if you choose to take each post as it stands alone, then your comment is not condescending. But taken in the context of the rest of my blog, your comment might be an example of how your political skills are not as profound as you'd like to think they are.

That said, this point you made was an interesting one:

As for this specific post, many grad school/postdoc mentors look at academia as THE job track and everything else as falling off that track. You seem to have absorbed some of that.

I guess what bothers me about the track/off-track paradigm is that MOST grad students come in with ZERO industry experience and EVERY expectation of becoming a professor someday.

I'd say it's probably 10% (?) or less (?) of grad students who worked in industry after college and then decided to go back to get a PhD, with the intention of returning to industry.

In that sense, MOST grad students are forced to re-evaluate their vision of their 'career track', as it were, in the face of competition, being discouraged, working with nutcases, getting paid peanuts, etc.

I for one was NEVER interested in industry and still view it as a second-best choice. Although I know it is not a big monolithic thing, I have a lot of friends in all different kinds of industry jobs and the ones who are doing the kinds of things I'd like are few and far between.

And they are all way more qualified for those jobs than I am.

It's a bit late, I think, to pretend like my training to date would make me qualified for an interesting industry job. It doesn't. I would have been much better off, if that was what I knew I wanted to do, planning my training around learning certain techniques and working in more applied areas.

At heart I'm a basic scientist and my CV shows it. It would take some skillful marketing for me to apply for industry jobs of any kind at this point. Not to say it's impossible, but it's not easy.

The picture of instability in industry isn't as negative as you make it sound.

Well, tell that to my friends who have been hunting for jobs for years and being told they need more C/N/S papers to do anything other than sales/application field scientist.

Tell that to my friend whose startup just went under.

Their phones are not exactly ringing off the hook with opportunities.

It's still a lot of work to get a job, even in industry.

That said, if you really want the life of a tenured/tenure-track professor, go for it! If not, pursuing it is insane.

To that I say, thanks.

But for a while now I've started to think that it's like when you're a little kid and you told your parents you wanted some toy or piece of clothing or a computer.

They kept telling you no, you can't have that.

And eventually, you realized you didn't want it anymore.

At some point, after being told 'no' long enough, you start to question how badly you really want it.

I'm not willing to drive myself insane in the process. And therein lies the rub. Do you even know it when you've crossed that line?

Anon 6:45,

your comment made me laugh. I hope your high-paying 9-5 job will be better!

 
At 7:28 AM, Anonymous bsci said...

I thought like I was taking past posts in context and I'm sorry if it seemed otherwise. I was commenting on your past comments about your political abilities. I've never many any claims about my own political abilities or lack thereof. :)

guess what bothers me about the track/off-track paradigm is that MOST grad students come in with ZERO industry experience and EVERY expectation of becoming a professor someday.

This varies by program and some programs, especially with a closer engineering bent are seeing the light. Slightly less than half the people in my program entered the program and planned to enter industry (and many did just that). The university had an graduate level entrepreneurship competition and offered business courses to tack on a business specialization to a PhD. I've seen some evidence that these programs are spreading, but they are still the minority. Also some advisors were more or less welcoming to their students spending time using those resources.

I too have been trained in an area where the industry jobs aren't obvious and I really don't like the type of work of the companies who would most want to hire me. That said, we both have PhDs and we've been trained to learn new skills on our own. If either of us want to completely change directions, it might talk a couple of years to learn something new, but it's possible. If you want a major change (either in research direction or employment type) and you know what you want, the sooner you start working towards that goal the better. I suspect you do want change, but you haven't quite figure out to what yet.

 
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At 11:21 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

bsci says: I suspect you do want change, but you haven't quite figure out to what yet.

I don't want to change careers. I really don't.

What I want is for the system to step up and do for me what it has already done for people like physioprof and these other guys who have apparently had quite a nice, smooth ride.

Realistically, I know nobody is going to swoop down and save me. It's just not going to happen.

What I'm trying to do now is finish the experiment of pulling myself up by my bootstraps. I'm not yet convinced it won't work. And I'm not at all convinced I won't be much happier when I have my own lab.

I am 100% convinced I'd be really good at it.

Sure, lots of days being a postdoc just sucks, and then I think "anything would be better than this." But only for a day or two, do I really think I'd be happy doing something else.

I think in the long run I would never forgive myself if I quit without exhausting the possibilities. So I guess I'll play out the hand I have, and when the game is over, I'll go find somewhere else to play.

Or write a book. I've got a lot of dirty secrets saved up on how the system really works, stuff that's so bad I can't even blog about it. And I can't do anything with that information if I stay in science.

But if I leave... all bets are off.

 
At 11:24 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Girls,

Unless you're Canadian, the L'Oreal thing won't help you. The link they give is only for Canada.

The US ones have already been awarded. Don't know about the International ones, but you have to be a superstar to begin with to win one (so far as I can tell).

 
At 12:21 PM, Anonymous bsci said...

I don't want to change careers. I really don't.

I should have been clearer. I suspect you want change in location, direction, job-duties, etc. I don't know which. I was including, but not specifically referring to career changes.

If I remember correctly about physioprof, his a soft-money professor so his ride isn't completely over yet and there can clearly be future bumps in his path. He's often arrogant and dogmatic and his heart seems to have turned to stone long ago, but that stone is in the correct place and he's really trying to talk to people about what worked for him and what mistakes he's seen that led to failure.

I generally try to empathize with you, but every so often you write something that makes my jaw drop. On the physioprof comment thread you write:

Our mentors, beg to inform you, have ZERO novel ideas of their own.
The projects they offer us are:
a) "Here, work on what I proposed in my funded grant! It's boring and won't work, but it's how I get funding, so..."
b) "Fuck if I know. Go figure something out."
Moving on.


I think I've said things like this in past posts, but if that is your definition of all mentors you NEED NEED NEED NEED to get out of where you are and find a good mentor. You need someone you can help you take your novel ideas and turn them into a winning grant proposal so that there is funding to pursue them. Whether or not they are famous, you need someone you can competently talk up your findings to his/her colleagues when giving talks. You need a mentor who will go beyond merely writing a letter of recommendation and actively lobby for you when you are applying for faculty jobs. This is the minimum standard.
Unless you are a genius who makes the rest of us seem like intellectual pygmies and who has multiple C/N/S papers, it is doubtful you will ever get the faculty job you want without such mentorship.

If you don't think this is necessary, what do you think goes into faculty hiring decisions?

Also, for someone who's 100% convinced she'd be a good mentor, where are you picking up those skills? Is your current mentor showing you the admin and grant writing parts of lab management? Are you planning to continue to spend enough time at the bench to have hand-on experience with every technique your students and postdocs use? (I know that was a past topic you addressed here) Will you learn new techniques if a student wants to go in a different direction from you even if you aren't particularly interested in that technique? What will you do when a student has a nice idea that requires money that's granted to other projects?

I think I've crossed the condescention threshold again and I'm sorry, but I'm really trying to be helpful here.

 
At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the mouths of babes (or first year postdocs)...... Good luck with that. Industry jobs, in addition to being highly unstable as MsPhD points out, are not plentiful and are extremely hard to get. If one could "just go to industry" there would be a lot less bitter academic postdocs like us....

Not to pick on the poor first-year, whose misconception is dangerously common, but that's precisely correct. I'd also note that those jobs pay better than a postdoc, but are hardly "a hell of a lot more lucrative" than being a succesful professor with summer salary and consulting income. The latter probably have higher total income.

 
At 8:10 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

bsci,

change in job, yes. location, sure maybe. direction? i don't know. i want to keep working on the questions i'm working on, but with more resources.

More resources, please!

And yes I did say this:
Our mentors, beg to inform you, have ZERO novel ideas of their own.
The projects they offer us are:
a) "Here, work on what I proposed in my funded grant! It's boring and won't work, but it's how I get funding, so..."
b) "Fuck if I know. Go figure something out."


I'm very amused that my comment made your jaw drop!

But it's so true. And not just for me, I've seen it in several labs and several friends' labs.

It's a bit of hyperbole, you understand, for humor. But it's basically what the options are for most postdocs. Not all, but most.

Get out of where I am?
For a variety of reasons, I can tell you that moving is NOT the answer. I think things with my advisor might improve, are maybe improving (finally). But that's mostly a topic I can't blog about at all, for anonymity reasons. Which is unfortunate since it would make for very interesting discussion.

Yes, PhysioProf keeps saying over and over, that I'm an idiot and should 'just switch labs'. It is not a simple fix for every widget. And it is not something you can apply anytime, anywhere, to anyone.

But I can't blog about why, so you don't have to believe me. You can always email me offline I guess (yfsblog at gmail).

I do wish my advisor would help me take my ideas and turn them into money for ME. But alas. I don't see that happening. Not for lack of my trying.

And if my advisor talks up my findings at meetings, they will be attributed to my advisor more than they are to me.

For a variety of reasons, that's really not fair at all, but it's how it is. I have to talk up my own results at meetings. So I do.

But I agree, it would have been good to have someone actively lobbying for me. I just don't think it really happens all that often, for that many people.

All the faculty who want to promote me and my work are poor and/or depressed because they're barely staying employed and funded themselves...

The faculty who are funded are few and mostly sharks.

That's just how my field is. I know it's not like that everywhere. But I chose my field for the science.

Of course you can try to choose a field for a variety of reasons. But you can't always know what the science or politics will be like in a field over time.

The science changes faster and faster, new people come in, other people die off, and the whole thing changes before you know it.

I'd like to think some of the sharks will die off and I'll be around to move up. But we'll see. The fly in that ointment is that baby sharks are born every day.

And I would never say I was a genius. My family would laugh at that, actually. They think I'm the village idiot. I say, that's Dr. Village Idiot to you!

I don't believe in geniuses, actually. But I think I might have posted about that before.

Anyway I don't think mentoring is always an option. I know it helps. I know the system is predicated on the notion that it exists.

But I'm not convinced it exists in anything like the abundance that some people assume it does.

I might blog about this... maybe not today, but when I have time. I heard yet another horrifying story today from yet another postdoc whose funding has run out, and her 'mentor' is scheming to take advantage of her in the extreme.

Anyway!

How do I think I'd be a good mentor and where do I get those skills.

You're not the first person to ask that, and I think I've written about it before.

I'm one of those people, I don't think you always have to be taught something, although it helps.

I don't think you have to learn everything by mimicking or just doing what everyone else has done. In fact, I got pretty frustrated with a student recently who kept using the phrase "what everybody else does". I told him I don't care what everybody else does. I have a higher standard. We go for the highest standard we can manage.

That is, in fact, why I like research. I get to do things nobody has ever done before, and I have to decide at what point I believe we've really done it.

But I've also had great mentors in other areas of my life, and that is probably in large part why I'm so thoroughly disgusted with what passes for mentorship in science.

Is my current mentor showing me how to do admin and grant writing?
Hell no. I do it myself because no one does it for me. That's what you get when you work with PIs who are absent, ill, or otherwise negligent- you get to do their job for them! I have been a ghost PI for years already. Best, though least recognized, training there is.

And I go out of my way to find grant writing classes, mock study sections, anywhere I can get the training I get it.

Am I planning to continue to spend lots of time at the bench?
No, not really. We'll see. At the beginning, yes.

Will I learn new techniques? Of course. You have to in order to survive in science, and I enjoy that part a lot.

What will I do when a student has a nice idea that requires money?
Apply for more money. Help the student apply for their own money. Start collaborations with people who have money for that sort of thing.

It has worked for me thus far, and I think I can make it work even better when I'm eligible for more kinds of grants.

Next question.

And no, that wasn't condescending, I appreciate your concern.

 
At 7:49 AM, Anonymous bsci said...

This is getting to be a long, but interesting discussion. I recognize moving isn't always possible. I have a family and I moved for my wife's most recent position which fits her very well. We'd only move again for an amazing other option, which heavily limits me geographically.

It's a bit of hyperbole, you understand, for humor. But it's basically what the options are for most postdocs. Not all, but most.

It's hyperbole of a situation I've rarely seen. I suspect I've been at places that have been better funded across the board and perhaps I'm incredibly lucky, but of my 3 undergrad, 1 grad, and 2 postdoc research mentors. Only one postdoc and possibly one undergrad advisor let their research and their students ideas get partially limited by their current funding options. I chose places with people who had similar interests to me and they guided me. Even in the funding squeezed postdoc, my main (failed) project was in a direction that wasn't related to any specific funding and it was enthusiastically supported.

There are few people I know who fit your example of having advisors with even few novel ideas or who unnecessarily limit mentee work based on existing grants, but they are the exceptions. My jaw still drops because it's a situation that's completely foreign to me even if it is hyperbole. I guess the take home message is that the grass is greener somewhere else and you'll hopefully eventually find yourself in one of those places.

As for your mentor talking up your results, there are several ways that happens. There's giving a research talk and clearly stating on specific slides or at the end of the talk who actually performed the experiments and ran the analyses. If your mentor claims the work as done by his own hands, then that's flatly unethical.
There are also things like my mentors meeting friends and conferences and talking about various projects. I've contacted people or had people contact me because of things my advisor mentioned to them. If your name is being spread only at the conferences you attend and through your papers, you losing out.

But I agree, it would have been good to have someone actively lobbying for me. I just don't think it really happens all that often, for that many people.

I think you are wrong on this. Find some faculty members who you are able to talk about things like this to. Ask them how they got their first faculty job. Ask who was lobbying for them both from their past mentors and within the hiring location. I suspect you will find very few who got a job with no one actively lobbying for them. Sometimes it a person you met at a conference who's at the hiring school, but the active participation of past mentors is vital. When my grad school advisor had a postdoc on the market, he spent more time working FOR that person than with many of his research projects. Where your mentees go is your ultimate legacy and many top faculty members (and granting organizations) take this very seriously.

As for choosing a politically unpleasant field, sometimes subfields vary. My own research could occur in at least three different research cultures and some of them are more pleasant than others. There are many negatives to being multidisciplinary, but being able to choose the temperament of my most direct co-workers is a benefit.

As for training to be a mentor, there are things I disliked about most of my advisors, but they were balanced by things I liked more. In addition, most of the time when I said I don't like how my advisor does X, I was able to see someone else doing Y and that was part of my training. If you can't even see Y happening in practice, it's sometimes very hard to figure out how to implement it on the fly. It's not mimicking, but example help.

And I agree, being a ghost PI is often the best training, if not often unpleasant.

As an aside, if you haven't looked at the K99/R00 grants do. Last time I checked they were under-applied compared to other grants and they are the best ticket out of where you are.

 
At 12:47 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

bsci,

I suspect I've been at places that have been better funded across the board

I doubt it. I've been at very well funded places.

Find some faculty members who you are able to talk about things like this to. Ask them how they got their first faculty job.

It's funny you should say that. I guess this is another special quality of the people in my field.

NONE of the PIs I've talked to about how they got their jobs have credited their mentors with lobbying for them. They all seem to think it was their stellar publication record that got them hired (and their winning personalities). But almost all of them also freely admit that the job market was a helluva lot better back then.

As an aside, if you haven't looked at the K99/R00 grants do. Last time I checked they were under-applied compared to other grants and they are the best ticket out of where you are.

Yup, another tipoff that you can't have read that much of this blog.

I did apply, and I blogged about that here (a long time ago).

The main criticism I received on my application had nothing to do with the science and was only in reference to the level of institutional support. And there was nothing I could do about it, so I couldn't re-apply.

I've recently learned this is quite a common problem with career transition grants, and NIH does not seem to know or care about the major discrepancy between their expectations and most university policies regarding postdoctoral salaries and lab space.

I'm not eligible anymore, and in the meantime I have learned a lot of things about K99s that NIH is not advertising.

For example, at my university, to be allowed to apply, you have to be within 2 years of the postdoc year-limit. That means you have to apply by your ~3rd year at the latest.

And for K99s, if you look at the number of awards that are given out vs. the number of postdocs who 'should' be eligible, are actually MUCH harder to get than R01s.

So I would tend to disagree with your "under-applied" assessment.

I also heard something strange recently, purely anecdotal. I'm hearing that although people who have K99s are getting more job interviews at better places, they're not getting offers.

I thought that was very odd but haven't made any attempt to confirm it. Not sure how I could, since there are no good statistics on
#postdocs applying for faculty positions vs. #interviews vs. #offers.

 
At 5:29 AM, Anonymous bsci said...

I'm still surprised that faculty in your field say they didn't have people lobbying for them. Perhaps your field was super-blessed an academic generation ago and that generation never learned what is necessary to help their mentees succeed in tighter financial times. I'll stick with my comment that finding people willing to do the lobbying for you can only help.

I've been reading your blog fairly regularly, but I haven't searched the archives from when before I started reading. I now found the K99 post from last year. I can't comment on your own situation (except to note that time limits are on first application so you could reapply if you haven't yet) There are, of course, the other K awards too.

What I heard about the K99's, and this is about 2 years old now, is that much fewer eligible people were applying than expected. Thus, they were actually less competitive than R01s.

Offers vs. Interviews is hard to study. If it's helping people get their foot in the door of a place that would have otherwise ignored them that's a good thing. Someone getting an interview at Top school X gets more attention from other top schools and also seems better to lower schools. That doesn't mean they'll get any offer in the current crazy market, but it probably doesn't help. The program is still too young and small to do any real studies on it.

I'm going to be away from my computers for a few days and this thread seems to be petering down, but I'll keep reading and commenting later.

 
At 5:41 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

bsci,

Just because I posted about the K99s last year does NOT mean that was when I applied, and I don't understand your comment about time limits from first application- I'm talking about UNIVERSITY time limits as well as NIH time limits. Suffice it to say that I am NO LONGER ELIGIBLE. So please just drop it.

I'm tired of people assuming I haven't thought about it, asked about it, schemed to try to find out how I could still do it.

I did. I can't. I might have been able to get one, if I had known then what I know now. But it's just not an option.

And certainly not the amazing cure for my career troubles that some people seem to think it should be!

And while you're once again assuming I haven't done any of my homework:

the "other K awards", it turns out, are very institute-specific.

The institutes where my research fits do NOT have K awards for PhDs (only MDs).

The ones that did got rid of their programs and REPLACED them with the K99.

That's part of why it's so much harder to get a K99 now than it was the first year they had them. There used to be more K categories than there are now.

That's a good point about whether the order of interviews affects how many people get (and where) and whether they get offers or not.

I still find it bizarre that there are basically zero studies showing that having any of the NIH fellowships actually translates into greater success at obtaining a faculty position (at least none that I know of). Burroughs-Wellcome and Howard Hughes did at least do some tracking on theirs. I don't understand why NIH isn't required to show whether or not these programs actually work.

Have a nice few days away from your computer! That is my idea of a real vacation.

 

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