That's me, the young spaghetti monster.
Some funny typos in the comments over at this post by PhysioProf at Drugmonkey regarding my last post.
Seems to me there were some misreadings here, although I'm sure I'm at least partly to blame for not writing clearly.
Funny though, the commenters over here seem to have read it clearly enough...
So PP starts in like this:
A senior post-doc is responsible for a particular project, and possibly supervises one or two technicians or grad students. A junior PI is responsible for multiple projects, and supervises an entire lab full of people, perhaps as many as a dozen.
To which I say, look, I'm talking about a really junior prof here. Someone who just got their job, who definitely doesn't have an R01 yet or maybe hasn't renewed their first R01 yet.
Someone like that should NOT have a dozen people.
In fact, I'm not convinced anyone ever should. There are good data to show that no one can effectively supervise more than 8 people at a time. I'm in favor of capping lab size for that reason, if not for all the other obvious ones this blog frequently highlights.
A senior post-doc needs to motivate herself--and maybe one or two other people--to be productive. A junior PI needs to motivate a entire lab full of people to be productive.
Hi, I have a MUCH bigger problem. I have to motivate my PI. My whole career depends on it. And my PI has a lot less incentive to do what I ask, because of the power differential.
It's MUCH easier to motivate people when you have authority on your side.
It requires a lot more creativity to figure out what your supervisor wants, in order to get them to do what you need.
A senior post-doc is not responsible for securing funding to support her project. A junior PI must take a limited amount of start-up funds and leverage it into long-term external financial support for an entire laboratory.
Wrong. Just wrong. What senior postdocs have you been talking to?
Most of us are past the point of our fellowships expiring. That's why the K99 (et al.) are so coveted.
Have you SEEN an application for a K99? It's an R01, PLUS a whole extra section on career plan.
Have you seen the numbers on how many are awarded vs. how many applications are submitted? They're MORE competitive than R01s. More. Not less.
A senior post-doc needs to plan her research project on the time scale of a couple of years, essentially looking towards the next paper or two as an endpoint.
I think that's a very dangerous way to do a postdoc. The flip side is, more PIs need to think this way about projects, in terms of what is necessary to complete a publishable unit that will advance the career of the postdoc or grad student who is doing the work.
The PIs I've worked with have always been reluctant to view projects in terms of short-term rewards as the necessary currency for the job market.
A junior PI must take a long-term view of a minimum of five years for each project in the laboratory, and must also take a big picture view of how the projects relate one to the other and fit together in an overall research program.
Again, why aren't more senior postdocs doing this?
To me, if you have a halfway decent project you want to take with you when you leave, you BETTER be doing this from the beginning of your postdoc project.
I know I have. I know PP thinks this is stupid. So there again, we disagree. I think you have to do both the short and long-term planning, always. Regardless of where you are in your career. To do anything else is just foolish.
A senior post-doc needs to have an impressive enough CV to convince a hiring committee to give the post-doc a shot at runnning her own operation. A junior PI needs to convince an entire field that their research is integral to the advancement of that field and develop an international reputation as an outstanding scientist in order to earn tenure and get to keep her job.
This right here sums up what disgusts me about our current system.
What the fuck is a postdoc for, then? Sounds like a royal fucking waste of time to me.
Oh wait, I already know that. I've done the experiment!
Seriously though, what I am doing is trying to convince my entire field that my research is integral to the advancement of science. Period. Because what the hell else are we doing this for.
I'm not in it for having a shining CV. Can't take that with you.
What matters in life is making a difference.
Too bad we don't know what great contributions PP has made thus far. Hopefully something good, but somehow I doubt that was part of the career plan.
PP digresses a bit to talk about why it's bad for a PI to send out a paper without making sure the 'first author' agrees with what's written. This was brought up by one of FSP's posts.
Yup, that's bad.
I always show shit to my trainees before presenting or submitting it and say: "Yo, can I say this shit? Is this shit right?" And I make it very clear that I embrace their criticism, and that I will never, ever, ever be angry if they tell me that my conclusions are wrong. But I will be very, very, very angry if they tacitly allow us to submit or present something that isn't correct.
It is a specific management skill to effectively get people you supervise to be completely open and free with telling you things they think you might want not to hear. And post-docs do not have to exhibit this skill very much, if at all.
And yet here again I have to disagree with the PP point of view.
It is VERY hard to convince a PI, once they have it in their head that they know what the data show, that it doesn't actually show that.
And we postdocs can only argue up to a point without getting in deep doo-doo.
So sometimes a PI steps in it. Not because we didn't try to warn them.
But we're the ones who get blamed, ultimately, when it hits the fan.
And as for managing people and getting them to tell you things you might not want to hear? Postdocs manage students. Students are the MOST prone to this tendency to avoid telling you the experiment didn't work. They're always afraid it was their fault, or that you'll be upset it didn't work as you hoped.
So yeah, we do that too, believe it or not. Even postdocs do that too.
It is absolutely delusional to think that "a senior postdoc is basically the same as a junior PI". And adopting the attitude that this is the case is actually harmful to both senior post-docs and junior PIs.
Delusional, my ass. Only if you're wasting your postdoctoral time as somebody else's bench slave!
My point, dear PP, is that the line between senior postdoc and junior PI is a whole lot blurrier than some might want to believe.
Very similar to how the difference between a very senior grad student and someone with a PhD is often minimal or even meaningless. The day of the defense is just another day. The presentation, just another presentation. The straw that breaks the camel's back, as it were.
In other words, it's a hoop. A sometimes meaningless distinction. An incredibly important, almost arbitrary distinction that makes all the difference in the world.
I really enjoyed Bill's comments on PPs point, since he pointed out that if being a PI requires a totally different skill set, as PP purports, then what the hell are we doing as postdocs.
This central paradox has always been obvious to me, and is basically the whole point of why I have this blog.
I won't deny that I've learned a helluva lot as a postdoc. But I have to wonder why I had to go out of my way to learn it, because the most important things I've learned have been in no way part of my pseudo-official postdoctoral 'training.'
And I'll never understand why ANYONE thinks it's good or fair that I had to learn all of it in such shitty circumstances.
With NO guarantee that it's an investment in a future no one is sure I'll EVER have.
And I have to wonder why, when I've gone to such great lengths to learn all these things, people like PP assume that none of these things have occurred to me (or to you, my gentle fellow postdoc readers!).
Why, I wonder with my useless PhD and several years of potentially worthless postdoctoral experience, does everyone still always assume I'm an idiot.