Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Death by OverDoc

There are two kinds of OverDocs.

By OverDoc I mean, people who rank above Postdoc, below PI, usually Research Track type Staff but with PhDs.

Almost no one aspires to these kinds of jobs. This is the kind of job you end up in by default when all else fails, the bottom-of-the-barrel backup plan when you have been a postdoc beyond forever.

So the two kinds are:

1) The awesome kind (SuperDocs)

2) The awful kind (PermaDocs)

1. SuperDocs

These people are the unsung heroes of science. They keep labs running, they publish, they are full of expertise of all kinds because they've been doing experiments forever, but they will never be promoted.

They don't want the stress of being in charge, because they view it as a real responsibility. And/or they're viewed as being too nice, too accommodating. They have trouble sticking their necks out.

They usually worship their PI, for better or worse, and will stay on as permanent lab managers for as long as they can.

They often end up going to industry if the lab loses funding or moves to a new location.

Most postdocs are secretly afraid of becoming one of these people. We're not always sure how they got to be where they are, all we know is, it wouldn't be our first choice for a permanent job.

2. PermaDocs

These people are the bane of my existence.

They get paid more than I do, as a regular postdoc, but they work less, don't listen to a word I say, don't have a clue what they're talking about, but PI loves them.

They always say they're going to leave, but they don't.

They hate their jobs, and have no loyalty to anyone. Their main activities at work are gossiping or surfing the web.

They're in academia because it's easy to keep "Flex Time", or even what I refer to as "No Time".

They often work for PIs who are perpetually absent and/or completely clueless.*

They may have PhDs, but in these cases the degree is meaningless.

So I decided to write this post because today I had yet another run-in with a PermaDoc.

I was on the verge of having a meltdown about today's run-in when I realized, you know what, it's not me.

I didn't do anything wrong.

And it's not that unusual for me to be treated like dirt at work by people who arguably should not outrank me. I should be used to it by now! I'm sure I can expect more of them wherever I go, whatever job I end up doing!

PermaDoc is just a lazy idiot, and I already knew that.

So why let it upset me.

In fact, I'm proud of myself for taking the time to choose my phrasing carefully and be the Ultimate Professional when dealing with PermaDoc.

Not that anyone here will reward me for that.

So I'm giving myself a virtual back-pat for editing what I would have liked to have said (something really snotty, actually).

And now, I need to ice my tongue. I've been biting it too hard, and all day.

*My PI is only mostly absent (~50-75% of the time?) and sometimes clueless.**

**I won't try to quantify what I mean by sometimes.

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

you have no clue. I can't believe you are so arrogant as to write this:

Almost no one aspires to these kinds of jobs. This is the kind of job you end up in by default when all else fails, the bottom-of-the-barrel backup plan when you have been a postdoc beyond forever.

get off yer damn high horse. do your job and accept that other people, including those who have been around longer than you, have made decisions based on their own sense of priorities and not your crazy projected value system.

At 3:13 AM, Blogger Fia said...

Oh, I hate it so much when people are unprofessional! Such behavior makes me being inefficient and they even get paid for that?! I hate, hate, hate that. And, I totally agree with you!
But, yes, there is nothing we can do but take it in and be annoyed. Argggg.

At 7:19 AM, Blogger Becca said...

I actually think a good many of us would aspire to be SuperDocs... if only we could find us a PI to love. You have to have a really good PI, and you have to be really incredibly essential to them (or they have to be in the now dwindling minority of people with no-funding worries), for the SuperDoc gig to work.

Secondarily, I think there is a special section of heaven roped off which you can only get into by thinking the most clever snarky things, and not saying them at inappropriate times. I figure that's the only way I'd qualify for heaven anyway.

At 7:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a current postdoc who, especially now that I'm a mommy too, would LOVE to end up with one of those "superdoc" jobs! You have all the fun of doing labwork without the stress of writing grants all the time. What's so bad about that?

At 7:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A little something for you to ponder:


At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Scott said...

would you say you're an internal or external?:


At 10:26 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 9:12,

When you were little, did you really sit around and daydream about being a SuperDoc someday???

That's what I mean by 'aspire.'

I know a few people who had children, and then realized their priorities had changed a lot and decided to take SuperDoc type positions. And they are reasonably happy with the workload and flexibility.

But it was never something they 'aspired' to before that.

There are two kinds of people who go to grad school. The ones who think "I wanna do research" and the ones who think "I wanna run my own lab."

The "I wanna run my own lab" types tend to last longer in academia, and aren't picturing themselves as SuperDocs.

The other kind, if they're smart, go to industry, where they get paid a lot more to Do Research.


Only the extremely lucky or naive would be able to find such a PI.

Anon 7:45,

see my other comments.

Anon and Scott, will check those out.

At 10:54 AM, Anonymous ancient physics postdoc said...

Well, overdocing hasn’t killed me yet :)

Overdoc is as good as it gets for those of us who come to be regarded as the serfs in academia. When serfs get somewhere with their research and publish papers in the top journals in their field, the reaction of the powers-that-be isn’t “this person is good and deserves a job” but “this serf looks quite exploitable – let’s set him/her to work on the more tedious aspects of one of our projects”. So I was so lucky as to get to be the overserf of someone with a worse publication record than mine, without a shred of independence, who has nevertheless made it to associate prof by virtue of having the right background and connections, who has never achieved anything on his own in research but who continues to have his hand held by illustrious senior folks who involve him as a junior collaborator in their projects. Said prof, being an idiot, thinks that being allowed to participate in these projects means he must be wonderful and that I should be thrilled for the opportunity to do his bidding. I wasn’t though, and, being the sniveling ungrateful serf that I am, quit the job after it became clear that the prospect of one day advancing to a faculty position at that institution (that had been dangled before me at the beginning) was just lies.

For my next post/overdoc job I’ve traded salary level and job security for the chance to get back to doing my own research most of the time. That’s something you have to pay heavily for when you’re a serf.

At 8:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the first anon again...

yer so funny. did you see aug 29 Science? p 1232. 16% of postdocs 'aspire' to non-tenure track research scientist positions. i don't know what high falutin' fancy pants kind of world you live in to believe that almost no one aspires to do that type of job. this is like when you were commenting on that woman's analysis of high energy physics job placement without reading her paper first.

first you don't bother to inform yourself enough to have a reasonable conversation on topics that you claim are important to you and second you seemingly have no respect for a large group of people based on the interactions you have had with a few who you believe represent that group. it is no wonder you can't find a job. I certainly wouldn't hire you, even if it was to mow my lawn or wash my car.

At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And it's not that unusual for me to be treated like dirt at work by people who arguably should not outrank me. I should be used to it by now! I'm sure I can expect more of them wherever I go, whatever job I end up doing!"

I'd say that's a realistic expectation. Although, in my experience, you only "get treated like dirt" if you allow it. Perhaps standing up for yourself is better than being treated like dirt? Although obviously you have to pick your battles.

At 11:34 PM, Anonymous ancient physics postdoc said...

@ first anon:
What the article actually says is
“Only 16 percent of former postdocs expected to seek nontenure-track research scientist postions, but 25 percent ended up in such posts.”
I have a hard time imagining that postdocs are really *aspiring* to these jobs, and expect it is more a case of them having written off their chances of finding something better. At any rate, I have never come across an “overdoc” who had actually aspired to that position. They (we) all set out hoping to end up in a prof job, or at least some kind of secure (permanent/tenured) research job, but it hasn’t happened so we take what we can get to continue in research. Maybe things are different in your field?

At 10:00 PM, Blogger Candid Engineer said...

This must be a much more common phenomenon in the biological sciences. Overdocing just doesn't happen in my part of the world, and most postdocs are gone within 2-3 years. Seems like it would be very bizzare to have people around who just won't move on.


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