Sunday, July 05, 2009

Just for the fun of it?

Been thinking a lot again about the old "art for art's sake" part of doing science. In other words, just to know the answer, even if no one else knows or cares.

This is very similar to the pressure of blogging vs. writing just because I enjoy writing. Almost every time I sit down to write lately, I debate whether I should be writing here at all, or if I shouldn't just be writing in my journal for writing for my self's sake.

This analogy got me thinking again about the Journal of Visualized Experiments (as in, "By JoVE, I think she's got it!"). It hasn't really caught on yet, at least not in my little corner of science. But ever since it appeared, I've had real hope that it will fill a serious hole in science.

The thing is, no matter how carefully done, there is really no substitute for doing the experiment yourself, or short of that, witnessing it (live or recorded). JoVE is the opposite of science for science's sake: it's science for everyone else's sake.

My frustration with my PI lately mostly stems from this central problem of trust. My PI does not watch me do experiments. Therefore, my PI, being a control-freak, does not trust my results. Does not trust my skills as a scientist. Does not trust me.

And yes, after all the hard work I have been doing, yes that is depressing.

But it's not just my PI. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to convince not just my PI, but my scientific "peers" and "colleagues" (aka competitors and reviewers) that my results are real. They may be stranger than fiction, but the data are what the data are. And I might not be able to explain it all right now, but the default setting assumes that I can't be trusted to have at least, in good faith, done the best I could with the best of what's available right now.

And nevermind the part where I should be given a chance to continue to try to figure it the rest of it out, because I'm really the best person to do that.

But given all the hurdles to getting your science seen and respected by everyone else, wouldn't it be easier to just do it until you yourself are convinced? And screw the part where you're working your ass off trying to convince everyone else, when they're not even open-minded enough to appreciate how hard you've been working?

Especially if there's no jobs anyway? What the hell difference does it make if I piss away what's left of my funding just amusing myself playing with scientific toys until my time is up?

I wonder how many people are daily asking themselves these kinds of questions? Is it just me?

Lately I'm not sure what gets me to lab everyday. Sheer work ethic, I guess, to bring home a paycheck and health benefits, if not any sense of accomplishment or respect.

Sometimes I try to console myself that, even if it doesn't work well enough to convince anyone else, I should try to have fun doing it, at least maybe that would restore some sense of personal accomplishment (even if it's not professionally recognized). Sometimes this works, at least temporarily.

But I think the central hypocrazy is that constantly having to worry about how to convince everyone else is sucking all the fun out of it for me.

Is this what it's like for the rest of your career? Always worrying about what everyone else thinks? Or is it really true that you can hide in your little corner, do your little thing until you think it's good, and then put it out as an offering when think you can't possibly make it any better?

This is the part of mentoring that I never got. My thesis advisor was a hide-in-corner type. The GlamourMag wannabes tend to be the crowd-pleasing type. Guess which type has more funding?

I can't figure out how to reconcile these. The cycle is wearing me out. Here is a stripped-down version of how things have gone for me. This was sort of an interesting exercise. Maybe some of you will recognize it as familiar:

1. Have exciting idea for a way to answer a cool question.
2. Do experiment. Have fun doing it!
3. Get exciting result. Feel slightly nervous that it might never work again.
4. Mock up figure. Try to contain excitement.
5. Repeat experiment somewhat nervously.
6. Get reproducible result! Hooray!
7. Revise figure, rejoice in the scientific method!
8. Present figure to various people (including PI).
9. Receive criticism from various people (including PI). Feel slightly deflated but still determined.
10. Perform different experiments to address criticism, slightly annoyed but mostly confident that they will be consistent with original result.
11. Mock up supplemental figures.
12. Repeat supplemental experiments.
13. Get reproducible supplemental data. Phew!
14. Revise supplemental figures. Rejoice that the scientific method works!
15. Draft manuscript. This part is fun, too.
16. Submit manuscript to PI. Don't expect an immediate response, but need a break from looking at it myself.
17. Time passes. No response from PI. Not a big surprise.
18. Present work to other people; ask for comments on manuscript draft.
19. Receive feedback from other people (no response from PI). Some of the feedback is very positive! This is fun too!
20. Approach PI and ask if/when draft will be read.
21. Perform additional experiments as per feedback from other people. That was helpful; rejoice in the scientific community!
22. Get additional results. Make additional figures and supplemental figures.
23. Revise manuscript. Yes, glad we did that, but no, these additional results did not change the point of the paper. Maybe it is a stronger claim.
24. Resubmit revised manuscript to Journal of PI's Desk.
25. Commence Nagging.
26. PI reads manuscript, does not understand it.
27. Long meeting with PI. Leave thinking PI understands somewhat better.
28. Repeat steps 18-27.
29. Commence reading books on Negotiation.
30. Attempt to convince PI that it's time to submit manuscript.
31. Repeat steps 18-26.
32. Consider quitting science.
33. Write blog; visit therapist; cry a lot. Think about alternative careers.
34. Diagnosis major depression. Make appointment with psychiatrist.
35. Repeat steps 18-32.
36. Watch peers from other labs gets papers accepted into High Impact Journals.
37. Repeat steps 32-33.
38. Get asked if I'll be applying for jobs this year and did that paper ever get published?
39. Repeat steps 32-33.
40. Avoid confronting PI for fear of bursting into tears, yelling, or both.
41. Repeat steps 36-40.

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At 5:15 PM, Blogger Aurora said...

Sorry to hear things are so rough. It may help to know that the situation you describe is quite common. Sounds like your PI blows you off.

I'm curious to see what kind of advice you get from others. I can think of one thing that may help - get a coauthor other than your PI.

At 6:03 PM, Anonymous HGGirl said...

"Or is it really true that you can hide in your little corner..."

A tempting approach, I agree. Too bad I haven't seen any job postings for corner-occupier. ;)

At 7:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I think it's worse than that. Science is a business that sells a product in the form of publications. Like in the market place for ordinary goods, it is not the better products that sell the most, it is the most advertised ones and whatever is presently fashionable. If you don't want to spend half your life selling and advertising, do not get into academic science. Hence, as I went from being a pure scientist to being progressively more jaded, the first question was no longer "what is the most interesting question", but rather "what kind of science will attract the most funding?", "can I make package deals e.g. split the answer into a series rather than a single issue". There was also a transition from "doing the best possible job" to "doing just good enough to get the paper accepted". Remember as a scientist funded by grants you DO NOT want to actually solve the problem. Rather you want to use your research to find further problems. And you do not want your research results and publications to be helpful to other scientists ... because that too would solve the problem rather than creating now problems. Once the business/politics end was set, you could get down to do the science... not because you loved it, but because you were being professional.
Sorry if this sounds Machiavellian, but science is probably second only to politics in terms of the difference in what people say they do and what they actually do. It's a very wasteful activity.

At 10:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

42. There is no 42. :P

Academics are horribly unprepared to be lecturers, mentors, and PIs during their "training" time of graduate and postdoc-ing. I had a teaching "practicum" course but the prof really didn't do anything beyond passing me his handouts and previous exams. There are no mentoring or "being a PI" training workshops, which partly explains to me why so many of them suck.

The focus is on bringing in grant money now, so the PIs can be the biggest assholes on the planet to their minions but still roll in the dough and get the work done because minions are easy to replace these days. "Having students and postdocs" is all the rage! whoo hoo! POWER!!111!1!

The pendulum will swing more to teaching shortly since adjuncts are getting canned and the old dogs are being forced to teach again, boo hoo, if they aren't rolling in $$. There goes quality of instruction even more.

As part of my postdoc, I had to turn in an evaluation of my "mentor" and a list of my accomplishments. I put that my "mentor" didn't do anything. I made sure to list all the things I did independently and all the publications and activities without him. I also listed that he had no publications in that time (I did), had no federal funding (I did), had no invited talks or papers (I did), etc. I have no idea what the fuck the guy does besides having his graduate student teach his one class per semester for him. Not surprisingly, he got "promoted" to administration. I have no idea if he will ever see the evaluation I did, but if so, I'm sure he'll think I'm a know-nothing whiny pissant (but it won't cross his pea brain that he's a shitty mentor... he's an angel, duh!). Just as there are teaching evals, every grad student and postdoc should fill out mentoring evals, which only get seen/handled by human resources or some outside non-faculty group (particularly the funding agency for grad student/postdoc mentoring programs). I'm really tired of shitheads getting tenure, getting fed funding for student mentoring and postdoc training, and seeing students who up and leave because of problems with the shithead not the science or the program.

"Journal of PIs Desk" has an impact factor of 0! Idea: staple a ticking annoying clock to it or you can send auto-updates like journals do when reviews aren't completed on time. Maybe you can douse the paper in fox urine so he wants it to va-voom off his desk quicker? or Jessica Simpson perfume!

At 10:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

YFS...don't you want to quit? I do. I know what we need to do. We need to quit. Science is like smoking and we need to quit. And won't be quitting as in a huge movement, a historic shake up of the system, it is about walking away quietly with our tails between our legs. Science was a mistake, a stupid obsession and it felt good at first. Did you enjoy being the smart kid in college? I know I did. We're paying for that. Now is the time to quit. There are opportunities in this world for smart people. There are people in this world who respect... and are even intimidated by PhDs. And yet we slog on in a system that sees us as mice.

At 12:34 AM, Anonymous E. said...

I don't know how things are in your field, but I think you'll just have to ignore your PI and submit the manuscript. You're not a grad student and your PI is not your advisor. Even if you judge your work harshly, there are other researchers who won't. You have to accept that you may not even be a very good judge of your own work. Moreover, there's plenty of researchers who publish lots of papers to write-only journals, and you have to at least look better than them on paper. A postdoc doesn't have the luxury to be selective about what he/she will publish. It's unfortunate, but there are only so many jobs at great universities where the committees will judge you entirely on the merits of your own work relative to the leaders in your field as determined by the grapevine. To impress the rest, you have to get your work out there.

I hope I don't sound unsympathetic in this comment. I'm struggling with very similar concerns, and I have gotten a lot out of reading your blog.

At 12:42 AM, Anonymous E. said...

Ps. Worrying about getting your stuff into journals is the least fun aspect of your job. By repeating steps 18-26, you're prolonging the misery. Just get it out and get back to research.

At 8:54 AM, Blogger Ambivalent Academic said...

I wonder how many people are daily asking themselves these kinds of questions? Is it just me?

It's not just you.

Also, "hypocrazy" = quite possibly the best creative use of English ever.

At 9:00 AM, Blogger Ambivalent Academic said...

Also, in your numbered outline of how science goes there is a lot of rejoicing in scientific method, positive feedback, and scientific community. Seems your PI is the only troll (you've said this before MANY times I know). I have absolutely NO idea how this might work, but if you have your own funding , *could* you submit that paper without your PI as an author? Or could you tell him you're going to, and in so doing light a fire under his butt? Or could you tell him that you're thinking of including so-and-so-who-has-been-very-helpful-with-this-manuscript as the last author if he's not interested in publishing it with his name on it? Nasty and underhanded I guess, but maybe you don't have much to lose on that one?

At 11:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading this, doesn't it strike you that perhaps after all this time, it's time now for you to get out of this sad story and become more independent? Here's what I would do in your situation:

42. Give the manuscript to PI one last time and say very clearly (perhaps document with a cc-ed email to someone else) to "please read and comment - if I don't hear from you by next Friday I will assume the manuscript is ok and submit it to X journal".

43. Come next Friday, if you have no reply from PI (as it sounds likely from what you wrote), submit the manuscript to X journal.

Just a thought, it seems to me that at this point you don't really have anything to lose and you might gain everything (i.e. getting the manuscript published). As they say, it's better to ask forgiveness than permission...

At 11:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

laugh...... =)

I totally understand. Tell u of my experience.

I wrote a paper with my prof. He sat on it for just forever. Kept asking for this experiment and that experiment..... Until I finally understood that he did not understand even the motivation of the paper....

we submitted eventually and it got through. =) And I learned a lot.

Sometimes people give stupid comments when they dun understand. Dun get mad at them.... and dun worry abt their comments. after all, they dun understand, right?.... Incidentally, if your PI can't understand, the reviewer is unlikely to understand.

But in your heart there is always the qn, is it me, or is it the rest of the world that is mad.

I have very much the same problem making myself understood. =)

At 1:07 PM, Blogger GruntledPostdoc said...

24. Resubmit revised manuscript to Journal of PI's Desk.

That should be the name of an online journal where we publish all of our results in limbo.

At the end of graduate school, one of my manuscripts got stuck in JPID - and that is where it remains, five years, two PI's, and seven other publications later.

Seriously, I have been thinking lately that perhaps standard practice should be to publish the results of all experiments, soon after they're done. With online publication, space is not really a scarce resource anymore. Fame and recognition are still scarce- more so than ever, I've argued. But is there really any reason to let all this data pile up in JPID, for months or years, or for eternity? Of young scientists' time and effort today, what portion is spent doing experiments that literally nobody besides the PI will have the opportunity even to hear about? I'm not sure I want to know the answer.

At 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What really matters is whether the journal reviewers will accept your manuscript for publication, if THEY are convinced or not. But it looks like you can't even get to that stage because your PI is sitting on it indefinitely. So when you send the latest draft to your PI, can you include in your e-mail something to the effect of "Please respond only if you are NOT OK with the manuscript. If I don't hear back from you by such-and-such date, I will take it as approval go ahead and submit it to such-and-such journal." Then this will either force your PI to give his attention to it by such and such date, or else when the date arrives you can then send him a new e-mail, including a copy of the original one, saying "as per my last e-mail, since you haven't responded I will now go ahead and submit it to the journal". If he then creates a big stink about how dare you submit your manuscript to the journal without his approval, yadayadayada, you have these e-mail records showing that he gave his permission by his silence.

Granted, this doesn't protect you against any backlash from your PI, but it makes it at least harder for him to point fingers at you for submitting the manuscript without his approval. And who knows - if the manuscript comes back with very good reviews and acceptance for publication maybe he will then completely change his tune and be supportive of it.

At 7:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a general rule, if your job involves frequent situations where you are in danger of bursting into tears or yelling, either you are in the wrong job, or your problems are so deep-seated that they have nothing to do with your job.

Skipping around the blog a bit, it sounds like you are long overdue for a change in career. Sadly it also sounds as though you would interpret this suggestion as an insult or a comment on your abilities. (It's not--- although it sounds like the people you work with might be the sort to use these kinds of suggestions as insults, out narrow-mindedness and paranoia about their own abilities.)

If your job makes you miserable enough to constantly blog about your problems, unless you are very well compensated in some way that you consistently fail to mention, you should try to find a different job. Even in this economy.

At 8:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A technique I've seen used successfully several times is for you to just submit the manuscript to a journal. You pick the journal.

At 9:28 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 10:08,

I don't know why I didn't think to make my manuscript scented! What a fabulous idea! LOL!

Anon 10:54,

I wasn't the smart kid in college or in grad school (and certainly not now). I think the last time I was the smart kid was in 2nd grade. Ever since then I have been alternately invisible and covered with mud (blog being a good case in point).

E, Ambivalent, Anon 11:18, Anon 3:16, Anon 8:34,

Yes, have tried the "submit with presumed approval" or "threaten to submit" approach. I left those out of the continuum.

As have blogged about before, there is backlash. There are two kinds of backlash: short-term and long-term.

In the short-term, yes PI gets mad.

In the long-term, people ask PI what I am like as a colleague, and PI said I am impossible to deal with, pig-headed, etc.

In my field, basically no paper gets accepted as is. Almost everything gets rejected first time through, even at 2nd tier journals. What can I say, we are a bunch of hardasses. So no, can't rely on reviewers to be reasonable and essentially accept the paper as is, or god forbid, respond with praise for the pig-headed postdoc author.

Having said all that, I had to do the "threaten to submit without PI" approach as a grad student, and in that case it worked.

Depends a lot on the PI, I think. I do think it's generally good advice, and if your PI is well-meaning but distractable, will get their attention.

Unfortunately most PIs are not. Most PIs are editors of an enormous JPID.

I totally agree, we should just publish results as they become available. Our whole evaluation process (I won't say "system", because there's nothing systematic about it) is inconsistent with our stated goals.

I also agree re: teaching/mentoring. I recently spent some time with a former colleague who is now a PI. This person has never supervised anyone. Not a single student, not a single technician. But this person is now a PI. This person never took a lab management course or anything remotely like this. But this person is hiring, "training" and supervising a whole lab now.

WTF. I realized it's not so much that I'm surprised this happens. I know this happens. What kills me is watching it happen in real-time, and knowing there is not a goddamn thing I can do to stop it.

Some tiny part of me is quietly screaming "karma! karma! karma!" and hoping this person will learn sooner than later, or maybe just fail completely and get kicked out.

But I doubt that will happen.

At 9:39 AM, Blogger Dr. Wannabeamom said...

Quitting is great until you get sucked back in. I'm a grad student and quit in February because a postdoc with serious anger issues was verbally attacking me every day because my results were different than his. My PI just sat there and told me he was under stress. Like I wasn't!!? I quit and decided I could still do what I wanted (teach) with a MS. My whole department stalked me and begged me to rejoin. My PI suggested I could probably finish in the fall, so I rejoined the program, thinking maybe I shouldn't waste the last four years for a few months of happiness. I felt like a cloud lifted and I could breathe again during those few months I was gone. I am leaving research science after I finish for good though (I hope!!).

Anyways, quitting after putting that much of your life into something is easier said than done. It is difficult to change after putting so many years into becoming an expert in one area. It can be a relief though - even if you have to start out at the bottom. In science, everyone but a few are at the bottom always.

My PI is a control freak too. She steals my lab coat at night to clean it because it gets so dirty. AND she complains to me all the time that mine gets dirtier than the other because of the material. Do I CARE if my lab coat is dirty? No!

At 11:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a PI (in a different field), and I agree that the best approach is as stated by Anonymous at 11:18am. I am too busy to read postdoc papers, and would see more independence as a *positive* aspect to mention in reference letters.

Of course it depends on your PI. If he or she is nice but busy/incompetent, then it should be fine. If he is not a nice person, then why work for him? Really, I can't see how this leads to "pig-headed" being used as an adjective, unless you have some major problems that you are not mentioning.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Aurora said...

Anonymous 7:49pm has sensible advice (read between the lines).

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

Dear YFS,

Don't worry, you are not alone! I just don't have good enough command of English (am an international student) to write beautifully like you of how I felt in a blog. But yes, more of people similar in your boat exist, and I am also a female with a boss who looks down on women- ouh NO!!! wt******- yes true. LOL

Currently, I have 5 pending manuscript in his computer, while he attends to his "pet" of the same country and background to file worthless patents and journals, which none I believed in. Mind you, they (the boss and his pet) think the whole world is against them, including a small female PhD student in his lab which is me :). I think they are just insecure! I brought in collaborators for the lab and I love my collaborators; I am a lab leader, and other Professors treat me better than towards my own PI. so no surprise.

Yes I was in the top of the class in my country- I mean top in the country, I got a scholarship by competing against 4000 people to enter my foot in the US to do my undergraduate studies. Am no joke, I work hard. Luckily, am off to industry for a job (after my PhD)and will go home to my country for an academic job eventually. And YES I have this strength in me that I will proved him and his pet wrong. I will and I wont give up. You should not also. :) I now have 5 JPID and bunch of conferences and 4 lousy journals. Am not proud to go home to my country to show these are my accomplishments from studying in USA. LOL

At 4:08 PM, Blogger daisy mae said...

hypocrazy = my new favourite word.

also, i recently read an article regarding whether or not one should choose industry v. academia following their postdoc position(s). academia was compared to hollywood - the people who are "stars" will remain stars indefinitely, and there is no guarantee that if you're not a star, that hard work and brilliant research will ever pay off.

on the other hand, it was mentioned that hard work is generally rewarded in industry, and that the environment favors go-getters who are persistent.

the article wasn't published all that long ago... i can't find the link at the moment, but a quick search should turn it up for you.

At 8:18 PM, Blogger scicurious said...

I know it doesn't help to hear it, but we ALL go through it. I know I've been repeating steps 18-32 incessantly trying to get my stuff submitted. Except this time it's the PI having me do experiment after experiment. 5 years and counting...that paper will get published any time now. Really.

At 7:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm the anon at 11:18.

In my field, basically no paper gets accepted as is. Almost everything gets rejected first time through, even at 2nd tier journals. What can I say, we are a bunch of hardasses. So no, can't rely on reviewers to be reasonable and essentially accept the paper as is, or god forbid, respond with praise for the pig-headed postdoc author.

1. As far as I know, papers don't ever get accepted on first try in ANY field. The point is not to get it accepted immediately. The point is to get it out and get reviews and opinions from other people than your PI. And most of the papers don't get rejected outright either, you usually end up with accepted-subject-to-revisions.

2. Why do you assume it will be ourtright rejected? You haven't tried to submit it, have you? Why expecting the worst outcome? If it is so good as you think it is, you might just get the verdict of accepted with minor revisions that can be dealt with within a day or two?

I still think you should go and submit independently. Then see what happens and take it from there.

At 12:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are describing my wife's experience in grad school at U of Chicago. This is it exactly. My advise (not that you asked) - change your advisor (PI) if possible but don't leave science. Easy to say hard to do. Good luck.

At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can only echo other comments upthread-send it out. If you have some trusted colleagues, perhaps at other institutions, look at it with a critical eye, and you've addressed the critiques, go for it. You can tell your boss that the illustrious Drs. X and Y think its a good story suitable for Journal Z, and that's where you're sending it next Tuesday. The worst case scenario is that it gets rejected with no opportunity for parole because of a hole in the data or not being suitable for the journal, etc. At least then you'll have some concrete feedback from actual reviewers that you can address. And more likely, you'll get something like "do A and B and its accepted", and you'll get your story out. Better to piss off your PI and get your paper out than to continue to be miserable and not publish.

At 3:37 PM, Anonymous a physicist said...

I've been thinking about this post for a while now. I have two thoughts/questions.

1. I wonder if this problem is worse in fields where PI's have large groups? In my field I have a small group (typically me and less than 10 other people) and I have more time to spend with everybody in the group. I want them all to be succeeding. In chemistry for example, the group sizes are larger, so you can't spend enough time with anybody and certainly it's easier to ignore people. There are obvious advantages to large groups but this seems like a disadvantage, the ability to ignore people.

2. I also wonder if being an externally funded postdoc hurts people, when it comes to relationships with their PI. The PI has less invested in the postdoc, so it's OK if the postdoc's paper doesn't get submitted quickly. If the PI doesn't like what the postdoc is doing (or doesn't understand what the postdoc is doing), the PI doesn't really care, they don't have as much incentive to get involved. On the other hand, their name still goes on the paper, so they have a reason to hold up publication if they don't appreciate/understand the results.

I wonder if these two factors are behind your situation, Ms. PhD. Your PI is too busy (with other group members) and has little incentive to make sure you're productive and publishing. On the other hand, that doesn't mean your PI is willing to let you publish without their say-so, so you end up with the manuscript stuck on their desk forever, while they deal with the people they are more interested in, who they are funding directly.

At 3:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why would anyone want to pay you to sit in a corner and play with your toys?

Not flaming - that's a serious question. Because that's what your PI is doing, effectively, and he/she doesn't seem thrilled about it.

I'm assuming PI has grants to work on Specific Stuff, and you're chasing something vaguely related. Which PI has neither the background nor the interest for, so it isn't going to be part of the lab's future, and is just going to make PI's life harder at grant renewal time. PI has tried repeatedly to steer the project into something more useful-to-PI, but has gotten the brushoff. Now, there's a manuscript on Vaguely Related Stuff sitting on PI's desk. Maybe it's red-hot science, but that doesn't matter, because this isn't about science (and probably, not about you). This is about PI's motivation to get said manuscript out the door.

There's a fundamental rule of negotiation - you've got to have something the other guy wants. (Most people, even sane and well-meaning ones, care a lot more about their problems than they do about yours.) Why does PI care about this manuscript? If you don't know...and PI doesn't know either...then you're in for it, guaranteed.

I'm pretty sure this doesn't change as you advance, either. PIs get a bit more freedom to choose their flavor of Stuff, but they've still got to convince grant committees, journal editors, conference organizers, and such, that they care about the Stuff. That they care enough to pick it out of the hundred other shiny things on their desks and pay attention to it. Otherwise, no funding, no pubs, and no career for the PI.

So yes, you're getting screwed. But I seriously doubt you can find the magic spell in another negotiation book. You need something substantive to dangle in front of the PI. The first commenter had a good idea - bring in a collaborator, preferably someone who your PI is unwilling to annoy. Or remind PI of how good it will look on the next grant to prove that Specific Stuff has broader applications. Whatever it takes - it sounds like you've got a full paper, so a salvage operation might be worthwhile.

And then, I'd seriously think about leaving. If you can't find something that your PI can get excited about, and which matches your goals, then get out. Maybe you think PI's Stuff is useless and poorly conceived, and you can't bear to work on it. Run away. Maybe PI is disappointed that you can't change the laws of physics to make Stuff work, and that you haven't sprouted a penis yet. Run faster.

(Yes, I have been in both of those situations. But I've learned to do my damnedest to ensure that the laws of human nature work in my favor - just as I do my diligence on the laws of physical nature. What's that Charlton Heston quote, "you can only break yourself against the law"? It's that important, and there's plenty of good science out there.)

Also, I don't think of my career the way a middling art student would - do I hide in a corner and starve for my artistic vision, or do I sell out and please the crowd? That's a false choice. What matters, if you'd like to make a career of it, is that you're building a record of successes and are preparing yourself for greater challenges to come.


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