I guess I'm flattered?
Realized today that the sum total of graduate students at my university who would have liked to work with me for their postdoctoral training has crossed over into "enough to start my own lab, complete with sports team".
Since I can't hire them myself, the conversation always devolves into the same old question that all graduate students ask about choosing a postdoc lab:
Who should I work for?
Of this list of famous guys, who should I NOT work for? What about this guy? Or this guy? (yes, because the famous ones the students choose are usually all guys)
Even if the student is smart enough not to make a list of the Usual Famous A**holes, it's still tough to answer. I can't think of many people who both impress me scientifically and seem to have a clue about mentoring (and aren't either anonymous bloggers, currently unemployed, retired, or all of the above).
And the list has to be further narrowed because most students are already somewhat picky about what they want to do. Without realizing how narrow they've become just during their few short years in grad school, most of them will already tell you: animals or no animals; cold room or no cold room; computers-only or no-computers. And so on. And they don't listen when you tell them the kinds of thesis projects to avoid (hint: certain animals!), so why would they listen about choosing a postdoc lab? Let's be honest, they won't.
The only thing I can do that I think can make an impression is to quiz them about what they really want to do in the long term. Where do they want to live in 10 years when they're done with postdoc and job search (ha ha ha? you think I'm kidding?).
It's amazing to me how many graduate students don't feel they have permission to ask themselves these questions. Even more frightening: it's because they're waiting for their advisers or thesis committee members to ask them these questions!
Yes, some students do the soul-searching part while agonizing over The Dissertation. For too many students, it's the first (only?) time they've been allowed to really take the time to ruminate on where they came from, what they learned, and what they have to show for the time they spent toiling away at the bench.
So here's my tiny piece of advice for today: you don't need permission from your PI or your committee to start figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your scientific career.
Even if all you're sure about right now is that you're being told you have to do a postdoc "no matter what". This is what they tell the students on my campus, sadly, and most of them buy into it as the gospel (even sadder). Because "no matter what" boils down to two kinds of jobs: faculty or R&D industry. There's zero recognition there are other kinds of jobs that don't require a postdoc.
Hint: there are some jobs where you don't have to do a postdoc at all!
And, you DON'T have to wait until you have permission to write your thesis to start figuring that out.
You just need to make a little time for being really honest with yourself, and one other thing-
Talk to people who teach, and people who don't. Talk to people in different kinds of departments, at small schools and big schools. Ask them about their funding sources. Try to picture yourself writing grants. If you were a grant writing maniac, what kind would you be? And the sooner you start, the better.
If you don't know any of these things, you might want to plan to do more than one postdoc, in different kinds of places (pretty common now anyway). How else are you going to do the experiment?
And here's another hint: if you can't face doing more than one postdoc, consider that you might need to take a long vacation after grad school to sort out what you really want to do longer-term. Because nowadays, it's pretty much required that you do a lot of postdoc for a very long time. And if you want to know how much fun that is, read this blog. Or just read the tag on this post.
As for myself, I'm trying to draw encouragement of the "I don't completely suck" variety from wherever I can get it these days.
So if these students really do think my science is cool and that I'd be a great mentor, I'll take that as a HUGE compliment.
Even if I can't actually be that great mentor helping launch them into illustrious careers.
Oh well. Can't help everyone all the time, I suppose.