Friday, February 12, 2010

The kool-aid strikes again

Prof-like Substance wrote one of these polly-anna posts about how good it is to do a postdoc.

So I feel the need to respond, violently, but I'll settle for writing something here. And then maybe later I'll go punch a wall.

To the specific points:

That isn't a ton of money given the training they have had to that point, but get over it. You're being paid to do research, and in most cases, have no other distractions.

Why this is an inane thing to say:

1. It's not a ton of money, true. But what if you want to have children? What if you have sick relatives to care for?

2. And why, pray tell, does it make sense to pay us poorly for 10-15 years as grad students and postdocs, but then magically bump up the junior faculty to as much as 3x more than senior postdoc makes? This is just stupid to me. I don't understand why it wouldn't be better for EVERYONE if we gave small, morale-boosting raises every year. More than cost-of-living, but it wouldn't take much more than that to make us feel just that much less like slaves.

no other distractions

Why this is an inane thing to say :

Are you fucking kidding me??? This is just wrong. I have never worked in lab where I could "just do research". I have been expected to manage the fucking lab if I wanted to do research, which typically consisted of doing much of the PIs job, the technician's job, and if I was lucky, I could also do a few experiments. Seriously- if the PI is not training the students, writing grants, or helping edit papers, who do you think does that? The postdocs do, that's who. If the technicians are not taking care of the supplies, the animals, repairing equipment, and ordering, who do you think does that? Me. The postdoc. Then, if all the fires were put out, I might have time to do a few experiments here or there. But it was FAR from having "No other distractions". Give me a fucking break. What the hell kind of magical postdoc land are you talking about??

Moving around. Yup, the academic lifestyle can be somewhat nomadic and that can put a strain of relationships and make for difficult logistics.

Why this is an inane thing to say :

I'll say it again, because apparently you come from an independently wealthy and immortally healthy family.

1. What if you want to stay married?
2. What if you want to have kids?
3. What if you have sick relatives to take care of?
4. What if you have some disability or health problem yourself?

Get a fucking clue. Most of us want to have a partner, who also wants to have a career, and probably also has geographical restrictions. I think it's ridiculous to expect us to live not just a nomadic lifestyle- personally, I like to move every few years - but a monastic one. I think this selects for a certain kind of scientist. The ones who can't form relationships with anyone, much less manage the interpersonal dynamics of a group? Or teaching? The socially deficient ones? Yeah, that's the old tradition of science. It's not one of the traditions we should keep.

Lack of independence. Now I know that lots of people get into situations where they feel taken advantage of or where they are stuck doing projects they don't care about. That is why it is critical to do your homework ahead of time and know enough about the supervisor whose lab you are joining to determine if you can work with them and get the mentoring you need. Don't just take a position in any lab doing something remotely close to what you like. Talk to other trainees in the lab! Talk to former trainees. Is the lab a good place to develop as a scientist? That information can be FAR more important than the project. Put yourself in a place to succeed.

Why this is an inane thing to say :

I've blogged about this extensively, but apparently I'm not getting my points across clearly enough. Or maybe you just have to have been through it yourself to believe it - we have FAR too many scientists like this in academia these days. If you can't believe other people's accounts of their observations, what are you doing in science?

Why the "do your homework" advice is a bullshit cop-out blame-the-victim mentality:

1. Because we DID talk to people in the lab. We DO talk to former trainees. This approach is not guaranteed. Here's why.

2. Because people tend to try to spin everything in the best light when you ask them about the lab. I was talking to a friend just yesterday who was furious with one of her colleagues for talking about some of the negatives of their workplace with a visiting candidate. She feels it is her job, nay her duty, to make everything about the place where she works seem as rosy as possible.

Personally, I find it completely baffling and frankly dishonest. But they probably don't even see it that way- they think they're just being "positive" and don't want to sound like they're complaining. In some cases, they're terrified of the potential for backlash. Even if there is plenty to complain about.

3. Because when you're first starting out, you might not know what to look for. If people are "spinning", it's even harder. If you haven't worked in a bad lab, you don't know the warning signs. That's not your fault. Especially since there are still plenty of people who act like no bad labs exist!

3. Because PIs of really bad labs go to great lengths to make sure that visiting candidates don't meet with people who will tell them the truth. My own PI does this. If the candidates don't know to ask to meet with me, is that really their fault? I don't think so. I didn't know any better when I was a freshly-minted PhD. And if the lab website isn't up to date, etc. how do you even know who's missing? Especially if it's a big lab and you don't have time to meet with everyone anyway?

4. Because things can change. The PI might go through a terrible personal tragedy while you're in the lab, or develop a drug/alcohol habit. The lab might lose funding - a stressful situation that tends to bring out the worst in even the best PIs. The best labs have some rocky times, and it's never your fault if this happens while you're there. What are you supposed to be, psychic? Give me a break. Shit happens. What nobody tells you is that in science, no one will cut you a break for that. All they'll care about is your publication record- or lack thereof.

To the general idea that a postdoc is the greatest time, blah blah blah. Yeah, I've said before, maybe 3 years of postdoc would be just the right amount to do something new, learn a few things, have some fun doing science and maybe reduce your chances of running into something truly awful.

But the average postdoc length in my field is more than double that long. It's in your late 20s and early 30s, when your peers are able to have functioning, adult lives. They can do things like buy houses and afford child care and take vacations. Yeah, I know that as scientists we're not supposed to care about those things, but we're not robots and I don't see how being robots would make our science any better.

I'm not arguing that nobody should do a postdoc. I think there are plenty of people who benefit from the additional training, and broadening your experience can be really good, etc.

But I resent that it is required, but I don't think it's true that everyone needs one. In fact, I found the 4th comment on PLS's original post to be an interesting one, since it kind of implies that part of the problem with competition for faculty positions in the US comes from importing all these postdocs from overseas. I do wonder whether more American grad students are ready to run our own labs after grad school, since in most cases our grad school training lasts twice as long as in other countries. No wonder American postdocs are more pissed off. We're already older and more experienced, and then we're told we're complaining too much if we point this out? This is ridiculous.

My biggest complaint, however, is how long the postdoc "training" has become, and that the postdoc "period" only seems to be getting longer. Meanwhile, NIH has no plans whatsoever to figure out what to do with all these unemployable PhDs when the economy is shitty and the old fallback plan of "just go to industry" just went down the toilet.

I'm sorry but the "it's good for you" band-aid only goes so far. These are peoples lives we're talking about. Let's not tell them "oh, it'll be fun!" That's about as responsible as sending your high-school kid off to New York to live on the street and audition for shows on Broadway. Of course it will be fun. But will it lead to gainful employment?

My magic 8-ball says: Outlook not so good

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30 Comments:

At 11:43 AM, Anonymous labbrat said...

Now that I am almost done with my PhD and looking for jobs, I am hearing a lot of this from other scientists when they find out I don't want to do a postdoc. I don't even mention anymore that a huge part of it is wanting more money (as someone who wants kids and has sick relatives.) There are just too many people, often scientists, who think that is absurd. "I know postdocs don't get paid much, but it's enough to live on, right?" Often these are people who grew up in upper class or upper-middle class households and had their college educations, cars, weddings, house down payments, etc., paid for by their parents. So now I just say some lame, broad comment about how I want my work to have more of a direct impact on people's lives. Works much better that way.

 
At 12:10 PM, Blogger Michael Hultström said...

Hear, hear.

There's really no more to say. I'm going to have to do one anyway.

/M

 
At 12:59 PM, Blogger steph said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your statements about why talking to people in the group doesn't help you weed out a bad lab, especially if you are naive and don't really know that there are bad labs, as I was. And people aren't honest anyways. They do try to spin the bad. I wish I had known at the time that "high expectations" would be a bad bad thing. At the time I just thought, hey, I have high expectations for myself too. And tenured profs can do whatever they want, especially to grads. At least you already have your phd and don't have to keep staying because of that. I know you probably feel like you would be throwing it away to leave your postdoc now, but you are not quite as trapped as if your PhD adviser were the awful one, rather than postdoc adviser.

 
At 2:00 PM, Blogger Rosiecat said...

I started my postdoc about five months ago and I'm very happy with it on the whole. But still, your points resonate with me because just by CHOOSING to do a postdoc, I have sacrificed a lot: my old social life, geographical closeness to my family, a thousand bucks to move myself to Texas. Would making more money and having more friends down here make me happier? Hell yeah! Do I regret choosing my postdoc? No, but I am realistic about what I've given up to be here. I feel like I have every right to hope for a good postdoc experience and a good job after this. It will crush me if things don't work out.

I'm glad you keep writing your blog, YFS. I have learned a lot from your posts and hope that things work out for you.

 
At 3:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm totally with you on this one. Not to mention the fact that in some labs, postdocs are expected to find their own funding just to stay on in a lab, adding an extra element of stress to the whole equation.

Let's do a breakdown of my postdoc salary: roughly $40K - $4K for taxes leaves me with the huge amount of $36K in real wages. Factor in health insurance (which I have to supplement at $50/month = $600 annually), rent for an apartment (which can vary, depending on location, but let's just say an extremely low-ball estimate of $600/month = another $7.2K/year gone), monthly utilities & water (again, this can vary, depending on location, but let's just say $200/month = $2.4K/year), gas for driving to work (a car becomes necessary for early and late hours, especially in places with little/no or unsafe public transportation, so let's say that's another $60/month if you only fill up a tank for a medium-sized car every other week = $720/year), parking at work (it's $2K where I live and there are no breaks for postdocs), groceries and other necessities at about $500/month = $6K/year. That leaves a postdoc with a whopping $17.08K. Let's also say you want to start a retirement account (which most people do at our age), so that takes another $3-5K/year and leaves you with $14.08-12.08K/year for spending money. If you have a car, well, money may be required for more upkeep, say, if it breaks down (I've spent $500 on repairs for my car in the past month, for instance). If you want to travel to see your family (say your parents are sick or elderly), that can cost a pretty penny. How do you save for a house? If you have a pet, extra money gets spent on vet visits and food just for your pet. And, if you have a child, around here, child care costs $1K/month (and, we're not even talking educational child care programs, this is just the basic let's-stick-all-the kids-in-a-room-with-some-toys-and-an-adult-who-pretends-to-care). If your child gets sick, you may have to spend extra on that. And, if you have school loans, factor those monthly payments into the equation.

Then, there's the assumption that postdocs shouldn't really want to vacation/travel or have much of a life outside of science. This is ridiculous!!! How can a person maintain a constant level of productivity and creativity under these conditions?

I suppose people think that postdocs have it so great that they don't have to work another job. The fact of the matter is that many of us wouldn't mind the extra income from a second job, but we aren't really given the time for it. Due to publication and grant obligations, we have no time for anything other than bench work and lab maintenance. I'm lucky if I even get much of a chance to read the literature during a work day or review papers or others' grants!

 
At 3:42 PM, Blogger PUI prof said...

Yikes! Clearly I had a better post-doc than you did. Yes things were frustrating. Yes I had wretched days. But I never felt really underpaid, and the adventure of living overseas was good. Yes it was cut-throat, yes I worked looooong hours (far more than the natives). But I knew in the end, the group wanted me to succeed. If for no other reason, than for pride that the group was publishing well.

Also as a PhD student, again, I felt fairly paid. It was a living wage for a single person. I was able to buy a house while a student. My advisor was fair and generally a good-hearted person. Some of the worst times in my life were during grad school, but still when I look back, it wasn't what you describe.

I was especially careful to choose kind fair advisors because I am a sensitive person, and I knew a jerk would cause my hasty exit from science with much bitterness. I asked everyone about the jerk-i-ness of everyone I was considering.

I guess my point is, experiences can vary by advisor, program, city, etc. I'm sorry your experience sounds so bad.

 
At 3:46 PM, Blogger PUI prof said...

Maybe another thing is that I'm a first generation advanced degree-er from a working class family. I was so grateful that the school was paying my (med school rate) tuition AND I had fabulous health insurance AND I had a living wage, I would have given an ovary for the opportunity. No one in my family had heard of such a thing.

I have both of my ovaries, got my PhD (my family is bursting with pride), have kid(s) and a job I love. SOOOOO WORTH IT.

 
At 5:24 PM, Anonymous Lou Dobbs said...

Dear YFS

A quick note from the Dark Side. I'm out. The sun is shining. I'm actually talking to real people again. My acquired knowledge now has real value. I can see a way to a stable, non-nomadic lifestyle. My partner thinks I'm a different person now - happier and interested in life.

Letting go of the illusion that drove me forward for ten years - tenure- was unbelievably liberating.

I am Jack's wasted scientific talent.

I'm worse off right now than I was in my postdoc, financially. Somehow I don't really care right now. I trust in my ability to create my own niche and work hard at it. At least I got that from science.

I went back to the labs to see how I felt. I thought I'd be skulking in shame - the failed postdoc. Instead everyone else was skulking around, and hadn't noticed I was gone. They looked miserable. It's funny, I never really thought it would be that obvious from the outside looking in.

I hereby return to the fraternity my gilsons, timer, cassock and hood.

Would the last postdoc leaving please turn out the lights.

YFS- thank you. I wouldn't have had the courage to do this if it wasn't for your blog.

PS., I look forward to reading your book, but I'm afraid Allegra Goodman may have beaten you to the punch (if you haven't had a chance, read "Intuition").

 
At 6:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I definitely agree that "doing your homework" only goes so far in terms of learning everything you need to know about a lab. I very much liked my lab and my PI when I started in my thesis lab but, years later when I graduated I viewed the lab very differently. This is not because I made an uneducated poor choice - it is because things changed and life happened. Funding gets tight, the lab moves, new people join, students graduate, postdocs complete projects and move on to new jobs in academia or industry. With all of these changes that are (at least to me) impossible to predict, the lab dynamic changes. Sometimes only a little. Sometimes so drastically that you wonder how you ended up in this place.

 
At 7:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And not to mention even *getting* a postdoc is difficult for all but the top 20% (at least in my field)- let alone having your choice of postdocs. So even if you "did your homework", you're often stuck in a crappy lab because that's all you can do to keep doing science

 
At 9:07 PM, Anonymous Thinkerbell said...

Hi YFS,
I agree with a lot of things you are saying. I've been in the lowest of lows myself for the past two-and-something years and only recently my luck seems to have changed, for as long as it lasts. So I see your points and agree that things can suck, PI's can turn out to be a-holes no matter how much effort you put into investigating their labs, etc. And I am definitely against the insanely long postdocs that most in the biomedical field are turning into (basically due to the your-postdoc-will-last-as-long-as-it-takes-you-to-publish-a-decent-paper-so-someone-will-higher-you rule), I do disagree that people are ready to run a lab straight out of grad school. Number one reason: I think it is very healthy to change environments before settling down. This doesn't necessarily mean moving across the world (though I did), but it does mean that spending some (note, 3 years sounds fine to me, even though in some fields that is simply on the short side) time in a different lab is extremely useful. I think it would be a horrible idea for fresh out of grad school PhDs to start their own lab. Simply because a change of environment will open your eyes. It will tell you that some things were better at your old place and some are better at your new place. Even if everything is worse, that's usful information and it will make you a better scientist with a broader understanding of the scientific world. Also, no offense, some of my dearest friends are American PhDs or grad students, but I find them (even in the last year of grad school) often exactly that: students. It has something to do with the fact that grad students are called students, are poorly payed (in comparison to where I come from, and where a PhD-student position is a 'real' job, with still slightly lousy but reasonably pay). It's all in the mindset. Do I complain when I feel I am doing my PI's job? On bad days, yes. On good days, I take it as a sign that I'm ready for the next step. Hang in there!

 
At 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

in my field (physics) postdocs make 40-60K, depending on the lab, and junior faculty make 60-90K, depending on university. Seems pretty incremental to me.

 
At 3:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've made this point before in your comments and I'll make it again. Part of the reason that Europeans come to the US for a postdoc is that without it we have absolutely no chance in hell of getting a faculty position in Europe (in my field at least) - and in many cases it then turns out to be easier to stay. I was lucky and managed to get back and get a faculty position, but I wish the (senior) European mentality was not so short-sighted in this - the preoccupation with US experience is not always justified.

 
At 8:58 AM, Blogger Professor in Training said...

Once again, you're blaming "the system" for your shitty situation. You're also generalizing, again, that your situation automatically means that all postdoc experiences completely suck and that those people who move on to faculty positions did so at your expense.

 
At 10:31 AM, Blogger yolio said...

This post is fantastic. One of your best. I am so grateful that you are there to write these things.

I read PiT and the lot, and my blood pressure starts to boil over, and then I read you and I can calm down. I am not the crazy one here.

 
At 11:48 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

labrat, that's exactly it. Science works if you come from the right echelon of society. If not, you have to be willing to sacrifice everything. I think that's ridiculous.

Michael, good luck.

steph wrote: At least you already have your phd and don't have to keep staying because of that. I know you probably feel like you would be throwing it away to leave your postdoc now, but you are not quite as trapped as if your PhD adviser were the awful one, rather than postdoc adviser.

it's funny, I thought that, too. But I had a pretty awful situation in grad school, a different kind of awful but in a way that was better because at least you have a committee and a program that wants you to graduate. As a postdoc, you're really out on your own. Of course my situation was unusual because if you have a good grad advisor to help you find another postdoc lab, you're not stuck. I couldn't rely on that kind of help.

Rosiecat, good luck. Things are looking pretty dismal for me right now.

Anon 3:09,

That sounds about right. Except child care here is even more, it's about the same as what we pay in rent, which is almost $2k a month. There's no way we could do that.

PUI, you bought a house as a single grad student?? Yeah, that's quite a bit different.

If I had gotten the faculty position I wanted, I would say it was worth it. But it's all or nothing. That just makes no sense to me. I am Jack's wasted scientific talent, as Lou Dobbs said.

Lou - I'm really glad you sound so happy.

I hope my book will be even better than Allegra Goodman's, although I wasn't planning to write it in the 3rd person. I did find her descriptions a bit too vivid, even though there were some factual errors in some of the scientific parts. I actually couldn't finish reading it because it hit way too close to home.

Anon 6:28, that's exactly my point. I forgot to mention natural disasters. I know one lab that had a year of setbacks due to that sort of thing.

anon 7:31, yes, that is the other thing. the nice people don't have funding so they can't take anyone new. the a-holes have funding and space, and supposedly they will help you get a job so where do you end up?

thinkerbell wrote Do I complain when I feel I am doing my PI's job? On bad days, yes. On good days, I take it as a sign that I'm ready for the next step.

Yeah, now imagine doing that for 10+ years. Because I felt that way in grad school, like "oh, I'm on the right track, I'd be good at this job when they let me do it for real!"

Ten years later, and nobody would let me do it for real. Then I realized that while it might be a sign, it's meaningless if it's a tree that falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it.

anon 9:43, postdocs make up to 60K! in our field the max is about $40k

a $20k + jump is not incremental to me

 
At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The sense of entitlement that comes through on this post and many of the comments is breathtaking. While I agree that much about the current system of graduate education and postdoctoral training period needs fixing - in what other field could you receive advanced training in what you supposedly love free of charge and with health insurance? If you have an answer, then I suggest you switch to that field.

 
At 2:02 PM, Blogger Doctor Pion said...

Required?

A postdoc is not required if you want to take a teaching position rather than one where hiring and tenure are impossible without major and continuing grant support and a track record of producing publications and students with a PhD. Ditto for taking a job in industry, where more academic experience is not necessarily a plus.

Health:

My postdoc (decades ago) included health care and was part of the direct cost for grants I ran in the past. I would expect that to be the norm today.

Money:

1) There is no free lunch, so the only way to increase the pay for postdocs is to reduce the number of them, or reduce the number of graduate students and/or eliminate summer salary for the PI.

2) The wage range in the prompting article (35 to 50K$), reportedly in physics (40 to 60K$), and the 40K$ income Anon@3:09 complained about only look bad compared to an R1 professor. Just FYI, those wages are around the median for a family in the US, and not much below the starting salary for academic jobs in the real world of regional comprehensive universities, let alone small colleges.

The worst thing about 6 or more years in the postdoc world is when you find out this hard fact about what those non-tier-1 faculty jobs pay, and how many quality people are competing for the ones at the bottom of the pay list.

Distractions:

I thought that I had a lot of annoying distractions as a postdoc ... until I had to write and manage my own grant.

Asking around:

I don't see how you can complain about the advice to "ask around" just because some PIs lie so well that their offer might constitute fraud. The best way to let newly minted PhDs realize there are BAD labs out there is to write articles with the kind of advice the original article gave PLUS the caveats you added to it.

 
At 3:24 PM, Blogger The Grand Inquisitor said...

Hi, I dont know you, and if I did, I doubt we would like each other. I figure you would think I am a sexist pig (which I can be), and I would pretty much ignore you, but then again I ignore everyone for the most part. But, I have to ask why for god's sake would you want to have children? They are a money consuming nightmare as far as I can tell. And if you had a girl,wouldn't she just grow up to be beat up by the male dominated society that has clearly screwed you over? If you had a boy wouldn't you just be raising a future pig yourself? I mean you can train kids, but when they grow up they make their own decisions. Just curious why you, of all people, would want to have kids.

 
At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Ms. PhD,

I wrote to you a couple years ago, when (in the middle of my PhD), my advisor tried to kick me out of the lab because of a personal relationship with a colleague in the lab. I survived all of that (and my boyfriend and I are still together), and now I'm getting ready to graduate in a few months!

I started my postdoc interviews in January. I have lots of options, and I don't know how to choose.

My boyfriend can't/won't move. I've lived in Cleveland for a long time and feel more than a little restless, but I don't want a long-distance relationship, either. And I don't want to move across the country and be far away from friends and family (who are a short drive away from me now).

This post was perfect for me, because it sums up all the things I'm thinking about and worrying about during my interviews. Every interview has turned into an offer, or will turn into one, and I don't know how to decide. There are so many things to take into consideration...

- Will it damage my career to stay at the same institution? Traditional dogma says "yes," but my thesis committee says "no."

- How to weigh the benefit of a new, exciting environment and a new city, with the strain of a long-distance relationship?

- How to prioritize Promise of Big Papers from Famous Lab, with mentor who seems to be solely focused on productivity, with promises of "good" papers from less famous, nicer boss?

- Better to aim for one single Big Paper (Science or Nature) in your postdoc, or get 2 or 3 papers in good, but not 1st tier, journals?

Would love your thoughts on this, as I make my decision in the next month or so....

Thanks,
Cleveland

 
At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Get a fucking clue. Most of us want to have a partner, who also wants to have a career, and probably also has geographical restrictions. I think it's ridiculous to expect us to live not just a nomadic lifestyle- personally, I like to move every few years - but a monastic one."

Sadly, I think you are in the wrong field. This is what I hate about science as well, it forces you to give up everything.

And this has nothing to do with postdocs, it will be even worse when you try to get a faculty positions. Faculty positions are much harder to get, and the locations tend to be even worse (i.e., a normal person can get a postdoc at a better university [which usually means better location] than they can get a faculty position).

 
At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Postdoc salaries vary quite a lot. The NSF stimulus-funded positions for 2010-2011 had a salary of US$75K, I believe, which is very generous.

 
At 2:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prof Like Substance's post was incredibly naive and idealistic and totally ignores the reality. Either that or it's part of the propaganda to lure more postdocs in to keep feeding the system that depends on the exploitation of postdocs for PI benefit.

 
At 3:14 AM, Anonymous Jeanne said...

if people want to travel all over the globe to work that should be their decision. It shouldn't be something that is expected or demanded just for the sake of appearances and then tell people to "lighten up and enjoy it."

You know, ten to fifteen years ago I would have gone anywhere in the world for a cool job. In fact I did spend summers abroad on exchange programs as a college student, and I spent a year abroad too. But now, things are different. I'm older, I'm married, with kids, and dogs, and my family is not mobile. One of my kids is special needs, it is difficult to find the right schools for him. Once we found one, we are NOT budging for awhile. at this stage of my life, being a postdoc really and truly sucks. I have no patience for prima donna PIs who think the world revolves around them (their wives take care of their family matters and they expect everyone else to not have a life outside the lab either). Or worse PIs who take lengthy family vacations and brag about it and get patted on the back for being dutiful family men, but expect us postdocs to not have our own family obligations. I have no patience for people saying that I'm "not serious" about my career because I won't uproot my family at the drop of a hat, that "we all have to make sacrifices..." implying I'm not sacrificing enough therefore I don't deserve to ever be more than a postdoc. If they want to bash me based on the quality of my work or publication record, by all means, they will have a hard time because I do good work and I can prove it objectively. But to instead bash me (and deny me jobs) based on some subjective interpretation of my "seriousness" based on how mobile or not I am as a postdoc, is completely irrational, and yet they call themselves scientists?

and then along comes this post from PLS saying how we should all have fun in our postdocs and if we dont' then we have bad attitudes? Give me a break!!

 
At 8:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It appears from your blog that you are in some field of bio/medical science. The NIH minimum pay scale for postdocs (as of last year) was 37K for a new PD, 44K for 3 yrs experience up to 51K for 7 yrs experience. Most quality programs pay a bit more than the minimum so a max salary of 40K seems a bit off

In my limited experience as a PI, the more you realize that there are things you don't know about running a lab, the better. I am a bit suspicious of people who profess that they have been ready to run a lab since getting their PhD. If (as you suggest) most PIs are still no good at running a lab, the odds of someone fresh from a PhD being good at it are vanishingly small. Now it is possible, though statistically unlikely, that you are that rare individual. However, I am curious if the possibility that you may be overestimating yourself has been fully explored. Most junior faculty of my acquaintance (obviously not a huge sample) suffer from the "impostor syndrome" while your blog seems to indicate "anti-impostor" tendencies.

Interestingly (at least to me) most of the junior faculty that I know profess to have enjoyed their postdoctoral experience and have found it crucial to their development as independent scientists. This is obviously a biased sample and one certainly could interpret this as a manifestation of their being part of a select "in-crowd" but enjoying one's postdoc does seem (of course YMMV) to be strongly correlated with getting a faculty position.

It is unfortunate that you have not found a situation where you feel you can grow and thrive as a scientist and I can sympathize. I quit my first postdoc (with a Nobel laureate no less) because of issues like those you've described. For my second postdoc, I chose a group headed by a good but unfamous scientist who was, more importantly, a quality human being (perhaps those are few and far between). In this setting, I accomplished far more than I did in my first postdoc and was able to get the kind of faculty position I wanted. I feel fortunate every day that this happened and while I think I probably meet some minimum standard for scientific accomplishments, I will certainly acknowledge that there is a huge component of luck involved in the whole thing. I hope you are able to work through your difficulties and eventually get the faculty position that you'd like to have.

 
At 1:05 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

wow, well that sucks. I wrote a whole long reply to the last batch of comments, and blogger ate it.

fuck! maybe I will try again later or tomorrow to rewrite that long response. I hate it when that happens. hasn't happened in a while. ARGH.

 
At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Thise said...

Let's do a breakdown of my postdoc salary: roughly $40K - $4K for taxes leaves me with the huge amount of $36K in real wages (Anon 3:09)

$4k for taxes?!?! Am I doing something seriously wrong if I'm paying $12k taxes on my NIH-guideline $40k?

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

@ PLT:

I love these people who say we're blaming "the system." Who the fuck is the system? It's not some amorphous mass that can't be challenged. It's you and me baby. That means, we're capable of making other peoples lives a shithole.

The problem with your naive comments PLT is that they do the opposite. They assume that it's all hunkey dorey and ignore the dark side to academia. For god's sake PLT take your head out of "the system's ass."

 
At 10:31 AM, Anonymous Sally said...

I know it's very late to comment on this thread, but I completely agree that "do your homework" is crap advice to future postdocs. I did my homework; I had known my postdoc advisor and his group for two years when I accepted the job, and my advisor went on a one-year sabbatical two weeks after I started my postdoc. When was I told about the sabbatical? Two weeks before moving to my new city and joining the lab.

 
At 1:06 AM, Anonymous Gargage in a Throw Away Society said...

i have never in my life earned $40K, not working as a technician, nor working as a postdoc. i earned $30K as a postdoc, and because i now live in NYC for my postdoc, i pay nearly HALF in taxes! that leaves a wee bit more than $18K to pay all my other expenses. for a highly skilled professional person, that's truly f*cked up, especially since rent consumes a huge chunk of my take-home income. forget vacations, i can't BEGIN to afford something like that.

my life as a scientist has been one long preamble to suicide: why should i keep on living and using/wasting valuable resources when i can't find a job in science, nor any other meaningful job for that matter? 'oh,' i remind myself, 'i MIGHT be able to get a job in science once again, that's why! i've got this interview coming up, you see, and the position sounds like it was written with ME in mind .. !'

yeah, right. how many times have i said this to myself?

meanwhile, i stare at the wreckage that is my life, the social isolation from the frequent relocations, impending homelessness due to unemployment, the astonishing stress of not knowing even the most basic features of my future (even what will happen next month), the huge and damaging sacrifices i made, the broken dreams, the overwhelming despair .. and i know i am getting older and less "employable" with each passing day .. yes, every morning for years, i have this "why should i stay alive?" conversation with myself, and realize that i am one of those people who never should have been born. being forced out of my career in science is only the exclamation point on that realization.

 

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