Monday, February 01, 2010

Oh my fucking god.

Check out this post over at Drugmonkey.

First, Drugmonkey makes the admittedly accurate point that if being a postdoc was just about learning how to do science, then yes 2 years would be long enough.

Personally, I think I already knew how to do science when I finished my PhD, but hey not everyone gets that kind of training in grad school.

But then Drugmonkey goes on, and I'll start by saying this: I agree with Sol Rivkin.

There are three major assumptions that Drugmonkey puts forward, which I find completely offensive and stupid.

1. The idea that a long postdoc should be welcomed.

Fuck that. Crap pay and no real independence? And fuck you Drugmonkey and CPP for acting like we're supposed to be thankful for that bullshit.

2. The idea that 5 years should be long enough to be successful no matter what bad mentors, etc. you've had. Give me a fucking break. I have 2 manuscripts sitting in the Journal of my Asshole Advisor's Desk. Not because they're not good, or not finished, and not because I haven't worked long and hard for the data and the writing.

"Success" means getting your work past the asshole gatekeepers. It has nothing to do with whether your work is good or how hard you worked to make it that good.

I mean, it's one thing to deal with asshole reviewers. But when your own PI is sitting on your work for years??? That's just crazy-making bullshit.

3. The idea that a longer postdoc means you're getting more training in, what, how to run a lab? How to be a PI?

Give me a hole in the head.

Anything about academic politics I've learned I taught myself. For completely idiotic reasons. Like, my advisors were never ever around, and never helpful. And, my advisors can be real assholes. And, my colleagues can be sexist fuckers.

Was that training? NO. Does this count as part of the selection process? Maybe - if you believe that the best way to select people is by getting the smart people to quit. Then all we're left with are the stubborn, the weak, the lazy, the hopeless, and the naive.

I mean seriously. Why am I still here? Because I was too stupid to follow my instinct to quit years ago. And then I was too stubborn to give up on my project. And then I was too weak and hopeless to think I could live with giving up on my project. And I was so naive I really though I could make it work. And I was too lazy to go find another career.

Did I really need a certain number of years to learn all that? NO. Will it benefit me to have all this perspective and wisdom if I have my own lab? Hell yeah. But I could have just as easily learned these things on the fly as a junior professor, which is how most people learn them (or not at all).

So I had all this time to kill while my manuscripts were languishing in oblivion. So what do I do? Go volunteer to organize postdocs, be on committees for women in science, etc. Was that good training for academia? I really don't know. At least it made me feel like I was contributing something, when nobody would let me contribute my science.

Is any of this what search committees select for? Fuck no! They don't even know I exist, and there's no mechanism for them to find people like me with all this collect wisdom and insight into how to be an awesome mentor, do awesome research, and not be an asshole to your trainees.

Please go over there and give Drugmonkey and CPP an earful if you haven't already.

Fucking privileged white guys talking about how great the system is? What. The. Fuck. I guess nobody has yet hit them with an anvil large enough to pound in the point that the "selection" of which they are so fond is the reason we still have so few women and minorities in tenure-track positions. If "selection" worked fairly or via the right variables, that would be one thing. Instead it's just psychological torture for most of us. More years of it is NOT TRAINING YOU FUCKING ASSWIPES.

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35 Comments:

At 11:35 AM, Blogger Kate said...

You make a number of great points. I wasn't ready to post over at DrugMonkey's but had a similar reaction. I am in my second year of a t-t job and frankly no amount of mentorship could have prepared me for this. My first year in the job prepared me for this job... my colleagues have been my mentors, and they have been great. Advising? Didn't get any, anywhere, in grad school or beyond, that professionalized me or taught me about how to do this job. I learned from peers and nowadays from peers and my chair.

 
At 2:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your sentiments, because my postdoc experience has been nothing but misery and with no papers so far. BTW, re: DM/CPP, actually, one of them is not a white male, but being a non-white male still has its advantages over being any race female.

[Plus, both of them went through the ranks during different funding/economic climates, NIH R01 success rates, and when the competition was not as steep.]

 
At 2:58 PM, Blogger Science Gal said...

It's a mess! That's all I can say. A MESS!

I have a problem with the long postdoc being warranted.

1—That is crap. Why should anyone with an advanced degree want to be paid low wages??? Lots of work, low wages, and little reward. Uhm NO THANK YOU! The goal should be to get in, get the training you need to supplement your grad training, and GET OUT!

2—I thought a postdoc was a stepping stone to the big leagues. It should be long enough to learn some stuff but not so long that one becomes an overqualified tech!

3—Most search committees I have observed (at my grad and undergrad R1 universities I served in high ranking student leadership positions in my dept which allowed me access to CV, teaching statements, etc AND details about the review process) frowned on long postdocs. I even remember one older professor saying “Three years, WTF did he do for 4 years?? I don’t care how much he published, why did he take so long?!”


Other than that I think the discussion seems biased. The assumption is that your advisor and lab situation is all peachy-keen. This is not the case in MOST research labs. I used to think bad experiences were the exception but now I know it is a rule. The exception is finding a good PI that actually cares about your development into an independent researcher….past just publications. I feel lucky. My husband is not so lucky.

 
At 4:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I approve of this post.

 
At 9:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read that post over on drugmonkey (the post was actually written by CPP) and just about fell out of my chair laughing. Next you know, he will write a post entitled "Why Postdocs Should be Grateful To be the Exploited Serfs of PIs"

We should have an essay-writing competition here, see who can come up with the most CPP-like post with that title.

 
At 10:05 PM, Blogger SamanthaScientist said...

Agreed. On all of the above. Ugh.

 
At 7:40 AM, Anonymous Lina Merchan said...

I am a grad student and I used to read your posts for some inspiration on how to continue in science. I will continue in science but no thanks to you. You should find something else to do in life. If you would change your attitude maybe something would change. I didn't not like all the profanity in your last post. I will not read again. Good luck with your life.

 
At 7:41 AM, Anonymous Lina Merchan said...

I guess that's why you don't have any comments, because you don't approve of them. Well, I will go back to work.

 
At 7:44 AM, Blogger Drugmonkey said...

I am certain you meant to double check the byline before deciding just who it is that was saying what on that thread. If you have been reading carefully you will have noticed that there are many issues on which PP and I do not agree. Particularly when it comes to his excesses.

 
At 2:35 PM, Blogger Lily said...

omg, you are awesome! Just found your blog and I will be reading because you have me laughing out loud. You tell 'em sista!

 
At 7:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a privileged white guy in a tenure-track position. I hate to say this, but... it doesn't necessarily get better. Try to enjoy your postdocs is my advice, there are obstacles all the way.

 
At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool post. Puts a smile on my face knowing that someone is more pissed than me.

 
At 6:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

YES YES YES YES!
I'm going over there to read the post. And agree with everything you just said. Me, I'm already on the quitting side. Especially sick and tired of hearing men say, we need women to stay in science and then they do exactly the shit that makes us leave. They perpetuate sexism behind a veil of being supportive because they have daughters. What the f is that? I get more comments about my clothes when I'm trying to have a scientific discussion. I've given up on getting anything useful -its all about dealing with a high maintenance PI who wants to be pals. I've realized a lot of these people/PI's just can't grow the hell up and have balls when it comes to anything that really matters.

 
At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow. as a former 3 yr female postdoc who just had her choice of R1 faculty jobs, i have to conclude that the key to success is not going to work for the a-hole in the first place. mentor selection is the key to success. while i can complain about the amt of work to be done, the guys at my level have just as much - and I got a better start up than they did!

 
At 10:42 AM, Blogger Genes Wilder said...

i'm a ph.d. candidate getting fucked over by the system right now. (of course, you could argue that i knew what the system was when i entered but i'll counter that when the system can define itself in whatever flattering light it chooses you really can't blame the people fooled by it.) debating calling it quits and leaving with a master's after 6 years of mismanagement, unreasonable expectations, and emotional abuse.

people say that the system is broken but it's not. it's designed to reinforce established power and it does that very effectively.

 
At 10:43 AM, Blogger Lei Liu said...

First time reading your blog and loving your honesty and let's put this way, a really unique way of writing that attracts some and drives other away. No doubt that I belong the the former group :)

It is ridiculous to advocate anything about the existing PhD/postdoc training system because it is simply broken. Too many PhDs too long the postdoc and what the most crucial point, wait for it, NO MONEY AT ALL!

 
At 4:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think your way of writing is offensive and of a very low level. You use the F word too much, and you seem to be getting too angry about what? Another persons opinion, which many might agree with.

You are making a fool of yourself.

 
At 5:22 PM, Anonymous Hope said...

Yeah, I saw that, and in this case, I agree w/you. But I’m not going to waste my time going over there. There was a time when I found CPP amusing, funny even. I read w/great interest the career advice posts he and DM have up at DM’s blog. Now that I’ve seen a lot more of them ‘round the internet, well … it puts everything in a different light.

There are many fields where scientists don’t do 3+ yrs multiple postdocs – engineering and physics are just two that I’m familiar with. Somehow these depts. manage to hire very good candidates w/out all this “selection time.” I don’t notice a marked difference in quality between bio asst. profs who’ve spent 7 yrs or more as postdocs and engineering asst. profs who’ve spent 2.

CPP’s argument reminds me of people in the US who argue that any other model of healthcare aside from the (broken) one that we have now won’t work. They close their eyes and refuse to look at other countries; they refuse to even consider the question of whether what they’re doing might work for us.

But perhaps we should thank CPP for explaining to us why academia is so screwed up. It is clearly the fault of all the old geezers (like him!) that were hired way back when, when postdocs were much shorter and much less common. They had no clue what they were doing, so they screwed everything up. If only they’d been made to languish in the minor leagues – how much better things would be today!

 
At 1:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, another nice attack on this weird system in general. It's truly a disastrous way to train scientists. What would we say if tax payers had to foot the bill for med school and residency then there were no jobs for doctors? What if we just told them to keep doing residencies until they figured out they weren't meant to be doctors? What if we told them to just wait for the baby boomers to retire?

We would call it a FUCKING WASTE OF TAX MONEY!!! Get Stossel on this, stat!

If we want this kind of sick ass system, people should just start to pay for it themselves. Then we would see who really WANTS and SHOULD be a scientist.

Americans need to stop paying taxes to train foreign post-docs and American PhD's who are not needed, even in industry.

ABOLISH THE PHD!!! It's just an excuse for universities to get tax money, most of that money goes to admin anyways (56% for UC!!).

(FYI, medical residencies are paid for by Medicare already)

 
At 6:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i absolutely agree, especially with the asshole advisor aspect. i was prevented from publishing two papers filled with beautiful data -- data that i could be building upon right now -- because my advisor didn't like my writing style. what. the. fuck.

unfortunately, after my funding ran out, i was unable to find employment, which made me an undesirable and highly contagious individual to be avoided at all costs, so my data, which remains in the lab, and i (now living overseas), were separated. forever. which means that my career has been destroyed by one very privileged, very angry, very vindictive white male in a position of power, while my entire life is .. well, over. i might as well have never gone to school at all, and instead just become a crack whore at the age of 15, popping out brats in exchange for child support payments (as the right-wingers loudly trumpet).

of course, being angry while female is a crime, so i suppose i should crawl back into my hole and shit the fuck up.


-- you know me, but i am remaining anonymous for this comment for obvious reasons

 
At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i don't know who you are exactly, but i stumbled across your blog today while googling "my advisor is deliberately forcing my publications to lower ranking journals." you are officially my new hero. as a woman in the hard sciences, i cannot agree more.

 
At 6:51 AM, Anonymous mixlamalice said...

I always enjoy receiving advices of that sort* from people who were hired 20 years ago right after their PhD with two articles on their resume...
I can admit that the situation is not the same anymore, and I agree to not complain about it, but at least, old man, be humble and shut the fuck up instead of giving me your cheap lessons.

* for example
- do a 5 years post-doc
- go do a post-doc on another continent
- live apart from your boy/girlfriend for 2 years or more and wait till you 35 to settle down and make kids.
- do not care about the bad pay.
- and so on.
- be ultra-productive.

 
At 6:06 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Kate - I'm glad for you for two reasons. First, you managed to GET a job without mentoring. Second, you found a place where you get the mentoring the need, at long last. Very happy ending?

Anon 2:36, That's nice.

I find that "white male" can be a state of mind. I have met some women whom I think would also be best described by aligning themselves with the "white male mentality".

Science Gal, Yes, that's exactly it. There is still this enormous disconnect between people who understand why it might take longer, whether you want it to or not - and people who always put all the blame on the trainee.

Anon 9:45, Great idea. Except I don't really want to deal with judging submissions. I guess I could just post them all and let people vote. Sound good?

Lina, Good luck with your life too. I don't always have time to approve all the comments because I am busy with work.

Drugmonkey, That's weird. I did check the byline but didn't see one? Maybe I got distracted because I was seeing so much red. Anyway I hope you enjoy the comments. =D

Anon 7:34, I've heard that and I know there are obstacles. Got any advice for us on which ones are avoidable and how to spot them from afar?

Anon 6:42, They perpetuate sexism behind a veil of being supportive because they have daughters. What the f is that?

YES YES YES!

Anon 10:29, Yes, but what if you got stuck somewhere without a good mentor? What if your boss leaves, or you have geographic constraints, etc. etc. As someone else wrote (maybe farther down in another comment), a-holes are the majority. But hey, congrats on your startup! Wanna write something for us about how you negotiated that?

Genes Wilder, I just argue that it's not a system that was designed at all. It's a playground that has evolved into a sharkpit.

Lei Liu, glad you like it.

Anon 4:59, I don't think I really use the F word that much. Only when it's something really outrageous. Anyway, I think the whole point of blogging is to share, compare and contrast opinions. Thanks for taking the time to give us your 2 cents.

Hope, If only they’d been made to languish in the minor leagues – how much better things would be today!

this made me laugh. =D

Anon 1:34, Yes, the waste of taxpayer money used to really infuriate me. And then we bailed out wall street, and for some reason now it doesn't bother me as much anymore. Oh right, that's because the amount wasted on us is still way less than what we spend in 1 day of war of Iraq or Afghanistan. (notice that I said *spend* not spent, and OR not "and")

Anon 6:24 - That sucks. And I know exactly what you mean about how you might as well have become a topless dancer or whatever- come to think of it, the pay for that work is a LOT better and there's more job security. Hmm.

Anon 10 AM, thanks for making me smile.

mixlamalice - nicely put.

 
At 12:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me start by stating for perspective that I'm a white male PI and group leader in my late-fifties. Although I am very sensitive to the concerns that younger scientists expressed here (as well as those from YFS), it is worth noting that these issues are not unique to academic science.....the stories I hear from my wife about the law firm she's with, my friend's experiences in non-scientific careers, as well as extensive reading of Machiavelli (not just "The Prince", but the more mature "Discourses"), it is clear these traits are part of the human condition and integrally embedded in all organizational environments. The primary goal of the "power brokers" is the acquisition and use of power.

In science most of us enter to search for truth and the essence of nature (plus to play with really cool toys!!!). The reality of a professional science career is mostly "How can I get tenure", "How can I get this grant", "How can I get more lab space than my colleague" etc., which in most instances is contradictory to objectively seeking truth through the scientific method.


My best wishes (and greatest hope) for all to cherish the good parts of a scientific career (and I have had many thrills from discovery and collaboration) and to understand that science like every other human endeavor is filled with greedy narcissists whom we must overcome. Setting a good example is a slow painful road, but complaining is a dead end.

 
At 5:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Anon 12:32

That is a fine observation and I agree. However, the public should not be forced to support the increasingly longer training. They are not getting much benefit from scientists who can't find jobs outside of government funded organizations. I realize wars cost a lot more and do more damage, but the principle still holds. Let people be narcissistic with their own time, not on tax payers backs.

 
At 11:22 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 12:32 wrote Setting a good example is a slow painful road, but complaining is a dead end.

I disagree, or I wouldn't have this blog.

I think it's valuable to DOCUMENT the abuses
It's valuable to SHARE our experiences
and it's valuable to talk about STRATEGIES for change.

You can call that complaining if you want. It won't stop me from blogging.

 
At 11:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i dont understand this "sitting in advisor's desk" business for your papers. just send them in! i am only a grad student and my advisor was holding my paper back, but i talked to all other authors, we had gone through 25 rounds of changes, and i just sent it in. its in print now!

 
At 7:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must agree with Ms. PhD in her reply to Anon 12:32. There is a quote that is very appropriate here:

“Dante once said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality” - John F. Kennedy

 
At 10:49 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

@Anon 7:18,

This does work sometimes. But it really depends on what's at stake.

If you want to stay in academia and require a recommendation letter from your advisor, proceed with caution on the "Just send it in" protocol.

In my field, if your PI is not the author of the cover letter, that will usually work against you. Grad students and postdocs typically do not act as corresponding authors in our field, so it sends up a lot of red flags.

I could also tell you stories about a certain PI I know who found out a postdoc submitted papers without pre-approval. This PI contacted the journal and had the paper(s) withdrawn from consideration. The the postdoc had to wait for the PI to calm down (that took months) enough to discuss and resubmit. In that case it didn't save any time at all.

 
At 9:41 AM, Blogger medchemgirl said...

Totally and completely agree. I also was too stubborn to quit. I received no mentoring whatsoever from my Ph.D. advisor and he wondered why it took me so long to finish projects (granted I did the science and I learned a lot). It was just all self-taught/mentoring from some very amazing postdocs. My advisor took every opportunity to belittle me and tell me I would be no good in my field. After I successfully completed my orals and original research proposal and secured my own research funding for 4 years...he did everything short of throwing me under a bus to try and get me to leave. Now I am in a mediocre level postdoc. However, my boss and work colleagues are great and the open door policy for questions etc. has been good. But I don't enjoy benchwork like I used to...and I am stuck at a crossroads now.

 
At 6:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Submitting your paper without your PI's approval can be the kiss of death depending on the personality of your PI.

I did it once with my postdoc advisor. He and I had a disagreement about my paper - actually the co-authors were behind me, just that my PI disagreed with all of us. He told me I could go ahead and publish it if I wanted, just that he didn't want to be on it if I did. So I took him at his word and sent it in with everyone's name except his, and it got published in a high-ranked journal and got a lot of citations (later on, obviously, since it takes time for papers to get cited). and the PI then fired me and burned the bridge between us completely saying I was "insubordinate." If I run into him at conferences now, he pretends to not see me.

 
At 3:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of all the things people have written here, none is more infuriating to me than your papers sitting on that desk. 27 years as a white woman in academic science has taught me it can be a snakepit, while also being fabulous, so I agree that you have to be careful. But you also have to have those out. Push it with him, ask what the issue is, put them on your CV as "pending author comment", see if there are any chunks you can publish out from under him, set up a collaboration with someone else based on the work that will lead to the data getting published, write a review article and cite the data, whatever, just don't let it go. That is your intellectual property to whatever extent you participated in the work.

 
At 4:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon @ 10:29

Of course you got a better start up than the guys... Duh! Have you driven off to Mars or have you actually read any academic job advert in the last 10 yrs published on planet Earth? It says right there that women will be preferred. At least in my field, women need to be only half as good to be treated to twice as much.

When I was a starting grad student, I would often scour the pages of new hires at good univs to get a grip of what it takes to make it. Some of the new hires had resumes that were profoundly intimidating, but then there were some that made you think...hey that does not look like an impossible mountain to climb. I noticed after a while that it was largely the women who did not have those scary resumes. I still have this habit as a postdoc; I still look at pages of new TT faculty, but I am much less naive now. When I see a new female TT hire, I don't look at her page any more, because I know that I will be held to a much higher standard. I let out a groan and pass.

If only there was a law that said people cannot be discriminated against because of their gender... :(

 
At 2:00 PM, Blogger Fred said...

I'm a PhD student in a different discipline (psych-related) and confused about something that has come up in a few of the comments:

i was prevented from publishing two papers filled with beautiful data -- data that i could be building upon right now -- because my advisor didn't like my writing style.

I don't understand why this (anonymous) person, or other posters with similar situations didn't just submit without their PIs approval? What kind of social faux-pas would that have been? (and could it possibly be worse than waiting years(!!!) for your PI to read/give feedback on your ms.?)

 
At 11:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a white male postdoc in math and physics, I can tell you that it is DEFINITELY not better for the guys. In fact, it's worse. ALL of my female colleagues are paid 65K per year in their postdocs... I make 35K. Some of them are very good, some are subpar. All of them are employed.

Most of my male friends are now unemployed. Some of them are subpar. Some are extremely good. Universally they are practically begging on the street now. I agree with you that the postdoc system is complete exploitation. Trust me, I'm as bitter as you are, and I also have a family to support. BTW, in response to one of the comments above, in physics the expectation is to do AT LEAST 2 postdocs (same in math). Nobody gets hired without doing a postdoc... trust me. Many end up doing 3, 4, endless. It's a shit system

 

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