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Need advice - boring postdoc!

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Need advice - boring postdoc!

Postby L. King » Thu Jun 11, 2015 9:11 am

I have been working in this postdoc position for a year and feel like I have accomplished nothing. Originally, I was operating this home made perfusion machine that was very user unfriendly and no one in the lab wanted to deal with it. The machine has a 10 year bad track record. In Jan 2015, the motherboard went on the machine and my PI retired the it and is now trying to design/optimize a new system with a senior lab member. However, I have nothing to do. I voiced my concerns twice to him and his answer is to keep busy by helping other lab members out but when I ask no one has anything for me to help with . I also asked my PI about my postdoc project and he recently told me that I'm not having one because he wants a senior lab member (who has a project) and I to combine efforts, generate data that will be published in a "high" profile paper. Im so bored and cant get through my day and this has been going on for 6 months This is the first time in my life that I dont want to go to work. Should I stay in this lab?
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Re: Need advice - boring postdoc!

Postby M. Egdo » Thu Jun 11, 2015 9:01 pm

I'm curious...why did you join that lab at the first place? Did you want to learn something from the PI or the lab's environment?
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Re: Need advice - boring postdoc!

Postby John D. D, » Sat Jun 13, 2015 7:02 am

This is a rather specific possible solution. I thought that I would post because it actually works for some people.

I wrote a computer program, that randomly selects from a list that you set up, of things that generally might be done in a day. In your case, the list of possible things might be something like:
1) write paper
2) read paper
3) design experiment
4) interpersonal relations (talking to other postdocs, students, PI) about projects
5) equipment work (repair, analyze, maintain)
6) organize lab notes/bench/make chemicals
7) do experiment
8) attend talks
etc.
(I have about 14 things on my list)

Then, the program will randomly pick an organizing theme for the day (this is like the hat you wear), so it could be writer, scientist, engineer, computer scientist, educator, medical, artist, etc. I have about 8 hats here on this list.

So, then the program is set to pick one hat, and however many events you specify (say 7), and you organize your day around that. You have absolute veto power, if you really hate the proposed day, but what I find useful is the tension between global goal for the day, and specific list of things. What I find is some days the list is more important for feelings of individual accomplishment, and other times, the overall goal becomes more important. Every day, you log your accomplishments. Then, the next level, is either weekly or monthly, so sometimes here you can say:
These are my goals (define these for the month), run the program and say, this is how much time I will be allowed for each activity. So, when you start to realize that, in one month, you will have 6 hours to design an experiment, you become very focused on how you use that time, so that it is not wasted.

The program is called DaySculptor and it starts out by telling you every day: "Today is a brand new day.", and ends by telling you "Great job!" when you finish everything, no matter how much you struggle. Obviously, there are days that are so busy that one does not use it at all.
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Re: Need advice - boring postdoc!

Postby John D. D, » Sat Jun 13, 2015 7:31 am

In a simpler conception, you could just use dice.
Roll 1 once in the morning for the hat (1-6), and roll 2 dice 7 times for your list (1-12). That would be the Native American way :-)!

I like the interaction with the computer, though. (I have explorer on my hat list, too).
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Re: Need advice - boring postdoc!

Postby Dave Jensen » Sat Jun 13, 2015 11:07 am

John D. D, wrote:This is a rather specific possible solution. I thought that I would post because it actually works for some people.

I wrote a computer program, that randomly selects from a list that you set up, of things that generally might be done in a day. In your case, the list of possible things might be something like:
1) write paper
2) read paper
3) design experiment
4) interpersonal relations (talking to other postdocs, students, PI) about projects
5) equipment work (repair, analyze, maintain)
6) organize lab notes/bench/make chemicals
7) do experiment
8) attend talks
etc.
(I have about 14 things on my list)

Then, the program will randomly pick an organizing theme for the day (this is like the hat you wear), so it could be writer, scientist, engineer, computer scientist, educator, medical, artist, etc. I have about 8 hats here on this list.

So, then the program is set to pick one hat, and however many events you specify (say 7), and you organize your day around that. You have absolute veto power, if you really hate the proposed day, but what I find useful is the tension between global goal for the day, and specific list of things. What I find is some days the list is more important for feelings of individual accomplishment, and other times, the overall goal becomes more important. Every day, you log your accomplishments. Then, the next level, is either weekly or monthly, so sometimes here you can say:
These are my goals (define these for the month), run the program and say, this is how much time I will be allowed for each activity. So, when you start to realize that, in one month, you will have 6 hours to design an experiment, you become very focused on how you use that time, so that it is not wasted.

The program is called DaySculptor and it starts out by telling you every day: "Today is a brand new day.", and ends by telling you "Great job!" when you finish everything, no matter how much you struggle. Obviously, there are days that are so busy that one does not use it at all.


John,

I really appreciated your post personally. I think it is a great idea to post on this forum about productivity tools.

I'm a procrastinator. I have a big long list of things to do and half the time, the problem is choosing where to get started. Something like you described would be great for me -- I hope they have a Mac version.

Keep up the good work. Your continued participation on the forum would be great,

Dave Jensen, Moderator
"One of the most powerful networking practices is to provide immediate value to a new connection. This means the moment you identify a way to help someone, take action." - Lewis Howes
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Re: Need advice - boring postdoc!

Postby Craig B. » Mon Jun 15, 2015 2:15 pm

It seems like you have a lot of problems with your current postdoc. Your mentor doesn't seem like he is interested in helping you establish an independent project. Unless you're looking at co-first authorship on the "high" profile paper, being a second set of capable hands helping your more-senior lab member likely isn't what you signed on for.

On the other hand, you're a postdoc--a scientist who is supposed to have a capacity to function independently. If you've been siting idle for 6 months or trying to help other lab members with this or that, there's a problem notwithstanding your PI's disengagement.

Depending on what you're interested in doing with your career and how newly minted of a doctor you are, you have a fairly limited window of time to demonstrate productivity. If it's clear that you aren't going to be able to do this in your current lab, it may be time to look elsewhere. Otherwise, develop a project for yourself that fits your lab's mission that you can work on while you wait for this new machine to come online.
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Re: Need advice - boring postdoc!

Postby L. King » Tue Jun 16, 2015 6:30 am

I originally joined because I thought it was going to be a great opportunity but it has gotten so bad
L. King
 
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Re: Need advice - boring postdoc!

Postby John D. D, » Tue Jun 16, 2015 11:45 am

When you feel that depressed, I think it is important to be more specific:
So, "it has gotten so bad." has to change into a specific list of things that work and make you happy, and things that don't work, and make you unhappy. When the second list is specified: then each item has to have a possible corrective action that links to something you can do.
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