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Dealing with VERY difficult advisor during transition to postdoc

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Dealing with VERY difficult advisor during transition to postdoc

Postby JLH » Wed Mar 29, 2017 2:33 pm

Hi all,

I am set to graduate with my PhD in early May. I have defended, written my dissertation, published a first author paper, and met all other official requirements to graduate. I have also secured a postdoc position that I am really excited about. I met with my PhD advisor to discuss the timing of my leaving my current lab.

My PI keeps adding experiments that take a long time (like a new mouse model KO) and is absolutely insistent that I stay on to finish these experiments. The ones he wants me to do would require about 6 months to a year of work after my graduation date to complete.

To put this in context, my advisor is a typical horror story. He makes me cry, never says anything remotely nice, curses and yells at me, constantly tells me that I can't do anything etc.. You know the type I'm sure. I have been in this lab now for 5 and 1/2 years.

Also, my PI never has a clear path for publication or completion of a project. It's always an unending endeavor until he is about to get scooped. For example, my first author paper was published in early 2016. No new data was added to this manuscript since 2014...

So, I really, really want to leave ASAP. I tried to discuss this with my advisor and very diplomatically suggested I could stay two months after my graduation to finish up some experiments. I also mentioned that in order for me to stay for the extra two months I would require a postdoc salary. He responded with "I guess I'll just give your project to someone else then." So, in summary he wants me to stay 6 months (at least-I'm sure this will be extended indefinitely) after I graduate and only be paid a graduate student stipend. I am very upset and insulted about his reaction. He has plenty of money, I guess I'm just not worth paying properly.

I don't think this paper will be published at least for a couple of years. I have plenty of data for a great paper, but like I said- my PI takes forever to publish. So, I think "staying until the paper is finished" would be a couple of years in reality. I will definitely leave before that- I cannot continue to exist in this environment.

At any rate, assuming the paper is finished by December (6-7 months after graduation), I really don't care at this point. I am going to a MUCH more productive lab, and I would rather throw all this work in the garbage than stay in this lab for one more day than absolutely necesary. I am aiming to obtain a K99 so time is of the essence to get going in my postdoc.

I could keep going, but I think you understand my situation.

So, a few questions that I am wrestling with:

1)Has anyone ever heard of someone graduating with PhD and staying in a lab for 2-6 months without getting paid postdoc salary? This seems crazy to me, but maybe I just don't know what is standard.

2)I am almost 100% certain that even if I stay for 2 months and get paid appropriately, leaving will still be a huge problem. I do not see a way out of this situation without completely burning bridges with my PI. My PI is in the same field I am planning to postdoc in, and he is politically very powerful. Is the fallout from the inevitable end going to seriously hurt my career? How can I avoid the political retribution?

3)I am SO conflicted as to whether I should be working very hard, or if I should just relax because really-what's the point of me doing anything else if my name will likely be stripped from the paper at some point?

Thanks for reading my post and any advice is appreciated!
JLH
 
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Re: Dealing with VERY difficult advisor during transition to postdoc

Postby Rich Lemert » Wed Mar 29, 2017 5:28 pm

The first thing I would do is confirm with your school's office of graduate studies that you've met all the requirements to graduate. Make sure there's nothing your advisor needs to sign off on, and if there is get the office to help you get those signatures.

The next thing I would do is tell your advisor "my last day here will be X." Tell him that you would be happy to help the person taking over the project until that day, but that after that you will be focusing on the next step in your career growth. Treat this date as non-negotiable.

As for any potential 'political retribution', it's probably not as much of a concern as you fear. Chances are his reputation is known in the field even if he is well-connected. Besides, if you do well in your post-doc your advisor there will be able to vouch for you and counteract much of the ill-will this guy might generate.
Rich Lemert
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Re: Dealing with VERY difficult advisor during transition to postdoc

Postby D. Martin » Wed Mar 29, 2017 8:53 pm

I kind of agree with Rich. I mean, I think I agree with all but the last paragraph. Even if they know the reputation, you know many times the "guys" do not care. Also, we do not know how powerful is the new adviser and even so, sometimes, the support may not be as strong just to avoid conflict. Also, JLH does not know anything about his new PI (he will know only when he is inside) and things may not go as well as planned and then, things will really be trouble (it is just my opinion, of course).

Well answering your questions

1) yes, it happens. I had met people that defended and stayed some extra months getting paid as a grad student. Some stay and are upgraded (and not all to postdoc salary...)

2)Well, you still need to talk with him and find a solution. At the end, they will ask him for references, no way around that (if you plan to stay in academia)

3) you always work hard and your name should not be removed from the paper if you did some work.

Also, you need to consider, you had 1 paper in 5.5 yrs. So unless it is a Nature/Science with 50 citations at this point, you are not getting a K99 for a while. And no matter how productive your new lab is, it will take some time for you to publish a paper. And remember, you do not have 4 submissions anymore for a K99 (and they are more competitive very year), so you maybe making you a favor staying a bit longer (Again, I do not have your CV so maybe you are a top-10 school grad student with a Cell paper, in that case, disregard what I said).

Moreover, I have been in both sides, if one of my students publishes 1 paper, I most likely will keep him for two reasons:

1) ROI (sorry it sounds harsh)
2) I will be making him a favor for his future career.

Sorry if I sounded harsh but, from my perspective, it is the truth
D. Martin
 
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Re: Dealing with VERY difficult advisor during transition to postdoc

Postby Rich Lemert » Wed Mar 29, 2017 9:57 pm

D. Martin is apparently advocating that the original poster should stay where he his because the PI "will be making him a favor for his future career." My issues with this advice are as follows:

1) This advocates the JLH stay in a relationship that has already been proven to be abusive, and there is evidence that the situation will not improve.

2) JLH has accomplished his goal at his current institution - he has earned his doctorate. If the PI felt that he was not ready to do so, he should not have approved the defense.

3) There is apparently enough material for a second paper. If the PI doesn't want to publish it, that's his problem. The most that should be expected of JLH is to present the PI with a finished manuscript. If it becomes an issue down the road, he can explain that his PI has a track record of sitting on papers.

4) The advice to stay seems predicated on the idea that the current PI is likely going to make life difficult for JLH if he doesn't stay. From what I can see, he will do this regardless of what JLH decides to do.

5) JLH has already secured his next position. What will he gain staying where he is that he won't gain elsewhere? Furthermore, moving on will help demonstrate his growing independence - as well as his ability to take responsibility for his own career.

Personally, I consider staying in an abusive relationship because of the 'threat' of some future retribution to be a poor choice. Who knows, the guy might kick the bucket in the next couple of years. And even if he does eventually try to make JLH's life miserable, JLH can fight that battle when it happens. In the meantime, he will have plenty of opportunities to develop a strong set of allies.
Rich Lemert
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Re: Dealing with VERY difficult advisor during transition to postdoc

Postby D. Martin » Thu Mar 30, 2017 10:35 am

Well Rich, I guess this it the beauty of the forum, we can agree and disagree.

I was re reading the post and I see a lot of negativity (PI doe snto appreciatte, does not have a clear publication plan, moving to a MUCH productive lab with capital letters) but the fact stands 1 paper is not much after 5 1/2 yrs. Te fact he is planning to apply for a K99 implies he is considering academia. The main complain of my K99 was not great productivity (I got a very good score) and I had double digit papers and half of them 1st authors in good journals, so the K99 option will not fly (most likely).

Second, how can someone get in a very good productive lab with 1 paper UNLESS the PI recommended him. You know as well as I do, that the first thing a future PI does is write/call to the former PI. So, the only chance he got the offer is if his current PI helped him. No one will hire a person for a PD position w/o a great rec letter (unless the applicant has tons of great papers which is not the case). The PI maybe abusive because of a hot temper but I think he did him a favor bc I do not see another way he got the position in the first place.
D. Martin
 
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Re: Dealing with VERY difficult advisor during transition to postdoc

Postby RSD » Thu Mar 30, 2017 3:24 pm

JLH -

The great thing about having your PhD completed is that your advisor has no control over you. Want to leave and start your postdoc? Make the arrangements and inform your advisor, in a professional way, when your last day is. Any permanent position, either academic or industry, is going to be much more interested in your postdoctoral work anyway. It sounds like it is time to move on.

And to D. Martin's point: 1)there are many reasons why someone may only have 1 paper out of a PhD. It is very dependent on the field and the type of system/models used, as well as other circumstances that we, as outsiders are not privy to. 2)Getting a postdoc position is not hard. At all. Having only one paper from a PhD does not preclude someone from being a good scientist or getting a good postdoctoral (or permanent!) position, nor does it mean that the PhD advisor was responsible.
RSD
 
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Re: Dealing with VERY difficult advisor during transition to postdoc

Postby JLH » Thu Mar 30, 2017 4:32 pm

Thank you everyone that has taken the time to reply so far. I really appreciate all the input!
JLH
 
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Re: Dealing with VERY difficult advisor during transition to postdoc

Postby D. Martin » Thu Mar 30, 2017 8:12 pm

RSD:

Well, I think there maybe some reasons (not many to be honest) but I know very few good scientists with 1 paper. however, I do not want to get into arguments or bashing people. However, I stand by my post that several papers are needed for a K99 (just check recent awardees and tell me if I am wrong)
I agree bad scientist could have many papers and vice versa.

Getting a postdoc in a good lab is not easy, so I disagree with that part. Moreover, I have never hear of a person getting a PD position without the future PI talking/communication with the current PI. IN other words, a person getting a PD without a reference letter from his PhD adviser.
D. Martin
 
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Re: Dealing with VERY difficult advisor during transition to postdoc

Postby WG » Fri Mar 31, 2017 8:09 am

Second, how can someone get in a very good productive lab with 1 paper UNLESS the PI recommended him. You know as well as I do, that the first thing a future PI does is write/call to the former PI. So, the only chance he got the offer is if his current PI helped him.


The above advise is very misleading. People do find postdoc positions even without papers. It depends on what the hiring Professor or lab is looking for in terms of skills.There are alot of people who are still writing papers while in postdoc positions i.e. they graduated without having published anything. And the fact that JLH has one paper means that he can actually do work that is publishable.

I do not see a way out of this situation without completely burning bridges with my PI. My PI is in the same field I am planning to postdoc in, and he is politically very powerful. Is the fallout from the inevitable end going to seriously hurt my career? How can I avoid the political retribution?


To JLH, I agree with the advise from those who are telling you to move on from this situation as gracefully as you can. Aim to do a good job in the next position, there is no benefit to staying much longer than is absolutely necessary if you are done with your PhD. Also think of it this way, how long can your new boss realistically wait for you if you linger in this lab, not forever.
WG
 
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Re: Dealing with VERY difficult advisor during transition to postdoc

Postby Nate W. » Fri Mar 31, 2017 9:21 pm

JLH, I feel your pain. I worked for a PI just like what you described. This PI is selfishly using you to further his own career by preventing you from leaving or making it more difficult. He doesn't care about you; only his own career. The best PIs are mentors who value your future career because it reflects positively on them as a scholar and scientist.

I hate to ask what he would say in a letter of reference when you leave. I would try to sort that out diplomatically, if possible. If he gives you the run around, forget it; move on. You can write him off.

I have worked for good and bad PIs for many years. You want the "right" PI to compete an independent scientist position. Most students can't compete because they work for the wrong PI. The right PI is a full time experimental scientist who is fully devoted to research and mentorship. They have a proven track record of publications (in high impact journals) which is respected by his colleagues. Furthermore, he is well received by his colleagues and has positive relationships with key NIH study section review members as well as influential scientists who are experts in his area of expertise. Often this is the difference between success and not getting the publications, the funding, and a research position the student seeks; more so than the effort and/or ability of the student. Sadly, this is the down side of peer review. It is not an equalitarian system based entirely on the merits of the science.

So ask before around and do some due diligence before committing to a PI. If they have a good history of placing students in tenure track positions, that's a good sign. Further, if they are open minded about alternative tracks and understand the over-saturated job market, that's a good sign. Find someone who will work with you and advocate for you when you do a good job; rather try to hold you back for themselves.

PS: Promise you, his colleagues probably think "privately" what a jerk he is and then trash his papers or grants in anonymous peer review.
Nate W.
 
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