Thoughts on scientific career

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Thoughts on scientific career

Postby Val » Wed Jan 19, 2005 12:32 am

Hi everyone,

When I was in the graduate school, I had discussions with PhD students and with more senior colleagues (postdocs) about how to survive in the tough employment market. All of us came to the conclusion that it was necessary to go for a postdoc or research associate position to a younger growing professor. The professor would be striving to establish his career, and to do that, he would need to invest in success of his PhD students and postdocs, so that he could get a lot of quality publications and be able to attract the next generation of PhD students into his lab. Excellent skills and publications of incumbents would translate into (good) jobs for them.

As for me, my PhD advisor happened to be a well-established professor by the end of his career. The rumours among PhD students on the department were that he made his students work hard, and helped them to find jobs upon graduation. Prospective PhD students especially those from Asia were queueing to him. I was in his last batch of PhD students, and nobody of us got help from him to get a job. (Though, I always had excellent recommendations from him on time.)

My current employer does not ask me to do much, and my suggestions to do other tasks fall on deaf ears. I am concerned about it, because I do not develop the skills for which the next employer would want to hire me -- which would give me the feeling of security. I am figuring out that my supervisor keeps me as a "warm body" in his lab, which is a condition for him to receive the mega-buck grants. He outsources the work. Surprisingly, most of my jobs in my past were to be the "body" under which the grants were obtained. After grant ran out, I used to get laid off. This did not please me. I am trying to break out of this work pattern. Dave Jensen recommended me that my attitude would be best suited by working for a start-up. Not many of them are around in Australia, and these are even more plum jobs, so it is hard to get them.

My experience tells me that I am in a typical situation, and the only way to resolve my situation would be to "live the way it goes, and when the time matures, the situation will right itself". That's a universal advice applicable to everyone on this forum.

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Thoughts on scientific career

Postby Dave Jensen » Wed Jan 19, 2005 12:38 pm

Hi Val,

Your posts are intricate. I love them, but with our policy to delete posts that are duplicated on other forums, I hesitated to add to this thread. Also, your post doesn't seem to be seeking any responses . . . instead, you are sort of waxing philosophical.

Personally, I am not familiar with employers who hire people only to have them kept around as "warm bodies." This isn't very logical -- certainly, with productivity in demand as it is here in the States, that would be far from a "typical situation."

If I were in that situation, I would work as hard as possible on SOMETHING. I would re-do the systems and procedures, help other departments with their work, write reports and in general be a busy, busy person until that manager decided to move me to another department. He certainly couldn't fire you if you were super-productive.

No matter what you think about whether there is a creator or not, you must admit that productivity and creativity seem to be what is expected of us as human beings. We haven't been put here to sit around idle. The best days of my life are the ones where I am very productive and/or I have some fantastic ideas that I can implement. If you are held back by your boss and not allowed to be creative, than be productive. Even if it means cleaning out your desk and reorganizing the lab. Seriously, by being productive you can hold off that terrible feeling of "wasting away," which must be what is eating at you. I know how you feel. After I sold my company Search Masters International to Kelly Services, I was paid a consulting fee. Ready to work and help them out, I sat waiting for the phone to ring and for my next assignment from the boss. Unfortunately, they felt that throwing a consultant fee at me was all that I needed. They were wrong. At the core, like anyone else I needed to feel productive and valuable.

You take that away from a person and it is really hard to keep that feeling of "worthless" away from the door. So, Val, my advice is to really start cranking over there. Get that place up to speed -- do as much as you possibly can. Be noticed for your high energy and productivity, and perhaps that terrible boss of yours will soon see you as an annoyance that he can only get rid of by sending you elsewhere.

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“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.”- Alain de Botton
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Thoughts on scientific career

Postby Steve » Wed Jan 19, 2005 1:33 pm

Your post seems to be in two different parts. Some comments from the past, and then a gripe about your current job.

I can comment on the first issue. My PhD advisor was a young professor in the startup mode. He did quite well at getting people recruited into his lab, but then fell short on the end of helping us move on. I went on to a postdoc that he had nothing to do with, and several other people felt that he had made promises that he didn't deliver on. In short, I don't know if this issue of support from a "young" or "established" professor has anything to do with it. My belief is that it is a personal situation, dictated more by the past experience that you hear/see in the advisor.

Thanks val for your post about this. I think it is very important to do the research on whoever you are choosing to be your advisor or postdoctoral lab PI. Talk to others. Find out from previous people in the lab how much help they got, etc. It can only help.


Thoughts on scientific career

Postby John Fetzer » Wed Jan 19, 2005 10:33 pm

Establishing a reputation and skill set takes time. The first five to ten years are building those. Then you have enough to start dictating your future and aims. Even a person in a hot area with a research advisor or post-doc employer with a strong reputation is still looked at as undeveloped and green. You are hired for your potential, not for your accomplishments.

After ten years, you have some reputation, patents or publications, and a small network that includes a few established nanes and many other Young Turks. Then you can have the expectations you talk of. You sell your accomplishments with a promise in them of continued high-level work.

Employers think differently of candidates that are new, established, or veteran.

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Thoughts on scientific career

Postby John G. Hoey, Ph.D. » Thu Jan 20, 2005 8:07 am

Hello Val:

The best piece of advice I can give you comes from my own personal experience. If you aren't happy/satisfied with your current position, get away from it as fast as possible. Scientists are not unlike those in other professions; they have a tendencey to remain in positions and at jobs that unsatisfying. Granted, it is sometimes necessary to stick with a job with your mouth shut until another opportunity presents itself. It's sort of ironic though......many of us go into Science for the independence aand freedom this profession offers. However, we constantly hear from individuals such as yourself that choose to remain in situations where they are unhappy.

John G. Hoey, Ph.D.
John G. Hoey, Ph.D.

Thoughts on scientific career

Postby John G. Hoey, Ph.D. » Thu Jan 20, 2005 8:17 am


I would never stay in a position I wasn't happy with. Keep this mind though---and it took me a long time to realize it----no job is going to be perfect. If you're looking for perfect, ideal work situation, you will never be completely happy. The pressures and demands in today's competitive job market has changed the dynamic of the's often chaotic, frenzied, and downright insane. My advice is to learn how to deal with these factors; they are part of the "norm". Ive been in this business long enough to know that it would be a rare situation to find a job where these weren't part of the territory.

John G. Hoey, Ph.D.
John G. Hoey, Ph.D.

Thoughts on scientific career

Postby Steve » Thu Jan 20, 2005 1:01 pm

I like John Hoey's comments, and agree with him.

I also believe that there is going to be a certain amount of dislike in any job. I've had three of them since graduate school, two in industry, and there were a number of things that I didn't like about my job or my situation, or even the boss! Dave mentions productivity. I think that is a key. I would hate to be inactive, and so I came up with project ideas and when they were shot down, I'd analyze them and try and figure out what the management was thinking, etc. It does you no good to totally hate your job (if so , you ought to leave). But, recognizing that you're going to hate certain aspects of it isn't a bad idea, and then find the tasks that you like and be as productive as possible there.

Good luck Val. Sure hope you let us know what develops.

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