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Tough questions

PostPosted: Sat Feb 05, 2005 1:14 am
by Shehan9762
Hi all,

I have some questions that I cant really sort out by myself about my career. I am currently on my 2nd year of post doc and have almost reached the end of my contract. I obtained my Ph D in Europe and am interested in a position in industry. I have been looking hard for some contacts and found some but since the job market is tight in the area of my field, openings for foreign people are more difficult due to visa quotas.

My main problem is that I think that my post doc advisor screwed me over. Back in July, I asked the foundation which pays my salary whether they would be able to provide me some funding for a 3rd year post doc and they said yes without any sort of conditions. 3 months ago, I wrote them back to ask for a confirmation and they told me they have changed policy and that they will no longer be able to pay me. My advisor did not even know about that and "felt bad" for me. He said that he was going to help me out and try to find some funding to pay me. But nothing after 4 months. In the meantime, I sent out a few applications to companies but I realized that companies wont be able to hire me until April (law). But April would be the date that my pay will cease officially and my visa will expire at that time too. I m not a genius so I am sure that no company would be able to wait for me for 6 months...
I am starting to panic a little bit. My advisor proposed me to work on a collaborative project with a Nobel Prize winner in a field that is out of my expertise and this will definitely close down a lot of my options in the future. That professor is going to pay my salary, though. Should I take up this position and wait for the replies of the companies I applied to ? Should I start another post doc somewhere else while waiting for interviews? But what if I wont have any?

My former Ph D advisor has some contacts but she reckons that she wont be interested to give them to me if I will only be staying in the professors she know for more than a few months... What should I do? Obviously my post doc advisor wont be able to pay me until october. Should I just accept the collaborative project and wait until I have something better? would it be career suicide if I have nothing and stay on to work on that project?


Tough questions

PostPosted: Sat Feb 05, 2005 12:16 pm
by Lora
Let me make sure I understand this:

-Your post-doc advisor is proposing a collaborative project, for which you will be unpaid for six months, in exchange for ensuring that your visa doesn't run out, and is attempting to persuade you to work pretty much for free because you would be working with a Nobel Laureate. After six months of indentured servitude, however, you would be paid.

-Backup plan #1: you have applied for some industrial jobs, which may or may not come through, and you haven't been asked for an interview yet.

-Backup plan #2: your PhD advisor has some people who may be interested in hiring you on her recommendation, given that you will stay there for some time and not bail for an industry job.

Yes, your post-doc advisor is screwing you, as you put it. No one should ever work for six months for free, even if later paychecks are promised, even if they promise back pay upon receipt of funding. Apart from the fact that it's irresponsible and unethical on the part of your post-doc advisor to ask such a thing, some other eventuality will probably preclude your advisor from paying you--funding will mysteriously fall through, some bureaucratic office will be blamed for holding up the processing, and when the check shows up your boss will see no need to pay you since you've worked so long without pay. Or you'll find that your salary wasn't written into the grant in the first place. Or some other non-compensation will be offered as a substitute. Or you will be told, as I once was, "Writing grants and getting funding is just part of being a scientist--so go write your own grant!"

So far, since you haven't had interviews, Backup Plan #1 is pretty shaky. Can you develop Backup Plan #2 any further, and see exactly what sort of opportunities your PhD advisor might have for you? It sounds like the type of academic positions she might have in mind are the sort that only last 2-3 years anyway, which isn't any longer than a second post-doc, and it's possible that some of the opportunities she's thinking of will also have opportunities for collaboration, either with very bright people or with industry people who can help you transition.

I wouldn't count on industrial job applications, though; not necessarily for the visa waiting period, but because until you have an actual, solid, real job offer on paper in your hand, you don't have anything.

Tough questions

PostPosted: Sat Feb 05, 2005 1:28 pm
by John Fetzer
I read and reread the original post and saw nothing about a six-months period of no pay when the collaboration was mentioned. It sounds like working directly with the current post-doc professor has a limited (4 month life) and few chances from that.

If the Nobel Laureate can take you on with pay, do it as soon as possible. The benefits are two-fold. First, you make changing fields sound bad. It is not. Flexibility and diversification are strengths, especially if you eventually want an industrial job. They do not expect you to do what you have been doing, but what they need. Second, the cachet of a Nobel winner's recommendation is pure platinum in the job market and the network you have access to through her or him is phenomenally big. Most savvy young scientists would jump at such an opportunity.


Tough questions

PostPosted: Sat Feb 05, 2005 6:50 pm
by Val
John Fetzer wrote:

> make changing fields sound bad. It is
> not. Flexibility and diversification are
> strengths, especially if you eventually want
> an industrial job

Hm, can you elaborate on this please. I am curious what is going on in the mind of the potential employer when they assessing the applicant's CV.

How much value do the employers put on the diversity of the applicant's experience as compared to the one's (deeper) experience in just one field ?

I have worked in 3 totally different fields of physics in 6 years since my PhD. At the interviews, my potential employers praised my diverse experience. In the current employment at a govt lab, I am constantly given the small tasks which arise during the development of a product, for solving of which my colleagues do not have competency.

At the same time, I see the quick progression through the ranks of a mathematical modeller who worked on the same topic in his PhD, couple of postdocs and now in the govt lab. Employers seem to put an even higher value on him. I was surprised to see that he makes a reference to the same stack of photocopied papers which he started collecting in his PhD candidacy. I am disposing of the collected reference papers every couple of years. There is absolutely no use for them in the successive employment.


Tough questions

PostPosted: Sat Feb 05, 2005 7:21 pm
by John Fetzer
Val and others,

In industry you work on whatever projects will make the company money. If you are developing a new drug, your work may end at any moment. The drug may show side effects or those trace impurities become serious when scaled up or the FDA says No!. You then get shifted to a different project. Sometimes opportunities open up in other fields. My current example of this is mass spectrometry. MALDI time-of-flight and other techniques are super hot now. The biotechs could not wait for grad schools to produce experts. People volunteered or were drafted into becoming mass spectroscopists.

Problems pop up in development, in the plants, with the product and so on. If you know a lot and can apply your thoughts to new areas, you will make an impact. I once recognized what might be a plant's production problem because I remembered that a certain chemical I ysed in freshman chemistry lab was photo-unstable with a color change from white crystals to greyish purple. A cloudy product from the plant was filtered and the solid behaved like this. Was I a photochemist? No, but I applied whatever I had to the problem.

When I go to technical sessions at something like an American Chemical Society meeting, I go to sessions in several topics and meeting people I know because of my career shifting in and out of chromatography, spectroscopy, synthetic organic chemistry, and so on. If you are not versatile, you get pigeonholed and self-imposed obsolescence occurs.


Tough questions

PostPosted: Sat Feb 05, 2005 10:25 pm
by Val
John Fetzer wrote:

Thank you for your reply.

> If you are not versatile, you get pigeonholed
> and self-imposed obsolescence occurs.

This is a good conclusion. I presume this relates to industry only. In academia and, to some degree, in govt labs, the "versatile" person is considered to be "not deep enough", and therefore, they are not appointed to be responsible for major projects. Instead, they
are made perpetual "technical assitants" to the people who make the decisions about how the project will go. This is in my experience.


Tough questions

PostPosted: Sun Feb 06, 2005 1:45 pm
by Kevin Foley
As John implied: industry hires someone to solve a problem now, but wants someone who can do other things once the current project is terminated (a very frequent event).

At the moment, I'm looking to hire a recent postdoc from a good diabetes lab. But do you know what I really want? Someone who also did their grad studies in cancer or immunology and knows proteomics. I have a need for diabetes expertise now, but I know I'll need other things in the future (I'm not sure what, but I know I will). I definitely don't want someone who has spent their entire career doing nothing but diabetes. Someone like that should go to a big pharma. Life in a small biotech is defined by change.

I don't know much about the physical sciences in industry, but I suspect it is the same way. A few years after you are hired, you will probably be doing something completely different from what you were hired to do. Some people hate that idea and should stay in academia. Others thrive on change, and industry is a great place for them.

National labs, at least in the US for my field, are probably most like academia, although somewhat insulted from the publish or perish & funding issues that face academia.


Tough questions

PostPosted: Sun Feb 06, 2005 2:08 pm
by John Fetzer
The physical sciences are similar in industry to what is described for thr biological ones. The overlaps make the boundaries fuzzier, too. Proteomics is basically analytical chemistry applied in certain areas....a separation , like electrophoresis, with detection by mass spectrometry.

As far as national labs, they are less changing in course than industry, but more so than academia. Congress has mandated more applications and things like homeland security tilted that even further. The budgets have their hot topics, so administrators in the government agencies want to show that they are leading the charge. I could give numerous specific examples, but the pount is that versatility is a huge asset.