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Disappointinig postdoc experience

PostPosted: Wed Apr 19, 2006 6:19 pm
by Kelly
I agree with the comments of Bill and Naledi: as soonas as it became clear that you were not going to get the type of training you wanted (sometimes the situation of a PI changes; sometimes you need a body on a project that is more important to the overall lab) you should have found a new advisor. Individual NRSAs are portable to some degree. It is important to discuss this with your current PI, work out a transition that inlcudes compelting a project for them (while putting the NRSA funding on hold) and a good reference for you and then moving on.

Disappointinig postdoc experience

PostPosted: Thu Apr 20, 2006 12:48 am
by Val

unpopular opinion

PostPosted: Thu Apr 20, 2006 6:48 am
by Kelly
I'm going to express something here which is not meant to draw flames. Instead, it is a simple reality that all trainees must come to terms with: it isn't all about you.

Graduate and post-doctoral training is not all about you and your needs, what you want or your career. This doesn't mean your needs should be totally disregarded ALL the time but labs are about getting science done; that's the mission. Your training has to fit in along the lines of this mission. Remember, a PI usually has 4-6 people that also think, it's all about them. It gets really tiresome. Furthermore, in order to keep a lab running, you have to keep it funded so certain projects have a priority; they may not be your personal priority but you are part of a team. There are other members of this team who also would like to go off and do the project of their heart's desire but then pretty soon the things that keep the lab funded aren't getting done. Individual NRSAs do NOT keep a lab funded. They don't "help;" they can be more of a pain than they are worth since one gets to listen to the oohhhh I have my own money; I should get to do what I want. Fine, go do it in someone else's lab and take your NRSA with you. NRSAs don't come anywhere near the cost of doing science; your NRSA pays your salary and that is it; walk into the lab this morning and take away every single thing that your NRSA didn't buy (including pencils); take a minute and calculate capitalized equipment costs; your NRSA for "your" project doesn't even pay depreciation on capitalized equipment: it is the R01s that keep a lab functioning and whether you like it or not, you need to be prepared to contribution to the community pot in terms of keeping the lab running so you can take advantage of my generoisty in allowing you to use my lab and my equipment to do a project that gains me little to nothing (except maybe a paper if we are lucky), takes my time and my space away from people doing work on my R01s who want to do that work and may require me to sit and listen to you complain about how you should get to do what you want in MY lab.

So find a lab that is a good fit where what the lab NEEDS to do, matches with what you what to do. Someone else's lab is not there to meet your training needs. It is there to do science.

postdoc,,, not necessarily training

PostPosted: Thu Apr 20, 2006 7:59 am
by P.C.
One theme for the aspiring pipeliners: in way too many post doc situations, the PIs motivation is not to train you for your next jump to industry or academia, but to merely keep the funding, prestige, points for the PI. I may be extreme, paranoid and very cynical about the motivations of PIs who themselves are not supervised in a consistant manner. Nor are they given a lot of points for doing a good job at mentoring. That is actually a side effect of keeping the lab functioning, and keeping the funds flowing.
Recently, there have been a number of posts urging the individual to take charge of their careers, and at a very early level.
Do not assume there is a fair and merit fair system. It is actually fairly chaotic and lasse faire.

postdoc,,, not necessarily training

PostPosted: Thu Apr 20, 2006 8:52 am
by Maria
Hi all,

I agree with Kelly on this one, and I do so from my postdoc perspective. I started my postdoc in my current lab 2.5 years ago. My lab is very well known in my field, beside for the good science, for a set of techniques we use. They are difficult to master, require lots of training (I am talking 8-12 "unproductive" months here) but, in part for this same reason, they seem to have been a great selling point for people to move on to both academic and industry careers.

When I interviewed for a postdoc here I told my PI that I absolutely wanted to learn these techniques before leaving; she got a little tense there, and told me that it would have taken me a year just to get up to speed with the technique, let alone producing reliable data. So she suggested instead that I would start off on a project not involving directly the technique (we both needed papers!), and after strenghtening my CV a little I would take maybe 3 days off a week to learn. I think this is an example of a good compromise. Now, 5 papers later and 2 more in the makings, I am learning what I want and applying what I learn to my experiments.

So my point is: you can do it, you can get the training that you want within reason. But you need to be firm, it's so easy for a PI to "forget" things, expecially if she's forgetting things that will make you temporarily unproductive! Along these years I kept reminding my PI of our agreement (saying things like: after this paper is out, how about I start learning this part of the technique? It will be very useful for step 2 of the project!"), I read and made a point of discussing with her the literature relevant to the technique, I took any chances I got to show interest, went to seminar and technical sessions of conferences, talked to salespeople for the companies that make the instruments we use and discuss new advances with everybody in the lab, etc...

Be firm and positive, show entusiasm and KEEP REMINDING THEM!!!!
Best of luck,

postdoc,,, not necessarily training

PostPosted: Thu Apr 20, 2006 11:06 am
by Kelly
"the PIs motivation is not to train you for your next jump to industry or academia, but to merely keep the funding, prestige, points for the PI. I think that message is implicit in Kelly's post about certain Post doc initiated and funding options. "

John, you are taking the most negative interpretation of what I wrote. I said the lab isn't all about training and the training must fit in around the larger goals of the lab or THERE WON'T BE ANY LABS. Training must be a natural extension of keeping a lab up and running to do science (not "merely keep the funding, prestige, points for the PI"). I never wrote anything like that.

Most PIs are about doing science, or at least most I know. There are some for whom the science is merely a vecihle for their egos but to write as though this is the rule is unfair and incorrect.

The fact that someone's lab isn't exclusively focused on training doesn't make the PI evil or the process corrupt. I doubt any PI would say the major goal of my lab is to train people. For most PI's the major goal of their lab is to do science and people are trained in the context of this larger goal. There's nothing wrong with that as long as both sets of needs are met and admittedly some labs balance those needs better than others.

postdoc,,, not necessarily training

PostPosted: Thu Apr 20, 2006 11:27 am
by P.C.
I think the qualifier "is implicit" somewhat gets me off the hook here. I apologize for taking too much licence.
Nevertheless, the point for the potential pipeliner , is to take charge, and be aware of conflicting motivations why any PI hires a graduate student or a postdoc.
As for being negative, I lived being under some pretty exploitive PIs, including drunks and extreme egotists. I always assume the worst in the overlords motivations.

postdoc,,, not necessarily training

PostPosted: Thu Apr 20, 2006 12:06 pm
by Kelly
The drunks and egoists do exist. I will not deny their existence. I also will not deny the liars, manipulators and the just plain bad seeds that can grow in the academic environment and any environment.

However, publishing letters on line of dubious source that name individuals in a public forum and disparage institutions as a whole is not acceptable. If there is one principle that I firmly embrace it is that one does not publically speak ill of any institution under any circumstance, ever. If there is one thing that I remain ever confident of, that has always been true in my experience, it is this: most institutions do their very best and most negative experiences lay at the hands of individuals not the institution as a whole.

Naming names, letters.. is a no no

PostPosted: Thu Apr 20, 2006 12:40 pm
by P.C.
Naming names and publishing confidential letters here merits immediate censorship, pro or con.
The problems of attribution are beyond the scope of a forum such as this.

unpopular opinion

PostPosted: Thu Apr 20, 2006 1:17 pm
by Jester
Kelly is spot-on in describing the reality of academic science! No money = no science...

Let's paraphrase: Its not about you and your needs..its about my generosity, my lab, my equipment, my time and my space...(Me, Me, Me)

sounds awfully selfish...