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Supervisor forbids me to apply for a fellowship...

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Supervisor forbids me to apply for a fellowship...

Postby C.K. » Wed Oct 31, 2012 2:19 pm

I have been a postdoctoral fellow for one and a half years. My PI is the biggest name in the field, he is very busy and is overseas for about 3 weeks per month. This was my dream lab as a PhD student (how naive). Since the first day I've started my postdoc I simply hated it. Multimillion dollar funding, but very outdated facilities, no proper computer and internet access, PI is never available and still is a micromanager. One is not allowed to do what they want, but specific tasks are given (postdoc=cheap lab tech). Basically there is no freedom. My PhD supervisor advised me not to leave before I have a paper. I only have a thrid author paper during my postdoc - it could have been a first author, but PI didn't care about me of course despite all hard work (I really worked hard!)- he told me to send the data to the collaborators, their postdocs added some results and they got first and second authors. Two months ago I was totally "burn out" mainly because I feel really frustrated : I love science, I love research and creativity, I want to do things right, finish experiments the proprer way, repeat to get consistent results... But I've lost all the respect for this PI since all the work in this lab, including mine, is never completed as it should, because of all the stress to rush things. I think it is bad science and I want to leave. All the other postdocs have almos no publications and have been around for 6 years average... I am in a situation where it is not easy to just leave... Although I have two first author papers during my PhD alone with my supervisor (it was a very small lab), I only have those two papers and the postdoc paper. Plus in the city I live there are only a few other labs working on my topic, which I really would like to continue to work on. After the burnout period (no one in the lab know about it), I rested a lot during weekends and tried to be really strong. I decided to then stay in this lab depite it all, and try to "work it out". I am in a big University and supposedly should have better work conditions..... It all changed today. I've mentionned to my supervisor that I was going to apply for a scholarship last week and he said "OK" I. have a project written from last year which he had already reviewed and I would need to change about 35% of it (I have already started) before sending it to him for review. Well, I just got an email asking my about the deadlines again, and telling me he just found out other PI's working with him have grants to apply too, and between my 50K fellowship application and the PI's grants, he doesn't have time to peer review and support mine wich is due in 13 days. I feel so outraged. As a postdoctoral trainee, I also have my career objectives. Anyways, I clearly don't have his support. What should I do ? Advice please.
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Re: Supervisor forbids me to apply for a fellowship...

Postby Rich Lemert » Thu Nov 01, 2012 9:32 am

All the other postdocs have almos no publications and have been around for 6 years average.


This statement is telling you something! It's telling you that this lab has a high chance of being a career killer. Six years as a post-doc will most likely close off any possibility of getting into industry, and the lack of papers is going to be a major impediment to an academic opportunity. This alone should tell you what you should be do.

It sounds like you live somewhere where there are multiple opportunities to work in your field, which should make your choice easier. Don't worry too much about continuing in "the same topic", though. While it's familiar and therefore comfortable, it's not the only interesting project out there. Being adaptable is only going to help your career.

Also, what are you going to do when you finally decide to seek a "real" job? If you're going to insist on staying in the same location you're going to severely limit your opportunities and extend the time you spend searching. (Remember that a post-doc's only objective is to get out of that post-doc into a permanent position.)

Don't get too "hung up" on your publication record. Focus on what you have accomplished and how it demonstrates your productivity. You can mention how small your PhD lab was, but don't use it as an excuse! (Think "Even though we only had [xyz] I was able to do [abc]," instead of "I could only do [abc] because we were so small.")
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Re: Supervisor forbids me to apply for a fellowship...

Postby Andrew1 » Thu Nov 01, 2012 1:26 pm

I think it's better to get out than try to make this situation work.

However, I'm also a bit confused - if the PI is one of the top people in the field, how is it possible that none of his postdocs have publications after 6 years ? That sounds like a remarkably unproductive lab.
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Pack your bags.

Postby P.C. » Thu Nov 01, 2012 1:54 pm

Resign now and go somewhere sane.
"You know I'm temperamental." "Yeah, 95% temper, 5% mental." - "Curly" & Moe Horwitz
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Re: Supervisor forbids me to apply for a fellowship...

Postby Derek McPhee » Thu Nov 01, 2012 3:32 pm

The math here does not add up for me - you say (almost) nobody has published for 6 years, and aside for the question posed by someone else - how does this PI survive (unless we are talking about one of those countries where the tenure guarantees funding, ie it is not a competitive situation) and you have been there for 1.5, meaning there was a 4.5 year publication gap and that did not raise a red flag for you? (I assume you checked these things - it is bare minimum due dilligence)
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Re: Supervisor forbids me to apply for a fellowship...

Postby C.K. » Thu Nov 01, 2012 4:37 pm

The PI does publishes a lot. He is a senior PI who made some major discoveries 20 years ago. However ~60% of "his" papers now are collaborative papers where the collaborators are not from the Institute. He is also the director of the Institute and the other 35% he is senior author but with other PI's from the Institute. The remaining ~5% are from his group and literally 6-7 year old projects are getting out now... He is not full time at the Institute.I wasn't aware at the time I applied that all his papers were not from his group. I should have known better. I emailed him to express my disappointment of not having his support to apply for the scholarship. I said that I do my work the best way possible in the lab and felt it was not very professional professional to not support my application. I stressed that I was aware of my responsabilities but PI's hiring postdoctoral fellows and students have responsabilities too. I asked two friends to review my email to make sure it was not impolite or anything. He emailed me back and he badically said that having his support was not my right but a priviledge, and that the scholarship I applied last year was rejected probably because it was bad, and anyways if he finds himself busy with something he believes is more important to his interests then there is no point in using his time to review my application. He said in a very subtle way that I asked him to review it last minute too..... I was not going to reply but I did. I refreshed his memory about when I first asked him to review my application, that at the time we had agreed on using last year's proposal and what I would have to change. I also reminded him that he was very happy with my proposal last year, and his reaction when he learned it was refused, which he says was because most the peer review committee on that organization don't like him. I copied/pasted his own words from his original email. Until today, he had no reason to be unsatisfied with me, so why is it? I think he is a very arrigant person to start with... Anyways, I hope to find a new lab for January so I can start it over..... I must really love research to not abandon it right now. The situation is very sad, I wonder why some PIs treat their postdocs this way.
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Re: Supervisor forbids me to apply for a fellowship...

Postby Derek McPhee » Thu Nov 01, 2012 4:59 pm

To answer the very last question - because they can (get away with it)
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Re: Supervisor forbids me to apply for a fellowship...

Postby Rich Lemert » Thu Nov 01, 2012 5:22 pm

Be careful! You're walking a very fine line here with your latest email exchange.

I have no problem with you expressing your disappointment with him not supporting your fellowship application. That's saying something about you.

I don't even have a problem with you asking him why he didn't support you. Again, you're focus is on you - and it implies a willingness to modify your performance in order to gain his support in the future.

Where you've gotten yourself in trouble is when you accused him of being unprofessional and started throwing his words back in his face. I don't care how "polite" your language was, the message itself was impolite and disrespectful. It doesn't even matter if you're right.

At this point, do not waste any time finding a new position. You have even more evidence that this guy has no interest in helping you develop your career, and there's a good chance that you've p****d him off, too.
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Re: Supervisor forbids me to apply for a fellowship...

Postby C.K. » Thu Nov 01, 2012 5:49 pm

I understand your point. I believe that in most situations like that what happens is that the postdoc leaves and that's it. What was I supposed to say ? "yes sir, you're right, I am cheap labor, please treat me like ***" ; or don't reply? I felt really disrespected. I worked really hard to provide data to his collaborators... I also worked really hard to get my PhD. If I just agree with him, I will be agreeing that, I have poor quality writing and no knowledge of my project, and that I asked him a last minute review and I think he should do it. However these are not true. Emails are proof. I've seen him bad mouthing people who left the lab as if they were ungratefull and didn't work properly. How can I allow this man tell me this and agree with him? I know that no matter how polite, a reply like this is always inflamatory. I know that now I have no option but to leave, however, I refuse to walk away in a way that I agree with him saying he can't support a simple scholarship application of mine and that is my fault. I reminded him of his wirds because in the email it sounded line I was acting as a trouble maker. I am not a trouble maker.
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Re: Supervisor forbids me to apply for a fellowship...

Postby Ana » Fri Nov 02, 2012 2:36 am

Hi CK,

I have some problems to read your posts because of the way they are written as a block. Do you think you could split them in some paragraphs in the future? if might help you get more replies.

If I can summarize your lab situation, the key factors seem to be:
- You are at a very large lab, with a PI that runs most of his projects in collaborations meaning that in many of those the first author will not be in his lab (regardless of how much work it means for you)
- The PI of this very large lab is very occupied with these collaborations and running the lab remotely, and seems to run the lab as a big portfolio of projects not showing interest in the career development of the individual members (this is not personal and has nothing to do with how much you work)
- Also consistent with the type of senior scientist that does all of the above, your PI is well known in the field and has some enemies as you mentioned with your grant from last year not being funded.

I think every field has a few of these. Because they are in so many publications and their name is so well known they have a lot of money and trainees believe that working for them will be like a dream come true, only to find out that it might have been a very bad move.

CK, the lab situation that you describe is typical of these labs, it has been like this before you joined and will continue after you leave. Most of what happens in that lab is completely out of your control and even influence circles. Your PI can lie to you if he wants and will do whatever he wants so you only control what you do yourself.

You say you are looking for a new lab for January. I think this is a very good decision. This is not about honor, the guy is a jerk and a lot of people know it. As I've told you, every field has a few of these. If a person from one of these labs met me and wanted to explain me what they didn't have publications and ended completely burned out they wouldn't need to. There are more labs like this one and it has nothing to do with you, don't take it personal. You are focusing so much on getting him to acknowledge you are a good scientist and that you deserve more and that you are not a a troublemaker... you don't need his acknowledgement for you (and the rest of the world) to know those things, and you cannot change that guy because you are not important for him (and as Rich said you could even created a bigger problem for you). It sucks, yes, and it has nothing to do with you. Focus your energies on what you control which is getting another job and keeping your mental sanity.
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