In need of a confidence booster.

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In need of a confidence booster.

Postby Chi-chi » Fri Nov 12, 2004 2:42 am

Hi all,

I\'m putting my pride on the line by writing this but I\'m hoping that you\'ll be helpful. Here\'s the story:

I applied to graduate school because I was/am? excited about science. My intentions were clear: I wanted to be a scientist and I wanted to run a lab in academia.

To sum up the last 4.5 years: While pursuing my degree, I made a lot of careless mistakes and they often slowed my progress. I feel that my past transgressions have given me a bad rep, but I keep going by staying positive. I feel like my abilities are improving and in my mind, I believe that I can finish successfully (with a paper).

Now enter the politics. My lab has been reduced to two grad students and one PI (who still works at the bench). The PI is supportive but she can be blunt and overly \"Type A\". When the lab was bigger (4 women and 1 man), the other women formed a clique and I wasn\'t in it. Their clique affected me because I often felt isolated although I was in large group of people. Although the clique is gone now, my interactions with the other grad student are professional but I feel that she can be disrespectful and checking her saps energy that I should be using to focus on my experiments. Plus my boss is driving me crazy with statements such as, \"I\'m surprised we haven\'t been scooped by now. . . \"

Right now I feel war-torn and battle-weary. I still like working at the bench but my motivation is wavering because I\'m battling all this unecessary stress. I know I can do it, I just don\'t know how.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel but I feel like I\'m burning out and I don\'t know where to find the extra gas to keep going. I\'m even starting to second guess my dream of becoming a scientist and I\'m thinking about leaving the \"basic research\" side of science.

Can anyone suggest ways to run on empty? I should probably ask for ways to find extra gas for my motivation?


In need of a confidence booster.

Postby Andy » Fri Nov 12, 2004 3:19 am


First of all, congratulations on finishing your graduate career with a paper. It will feel good when you see it in print.

I would recommend talking to various labs about doing a postdoc. Sometimes a change of scenery after a tough grad school experience can do wonders. If you\'re thinking about leaving science, don\'t commit to one of these postdoc labs. But do go talk to people about it and see how it feels.

If you switch careers, you\'ll need some time to plan the direction of your move, so maybe a 1-2 year postdoc will help you get your bearings and see where you feel moved to go.

Best of luck to you,


In need of a confidence booster.

Postby John Fetzer » Fri Nov 12, 2004 10:42 am

One thing to do which will change your future so it is not like your past is to learn when to raise issues and when not to. Do not fight every battle. Some situations either are not worth the trouble or are unwinnable (arguing with senior people often only gets you chewed up and sets you up for more future mauling).

Learn to walk away and keep your mouth shut if it is one of these situations. Fight for things worth fighting for that you have a chance of getting somewhere with. If the other situations arise, focus your energies on the work.

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In need of a confidence booster.

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Nov 12, 2004 11:21 am

Hello -- Hope that's a real name. Please don't use chat room names on this site.

As I read your wonderful post, I thought about how much you still care for your science, and what a terrific person you must be to be around. Yes, your emotion comes out in your post, but it is gentle and tells a great deal about you. I am sure you will succeed at your science. Take the advice of Andy and John, and never forget people such as Thomas Edison, who epitomized the virtures of patience and perseverance. How many filaments did he go through before he found the one that worked in the electric light bulb? Thousands of experiments!

Plus -- you'll be the senior person soon enough, and then you can be the one who sets the tone in the lab. I'll bet it will be a much more pleasant place to work than the one you are in now!

“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.”- Alain de Botton
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In need of a confidence booster.

Postby BK » Sun Nov 14, 2004 5:36 am


we all go through these crises, the demons crawl around us irrespective of where we are. She has nothing against you, she too is under fire from her boss and what you get is the spill over. You would be surprised, her attitude has nothing to do with you, and very little bearing over how you do what you do. The problem is not the boss either, he too has his pressures and not everyone knows how to process pressure. Most people just transfer it to the next person without thinking about the consequences.

Lets summerise your dilemma. Here is how I would translate your problem...

I want do be in Science, it fascinates me, but I do not know what exactly it is I am working towards, my goal is not clearly defined in my head or maybe I do not believe enough in the goal (again because it is sketchy). That is why you tend to focus more, not on your goal, but on the stumbling blocs and distractions along the way.

Define your goal clearly, have a purpose for it, believe in it and new energy will flow.

I hope this helps.


In need of a confidence booster.

Postby A » Sun Nov 28, 2004 3:05 am

Hey there Chi-chi,

Hang in there woman. You can do it!

You know what? I think it's time for you to graduate and move on to the next level!

Now, you drop what you're doing and find yourself a postdoctoral position in a bigger lab with a PI who doesn't work at the bench. I don't think you need that kind of close supervision anymore :-) And if you've been getting the kind of one-on-one training I think you have, you are probably one heck of a good experimentalist.

Here's how you get a postdoctoral position. Maybe you know all this stuff already, but just in case, I'm going to tell you how to do it. Nobody told me how to do it when I was a graduate student - I had to learn it the hard way. Hopefully I can save you some trouble and needless dead ends!

To start, pick some PI's you think would be good based on their research record or other factors. (Maybe you saw them give a seminar you liked?) Also, maybe even ask your advisor to recommend some names. (Just be ready for a freak-out in case she hasn't faced up to the fact that you are going to be leaving. It may be hard for her to let her baby bird fly from the nest :-) Then ask around - find some former students and postdocs and ask for their frank and honest opinions of their former lab and former boss. Eliminate any names or labs that got many bad reviews. Remember .. as a postdoc, you will need a boss who is going to be your advocate, mentor, supporter. So don't waste your time with PI's who have a track record of abusing, ignoring, or pissing off their former postdocs! Next, write an email to whoever's left on the list. Say that you'd like to talk about doing a postdoc with them and can you make an appointment to call them on the phone? (Attach a copy of your c.v. - PDF format is best - and give a link to a PDF of your paper.) Then, call! If they don't write you back to say when you can call them, don't worry about it. Look up their phone numbers on the Internet and call them anyway. Tip: call their offices either very early or very late, their time, the idea being to catch them when they are unlikely to have any meetings - which would fall between 9 and 5, usually. However, if they have secretaries, this strategy might not work :-) If you get a secretary on the phone, just ask him or her to make the appointment.

Once you get them on the phone, listen as hard as you can. But be ready to answer questions about yourself, too. You should of course ask about their research, the projects going on their lab, etc. But your number one task is to get an idea about what kind of boss they would be and whether or not it will be worth your time & money to visit them and do a day-long interview.

Ask stuff like:

1. How would you describe your style of mentoring?
2. What are some of your former postdocs doing now? Do you still collaborate with some of them?
3. I am interested in an academic career and running my own lab one day. What advice can you give me to help me achieve this goal?

And so on...

If the conversation is going well, you will need to make a snap decision: do I want to invest in an in-person interview? If yes, ask the PI if he or she would be interested in having you pay a visit, meet the lab, and give a seminar on your work. If he or she seems hesitant, ask if him or her if you can send some reprints of your paper or excerpts from your thesis. Trust me -- being enthusastic, pro-active, and maybe even a little pushy is only going to help you! But don't waste your time if the PI seems lukewarm, negative, or distracted. You will probably end up having to defray the travel costs yourself, unless the lab is very rich or is actively recruiting. So try not to waste your money and time visiting a lab where the PI is not really interested. But if you end up wasting an interview on a dud, don't beat yourself up over it. Learn from the mistake and move on.

Part of the process is finding out whether the PI candidate is the type who wants you to become some-one who can one day run her own lab. DO NOT work for a PI who wants you to be passive, invisible, or obedient. These traits are not conducive to career happiness.

Now if the PI says he or she is not interested, don't take it as a defeat or negative reflection on you. Honor them for their ability to be honest and honor yourself for your own ability to take a chance. Ask them if they can recommend some-one else who might be looking for postdocs similar to yourself. If they are good people with good hearts, they will want to help you.

Remember: A postdoc is a trainee position, not a normal job. And thank God for that! A postdoc is your chance to develop yourself. In a sense, the product you create is you! The postdoc is not supposed to last forever. It's a means to an end - your own development into a wonderful scientist, and, to go along with that, the PI-ship of your own lab.

Be brave! It's sc

In need of a confidence booster.

Postby Meredith » Sun Nov 28, 2004 10:58 am

"Remember: A postdoc is a trainee position, not a normal job. And thank God for that! A postdoc is your chance to develop yourself. In a sense, the product you create is you! The postdoc is not supposed to last forever. It's a means to an end - your own development into a wonderful scientist, and, to go along with that, the PI-ship of your own lab. "

This is what the training is supposed to be. It is not always the case and many post-docs are finding themselves out of luck for a particular position after it is over. Asking about lab dynamics may not always be easy, as PIs can treat their students/post-docs differently and on an individual basis. Being able to walk away from things and knowing when to say when is a very good skill to have. The other thing is that the politics of depts. at the graduate student level may also be difficult--your PI may support you, but if he or she is an assistant professor trying to make his/her way up the ladder, then he/she may not want to risk fighting; or worse, may side with the dept. around graduation time and so forth. Still, once the battles have been resolved, you really have learned a lot about how the system works--beyond the science side. Consider yourself fortunate to have seen these things now, rather than later. You should then think about whether or not you really want to become part of the system, or try to stick to your own in an effort to make positive environments for your own trainees. But, this is not an easy path and you may really decide to take your skills to a different place; a place where you will feel valued and truly appreciated. These experiences you have had are pretty much universal; you should read Micella de Whyse's last message on Nextwave

Best of luck to you in your decision-making process.

In need of a confidence booster.

Postby Ken » Sun Nov 28, 2004 8:23 pm

Just to jump on the bandwagon, the dirty little secret of graduate school is that EVERYONE feels that way. I don't know anyone who isn't doubting his or herself and his or her choice to go to grad school by the end. That's one of the signs it's near the end!

I had a terrible grad school experience (picture lab equipment being hurled at you by a PI....), but have moved on to a postdoc in the past few weeks, and the change of scenery has reinvigorated me. Far from doing the same stuff every day, now I'm faced with the opposite problem; I switched fields to some extent and now have no idea what I'm doing. And you know what? Even though that's scary and frustrating, it sure is better than the end of grad school when you're stuck feeling like every day is exactly the same.

So, my advice is to suck in your gut, hold your head up and do whatever it takes to finish grad school. The grass is greener on the other side, and when that grass starts to brown, it's time to stop being a postdoc....
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In need of a confidence booster.

Postby Chi-chi » Mon Nov 29, 2004 1:15 am

Hey everyone,

Thank you so much for your supportive comments. It's nice to know that I may not be crazy after all. I also wanted to comment on this wonderful forum. It truly is a blessing.

Take care,

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