Disappointinig postdoc experience

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Failure of expectations

Postby Bill L. & Naledi S. » Fri Apr 21, 2006 6:56 pm

Emil Chuck wrote:

> ... there is a failure of communicating expectations in scientific training.
> It is similar to the frustrations subordinates have with the obstinance of their managers.

[smarty pants mode on]

By the same token, the slavery was happening in the USA two centuries ago probably because the Africans could not communicate expectations to their white managers.

[smarty pants mode off]

What about the inherent disparity in power between the scientific manager and scientific worker ?



Every relationship has inherent disparity. The question is how severe is that disaprity and what is your level of power to do anything to improve your situation in the face of that reality. Also, occasionally I note the use of extreme language or particularly colorful and dramatic imagery superimposed over an unfortunate situation, and I don't think it adds to the discussion. Let's talk about what the experience is, rather than comparing it to other realities, like slavery, for example.

In MJP's case, the PI has the power to dictate what happens in his/her lab. The PI also has the ability to go back on his/her word. MJP, who clearly was treated poorly by the PI, had choices at several moments: when s/he chose the lab, when s/he recognized his/her dissatisfaction because s/he was not working on his/her project, and every moment after that. This does not mean those were easy choices, or that they were fair, but is isn't clear that there was not a possibility to move to another lab. I am not "blaming the victim" - MJP says they had an agreement, the PI broke it, and the difficult part is that the PI broke it without any good faith effort to meet MJP halfway. In that caseEmil, I don't think the argument holds about a failure of communicating expectations in scientific training. This is about broken promises without good-faith efforts to negotiate a solution.

Naledi S.

Bill L. & Naledi S.
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Failure of expectations

Postby A.Gee » Sat Apr 22, 2006 6:40 am

"This is about broken promises without good-faith efforts to negotiate a solution."

Well said. And this can happen anywhere else, not just in academia.
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Failure of expectations

Postby Wendy » Sat Apr 22, 2006 7:41 am

PIs often make some promise to bait trainee to work for them and they are always in an advantageous position to manipulate their promise. For MJP, the boss may continue let him to do the project s/he doesn't like (broken promise) or let him to do her/his pet project in the last year (keep promise). Either way, the boss always win. In the latter situation, the boss at least used MJP for one or two years free.

When I finished my Ph.D, my grad advisor (chairman in the department by that time) told me if I would stay in his lab to do the postdoc, I will be guaranteed with an academic job in the future. Since I was pretty tired to stay in one place for so long, I didn't take his offer and walked out to find another post-doc position. My advisor in my first postdoc was also a chairperson in another institution by that time. When I was interviewed by him for the post-doc position, he also promised me that if I work with him, my faculty position in the future could count on him. Three years later he left science to become a head in one national organization. I had to find another post-doc by myself. When my current advisor made the similar promise to me, I almost believe that is one of strategies that used by PIs to hold people to work for them. He is really in a position capable of helping me that way. But I am just wondering how many years it will take me to pay the due, since there is no free lunch in the world. Therefore, do not trust too much the promise made by PIs. Sometimes, the promise is just a trick for them to manage people in the lab. Yourself is the only person you can trust.
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Failure of expectations

Postby Kelly » Sat Apr 22, 2006 7:59 am

I would strongly suggest that every single graduate student and post-doc should print the above post from Wendy and tape it up somewhere.

Do NOT believe under any circumstance EVER any individual that promises you a faculty position.
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Failure of expectations

Postby James1 » Sat Apr 22, 2006 9:12 am

Even if they are the chairman, they cannot promise a t-t position. There are commitees to determine this and there must be a national ad for the position. Unless you're in a dept where everyone loves each other, he/she will never pull it off. I was promised a similar thing as a RAP. The PI just cannot do it, no matter what. He was so mad when I left after a year and a half. Just because he would have to find someone else to run a project that he didn't care about except that it brought a large amount of money into his lab. This is total B.S. In the majority of cases, this promotion can never happen. Maybe twenty years ago it happened, but not now.
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Failure of expectations

Postby Kelly » Sat Apr 22, 2006 11:42 am

James is exactly right: these things did happen rather easily 20 years ago. Thus, many people who "promise" these faculty positions aren't actually lying; they really think they can do it. But they can't and when they can't they are sorry but that doesn't help you when you have made your career plan around this.

If you are not made an offer in writing up frontm signed off on by the Dean, this is merely wishful thinking. no matter how powerful you think your PI or a chairperson might be. It is doesn't come from the institution (aka the Dean) don't buy it.
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unpopular opinion

Postby M.J.P. » Tue Apr 25, 2006 3:26 pm

Kelly wrote:

"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."


Well I decided to check back today and see if there will a couple more feedbacks to my original post, and I surely didn't expect 35 =)

Thanks for all the input, there were a couple of good ones, and some that weren't bad, but not quite applicable to my situation, which is understandable since I decided to make this a general post and I did not specify exactly the type of research that I was involved with. Anyway, one of my favorite comments is that "Remember you are doing this to further your own career, not your advisor's career." That is so true. I should have taken action when I had the chance. A response to Kelly's "unpopular opinion" post who thought I'm disappointed because I didn't get to work on my own little pet project, that's certainly not true (please read on). The project that I asked to do is EXACTLY the ones that have the highest priority in the group, the ones that support the group financially, the ones that give this group is reputation in the field for the last few decades.

Here is a little more details to my situation (especially for those of you who are familiar with organic chemistry research). For my Ph.D. research, I was involved with the development of a novel synthetic methodology, which is unique in its own way but it's not all that "mainstream", so it hasn't received a lot of attention. I did apply it to some fairly small natural products and got a couple of decent papers out in decent journals. But because I wanted a job as a synthetic medicinal chemist in the industry, and a lot of companies prefer to hire someone who has done natural product total synthesis with greater complexity, I decided to pursue a postdoc in this area. I was offered a position by my current advisor, who is one of the most established researchers in the field of complex natural product synthesis. Naturally, my NRSA proposal was also a proposed total synthesis. I thought I had found, as one of my reviewers put it, an "ideal training ground" for what I had hope to accomplish.

While >80% of my advisor's research is in total synthesis, the rest of his research interest is very bioorganic in nature (which seems to be the trend these days). The project that I was assigned to was exactly one of these bioorganic projects. Yes I'm learning a lot about medicinal chemistry, and I am probably doing a lot of the same type of work that I would be doing in the industry. However, this is not what many companies are looking for. During interviews, they all admit that my work is pretty much what I would be doing at the company, but guess what? They are looking to hire someone with experience in total synthesis in grad school or postdoc with a higher level of complexity (even though that might not be what they do at the company) During my interviews, as soon as people see the name of my advisor, and then see my research, they would ask "Why in the world are you doing this with Professor XXXX?", a natural question because he's much better recognized for his research in total synthesis. So in response to some of the posts above, I came to this group and asked to do something that the group has been doing very successfully for many years, and continues to be the main focus of the group. I did not ask to do something in which the group doesn't have as much interest, or something that doesn't "pay the bills". I don't mind not getting to work on my NRSA proposal -- I would be perfectly happy if I had been assigned to any of these major projects in the group, because they would have given me the same training. But instead, I was asked to work on one of these "side projects."

So yes Kelly, I did find a lab in which what it needs to do DOES match with what I want to do. But I was asked to do something else. Now, perhaps you understand my disappointment.
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