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Postdoc Woes

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Postdoc Woes

Postby SK » Tue Jun 27, 2006 11:36 am

Hello Everyone,
What a great forum this is. I am so very pleased to have found you. You are such an insightful and down-to-earth bunch. It warms the cockles of my anterior interatrial band. I hope you don't find me rude in asking a question without spending any time here getting to know you, but my husband is in a rather bad spot and I could really use some insight or advice.
After a great PhD (lots of publications, conference talks etc.) Bjorn went to a very well-respected lab for what he thought would be an equally good postdoc. Two years later, he has no publications, and a dead-end project (one of the risks of completely novel work). Ovarian tumour cells which decide to stop expressing his protein out of the blue...inconclusive data. To further compound matters, a big cancer grant he was hoping to get has suddenly become mired in red tape, plus his PI has just lost a grant he has held for 22 years. The long and short of it is, he's done on July 31st.
Bjorn has never known science not to work, so he's utterly, completely devastated by this. His PI never gave him any negative feedback at all so, rightfully or not, Bjorn thought all was well. Now he's been told that having no publications in two years is not good, despite all the mentoring of young grad students he's done, hours he's put in, workshops he's chaired. He is an excellent scientist, and the failure of this project was not in his experimental technique. Hi PI was also never there...had a lab of 17 people and gave no mentorship whatsoever because he was always travelling. In fact, if not for Bjorn, many of the Masters and PhD students would have had no mentorship whatsoever.
Bjorn figures he's sunk. He thinks he's pretty much eliminated his chances at a future faculty position because of this crappy first postdoc. I can't give him any guidance because I left professional science after grad school to become a high school teacher. I'm sorry to be long winded, but we're in need of some advice, or feedback. Can he recover from this? Could a good second postdoc (if he can get one) dampen some of the effects of this one? I'm sure he's not the only person out there to have had a bad postdoc. He is so devastated by this that I am becoming frightened. Any help or thoughts you can offer would be much appreciated.
Thanks everyone,
SK.



SK
 
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Postdoc Woes

Postby Alison » Tue Jun 27, 2006 12:01 pm

He has done 1 two year postdoc since graduating with a PhD? Get the CV up to date, get reference letters that emphasise the quality of the scientific techniques and mentoring of students and find a postdoc in a lab where the project is not risky. i.e. one where the work will result in papers. Also, he could consider industry or many of the alternative careers mentioned on this forum.
OK, his dream of a future faculty position may be slightly further off, but the postdoc has shown him the other side of research (and perhaps the more common side) - projects can be risky and might not work. The trick is to develop that often mentioned resilliance, pick yourself up again and get cracking on the next project/find the next postdoc.
Alison
 
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Postdoc Woes

Postby Sarah » Tue Jun 27, 2006 12:42 pm

A good friend of mine last night was just explaining that, as a postdoc, you should always have one or two 'bread-and-butter' projects going - things that aren't earth-shattering but will definitely produce publication-worthy results. Then have a long-shot, crazy project that may not work but would be incredibly interesting if it did. Never pin all your hopes on the longshot. Your husband has now learned this the hard way.

If he still wants to try for an academic position, a second postdoc is essential now. When interviewing, he needs to pay attention to the managerial style of the PI and make sure he's working on a project that will produce results. Priority number one is to prove he can move a project forward, and the only tangible proof of that is publication.
Sarah
 
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Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:29 pm

Postdoc Woes

Postby SK » Tue Jun 27, 2006 12:43 pm

Hi Alison,
Thanks for your thoughts. Yes, he has done one, two year postdoc which he started immediately after his thesis defense. Is that odd?

SK
SK
 
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Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:29 pm

Postdoc Woes

Postby Alison » Tue Jun 27, 2006 12:50 pm

Hi SK,

No it is not odd at all, quite normal in fact, and although this depends on the field, still leaves plenty time to do another postdoc with more success in the publications department! Sarah raises some great points as well - he should make sure that he does some straightforward projects to ensure that he gets some publications!

A.
Alison
 
Posts: 124
Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:28 pm

Postdoc Woes

Postby SK » Tue Jun 27, 2006 1:28 pm

Dear Alison and Sarah,
Thanks so much for your insights. Since this blowup, he's heard from numerous people about the value of the "bread and butter" projects in addition to the high risk sexy one. A mistake he will not make a second time. I believe in his skills, and I know he will land on his feet. I've also told him to think about private industry, in addition to academia. We have friends who have gone the industry route and never looked back. It's not a complete bed of roses, but then again, neither is academics. Thanks again. I send you both "KiSS"-es!

SK
SK
 
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Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:29 pm

Postdoc Woes

Postby Baoloa » Tue Jun 27, 2006 2:21 pm

Two years post-PhD and with no papers in sight isn't too dreadful. It's good to well and truely learn the lesson that one needs to balance risk with security.

As for now? Onwards! Courage!
Baoloa
 
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Postdoc Woes

Postby Kevin9921 » Wed Jun 28, 2006 9:13 am

From my experience, it is not uncommon for a faculty candidate to have done two post-docs before landing a faculty position. I will agree with the other poster's, Bjorn does need to be productive in his second post-doc to land a faculty position.

As for an industry position, my friends in industry strees the following: If you want to get a industry job they look for someone with a deep understanding of techniques that might help them solve their problems. Publication of novel work is very, very secondary to demonstrating technical expertise, experience, and understanding. One friend who is a lab director, says he rarely has time to read a candidates pub's., but looks more at what type and where they got their training. In essence they want and expert in X, Y or Z. SO SELL YOURSELF AS AN EXPERT IN X, Y OR Z!!!

And most of all, keep your head up...we are in this field because we love it and couldn't imagine doing anything else. Best of Luck.
Kevin9921
 
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Postdoc Woes

Postby M. Peabody » Wed Jun 28, 2006 11:36 pm


I bet that guy from Korea who faked the stem cell paper will be back someday. What's my point? This is a bump in the road, not a career killer. Get another post-doc and move on.

I agree completely with the "bread and butter" comment. I make sure all my grad students always have a "money" project going in addition to a risky project. One simply cannot afford to expend a huge amount of effort only to have nothing to show for it.
M. Peabody
 
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Location: Midwest

Postdoc Woes

Postby Wendy » Thu Jun 29, 2006 12:57 am

"I bet that guy from Korea who faked the stem cell paper will be back someday. What's my point? This is a bump in the road, not a career killer."

You bet right. The Korea guy is coming back soon. I heard the news that he is going to run the lab again using the donated money from his supporters and followers. I hope that Nature and Science will check his raw data before publishing anything from his new lab. Before he can do this, he needs to clean himself off all criminal charges against him.
Wendy
 
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