Not suited to research??

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Not suited to research??

Postby E.M.T. » Mon Jul 10, 2006 4:23 pm

I have been a postdoc for about 9 months. I have a good boss but I don't like the environment in the lab in that the people don't really talk to each other. I have been moderately successful with a few setbacks (cells not growing, getting contaminated) which have set me back for a few weeks at a time where I don't have much to do. doesn't sound too bad, does it?
Problem is I just can't get motivated about any of my research. It is interesting but I don't have the enthusiasm that my colleagues do. I just go through the motions of doing the techniques but really don't care. I try to read but lose concentration after a few paragraphs of a paper. If I read a paper I can't remember what a paper was about a few days later eventhough I know I read it (maybe multiple times!!!) and I definitely can't say "in X's paper they discovered.....".
My Ph.D experience was completely different. Eventhough I had a lousy boss, I had great colleagues and a wide circle of friends but since moving to a different city I have none of that and feel isolated and lonely. We can't really move again because my husband has a great job. Maybe this has nothing to do with it and I am just not suited to research.
I have applied to multiple biotech jobs in the area and haven't got a response. I miss the teaching end of what I did in my Ph.D and where I am doing a postdoc there is no teaching. I got an interview with a cc last week for a full time position and am still waiting to hear but I don't expect to get a job like this on the first try. I have accepted an adjunct job at another cc but only teaching one class

What should I do? Am I wasting my time and my advisors time doing a postdoc? What other career moves can anyone suggest??? I just don't want to be depressed any more!

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Not suited to research??

Postby Kelly » Mon Jul 10, 2006 5:16 pm

At least 3 potentials for your funk:

1. Transitions are tough. Just when you figured out how to make the undergraduate process work for you, you go to graduate school and then, just when you are really comfortable and in control, it's time to defend and you find yourself back on the soggy earth of post-doc. It's worse when you make the transition to your first faculty position. I used to get homesick when I went to summer camp as a kid. Every time I have moved on to a new lab, I got "lab sick" for my old lab, complete with rose colored glasses for the old lab.

A new lab is disorienting; you really need to accept that it is a new and different way of doing things. It is not going to be your former lab and you can't make it that way.

2. There is this thing called the post-PhD syndrome (I call it that). It is the discovery that despite the fact one has finally completed the degree you once thought not possible or long off, that,...well...things aren't really that different. The world did not change so much.

3. It seems part of the problem is that you don't have a clear career path. On one hand, you indicate you miss teaching but on the other hand you indicate you have applied for biotech jobs. So what is your long range career goal? Could this be the underlying factor in your unhappiness? that you really aren't sure why you are doing a post-doc or if it will take you where you want to go?
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Not suited to research??

Postby Kathy » Tue Jul 11, 2006 3:55 am

Well, maybe you are, and maybe you aren't...But...Give yourself a bit more time before you make a decision; you've had a massive upheaval - a new city, a new lab, new colleagues, new place to live. You've left behind the security of a PhD you liked and a wide circle of friends. Even moving house is supposed to be one of the more stressful life events on its own. It's not surprising you feel lonely and down. When you move to a new place, it takes time to carve out your niche and build up a social circle and so your whole life at the moment is work; this means that any dissatisfaction you experience is magnified, as you don't have the balancing influence of friends and out of work activities.
When you feel a bit down is, however, not the best time to make life-changing decisions. Try giving yourself 6 months, in which you try your best to meet new people (outside the lab, by the sound of it!) I acknowledge how difficult it is to meet people when you're out of the grad school situation, but try anything! Then, when your 6 months is up, and if you're sure it's not just the initial shock of the move that's making you unhappy, you can make a better informed decision and know you gave it a good shot. Best of luck!
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Not suited to research??

Postby Larry 2 » Tue Jul 11, 2006 9:56 am


Please don't give up on research yet. Community College work (I assume that's what you mean by cc) can be fun, but it's not a career in most places. Kelly and Kathy are right: this is no time to make a big life-altering decision. This is familiar territory to many of us. Be very careful to not slip into depression, with all the stresses you could be precariously close to very serious personal problems. Many promising careers have been lost at this junction.

Take good care of yourself just now.

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Not suited to research??

Postby L. D. » Tue Jul 11, 2006 10:12 am

I feel for you, as I am in almost the exact same position. 10 months into a new post-doc, having moved across the country, leaving behind friends, family, and familiarity. First, I recommend that you get more exercise if your pattern of activity has changed since you moved. I bet it has. As for the lab, I wouldn't bail on it yet as long as you feel that its a good lab and the PI is able to launch you somewhere at the end. Maybe you should talk to your PI about planning and making some concrete goals. A poster at a meeting for short term, and a good plan for the next 2-3 years. If you haven't already. But I would do some deep thinking about where you want your post-doc to take you. I didn't do this ahead of time and am now rethinking my position as well. You are not alone!!
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Not suited to research??

Postby Dave Jensen » Tue Jul 11, 2006 10:56 am

Hello E.M.

Please come back and keep in touch about how you are doing. You've had some wonderful advice in this thread.

I'll no doubt just be echoing some of it when I tell you that as a recruiter we move people all over the country. It takes a MINIMUM of six months to even start to see the light in the new location. Depression can really set in fast, especially when combined with the other stress of starting a new job, etc.

Hang in there and keep posting on this forum.

Dave Jensen, Moderator
“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.”- Alain de Botton
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Not suited to research??

Postby E.M.T. » Tue Jul 11, 2006 10:58 am

Thanks to all for the advice. I probably don't have concrete career goals. Throughout grad school I always thought that I wanted to teach at a small 2 or 4 year institution. I love the teaching and the mentoring and miss not having undergrads around to help and teach since I now work at a med school, so that is why a cc appeals to me in many ways. I don't under want to teach at an R1 institution and have absolutely no ambition to go that direction.
I also want a consistent work schedule, good salary and good benefits being that I have a family to support (one child with one on the way!!!). I definitely don't have that now at the institution I work in. Since I don't like my situation anyways, my husband is pushing for me to get a "real job" and I kind of agree with him. Industry appeals to me because of the high salaries but I know I won't even get a bite when I apply for jobs there because I don't have the requisite experience and I am not sure I can stick the postdoc thing out long enough to get the experience and am also not sure if the work schedule in industry would be compatible with family life
Once again thanks for the advice.
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Not suited to research??

Postby Kelly » Tue Jul 11, 2006 12:07 pm

The medical school environment is a very different culture than most settings. It can take some adjustments.

It sounds as though you like research but you need some combination of teaching and research to help you feel fulfilled: this is great news, there is a place for you in academics to consider as a long range career goal. In smaller institutional settings (4 year colleges) there is a need for folks with both a research program that uses undergrads in the lab and to combine this with teaching. The pressure for grants is not as intense as in more research intensive settings. Both the NIH and NSF recognize the value of teacher/researchers in these setting and have specialized grant mechanisms (e.g., R15) to support research projects that focus on giving undergrads a research experience. One generally teaches 2 course/semester and publishes a paper every couple of years using combined data from several undergrads.

How to prepare: you will need teaching experience, real teaching experience and you can get this by teaching at a community college. This gives you experience and shows a real interest in teaching. Most folks coming out of research intensive post-docs are looked at with questions for these types of positions if they have done no real teaching. You will also need to have a research profile. Try to focus in your post-doc on projects that you could also implement in a smaller environment. If possible, avoid animal models since most smaller institutions are limited in terms of animal resources. If you are working with an animal model now, that's fine but try to start a side project that would not require you to house mammalian animals maybe a cell culture project that dovetails nicely with any work in an animal model. Or start working on an invertebrate model for a similar question.

The rest of the good news is that these types of positions don't have the expectation of 6->>> years of post-doc: most hire after 3 or 4 years, sometimes sooner. And it never hurts to start applying NOW for these types of jobs. The other option is to think about a long-term position at this community college where you teach but do research as a collaboration with your post-doc lab. Some mentors are really receptive to this when a post-doc has done a good job.
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Not suited to research??

Postby Emil Chuck » Tue Jul 11, 2006 12:43 pm

Agreeing with everyone else, there's not much that I can add... but I will:

Have you talked about this with your current supervisor? What does he/she think about your career interests and plans? For you (EM), there is value in doing a self-assessment and developing a personal career/professional development plan and sharing that with your advisor to see if there is anything that s/he or your institution can do to get you there.

There is also something to be said about your lack of scientific motivation. Having a project that you can wake up to and look forward to approaching does not happen overnight, but it is something that keeps most scientists motivated. If you feel like you're going through a charade, it's not going to get much easier in a different lab in industry when projects could change on you in the drop of a hat or the decision of a higher-up. Basically, how do you know that an industry lab is much better other than it being on the other side of the fence?

You do have to talk to your advisor anyway since you do have a new child on the way (as I read it). You will likely do a lot of reassessment for your personal situation and your family's. I would not push too much on the adjunct positions as a result, since you will be taking leave to care for your new arrival... but I would try to keep my name "out there" anyway. You can adjunct at a CC or you can go to a local college and ask. There may even be additional opportunities with science museums where you can do some teaching but in a slightly different way than a classroom setting.

But you have to know what type of life you want five years from now. What type of hours do you want to have? How much money do you need to help support your family? Those answers will help you identify the jobs that really enhance your life personally and intellectually without feeling like you have to sacrifice upward mobility for your family.
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Not suited to research??

Postby Paul » Wed Jul 12, 2006 6:22 pm


I completely understand the feeling… I went through the same thing when I moved from the East Coast to California. In fact, about once every three to four months, I kinda slip into a funk for a couple of days, apathy is a sneaky beast!

I have found it very helpful to not only exercise and maintain reasonable working hours (8-5:30, no weekends if at all possible), but I also try to read articles that interest me that are not in my field of research. This helps to keep me intellectually “tuned in” to the rest of science.

I have often thought that my apathy meant the research is not for me. When this happens, I try to remember that I loved research in graduate school (why would that change in 2 yrs?), even though I did not like my boss, I loved the work. Even now, as a postdoc, I try to find the small challenges to excite me. Even if the project as a whole does not seem exciting, I try to find the small things to keep me going.
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