Postdoc problems

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Postdoc problems

Postby A. Henry » Sat Nov 10, 2012 7:23 pm

I started my current position in June, feeling enthusiastic and excited about the research and keen to collaborate with my new lab fellows as their approaches could really complement some of my existing work.
However five months down the track the micromanagement, dismissal of research and lack of any respect from the lab manager has caused me anxiety (to the point my leg was shaking constantly for 2 months, they went overseas-it stopped, they returned and so did the tremors) and depression, and the constant dismissal of my work, undermining, and other things has made it almost impossible to do my job.

I honestly don't know what to do, I emmigrated for this job, and I don't have the energy to search for another job, emmigrate again (this is already the 2nd time in a little over 1 year as the gurenteed funding for my first post-doc research got used up on a different project and I had no prospect of finding further funding for that position, and I decided to resign, plus there was the emmigration back home in between)and then start again, and I want to make this work.
The problem is my lab manager has wanted to do this project for about 5 years, and actually wants to do it themselves, they keep changing the aims, and coming up with dispirate components which they don't let me connect in what is the logical way to me (and won't provide alternatives). Whilst they were away I drafted a synthesis paper as a foundation to the research, to me it is a synthesis of new ideas and perspectives, yet my manager won't let me try to publish it and won't even read the abstract-but just dismisses it as a review (which it isn't) and won't consider it further.
I can't move forward with the project, because everytime I try to develop any concept or aspect it is quashed, or dismissed, or the aim is changed-normally without a thorough evaluation of what I've done.
I'm finding it increasingly hard to cope, and had to absent myself from a team meeting (even though the lab manager won't really allow team members to work togeather, and likes the projects isloated) last week because I could'nt take it.
How can I actually prevent this micromanagement, and get on with my work without resorting to formal channels? For the first time I can truely say (and have said) I hate my job, but only because I am not allowed to do it, I don't want to take a formal route if I can avoid it, and I don't have the energy to move and start yet again so I really want to make this work, but if it continues I think I am not too far from breakdown.
Advice from anyone who has witnessed, or experienced or avoided this sort of thing would be greatly appreciated

A. Henry
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Re: Postdoc problems

Postby C.K. » Sun Nov 11, 2012 4:46 pm

I too have a bad postdoc experience working under a micromanager PI. I used to love research but ever since I started my postdoc in this lab I felt unhappy. I feel sorry for postdocs who emigrated to this country for their postdocs since they are trapped... if they want to change labs, they have to go back home and apply for a new work permit. I am fortunate to be a permanent resident and have decided to leave by January. I've stayed one year and seven months ago in this lab and I regret deeply not leaving before. As I said, ever since I started this job, I knew I was unhappy. The way this PI treated me over the past 19 months made me sick, not because I am weak, but because it was a double source of stress : the stress of working under the micromanagement of someone who doesn't care about my career, and the stress arising from the realization that I wanted to do my job the best way possible while pursuing my goals, but I was prevented to do so. I have no respect for the work done in my current lab; even though the people working there are good friends and scientists, for most of it, despite the PI's big name, it is the result or rush and fear of humiliation in the lab meetings, and sadly most of experiments can't be reproduced. My advice is: don't try to work it out. Move on before it is too late.
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Re: Postdoc problems

Postby P. Lues » Sun Nov 11, 2012 11:29 pm

I have no prior experience with this specific issue but I have seen it happen to two postdocs who are friends of mine. This lab manager has been around longer than you and has wanted this project for 5 years. It's unlikely that s/he will nicely back away if you ask. So you can go through official or unofficial channels. I don't think it will matter. Most likely, your will be NOT be doing much with the project and the PI will see you as unproductive (or the micromanager will somehow take away all the credit from you) and you will be forced to pack up and leave the lab. I don't mean to be rude or presumptive but I've seen it happen to multiple people. It's probably best to cut your losses and leave before there is any more damage to your health, sanity and self-esteem. Especially if it's affecting your physical health (physical shaking is not a joke). You are probably too young to notice the more serious symptoms now, but the effects will manifest in 5-10 years in your body. No postdoc is worth losing your health over. Pack up and leave. I'm sure you can find a better job (maybe not as a postdoc because of funding/visa issues but there are other options out there).
P. Lues
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Re: Postdoc problems

Postby S.P.J. » Sun Nov 11, 2012 11:51 pm

I too have recently experienced a very similar situation, I emigrated across the world to begin what I thought would be a fantastic postdoc position with real prospects to grow and develop my career but then found my new PI to be very micromanaging. After a few months of being bullied, intimidated and put down in front of others I found myself in the same place you are, it was affecting my health and wellbeing and I couldn't see a way through it that would end in me being able to continue working there for three years.

To cut a long story short I made the difficult decision to resign, but even though I am now looking for a new job I cannot see how I could have stayed there and survived and feel much happier and healthier without that stress in my life.

I agree with the comment of P.Lues and CK too, and especially about the fact that it may seem that you are being unproductive and you may end up leaving anyway. I felt I was working hard and doing my best but my unhappiness was affecting my work and when I resigned my PI said that she thought I wasn't working very hard, which I found very hurtful and really knocked my confidence and self-esteem.

Although it's really hard it may be best to cut your losses as others have suggested, your health must come first and if your work is affecting your health this isn't a good place to be.
Good luck, I hope it gets sorted as I know how upsetting it can be.
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Re: Postdoc problems

Postby Andrew1 » Mon Nov 12, 2012 2:43 am

By "lab manager" do you mean the PI who hired you, or someone who works for the PI and manages his lab ?
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Re: Postdoc problems

Postby Duffy P. » Mon Nov 12, 2012 5:43 pm

Dear A.Henry

I am sorry you are having a bad time in your current postdoc. A few months ago I posted on here about having problems with my postdoc and everything was so bad that I was thinking very carefully about whether to quit academia altogether. Although some of my problems are different from yours, there is overlap in that I am also living in a foreign country and cannot just "go home" easily, I have a PI who likes to micro-manage whilst providing no actual scientific guidance, and I got so stressed by everything that I developed a terrible case of sciatica/back pain and had nervous tremors and insomnia and other health problems. I keep meaning to post an update about what happened to me but never got around to it. The short version is, after working on many job applications both within and outside academia, I am moving back to my previous lab for another postdoc - a place where I was previously happy and able to work effectively. It took a while to organise this, but fortunately it finally worked out. Some people say it is bad for your career to go back to somewhere you've been before; at this point I honestly don't care about that because I value my sanity/happiness more. Plus I know I can work productively at this place, more than if I would stay put or move to another foreign country with all the associated culture shock and no pastoral support. And besides, I've already worked in 3 countries across 4 institutions, so it's not like I didn't already move around a lot. (I should point out: I'm in europe so it's difficult to stay in one country when you work in a very narrow field). Anyway, my point through all of this... is that since I've known I am leaving my current position, life has felt totally different, and I am much happier. I advise you to focus your energy on getting out of your current position as soon as possible. I kept my head down and stayed where I was until I found the next job because I didn't have the guts to quit, but maybe quitting would have been better for my health! Don't worry about being super-productive in the current situation: you can still salvage your career if you're able to move yourself into a healthy and calm working environment. And academia is not the be-all and end-all. If I hadn't got my next job, I would have readily quit academia, but it just happened that the academic option worked out first and I feel happy about it.

good luck..
Duffy P.
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Joined: Sat Aug 04, 2012 6:05 am

Re: Postdoc problems

Postby Ana » Thu Nov 15, 2012 2:53 am

Duffy P. wrote:The short version is, after working on many job applications both within and outside academia, I am moving back to my previous lab for another postdoc - a place where I was previously happy and able to work effectively. It took a while to organise this, but fortunately it finally worked out. Some people say it is bad for your career to go back to somewhere you've been before; at this point I honestly don't care about that because I value my sanity/happiness more.

Absolutely! It saddens me to see people stuck into horrible positions because they feel their career will be over if they don't have that big paper or big PI recommendation. Your life and your sanity are so much more important.

I'm glad to hear it worked well for you Duffy and I hope A.Henry will also get out of this. You cannot change the other person and how they manage their lab, you can only get yourself out of that environment.
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Re: Postdoc problems

Postby A. Henry » Thu Dec 13, 2012 5:49 pm

Thanks everyone.
I tried to sort things out within the organisation, and after alot of stressfull meetings and getting nowhere fast and the stress has been making me feel physically ill as a result. I've also taken it up another route-to see if there is anyway for me to shift manager/supervisor within the organisation. Meanwhile I have contacted some old collaborators about a position elsewhere-I'll see what happens, but there is no way I am letting this continue the way they have been.
A. Henry
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