Various Lies

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

There be dragons...

I've just bumped into a friend of mine. Haven't seen him in ages, probably a year at least, not since a mutual friend left town for pastures new. (Field application specialist I think, biotech or there abouts.) This bloke works nearby, nice guy, good scientist. Married to a scientist. Both of them. Scientists. Working at the same institute. Them and my friend, the FAS, started about the same time.

I've been in this town for 6 years this week. I've known them for most of that. What's wrong here?

"Hello mate! Not seen you in ages."
"Yeah, I think not since Mike's leaving party, right?"
"Yeah, bloody hell, that was a good night out. What, a year ago last September wasn't it? 18 months at least?" I'm boisterous, louder than normal. I want to know what's going on in his head. It's the Tidelinterogation. I have an ulterior motive: he's in a good lab, and so is his wife. They're both very talented scientists and I want to know what's next. How is our sister institute prepping people?

The blogosphere has recently been all flutter about the archetypal disgruntaldoc and how a postdoc doesn't prepare you for anything and yadda fucking yadda yadda. Guilty as charged. My post based on a long chat with an unhappy postdoc inspired Prof-Like's query and I forced him to wear the meat pants again. Clearly they ain't doing him any damage, and neither is the feeble gnashing of the disgruntdocsphere.

But the feeble gnashing of the disgrunts is making noise out in non-blog land...and I fear that link might not work because it's to a LinkedIn chat on a closed circuit.

Scientists are human too and no one wants to see their dreams taken away. It's the basis of most decent tragedies, TV, stage or otherwise. But it happens. As M'Learned colleague has spake:

Academic Science is not Care Bears Fucking Tea Party


"So what's next? What are you guys planning? You've been here a while right?"
"Yeah, four and half years. So we've got at least six months left. We're planning and stuff. Y'know." At which point he is fixed by the steely and unhappy glare of a furious Tideliar. "Six months? So, what are you going to do? Academia? Industry? Bench? Non-Bench? Regulatory Affairs? Curator? Instructor? Policy Advocate? Legal Affairs? Tech-Transfer? Tenure track? Science Writing? Professional Development? Academic Administration? Editor? Research Communication? Librarian? Research Assistant Professor? Technician? Director of Animal Welfare? Informaticist? Teacher? Fucking Bartender? What are you doing?"

A laugh. A shrug, and disarming grin, "Well, I probably can get another year out of my grant. So maybe 18 months," For you, think I, what about her? "So maybe academic, maybe industry. Y'know. Thinking about it. Networking."

A shaft of light! Networking. "So, you're going to conferences, shaking hands, publishing, giving guest lectures, offering to review manuscripts? At least...right?" Right?
"Yeah, y'know. A bunch of emails." That confident, empty grin once more.

I've been there. Get your fucking arse into gear. Just because you got a bloody doctoral degree doesn't mean you're owed a job. Rememeber the fear you had about looking for your (first) postdoc appointment? "Am I good enough?

Amplify that by 70,000. Seventy Thousand.

Because that's how many postdocs in the US are competing with you for every damned job. You're on a treadmill and it's speeding up.


chall said...

I've tried not to end up in the "happy go luck with a smile" pile... since I don't think it works. Well, tbh, when I first started my post doc I thought it was mostly "I know my research and I'm good at it" and that would land me a TT job... then I realised that's not the case... and more to it...

Anyway, I hope your friend makes it work for him or/and his wife. I wouldn't go at it their way but then again, I'm not a "two body problem" so ...

As for the other thing in the post... I'll leave them for the moment since I might be too bitter/realistic about them?!

leigh said...

i have to wonder how many postdocs are just aimlessly drifting like this. i know i was to start. since taking the path-not-taken in my career, i've got far more direction for the now (though to some extent that's by ear as well- you know, funding is a big question-mark everywhere) and for the future.

Dr Becca said...

Great post!

I was VERY drifty for a little while in the middle of my post-doc, but luckily some things came together and I got my head back on straight. I've been thinking of doing a post on what made the difference between my first and second year applying to TT jobs...this discussion might be a good starting point.

tideliar said...

Apropos of this discussion, just found this post by DrugMonkey from 2008

biochembelle said...

About a year into my first postdoc, I started getting 'lost'-convinced I needed to consider options outside of academia, not sure what to do or how to do it... Don't get me wrong, having a plan b (and c and q) is important, but this was more of a listless lost sensation. One of the biggest failures of my first postdoc on my end was the failure to network and plan for the next step.

In my second postdoc, I am much more focused and mindful of the future. I look for opportunities to meet people outside my lab. I am much more proactive in asking for things (e.g. collaborations) that expand my repertoire and create avenues that complement my interests and training and that are distinct from what others in the lab are doing. I've even sown the seed for a collaboration with one of my contacts.

I'm not trying to come off as self-congratulatory because I've got some time before I'll ever know there's something to congratulate ;) The point is, my approach in my second postdoc is very different. I know that I have a few more years here, but I'm already looking for ways to make connections and create opportunities that will help me when looking for jobs. I learned a very important (if obvious) lesson: Networks don't build themselves, and certainly not overnight.

fourdinners said...

TIDY!!!! I didn't know you were back!...Mainly cause I wasn't was...but not entirely myself.

Spent over a year creating blogs/mayhem and upsetting was great fun old bean!!!

I even got banned from blogs!!!!

I'm mellow now....

Glad to see/hear you're cool...

Yer on me 'bloglist' and I'll stay in touch old bean.

Love n hugs (in a manly way of course)


funkdoctorx said...

Interesting, I've only been a postdoc for about 7 months now, but I can see how this can happen, and I see the drifting in some of the folks in my current lab. They've been postdocs for 3 or 4 years now, but don't seem to have much direction. They are very bright, and I wonder if the failing is in part due to mentoring or to the individual. Nonetheless, at the end of the day only the individual can make things happen.

I'm still working on how to network and all that jazz...mostly because I want to build some connections over here in Europe before heading back to the states. I figure if I play my cards right I can get a few free trips back sometime later in my career!

Good post mate!