The Plight of the Post-Doc


Notes from Experimental Biology

I think it's safe to say that I've probably eaten more Baja Fresh in a 30-hr period than any normal-sized person ever should.  But it was that or Sbarro, so...   .

Anyway, carnitas overdose aside, I had a very nice trip to Anaheim.  When I wasn't compulsively checking the PC-compatibility of my Mac-designed presentation or arguing with my circadian clock about what time it was, I bounced around the exhibits and talks, spending a solid amount of time in the Career Resources Center.  And I gotta say, the EB CRC kicked the SfN CRC's ass so much it wasn't even funny! There were at least 3 or 4 workshops going on at any given time between 8 am and 4 pm, plus a job board, plus a private area for interviews, plus people who would critique your CV.  In addition to the expected topics like "how to write a great cover letter," "the NIH peer review process," and "how to give a dynamic talk" (hot damn was that one packed!  You'd think it had never occurred to anyone to label their x- and y-axes before, the way they were all scribbling furiously), there were some unconventional (and, it should be noted, poorly attended) workshops as well.

I went to the "social media and career development" workshop because I am kind of a crazy social media junky, and was curious to hear how all of my internet friends could help me get a job.  Sadly, I was not impressed.  I mean, here was this guy, trying to explain Twitter to people, and he hadn't thought to put a screen shot of a Twitter feed in his presentation?  People (especially in the scientific community, it seems) are absolutely clueless about what Twitter is for besides reading about what Ashton Kutcher ate for lunch, and hearing nothing but "well you see, you follow people and see their tweets, and people who follow you see your tweets" is not all that helpful.

Oh, how did my talk go?  I think it went pretty well.  I was a little nervous, and kept saying "channels" when I meant "receptors," but I think in general I was clear and told a good story.  I'll admit, though, it was not the easiest thing in the world to present my former advisor's data.  It's not that I didn't know it well enough or anything, it's just that on a certain level I couldn't own the work the way I can my own.  There was a mediated discussion after all four parts of the symposium were finished, and I pretty much completely BS'd my way through my answer to what was, frankly, a not-all-that-answerable question (DrugMonkey, I truly hope you'd left by that point!)

The best part of the whole meeting, though, was a long chat I had after my talk with one of my contemporaries, a post-doc who left my lab for a second post-doc just before I arrived, and who's just accepted a TT job offer.  We talked lots of science, and then some jobby stuff, about which he had some interesting things to say.  First, he's currently in one of the departments that had an opening I applied to, and he said that they got 1200 applications for that position, and that the people who got interviews had 7-8 years of post-doc experience.  So I'm thrilled to hear that the 7-8 year post-doc is the new 4-5 year post-doc--just like 35 is the new 25, yes?  Along those lines, he also said something very wise.  He said "Look, if you get a job tomorrow, it's not going to be as good as the job you'd get in a year or two."  This is totally true, and made me feel significantly better about my situation.  Do I want the job that awesome-ish me could get now, or the job that super-awesome me could get after a couple more fancy papers?  Door number 2, please!

Finally, when I asked him how he thought I fielded that discussion question, he said "I think it was an appropriately verbose and evasive answer, given the question."  Hahahaha!! I am going to be such a good scientist!!


Rebecca H. said...

1200!!! Yikes! Congratulations on the talk and remember, good things come to those who wait! See you soon!!

Zen Faulkes said...

1,200 job applications?


Anonymous said...

Not liking the 1200 applications, at all.

Glad the talk went well though - sounds like it was a great learning experience!

Jason said...

What do you mean "going to be?" I'm fairly certain you already ARE a scientist.

joshphd said...

1200 applications for 1 positions...that is pure insanity! Glad to hear that everything went well!

Candid Engineer said...

Umm, not to be discouraging, but needing a 7-8 year postdoc would be my ticket to industry. Holy crap, that's a long time. 1200 applicants. Retardo.

Glad your talk went well. :)

biochem belle said...

the 7-8 year post-doc is the new 4-5 year post-doc

This is one of those moments where I think, "Good-not all hope is lost... but, wow, does that hope hurt."

Re: the social media workshop... I don't know why it is that social media "experts" fail so miserably at explaining social media tools. And they don't want to input from audience members who use the tools for the actual applications that are being discussed.

Anyway-sounds like an awesome, whirlwind trip! Glad the talk went well.

Becca said...

Re: the 7-8 year post-doc--

I could imagine that if I were only in my 2nd or 3rd year this would be incredibly disheartening. But as someone who's already invested 5 years into the whole process, to know that I won't necessarily be "past my prime" in another year is encouraging.

@biochem belle: you would have died listening to this Twitter guy. He manages 5 different accounts, and seemed to think that one of the primary perks of Twitter is to be recognized as the first to "break" some news story or other. So strange!

Dr. Koshary said...

No comment on the incredible statistics. Congratulations, though, on your verbose and evasive response! I still have trouble masking my hatred when I get hit with those questions.

Tamara said...

You know, it's not only in the scientific community that people are not really aware of twitter and the amazing applications that we can do with it. People don't really get the potential of this "new" social media and how it can be used.

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