The Plight of the Post-Doc


I need a montage!

Getting back into the swing of things after a meeting is never the smoothest of transitions, but this week's post-Experimental Biology re-entry has been especially bumpy.  I returned to a stack of exams to grade, an experiment to finish, a lecture to prepare, and general feelings of uneasiness about my future.  The exams took fucking forever longer than I'd have liked, and then my stupid control experiment (the only thing I need before writing it up) produced nothing measurable, so I have to troubleshoot and do it again.  Waahh.

Whatever, I do it again, not a big deal.  What is a big deal is that I also met with my boss this week, and for the first time we out-loud acknowledged what we've been ignoring for a while now: there is no definite funding for my project after the summer.  This means that there's no funding for me unless I want to switch to working on the lab's main project, which is significantly different from what I've been doing so far.   Now, not only do I not want to be on that project, but I don't think it would be a good move, career-wise.  This is the time I'm supposed to be defining myself, doing work that's explicitly my own; on this project I'd literally be just a set of hands.

So there's that!  You might say I've got some shit to figure out.  Do I look for a new lab that's doing things more in sync with my interests?  Suck it up and help out with my current lab's big project for a bit while I apply for grants of my own (many thanks to Drug Monkey's Twitter advice and link re: R vs K awards)?  Give up completely?

Whenever people in the movies reach that pivotal point at which they go from feeling beat-down to getting their act together to accomplish their Big Goal, there's a montage to demonstrate the person's journey from beat-down-ness to awesomeness.  A particularly on-point commentary on this phenomenon can be found in the near-classic film Team America: World Police

I feel like I need a montage.  In my montage, you'll see me alternately: having thoughtful sciencey discussions with potential future collaborators in downtown cafes; pipetting; typing late at night (to demonstrate lateness, you'll see J come over to me at my desk, kiss me on the forehead, and stumble sleepily off to bed, shaking his head in disbelief at how hard I'm working); looking at beautiful fluorescent things in a microscope; hitting "submit manuscript" with a satisfied and accomplished look on my face; etc!

Oh and also there'll be a shot of me teaching as students look on, totally engaged and totally not checking facebook.  Today I gave my first bona fide lecture that I put together myself completely from scratch, and even though I was very stressed out when I was making it last night at 2 am (this is the way you professors do things, yes?), I think it went very well.  The professor in charge of the class seemed really happy with my decisions on what to include, and when I was up there talking I remember thinking at one point, "Wow!  People are actually writing down the things that I'm saying!"  I mean, obviously this happens at meetings or whatever all the time, but for some reason this felt different.  I was molding young minds!

ANYway...yeah.  To conclude, montages are totally motivational and I really need to get pumped up here.  It's going to be an interesting couple of months...


Zen Faulkes said...

I know just the thing you need!

Anonymous said...

i think you should just give up.

Anonymous said...

Any chance that you could find a position in another lab that complements what you are currently working on, but which isn't the main focus of that other lab, too? This way, you could wrap up what you've been doing in your current lab while you work on the new project and continue to define yourself as independent from the new lab.... Or, in your current lab, could you continue your project on the evenings/weekends while you work on the PI's main project?

I'm not sure what point in your postdoc you are at, so moving to another lab may or may not be advisable.

Whatever the outcome, your post today was hilarious, so thank you for that.

Candid Engineer said...

Well, the funding thing sucks. Is there a way for you to work part-time on your lab's main focus and part time on what you want? I think bio labs are more strict with funding than my arena...

Becca said...

@Zen. that is awesome.

@LadyDay, I've been in this lab for 5 years, so switching labs may be advisable if I'm not getting anything else out of this. Also, it may be a good idea for me to go somewhere and learn a new skill set, to make me more marketable.

My project is already a collaboration with another lab here in NY, so it might be possible to just work out of that lab if they have money. I'm looking into it!

scientistinevolution said...

I had EXACTLY the same experience: my PI told me that he did not have money for my project and asked me to work for an unrelated project, basically as a tech. I firmly refused his "offer" and I started to look for other options. As soon as I mentioned that I was thinking to leave the lab, the money was not an issue anymore and he just let me be on my project and did not touch the subject anymore. Maybe if your collaborator offers you a position in his lab, your PI might magically find some money to keep you...
I think that the alternative of going to another lab to learn new skill is also valid, but you need to let them know that your goal is to go on the market soon and that you are not looking for a long term engagement.
What is going to happen to the project that you are finishing at your current lab? Will you be able to take it with you for your independent research?
Good luck with everything!

prodigal academic said...

I'm sorry to hear about your money situation. That sucks. After 5 years in the same lab, this might be the motivation you need to move on. The collaborator angle sounds like a good thing to pursue.

Good luck, and don't give up until you are ready. This is only a small setback. It took me two hiring seasons to find a position, so you are not a lost cause. Remember that becoming supremely qualified is only part of the story, and the only part you can control. There is a large amount of luck involved in TT job hunting (right place, right time, who is hiring and for what subfield).

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