OK, so obviously there is a lot of crying in science. It's just that whenever I try to come up with a title for a blog post all I can think of are pop culture references, and with "crying" as a theme it's either Tom Hanks' famous line from A League of Their Own--which I've never actually seen, but which is a sort-of reference itself, I think (though calling Virginia Woolf "pop culture" may be ill-advised)--or The Crying Game, so.
Where was I?
Oh yes, running out of my PI's office in tears. Now, there are some ladies out there who look really pretty when they're crying, like delicate, weeping flowers, but I am not one of those ladies. My eyes puff up like crazy and get thoroughly bloodshot--physiologic responses that take ages to restore themselves. If I were a damsel in distress, the knights would probably run away in disgust.
While I was waiting for the transformation back to recognizable human to occur, I emailed my graduate advisor; I was still too embarrassed to tell Famous Dude. I told her the long, sordid story, asking her advice on the whole situation. It was a rare feeling for me, but at that moment, I just wanted someone to tell me what to do.
My grad advisor is amazing. She got back to me in 20 minutes with names of people she knew who she thought might be good for a short post-doc, and lots of words of encouragement. And not warm squishy "poor baby" encouragement--she knows better than that. She wrote, "Inhibit that stress response and think of all the opportunities that interest you. [Learning] a new method could lead more easily to a job! Let me know what happens--DO NOT GIVE UP!!"
That helped, because my initial instinct was to write to Famous Dude something along the lines of, "I'm soooooooo sorry, but we didn't get the grant. If you think there's any way you could consider the possibility of maybe having me in the lab anyway, I would be eternally grateful!" Instead, I realized that I had to write to Famous Dude with confidence and with purpose, not humility and desperation. I said (and I'm paraphrasing, here), look, bad news re: the Foundation. But this is a good grant, and I think it could be re-purposed for this new R21 FOA I just read about. I want to write this grant with you as a co-investigator--I think we'd have a very good chance of getting funded. What do you say?
Famous Dude is not sure if he can support me without the Foundation money, and seemed perplexed by the comments from the Foundation review. One point of issue seemed to be that the Foundation wasn't clear on what Famous Dude's role was in all of this, and they were worried that I didn't necessarily have all the support I needed to carry out the studies I'd proposed. After emailing back and forth over the course of an hour, we decided that it might be a good idea for Famous Dude to send the Foundation a letter to clarify his full support.
Within 15 minutes I was Bcc'd on this letter, and again, the floodgates opened wide. This letter, from this man who owes me nothing, was incredible--four solid paragraphs on his commitment to the project, and, more notably, his dedication to my career development. He called me "an outstanding young scientist" with whom he has "long been impressed," among other nice things.
Between this and my grad advisor's correspondance, I was completely overcome with emotion. To know, at this time when I am feeling my absolute lowest, that there are people out there who firmly believe in me and are ready and willing to go to bat for me...well, it is more than I felt I deserved.
Unfortunately, Famous Dude's letter fell upon deaf ears. The Foundation sent a brief and dismissive reply, with no indication that resubmission might be possible. Fuckers.
So, where are we now?
Best case scenario, Famous Dude does his fall budget and is able to find funds for me. We apply for the R21, get it, and live happily ever after. This won't be known for at least another month, though, and I can't just sit around making no other plans. So in the meantime, I need to start looking for another lab for a (hopefully short) second post-doc. There are several concerns I have about this:
1. I feel like from a career standpoint, if you're going to do a 2nd post-doc, there has to be a real point to it. In other words, I think I should go somewhere I can learn a brand new technique. However,
2. I'm expensive. I've now had over 5 years of post-doc experience. Are people going to be willing to hire someone who's not only pricey, but needs to be trained as well? I'd imagine that if someone were going to shell out the dough for an experienced post-doc, they'd want that person because she would be bringing a well-honed skill set to the lab.
3. I talked to one of our new faculty about possibly joining his lab. He uses some very cool techniques that would be great for me to learn and his interests broadly overlap with mine, so it seems like a good fit. He agreed, but he doesn't have enough money. He also made the interesting point that if I plan on applying for funding, I shouldn't be with a new faculty member like him, I need to be with someone like Famous Dude. Given how ecstatic my K99 reviewers were over my "Environment" (all 1s!), I think he's probably right.
I'd love all your thoughts and advice, here. I feel like I'm teetering on the edge of either doing something awesome or completely blowing it--like expat postdoc notes in the comments of the last post, I don't want to take any old shitty position. However, I do need to pay my rent--as you might imagine, living in NY on a post-doc's salary does not allow one to save much of a cushion for times like these.
Finally, thanks again to everyone who commented and sent nice messages--on the blog, twitter, or via email--I'm so grateful to have such a caring and supportive group of readers!
The Plight of the Post-Doc