Polling my postdoctoral rank readers

Sep 17 2009 Published by under Careerism, Mentoring, Tribe of Science

Continuing my recent poll mania, let us move past the faculty level readers and query the DM readers who have attained the doctoral degree but are not yet transitioned to faculty level. The intent here is to include those who are typical postdoctoral trainees but also those in the longer-term research associate or research scientist positions. Just so long as the local University does not consider you faculty level and does not permit you to submit applications for research awards, you qualify.

If you are currently a Postdoc / Research Associate, how old are you right now?(survey)

If you are currently a Postdoc / Research Associate, how many years have you spent in this role following the doctoral award?(surveys)

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Please see the bottom of this post for comments on the necessity for IRB approval for dumb little nonscientific internet polls.

20 responses so far

  • JohnV says:

    I hope its ok for non-academic post docs to answer. Probably should have asked first.
    I guess our structure is slightly different than that of a university, because if we transition from post-doc to scientist we can submit our own research proposals.

  • Fred says:

    I'm finishing my 4th year ... by starting a 2nd postdoc!

  • anon says:

    I'd also like to know the average length of postdoc experience for females cf males ..

  • anonymous postdoc says:

    Could you please clarify what you mean by "...does not permit you to submit applications for research awards"? Many postdoctoral fellowships, including mine, allow and encourage fellows to submit proposals as a PI to funding agencies such as NSF, DOE, etc. Doing so is thought to help facilitate the transition to faculty (gain experience writing proposals, etc) and (if funding is granted) allow the postdoc to begin the next step faculty position with some grant funding in hand. Does this mean that such postdoctoral fellows (who can be PI's on proposals) should not participate in these polls?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Job categories are variable so I try to distinguish those nonFaculty positions that cannot write research grants from those that can. It is a meaningful difference to me.

  • whimple says:

    Mostly allowing postdoctoral fellows to submit proposals as a PI to NIH, NSF etc. gives the postdoc experience dealing with rejection. Postdocs should be applying for NRSAs and K awards. "Transition to faculty" is fiction. You are faculty, or you are not.

  • Lab Lemming says:

    "University does not consider you faculty level and does not permit you to submit applications for research awards, you qualify."
    When I was a techo I was encouraged to submit grant applications (linkage, or other easy stuff mostly) in order to pull soft money, and all I was doing (for my job) was sample prep and instrument maintenance. So I don't see how this specification makes sense- Our department would have let the possums in the roof write grants if only they hadn't stripped insulation off high voltage lines with their teeth.
    Wouldn't "permission to attend/ vote in faculty meetings" be more sensible?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    LL, It probably comes from my relative ignorance of non-biomedical pathways and NIH-funding focus. In biosciences, for the most part, genuine postdocs can apply for fellowships but not research funds (of any significance). Tenure track faculty *can* apply for research funds. There is a big gray zone inbetween. Some postdocs get nominal (senior research associate, etc) changes and a one-off permission to write a (certain type of) research grant. Some are promoted to junior-junior faculty level (staff scientist, instructor or whatnot) for the same grant-writing privilege.
    As far as I am concerned it is a big deal to make the transition between being allowed to write only for fellowships and being allowed to write for significant ($50K/yr min?) research awards.

  • jonathan says:

    How about a poll for industry folks? =D

  • neurowoman says:

    Ok, I voted, even though I am not really considered a postdoc in the trainee sense, but neither am I fully independent (dept gives me space, but it really belongs to my mentor; I pull in most of my own salary and paid for a lot of equipment, but mentor pays day-to-day lab expenses; I am PI on grants that bring in overhead, but they're not terribly large; I'm not considered a postdoctoral fellow, and as such am a regular employee entitled to certain benefit, am 'faculty' but not tenure track). I could conceivably attend faculty meetings, but have no vote on anything. I can apply for pretty much any funding except those that are only open to tenure track faculty. I am one of the 7+ year oldies. But at least I'm still younger than the average age of new R01ers!

  • DSKS says:

    "As far as I am concerned it is a big deal to make the transition between being allowed to write only for fellowships and being allowed to write for significant ($50K/yr min?) research awards."
    Oops. Missed this distinction. That's one less vote in the 5-6 yr section of the second poll.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    no worries DSKS. As I said, this is not CogDaily. I have little interest in setting up some comprehensive survey and no interest in strict accuracy of categorization for these dinky ones.
    neurowoman, sounds as if you count under the professorial rank- if you have permission to write R01* you are good.
    *I have been hearing some interesting parsing in which less-than appointments (super postdoc type) are allowed to write non-renewable NIH R-mechs but not the renewable ones. I understand the rationale is to make it clear that the person is supposed to use that to get the heck out, not stick around within someone else's lab or something. it's kinda weird, though.

  • DSKS says:

    Neurowoman said,
    "dept gives me space, but it really belongs to my mentor; I pull in most of my own salary and paid for a lot of equipment, but mentor pays day-to-day lab expenses"
    That's interesting. I tried to get away with a vague arrangement like that on an R01 proposal (space, but no startup funds, and thus a heavy reliance on The Guvna for the expensive gear). My SRO said that sort of thing might have flown back in the day, but study sections are, perhaps legitimately, getting a little wary of that level of institutional commitment (in a sense, the New Investigator advantage backfires at our level, because of the possibility that the senior PI is double-dipping, and that the junior PIs independence is thus questionable, can cripple the application from the get go).

  • jojo says:

    This is a weird distinction I don't understand. My PI got a full PI-level NSF grant in a genetics-y field that he applied for while he was a postdoc, and then could use as leverage to get better faculty positions. Is it really true that most post docs are not "allowed" (allowed by whom, by the way?) to apply for PI-level grants? Seems like they would be at a disadvantage if there is competition like my PI who do have "real" grants out there.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    jojo,
    NIH research grants, and I would suspect NSF grants as well, are applied for by the local institution...on the behalf of the PI.
    Thus, the local University or research institution decides whom they permit to serve as PI on a given grant application. This has several important considerations, the first of which you allude to- a postdoc or even an undergrad, heck a janitor, can be an applicant PI if the University says so. Successful competition might be another matter...
    Local University policies on this grant writing privilege vis a vis job category is highly variable across institutions, IME. Also, sometimes variable across time within institution and, sadly, randomly variable within institution based on interpersonal politics.

  • cookingwithsolvents says:

    @4: What title do you have that you can submit proposals to NSF and DOE?

  • msphd says:

    Or, the irony of the supposed protections against double-dipping. NIH needs to GET A FUCKING CLUE.
    Let's be honest, the ones who are really abusing the system are doing it through their still-beholden grad students and postdoc "trainees".
    The rare cases where the PI can be cajoled, persuaded, or otherwise blackmailed into allowing a career transition grant application to be written and sent out, are NOT the ones who are double-dipping.
    Cutting off the postdoc nose to spite the science face, people. This whole thing about institutional support is complete and utter nonsense. There are basically no PIs who really support their postdocs to transition. Almost no one can afford it right now, and the ones who can are not supportive.
    The postdocs who get these (very few!) K grants just put them on their CV and then spend the year going on interviews. Do you think they get any a) work done or b) "mentored training" during that year? Puh-leeze.
    Sheesh.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    The rare cases where the PI can be cajoled, persuaded, or otherwise blackmailed into allowing a career transition grant application to be written and sent out
    There are lots of K99/R00s being awarded- I assume there are at least 4X the number being submitted. I have been seeing on study section in the past ~year a fair number of apps from people who are clearly still postdocs of some sort being allowed to take a shot at transition.
    So they are not "rare" cases. Yes, there are still a lot of trainees who are prevented. Still more who haven't even bothered to explore what they *can* do, transitionwise (yes, I know, not you msphd.) and I imagine you would agree that it should be a minority of postdocs who make it to PIdom (?). if so, this latter consideration makes the numbers of K99/R00 and soft-money-dealio-applicants look even better, does it not?

  • msphd says:

    DM, you're just wrong about the representation.
    There are approximately 50,000 postdocs in the US (ballpark number).
    There are something like 300 K99s being awarded per year.
    Even if 1200 K99 applications are submitted, you don't consider that rare???
    Maybe you should check out the numbers again, and then we can talk about what a "minority of postdocs who make it to PIdom" really means.

  • whimple says:

    I'm not sure the K99s are a good idea since the people getting the K99s were probably going to get academic jobs anyway and the NIH funding these people is going to wrong way from insisting on more institutional support for these fledgelings, not less. The grantwriting experience is positive though.
    I agree with msphd that the post-doc situation is intolerable, and I don't think K99 helps. One possible solution would be to cap the amount of lifetime trainee funding for PIs. Say, no more than 100% effort for 10 students after it's all added up. That's enough for 9 to go to industry, teaching or whatever and 1 to replace the PI eventually. If that means PIs get their own butts back to the bench and spend less time grubbing for cash, I say bring it on. I bet it wouldn't hurt the progress of science.

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