Thought of the Day

Oct 01 2014 Published by under Ask DrugMonkey

Some days...

I tell you, one of the most hilarious parts of this blogging gig is this.

On the one hand, any time I try to gently suggest that postdocs could work a little harder, might need to actually produce a little more, need to figure out how to close out "projects" into submittable manuscripts AND THAT THIS IS A TRAIT THAT THEIR PIs HAD AS POST DOCS.....

I get pushback.

From the hordes of Internet postdocs who are all brilliant, wonderfully productive, practically PIs themselves in all significant ways and are, sadly, only held back by their current rat bastige PIs who fail to help them in some egregious manner.

On the other hand,I have recieved a lot of commentary behind the scenes from PIs. Who tell me the most hilarious stories about postdocs who fail to produce, are completely delusional about their own efforts, accomplishments and/or levels of effort.

There is only one possible conclusion.

The postdocs who read my blog and the PIs who read my blog are entirely independent sets with no possible areas of population overlap.

35 responses so far

  • rxnm says:

    "The postdocs who read my blog and the PIs who read my blog are entirely independent sets with no possible areas of population overlap."

    Actually I think there is a very good possibility that this is true.

  • Dr24hours says:

    Other conclusion: those postdocs and PIs do overlap but don't communicate.

  • drugmonkey says:

    an interesting thought rxnm. how do you figure?

    and I had another idle thought. we don't get many postdoc types throwing other (unspecified) postdocs under the bus. Which is odd because IME, postdocs love to slag the other ones around them for being slacker losers. or cheaters. or golden children who can't science but for some reason the rat bastige PI loves them. etc.

  • PaleoGould says:

    Self selecting non random sampling, not to mention self reporting (with attendant bias). You can't conclude anything about the actual population with those data.

  • mytchondria says:

    I just held a 5 hour lab meeting a few weeks where no one could leave until they each outlined the potential figures for their papers. It was a small 'pre bosses' day present to myself.
    One poor student who is usually quite the optimist, left dazed saying, "Well, that was........"
    Everyone is working on their papers now for our weekly meetings. They are more focused and we are all happier.
    As someone who arrogantly thought my PI was holding me up, when I was a young whippersnapper, I could have used a swift kick in the arse delivered in the form of the Individual Development Plan. http://www.faseb.org/portals/2/pdfs/opa/idp.pdf which I've been raving that people need to do since before it was cool to do them.

  • GM says:

    @DM: You may have had a point if there was no such thing as PIs who just can't be bothered to even read the ready-to-publish papers the trainees have written. Sadly, such PIs do exist, they are screwing their trainees, and I don't see how you can argue that the trainees have no right to complain about their situation, as the "be independent and get things done yourself" advice is of no use in such cases.

  • Erp says:

    Everyone is the hero of their own life story, as the saying goes.

    I then looked this up this quote to see where it comes from and it turns out that it is believed to be from a short story from the 1950s about "a graduate student who gets paralyzed due to beliving his actions are purposeless."

    http://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/02/16/life-hero/

    You couldn't make it up if you tried...

  • drugmonkey says:

    You may have had a point if there was no such thing as PIs who just can't be bothered to even read the ready-to-publish papers the trainees have written.

    what? Who said there are not? Of course there are. and all the postdocs on the internet suffer from these rat bastiges. Obviously.

    I don't see how you can argue that the trainees have no right to complain about their situation

    I said no such thing. The ones on the Internet all have rat bastige PIs and have every right to complain about it.

    You people seem to be sorely mistaking my points here.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Bless you Erp


    To prevent this paralysis [the grad student] must learn to assume a sharply defined mask or role and then dramatize the situation within which he was embedded.

  • becca says:

    Erp- that is the best thing today.

    Also, my PI is personally awesome, scientifically solid, and was breathtakingly productive at publishing papers as a postdoc (his writing is excellent).
    That said, the ability to turn experiments into papers is NOT something you are born with, and I don't know why it wouldn't get easier with lots of practice. Also, I'd be surprised if the ability to turn papers and ideas into funded grants doesn't follow a similar pattern, if we were to do something crazy like compare new PIs to experienced PIs.

    As far as I can tell, the problem comes when new PIs think they deserve postdocs *who are as good at turning effort into published papers* as they were *by the end of their postdocs*.

  • drugmonkey says:

    It is very true that the odds of a given postdoc being as productive as the PI was are low. For obvious statistical reasons. I do often remind frustrated noob PIs of this reality.

  • pinus says:

    I read your blog as a postdoc, and now as a PI. as per usual, I am destroying all the trends.

  • GM says:

    @DM:

    I am not mistaking your point, I actually agree with it on the statistical level - the average postdoc overestimates his talents/effort/productivity and hates his PI more deeply than he/she realistically has justification for.

    But as with many statistical distributions, there are tails.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Whoa pinus , space time continuum shit here

  • drugmonkey says:

    GM- agree

  • AveragePD says:

    I'm a lazy bastige PD and your regular admonitions are motivational. But do you really expect a thank you? Jeeze, needy much...
    Seems probable to me that you have some overlap in readership but folks are more motivated to comment when they disagree? Also, and this may be eurocentric, whining PDs should try a 'regular' job for a couple of months and see how their views change.

  • GM says:

    @Erp

    At the risk of sounding like the graduate student in that story, at this point in time the outcome of our lives is indeed not really determined by our own actions. And reading blogs like this one is one of the surest way to reach that conclusion if you are in science. The message that those of us entering the game now will not have the same opportunities as people from previous generations has a certain self-fulfilling aspect to it - surely one would have higher chances of succeeding in obtaining those grants and tenure-track positions (while getting harder and harder to get, it will remain the case the someone will get them) if he was not being constantly exposed to that information, and instead worked with complete and blind faith in the bright future and his own success. But once you internalize all that information, you start looking at the world differently. I see no way out of that problem, unfortunately.

  • poke says:

    Ah DM, you are my favoritest troll of all the times!!!!!! LOL!!!!!

  • kevin. says:

    Hey, I'm a former postdoc now PI, too... The postdocs who read this blog are not the ones the PI's here are complaining about.

    If you're a regular here, you probably get it, or are at least trying to.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Whoa, whoa kevin. More tessesract action here. What is up with you and pinus? Something seems fishy.

  • Established PI says:

    I never focus on how many hours a PD (or student) puts in, but how much they produce. Sure, there is a minimum amount of time that is needed to get things done, but that time varies hugely from person to person. One of my very best postdocs worked very regular hours, usually leaving at 5:30 pm to go home to his family and only putting in some time on weekends. Other PDs put in way longer hours. But he had incredibly creative ideas and an ability to do virtually every experiment right the first time (and get publication-quality results). That is what got him his faculty position (and the glamour-mag pubs, sigh).

    The hard truth is that a lot of PDs would never have been competitive for faculty positions, even back in the good old days. Yes, the job situation is pretty terrible and I wish some of my older colleagues would just pack it in to make room for the next generation. But we also have a bloated lab workforce with a lot of people who just don't have what it takes to succeed as independent scientists. I try to help everyone in my lab reach their potential and nothing give me more pleasure than discovering that one of my students or PDs was a diamond in the rough (the PD above was one - I didn't forsee how fantastic he would be when I hired him). But there are many postdocs I know (from my department, institution, meetings) that will just never make it and need to focus on figuring out how to make themselves competitive for jobs in industry or elsewhere. And yes, I mean do it themselves, because until we come up with a deus ex machina specially dedicated to postdocs, they need to be proactive.

  • bob says:

    Started reading as a student, then postdoc, now PI.

  • Jojo says:

    As a happy postdoc (who nevertheless could be more productive) I think you're running into the problem wherein the most vocal are the people who really do have legitimate problems with their advisors/advisees, and those who are content with their situation and have cordial postdoc-PI relationships are unlikely to pipe up to whine about their counterparts because there's honestly not much to say.

    Also why should I start slagging other postdocs just because I'm happy with my situation and so is my PI? That's a shitty and arrogant thing to do. If they honestly suck that will sort itself out.

    Maybe people should stop being self center

  • Jojo says:

    As a happy postdoc (who nevertheless could be more productive) I think you're running into the problem wherein the most vocal are the people who really do have legitimate problems with their advisors/advisees, and those who are content with their situation and have cordial postdoc-PI relationships are unlikely to pipe up to whine about their counterparts because there's honestly not much to say.

    Also why should I start slagging other postdocs just because I'm happy with my situation and so is my PI? That's a shitty and arrogant thing to do. If they honestly suck that will sort itself out.

    Maybe people should stop so being self centered and realize that there are bad actors and good in both camps.

  • drugmonkey says:

    You don't say. #smh

  • When you strip away the academic niceties like 'PI' and 'postdoc' it becomes the standard labor vs. management dispute seen everywhere. Managers like to blame lazy employees and employees like to blame assholic management. It is is somewhat amusing how people suddenly change sides with a promotion, though.

  • drugmonkey says:

    You don't say.

  • WH says:

    The postdocs who read this blog are not the ones the PI's here are complaining about.

    If you're a regular here, you probably get it, or are at least trying to.

    I strongly agree with rxnm, kevin (quoted above), and others. I'm a lowly graduate student, but I know a few other grad students and PDs who read this blog. In general, they're highly productive and have great shots at continuing a career in science. That's why they're here.

  • DJMH says:

    I thought the aphorism from marketing was that if someone likes a restaurant they just tried, they'll tell two friends. If they hated it, they'll tell 10.

    If there are tesseracts going on, then this must be the Restaurant at the End of the Universe!!

  • becca says:

    Readers of the fine DM blog are also supermodel attractive persons of all genders.

  • rxnm says:

    Hi DM, long time PD, first time PI.

    I think people tend to find this blog at some frustrating impasse in their career, so both the sample and proximal reasons for commenting have some bias. My postdoc PI, like me, is human person. We both had strengths and weaknesses and were at various times either more or less effective at fulfilling each others' expectations. We legitimately frustrated and angered each other sometimes. The relationship between our shared goals and individual goals was not always clear (I think a lot of bad interactions happen when one or both people assume these are always the same).

    But everyone learned something in the end and we all had a laugh. [freeze frame]

  • drugmonkey says:

    Fade out with 70s soundtrack.....

  • sara says:

    I just wanted to chime in as another postdoc who knows I'm not productive enough (closing out papers is HARD) and whose boss tells me daily that this is true, but hold no grudge about it. I see a lot of the whiners at the postdoc/grad level, and indeed they are the ones that are not reading your blog- the ones that really think PIs should be handing them projects to write up, instead of letting them learn to do it on their own (oh the horror!).

    So, yeah - probably two distinct sets of people there.

    On that note, I think I'm going to skip the gym and do more work...

  • TheIntronertPhD says:

    It's a common perceptual error of accomplished people looking down on people at earlier career stages to think they had been so much more matured and determined than everybody at that stage is, today. They overestimate their own work efforts back then because it looks different from the inside than from the outside, AND in retrospect. Don't fool yourselves, people, memories are deceiving.

    I don't believe postdocs are worse than they used to be, dear PIs ... mostly because I don't believe that your teaching, mentoring and leadership are worse than the one you got (see, your mentors had, like, zero independent research experience when they became PIs)

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I was a slacker PD in the rear view mirror of my life. Definitely. Which only makes me wonder even more what the fuck anyone who is significantly less productive could possibly be doing with their time and brain cells.

    (Admittedly, I had no dependent care duties of the child or Aged P variety)

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