Horizon

Jul 24 2015 Published by under Postdoctoral Training, Postgraduate Training

Often times in academics we are anticipating a job change in the near future. Postdocs, in particular, since this is supposed to be a temporary job. But faculty occasionally anticipate a job change too. On the market b/c you fear tenure won't fall, to leverage progress into a better job, to jump out of the rat race, to join Administration. 

I give advice based on Yoda's wisdom. 

Yoda: Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless. 

No, not the paternalistic grouch stuff. In this he is worse than a greybeard of science. 

No it is the part about doing a good job on what you are currently doing. To me this is the basis for making the future stuff more likely to go your way.  

No matter how removed the anticipated job category, the candidate who has been successful in her previous job is going to look better. 

I entertained the McKinsey thing at one point during my training. Looked into it, saw who they hired and spoke to a friend of a sibling who went that way. They did not want people who had a disappointing career in science up to that point. They knew what CN or S publications meant. They wanted excellence.

Now of course plenty of people get alternative career jobs after a disappointing career as grad student or postdoc. But I think the take away message is that you should maximize your success in whatever job you are doing now. Don't just slack because you plan to be out-o-here in a year. 

Success now increases the chances of getting into whatever next job lies over the horizon. 

There is also the consideration that you may find yourself staying in the job you have much longer than anticipated or desired. A year from now, you don't want to look back and wish you had finished that experiment, paper, grant application or whatever.

Work based on the idea you may still be in this job in a year or three. Sometimes things happen. Maybe the local institution finally steps up and does you a solid. Maybe that firm job offer elsewhere is denied by the Dean or P&T committee. Maybe the University System puts down a hiring freeze.

You'll be better off if you are taking care of business in your existing job.

63 responses so far

  • Newbie PI says:

    Yes. Most trainees I talk to are seriously misinformed about what it takes to get a (good and exciting) job in industry. I mean, try getting a job at Calico or one of Doudna's companies without a Nature paper.

  • give better advice says:

    No. This advice is terrible and reeks of the naivete born out of a career in academics. (It's also a great mechanism for keeping the base of the pyramid working hard.) If you're a postdoc and you want out of science, you should put in the absolute least amount of time possible in lab to 1) keep your job and 2) publish one article in a not-horrible journal. Chasing CNS is ridiculous. This can not be emphasized enough: nobody outside of science knows or cares what these journals are or how they're ranked. An article - regardless of what journal it's in - will be an extra and impressive-looking line on your resume that HR types will glance over in a few milliseconds.

    So what to spend your extra time on? Show that you're interested in whatever alternative career you want. Write articles for the campus newsletter, take the patent bar exam, scour job postings, etc. Oh, want that McKinsey job? Study for the test. It's not a joke. Way more important than your CNS paper.

    More importantly: make friends. Not in lab. Go out to the bar (right now, I'll wait), sit down, order a few beers and meet people. Have your family introduce you to their friends. Don't skip that friend's birthday party because your cells were growing slowly. Contacts and relationships are the most critical tool for finding employment outside of science, and in the pharma industry. Developing them takes time, time you won't have if you slavishly devote yourself to your postdoc. Believe me, getting the McKinsey job is easy when you have an internal recommendation.

    But hey, Yoda said something profound-sounding about training Jedi. Don't think they had postdocs back then but whatever. I also guess we're not supposed to remember the fact that in this case, Yoda was completely wrong, and Luke went on to become a Jedi and save the galaxy. Better advice for postdocs: if you want a career change, be reckless. You're overqualified and underpaid, you don't owe anyone anything.

  • drugmonkey says:

    This can not be emphasized enough: nobody outside of science knows or cares what these journals are or how they're ranked.

    Wrong. It will be the case for some alt-careers that this is true. Some where they don't understand the cachet of first author versus second author as well. But there will be plenty where they know how to distinguish accomplishment from lack thereof.

    Write articles for the campus newsletter

    HAHAAH. yeah right. And participate in the Graduate Student Association!

    take the patent bar exam
    Absolutely. Nobody is suggesting you don't have to do some prep for a different career.

    scour job postings, etc.

    Does that seriously get in the way of producing as a postdoc or graduate student? That may be indicative of a serious problem, gotta say.

    Oh, want that McKinsey job? Study for the test. It's not a joke. Way more important than your CNS paper.

    I suppose I am assuming that many people smart enough to be in this business are smart enough to do well on the McKinsey test. I certainly did. Even if you have to do a little prep for it, this doesn't take months of focused effort. Not even close.

    More importantly: make friends. Not in lab.

    Aren't you already doing this? Hmm....I think I had a post half-written in my head on that a day or so ago. anyway, yeah. Scientists need to get out more .
    https://twitter.com/drisis/status/623972053549477889

  • David Cox says:

    Not to mention that when someone leaves a lab to get a job in industry, it's not uncommon for the PI to get a call asking them for their impression of the candidate. I've had that conversation numerous times.

    I don't know how much this matters in the scheme of things, but I do prefer being able to say "I wish this person could stay here forever, but I'm excited to see what they'll do in industry" versus saying something more guarded because the person has been phoning it in for the last n months.

    Also, I personally think that there is something soul-destroying and toxic about not doing a good job at something (actually, this is one of the least fun parts of having a faculty job: there are lots of things you're expected to do, but not well, since you won't be rewarded for them. This includes teaching, committee work, etc...). Even if you've made a wrong turn and are heading down a dead-end path, isn't it better to keep your head high and do a good job?

  • neuromusic says:

    "nobody outside of science knows or cares what these journals are or how they're ranked"

    of course they do. it's what IF is for.

  • neuromusic says:

    "nobody outside of science knows or cares what these journals are or how they're ranked"

    of course they do. it's what IF is for.

  • Noncoding Arenay says:

    Oh, want that McKinsey job? Study for the test. It's not a joke. Way more important than your CNS paper.

    ^^ THIS.

    More importantly: make friends. Not in lab. Go out to the bar (right now, I'll wait), sit down, order a few beers and meet people.

    ^^ and THIS.

    Spot on advice Just a few months ago a friend of mine got hired into McKinsey straight out of (biomed) grad school. In his own words (and ones I concur with), his graduate experience was average . He had no shiny paper. Just a couple of decent manuscripts in decent journals. So how did he get hired? First he got noticed. He networked liked crazy, participated in his local consulting club, contacted alumni from his institution that are now at McKinsey and got informational interviews, and studied his ass off for their exams and interviews. That's how he got selected to even meet with the recruiters. It didn't matter one bit how his science career had progressed. They have their own sophisticated tests to evaluate candidates.

    I myself have had industry interviews that I know had nothing to do with my (admittedly better than average) scientific record. I got them because of networking. The only interviews I got with zero networking but solely based on my academic performance were for the TT.

  • Jonathan says:

    Actually, I have to agree with give better advice. I was bored to tears during my postdocs, but I did spend time working on my writing, serving on NPA committees and their board of directors, teaching, and doing a bunch of other things that let me land a science policy job without having a AAAS fellowship, and which more-or-less directly enabled me to then leave that job when I realized working for the government sucks to become a member of the so-called profession.

    Wouldn't have been able to do any of this if I'd been chained to the bench cutting frozen slides of mouse hearts 14 hours a day. Fuck that noize.

  • Science Grunt says:

    I find your advice good and well meaning, but it will be read differently depending on the context. I think what you're trying to say is "even though you decided you're leaving academia, you still haven't left so don't fuck shit up because no one will hire losers". That is accurate

    But in many many fields of science, the demands on an academic that is trying to be successful takes a lot of time and energy. It does prevent a lot of non-scientific social life and networking opportunities are limited to conferences. So when the person decides he's not gunning for academia any longer, some attitude adjustment might be needed depending on the alternative career. Once I decided I'm leaving, I stopped working weekends and started taking my own evenings to attend happy hours and take informational interviews and job interviews. As a result, my progress slowed. My PI decided to start calling me lazy and put that weird shaming pressure that some PIs love placing and makes me feel like a loser.

    A year ago, that type of feedback would make me get back to the lab. Now that I decided I'm leaving, that type of feedback makes me shrug my shoulders and move on and keep doing research in my own pace.

  • Science Grunt says:

    Two other notes: laugh all you want about being a member of the graduate student association, but "leadership extracurriculars" are _the_ reason why I have one of the job offers I have.

    And dude, the "if you're in science you should be able to ace the McKinsey test" comment reminds me of the "we don't need to train for alt careers, you get into alt careers whenever you want".

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    Shorter DoucheMonkey: Get back to the bench you lazy fucken post-docs!

  • drugmonkey says:

    his graduate experience was average . He had no shiny paper. Just a couple of decent manuscripts in decent journals.

    This is far from a disappointing career up to this point in time.

  • chemicalbilology says:

    My interpretation of DM's message is that if you want to be successful in the future, you need to do a good job at whatever you're doing no matter how much you don't think you want to do it forever. Washing dishes? Do a good job at it. Selling shoes at a shoe store? Do a good job at it.

    his graduate experience was average . He had no shiny paper. Just a couple of decent manuscripts in decent journals.

    Just a couple of decent papers in decent journals is already a lot more than we see from a lot of students and postdocs who think they really don't want to be here and can't wait to get out. Chugging through those things gives you options and choices, and not chugging through them (i.e. ending up with no papers in any journals, or only bits and pieces that will have to cleaned up by somebody else in order to get published) will mean you are less likely to get ANY type of job you might be interested in (or desperately need by that point).

    In other words, watch out for the millenial "I deserve what I want" attitude. Just give a shit at whatever it is here in the now, and you will build yourself a record of being someone who does stuff that needs to be done, rather than someone who is always moping and reaching for something different and brushing off what needs to be done.

  • Rheophile says:

    The one person I know who went the McKinsey route had, I believe, zero publications, but graduated from an heavy-hitting Ivy League. Perceived excellence comes in a lot of flavors.

    When grad students/postdocs want to leave academia, some degree of conflict of interest with their advisors is inevitable, even if the trainees still want to "do a good job." Where do you spend your time: going ten rounds with Nature referees, or cleaning up your code so you can put it online as an example of your abilities? Do you choose a problem that is glammy and "hot," or one that lets you develop skills industry wants? In those examples, it's not clear what the best thing to do is if all you care about is doing good science - but you can damn well bet PIs and industry-bound trainees will have different ideas about them.

    That conflict of interest means you should never take career advice about going to industry from your PI at face value - even smart, kind people are subject to motivated reasoning.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Just give a shit at whatever it is here in the now, and you will build yourself a record of being someone who does stuff that needs to be done, rather than someone who is always moping and reaching for something different and brushing off what needs to be done.

    This.

  • drugmonkey says:

    One of the hardest summer jobs I ever worked, labor on a small construction crew doing 10 hr days, started with me getting hired along with my friend b/c the boss thought he needed two people. Within two weeks my friend was fired and I kept the job all summer. I was the one who acted like he gave a shit about doing a decent job, even though neither of us was awesome b/c no prior experience.

    another time in my life I had a big job opportunity present itself to me. It could have gone to one of several other people or not been offered at all. Lord knows I did not appear to be a slam dunk for the position on paper. at all. but I was picked and extended the opportunity because of an apparent reputation for getting shit done.

    It has been amazing to me to observe how much merely looking like you can get stuff accomplished differentiates you from the other half+ of the distribution in life.

  • Anonymous says:

    "I mean, try getting a job at Calico or one of Doudna's companies without a Nature paper."

    Why do people think it's OK to talk out of their asses when they have no clue what they're talking about?!

  • Rheophile says:

    There's a huge huge spectrum between "maximize your success in whatever job you are doing now" and "basically just act like you give a shit." I don't think anyone's arguing about the second one. It's the first that starts feeling exploitative to me.

  • Noncoding Arenay says:

    @DM and @Arlenna - In this case, I suppose "disappointing" is subjective. I'm not familiar with anyone who hasn't got a single paper after five years of graduate work or a few years of postdoc, but I'm sure they exist. My (probably flawed) assumption is that they have at least something - even a dump paper - to show. For those that are uninspired in their current position or see a huge wall coming up in the near future, their best bet is to work hard in getting the experience, connections, skillset(s), etc that would help them reach that elusive "other job" they are after and that certainly would take away from giving a 100% to their current job. Reminds me of the quote "if you want something different, you need to do something different". Of course, that would be a disservice to their current employer but it will greatly increase their chances of achieving that job change. Best for both parties in the long run.

    All said, in principle I totally agree with DM's point but his advice is not generally valid in today's market. As for those with the entitled "millenial attitude" that Arlenna refers to, no one can save them in today's hyper-competitive world. Let's not even talk about them.

  • Noncoding Arenay says:

    @Rheophile - you nailed it!

  • Juan Lopez says:

    Ha ha ha. The post-docs were complaining just a few days ago about being exploited. Here the tale is how they do the minimum to not get fired and shrug their shoulders when confronted? That's some people leaving academia that we will not miss!

    "You're overqualified and underpaid, you don't owe anyone anything.". Not that you rationalize being a dick, of course not. You are just awesome and nobody recognized it. Poor you.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Together in this, we are.

  • give better advice says:

    Ah what the hell, it's Friday and I've been drinking; I'll go another round.

    "HAHAAH. yeah right. And participate in the Graduate Student Association!"

    Your all-caps sneer is a perfect if inadvertent illustration of why PIs, even sincere and well-meaning ones like yourself, shouldn't be in the business of doling out career advice. If you want a job in science writing, you should absolutely write for the campus newsletter, start a blog, get a part-time job editing manuscripts, etc. Anything to create a tangible body of work. Are these thing hokey? Yeah. Before I entered the postdocalypse, I may have sneered too. But what else are you going to bring with you on your job interview? Empty hands and a vague ambition? Good luck! You're going to need it.

    "I suppose I am assuming that many people smart enough to be in this business are smart enough to do well on the McKinsey test. I certainly did. Even if you have to do a little prep for it, this doesn't take months of focused effort. Not even close."

    Another classic: the outdated advice. Others have already commented but I'll pile on anyway. The consulting path is a well-defined escape route from science, and it's become a wildly popular and highly competitive one. When I expressed interest in applying to McKinsey to a consultant friend, he sent me thousands of pages of test prep material, so much that he had to Dropbox it to me rather than email. Being 'smart enough' doesn't cut it anymore. The glut of postdocs ensures that everyone who applies is smart enough.

    "Does that seriously get in the way of producing as a postdoc or graduate student? That may be indicative of a serious problem, gotta say. "

    Maybe I should have been more exhaustive here. Of course checking job listings isn't a time-consuming activity. But that plus prepping your resume, writing cover letters, researching companies, emailing internal references? Ask anyone who's gone through this recently - it's a part-time job that can take a year or more. And as I said, it's one that should be done at the expense of lab work.

  • give better advice says:

    By the way, I never said, nor meant to imply, that anyone should slack off. (There’s a revealing subtext to the misinterpretation.) Preparing for a transition out of academia is hard work. And it takes time. You have to find that time in a finite number of hours a day. It's a matter of reprioritizing.

    And listen, I don’t mean to suggest that you should burn bridges, throw flames, or blatantly disrespect anyone on your way out. Be as discrete as possible. The key is to realize that the interests of you and your boss are not aligned. Your PI might be a brilliant scientist, an agreeable personality, and a decent guy/lady. That can all be true and not change the fact he/she hired you into a shit position, with terrible pay and atrocious job prospects. You are a fucking scientist: accomplished, talented, highly intelligent, a member of an elite segment of society. Trust me, your loyalty and best effort are worth way more you’re being payed, even if you don’t realize it yet. Don’t kowtow to their interests at the expense of yours.

    And whatever you do, don’t take career advice from Yoda, or any PI. Only from anonymous blog commenters.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    Wow, he had to Dopbox all that material!

    You are probably home working on that paper and all you wrote is just what you wish you had the guts to do.

  • Pippso says:

    If your postdocs are complaining that they feel exploited you are:

    1. an uninspiring mediocre PI and mentor
    2. an asshole
    3. a non competitive mediocre scientist that can only recruit mediocre postdocs that nobody else wants to hire
    4. all of the above

  • drugmonkey says:

    gba- there is an even more revealing subtext that you assumed I was saying that doing a good job of where you are now meant not to prepare for the next step at all.

  • raftertaft says:

    These discussions often reveal the attitude of PIs (though sometimes feigned) that getting off the postdoc plantation is as easy as writing a paper or getting a fellowship.* I'm convinced that this is a sort of psychological defense mechanism to help assuage complicity. It is also incorrect. As has been described by "give better advice," once a person comes to the stark realization that continuing down the postdoc path is at best going to result in an assistant professorship and all that it has come to entail, she has some real decisions to make. Most obviously, time must be radically reallocated.

    PIs cannot understand any of this. "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it." That was Upton Sinclair, a man who understood well the mentality of the labor exploiter. In other words, the postdoc cannot expect to get any sympathy from the PI just in the same way a slave cannot expect for the plantation owner to help her learn to read.

    The best students and postdocs are not those electing to stay in academia. Those who decide to escape are becoming less "productive" only as a result of having finite time in the face of the truly monumental task of obtaining proper employment.

    * A related anecdote: I've heard the comment uttered from PIs that they could, if they wanted to, stroll into some 300k/annum slot at GSK -- another unfortunate, though vaguely amusing, delusion.

  • becca says:

    I've never met a trainee who phoned it in for any length of time just because they were going elsewhere. I've met a zillion trainees who disengaged because their work wasn't going well and they weren't being managed in any meaningful sense of the word, who then decided to go elsewhere and put a lot of energy into the transition.
    I also know a bunch of trainees who disengaged because their work wasn't going well and they weren't being managed in any meaningful sense of the word, who couldn't see anywhere else to go, because the friends of *their* siblings were cab drivers, who then decided to throw more energy into a toxic lab situation or considered suicide and gave up on a career that used their training entirely.

    Bad DM, confusing the direction of causality like that. Unscientific, it is.

  • drugmonkey says:

    So because you've never met any, and you deploy some entirely unverifiable bullshit like "bad management" as a get anyone out of jail free card, your analysis is scientific? Mmhmmmm. Sure.

  • Newbie PI says:

    Dear Anonymous,
    Do know anyone who has been hired as a scientist at those companies? I do. I also know people who have had interviews. They have one thing in common. CNS papers. No, I take that back. One only had a Molecular Cell paper.

  • Science Grunt says:

    @DM From your experience, the trainees that you saw slacking, did they started it that way?

  • Newbie PI says:

    From the Calico jobs board, copied verbatim from postings for postdoc and research specialist, i.e., the only job listings a recent grad would be eligible for :

    "...a track record of strong research productivity as evidenced by high-quality impactful publications."

    From the ad for a principal investigator:

    "Applicants will only be considered if they have published highly impactful publications in top-tier journals."

  • Science Grunt says:

    @juan

    I'm afraid I'm feeding the troll here.

    You do realize that we are talking about different topics here, right? Postdoc salary is a debate on the sustainability of the academic enterprise and includes both productive and non-productive postdocs.

    The issue of how to manage your transition out of academia is a different one. In normal professions, where you have limited hours, and your personal time is yours, there is a clear etiquette on how to go about it.

    But for training positions (postdocs, grad students), the demands are a bit amorphous. So when the senioritis from deciding to leave academia takes place, a postdoc naturally becomes a bad postdoc in the eyes of the PI.

  • becca says:

    Drugmonkey- I have no need to pretend all trainees are flawless. However, there is no disputing that disengaged management and disengaged labor can form a failure loop. What's unscientific is to assume trainee's decisions about how much of their lives to sacrifice on the alter of a PI's ego have to do primarily with poor information about how making your boss unhappy impacts your career.

    I'm just saying, In General, trainee's careers are more at risk than PI's careers. In General, PIs tend to be busier. In General, PIs at higher profile institutions can behave as if the supply of new trainees is a fully renewable resource. Thus, In General, the person who has more to loose from phoning it in is the trainee.
    You of all people should see the value of basing generalizations of systems based on systematic incentives.

  • Curiosity says:

    Habits of mind and body are the main point here. If you make it a habit to just get by, no industry valuing productive, creative, intellectual workers is going to embrace you. If you make it a habit to work doggedly with never a glance up to catch the view (or the big picture or to think), no industry desiring leadership or vision is going to embrace you. Yoda wanted Luke to cultivate a presence of mind because he was such a there-not-here fool. Yet, were Luke a here-not-there fool, Yoda's message of balance would shift. DM's point is to lean in. Don't leave until you leave. The examples cited above about looking for a new job taking some time are really beside the point. It's the habits you have developed over the 8-10 years prior that matter at that point, not the 3 months of finding new drinking buddies you are talking about. Th sad thing is that there are many graduate students now who disengage because of this panic about job prospects. Just do or do not, there is no try! You need to get in your 10,000 hours to mastery somehow, and for many of us this includes/ed intense and long training where we do our best to master the hands, the math, the literature, the communication, the nose-for-news that is required to become a successful PI. Many don't make it to PIship, but if you cultivate the habit of working excellently -- learning always, not just 'doing work' -- you won't lose in the end, because that suite of skills is eminently desired and transferable. I pity the naive trainee who does 5,000 western blots while listening to podcasts and expects anyone to care.

  • Throwawaygradstudent says:

    Curiosity, I am impressed by the number of buzzwords and nonsense you threw into the comment. For a moment there I thought I was working in industry again.

  • drugmonkey says:

    SG- how should I know? For one thing, there is an expected productivity arc. Second, some of this is gradually becoming aware postdocs in the dept or working for other friends aren't getting it done. I don't always know how they started, what their rec letters looked like, how they did as grad students, etc.

    What would it matter anyway? Whether they started off productive or not has little bearing on whether they continue to be productive.

  • Science Grunt says:

    DM- It matters, because that's a good differential symptom between the "lazy loser whiner" and the "fuck this shit, I"m done" groups among the disgruntled trainees. I think your advice is very appropriate for the first, but I think that their issue is entitlement and no advice will fix them.

    For the second group, the adequate advice I would give is "Find what field you want to move into, network/interview/acquire skills, set a timeline and leave. If you have to dial down from 60 to 40/wk, or stop working weekends in order to establish a network or acquire skills, even if you start facing pressure from your boss or peer pressure in the lab".

  • Juan Lopez says:

    "So when the senioritis from deciding to leave academia takes place, a postdoc naturally becomes a bad postdoc in the eyes of the PI."

    Science Grunt, this doesn't have to be the case.
    Instead,when the postdoc decides to leave academia, it could wrap up studies and finish writing the papers, or train other people, or share more of their ideas (yes, those that they were saving for their own R01s). This can increase productivity and be very well appreciated. What becomes important is the now. Maybe the CNS paper will not happen, but other things can.

    I have seen people leave labs and academia in very good standing. It is not a given that they will become a bad PD in the eyes of the PI.

  • E rook says:

    As this conversation developed, it makes me think more strongly that post doctoral scholars (trainees) should not have their stipends supported on RPGs, and that professional scientific staff only ...scholars should be supported by K, T, F mechs -- and spend roughly 40% of their effort on career development activities and the rest on "being productive" for the PI's lab.

    I have recently transitioned out of academia. The length of the job search and the uncertainty of the prospects, meant that I definitely had to do good work in my current job as an assistant adjunct prof, but that I reprioritized some of my activities to generate accomplishments (and cultivate skills) that would be valued by the employers I was suiting. I still applied for grants every cycle, published whatever I could, and participated in the service to the university, but only on terms that benefited what will become my future career (not knowing exactly job I was going to end up with meant that it was a pretty diverse set of activities).

    I would look at job ads, and see where there holes on resume, then work to fill those holes with activities that could be considered productive for my current position.... this took about 2 years to accomplish in the end ... I served on an organizing board for a charity, I enrolled in MOOCs to learn programming, I organized a new seminar series, I wrote articles and book chapters that never saw the light of day. When I flew to a city for an interview with a company, I also contacted a local uni to ask to give a talk (contacted someone who was on the SS who'd been reviewing my grants for the past 3 years, so at least they'd recognize me, that was a great visit). That was all the long game.

    In the day to day, I stopped working nights and (most) weekends on lab & research for my current post. I read job ads, glass door reviews, attended networking happy hours (that ended up being useless, honestly). I spent my weekends crafting the job application packages, letting them sit, editing, then submitting. It took a while to develop a system.

    I had to hide my intentions from most people at work because I had a psychopathic mentor. I also didn't want my trainees to feel like I was checking out, so I maintained enthusiasm for their efforts ... It was almost like "performing," but I thought they deserved to at least feel like I was in the game with them. When I finally landed a job, I emailed my dept chair right away. Then my collaborators. I had a series of lunches, etc., wrapping things up and closing on good terms. [Except the psychopath advisor. Said person insisted on having a dinner at THEIR house and not join the picnic I planned with the lab & dept....I just stopped responding to those emails & phone messages all together.( Like a "no contact" policy with an abuser)]

  • Juan Lopez says:

    E rook. That's an interesting story. Thank you for sharing. Great story of how to get the job you want!

    One part worried me "I also didn't want my trainees to feel like I was checking out, so I maintained enthusiasm for their efforts ... It was almost like "performing,"

    What happened to the trainees after you got that job? Maybe it was useful in some way for them that you still didn't look like you were checking out. Until you left... Didn't they deserve to know when they were joining your lab that your plan was to leave as soon as you could?

    I recently saw that as a problem for a trainee. She had to pick between two labs. Chose one. About a year later, the advisor moved. She can't move because of family. The other lab doesn't have the funds, so she might end up without a lab. If she had known that the advisor was trying to move, or negotiating a move, she would not have chosen that lab. In my opinion, she deserved to know.

  • Erook says:

    My trainees were premed undergrads and a med student doing an independent study project. The med student was in the writing & submitting phase of a publication, we handle it by email. For one lab worker who was a paid u grad, i held weekly phone calls to discuss experiments and had data emailed to me; student had next job lined up and I'm supporting their efforts to get into med school. I wanted to maintain as much productivity as possible during those years I was job hunting...because there's no telling how long it would take. I only took short term mentoring commitments. This limits productivity somewhat but I think that's how I mitigated the issue you mentioned.

  • Erook says:

    Telling them about my intention would have served no purpose to them. it would have been putting my career concerns within their sphere of awareness; which would have done nothing for their training and undermined the idea that we were working toward the mission statement of the lab. It is unfortunate, possibly unfair, when people get caught by surprise..

  • potnia theron says:

    “Take big bites. Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” Lazarus Long. Also: “Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.”

  • MorganPhD says:

    The problem, for me, is that doing a "good" job is completely subjective. Did the scientist with a Nature paper do a "better" job than the one with a Journal of Biological Chemistry paper? Or the person at Penn State is worse than the person at Penn?

    When we measure subjectively based on publications or university setting we are bound to overlook objectively good scientists for all positions.

    So to completely contradict myself, I was thinking of creating a vertically-ascending or status quo metric for scientists. It measures how much better you are than the average trainee from your grad or postdoctoral lab. You take a rolling IF average of the papers published over the past 10 years in the lab, and then give a score based on the IF of the journal your new paper is published in.

    Therefore, you don't get credit for getting a Nature paper using Crispr/Cas9 from the Zheng or Church labs, as that's the status quo. But if you're the first one to pull a Neuron paper out of your lab since your PI was a postdoc, then you get a shiny gold star.

  • Noncoding Arenay says:

    @MorganPhD: "It measures how much better you are than the average trainee from your grad or postdoctoral lab."

    And how would you account for variations in political savviness (or a lack thereof) and schmoozing that makes a big difference in how much of the PI's attention and good graces you have, particularly in big labs? Other than that, how about the same of the above traits in getting papers into top IF journals? I personally know some extremely smart people who do really solid work but often publish in average journals because of a lack of the above. This again brings up the point that publications in average journals are not always average and likewise for "top" journals. Pegging any performance evaluation to journal IFs is fundamentally flawed.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I favor representing the paper's 2 yr citations as a zscore of the JIF.

  • MorganPhD says:

    I like that quite a bit.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    @DM: So you value a paper that outperforms for the journal that it is in (citation-wise)? I think that's very reasonable. I know my CNS papers are not better than similar work that gets cited less frequently, presumably due to the journals' lower profiles. If you equalized for that, it'd be more fair.

    I think Altmetric does that (tells you how "good" this paper is relative to other articles in the journal) but it builds in a lot of stuff that may or may not be relevant (e.g. blog citations, twitter shares, etc).

  • drugmonkey says:

    So you value a paper that outperforms for the journal that it is in (citation-wise)? I think that's very reasonable.

    I mostly just say that to be a wiseass and to allude to the incredible skew in article citations.

    It probably feels good to see that your paper gets more cites averaged across the first two years* than does the journal one rung up that rejected your manuscript.

    (*yeah I know the JIT calculation cannot be precisely matched up this way)

    I suppose PhysioProffe would say that if your articles are consistently exceeding the JIF of the journals that they are accepted in, you are probably doing something wrong in selling your manuscripts to the reviewers and editors. So I guess think about that?

    I would say that your target should be to consistently be cited less than the JIF, thereby showing that you are garnering more cred than your papers are worth :-p

  • MorganPhD says:

    "I would say that your target should be to consistently be cited less than the JIF, thereby showing that you are garnering more cred than your papers are worth :-p"

    Yeah, punch up.

    My current advisor constantly says if a paper gets in to a journal without much of a fight, that means the paper was too good for that journal.

    I disagree pretty strongly with that, though.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Yeah. What's wrong with everyone recognizing a good fit when they see it?

  • mH says:

    "Instead,when the postdoc decides to leave academia, it could wrap up studies and finish writing the papers, or train other people, or share more of their ideas"

    This is nonsense. No one decides one day "I will leave academic in 12-18 months." Postdocs can and should be exploring options throughout their training. When I was offered an industry job, I hadn't committed to one path or another. But they needed to know yes or no in 3 weeks. There is no "I'm wrapping up current projects, can I start middle of next year" bullshit in the non-academic world. I would have been bailing on a large collaborative project, and I would have been happy to do so. Your PI's lab isn't your fucking family, it's a workplace.

  • Science Grunt says:

    @mH

    I think this is highly dependent on the relationship with the lab/PI, the type of alt career and the demands of the new job. If you can land softly, do it. Also, I don't think JL is talking about 12months. This is all stuff that can be done in a 2 week notice period, as long as you are able to fight senioritis.

    @JL

    I agree with what you are saying in principle, but you are talking about non-dysfunctional relationships. I think I can be convinced that my PD experience is an outlier. I was probably already a bad postdoc in the eyes of my PI and reducing my working hours to 40/wk just fueled his bully spirits.

  • L Kiswa says:

    I agree with mH, very difficult to plan leaving for industry 12-18 months ahead of time. An R&D position in a specialized field is really hard to find; one has to be ready to take the opportunity when it arises, often on short notice. My experience...

    Corporate R&D: Here's your offer letter. Congrats! You need to start within 2 months.
    LK (one week away from PhD defense): Thanks, sounds like a great opportunity. Say, can I go do this cool postdoc in super awesome city for a year, and then join?
    Corporate R&D: If you can't start within next 2 months, no job, sorry.
    LK: Uhhhh....postdoc it is!

    I had a similar experience after my postdoc when considering options in industry/academia.

  • MorganPhD says:

    @Noncoding Arenay,
    I absolutely don't think that we should peg anything to JIF, at all. Like seriously, not at all.

    But the idea that the people who make the decisions about whether we get or keep jobs and grants are looking very closely at the Glamour Pubs. While I agree that we need to find better ways of measuring productivity and contribution (like by actually reading papers and speaking with other scientists), I'm not going to be the martyr and sacrifice my career to that idea just yet.

    I feel strongly to produce the best work and try to get it to a journal where I think other scientists will see it and appreciate it. See above: I think "fit" is more important that Glamour. I would rather a paper come out and have 6 more months to do new experiments.

    Most people I know think journal "prestige"=good science (and I think they are wrong).

    For example, I had a convo with (BSD) PI and a Newbie PI. BSD was espousing the virtue of the Newbie's Glamour paper. Later, when Newbie was actually describing experiments found in the paper, BSD said "that doesn't sound very rigorous, you'll never publish that...". When it was pointed out that the experiments WERE published in the very same paper that was previously talked up by BSD, the BSD said " well, it's not like I actually read it, I just assumed it was good because it was in GlamourPub"

  • Juan Lopez says:

    I know that non-academic jobs often happen very quickly. Hiring in academia can be painfully slow. Yet, I have known several people who did make up their mind to leave and were quite productive while looking for an outside job for several months. Of course, these were not fully dysfunctional relationships. The point I was making above is that people don't have to trash productivity to leave. A few weeks can make a huge difference.

    mH, indeed the PIs lab is not your family. Why, then, demand that the PIs show concern for PD career development? There is a middle ground between family and "I don't give a s*** about you". Your bad experience and your dream of getting back at your PI notwithstanding.

  • kris says:

    Juan Lopez,

    Why then the insistence that postdocs are "trainees" and the whining about overtime pay?
    Especially since postdocs put up with demands on their time outside work (without pay!) that would not generally be tolerated in a corporate environment.

    A lot of the attitudes on display by PI's here remind me of an attitude of "for me but not for thee". And then we have drugmonkey (and others) whining about how life sucks for them due to the oppression from "BSD's" in obtaining grants, and how said "BSD's" had it much easier in their day in comparison to the current lot...

  • Juan Lopez says:

    Kris, you misunderstood my post.

    "for me but not for thee" was precisely the point. If it had been a PI who had been arguing not to care at all about the PDs, people would have jumped on him/her (and rightly so). But it seems fine for PDs to have complete disregard for the PIs and their labs (at least for some people posting here). mH had made a false dichotomy argument that the PD doesn't have to care about the PI because they are not the PDs family. There is something in between. PIs and PDs need each other. Yes, there are dysfunctional situations where one side takes advantage. Surprise, it happens from both sides.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    @E rook
    "As this conversation developed, it makes me think more strongly that post doctoral scholars (trainees) should not have their stipends supported on RPGs,..."

    -I just wanted to make the related point that, supporting all PDs on their own fellowship training programs would allow those with college loans to defer them (as a PD fellowship qualifies as medical training, while being employed off an RPG does not). This would alleviate one of the sore spots amongst the disgruntledoc population (that our generation has student loan debt that far surpasses what boomers and genX had).

  • Erook says:

    Jmz- Defering loans while interest continues to accrue for an indefinite time period beyond the years of under and grad school doesn't seem prudent either. I know it's tough (I started paying student loans during grad school) but bite the bullet and start paying early. You don't want 10+ years of interest accruing unless you can guarantee six figures at the end of the tunnel.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    @Erook
    It depends on your grants, I suppose. Mine were primarily subsidized Staffords, so they were interest free while they were continuously deferred in eligible programs.

Leave a Reply