Last week I posted my thoughts on ways in which people might actually make their postdoc a fun and rewarding experience. I know, what a jerk, right? Several commenters came by to rant about how all postdocs are horrible and exploitive and I learned that I have been exalted to "privileged" status because both my wife and I were willing to move for that phase of our lives and we actually enjoyed our time in Postdoc City. Oh, the humanity!
Then came a comment from Girlpostdoc. I started to respond before realizing that her comment had absolutely nothing to do with my post. It helps when commenters stop to read the post before flying off the handle, but I thought we should discuss the comment anyway in it's own thread and we can try and stay on topic here.
Let's take it point by point.
This advice is truly superficial and frankly misleading. Something happens to people when they get TT jobs, it's like a switch goes off in their head and they all of sudden have to become part of the clique. In doing so, they forget where they came from or what they witnessed.
Didn't you notice we all have the same rings?
Believe it or not, I really did have a good postdoc (all 4 years) and was in a multi-lab research group that included a couple of dozen postdocs who, if they were having a horrible time, never let on to me or anyone I knew. It's not a unicorn, there are people who enjoy working together and I still regularly chat with most of the cohort I had significant overlap with. I even collaborate with a couple of them and the labs I left.
The advice I provided were suggestions based on numerous observations of people who found really fun and productive postdocs. Unless by "misleading" you mean "not leading to a miserable situation", then guilty as charged. My advise was based specifically on "where [I] came from or what [I] witnessed"
More germane to this discussion is what TT faculty "learn" that gives current postdocs the impression that some of them "forget where they came from or what they witnessed". Hold that thought.
You, like many others have bought into a mythology that pervades not only science but the arts. The myth in the arts is that in order to produce a great work of art, one needs to suffer. Come on. There are plenty of cases where that is completely false.
The same mythology is now being built up in the sciences by people like you. If you want the priviledge of being a "scientist", you need to be accept poverty and expect to be bullied.
Postdoc pay isn't great, but I'm pretty sure that "suffering" is taking it a bit far. A little perspective here is encouraged. If you look at the median US household income you might decide that ~$40K is not too bad. One can make the argument that $40K is not commensurate with experience, but there are financial realities of grants that one needs to consider here. I know that postdocs don't care what they cost their supervisor, but that has a very real impact on salary.
Salary is only part of the equation. Say a postdoc is making $40K. At my institution, if we are putting in a grant with a postdoc we have to include money to cover family insurance unless we have a postdoc committed who is single. Family benefits = 61% of salary, or in our hypothetical case, $24K for the year. Add to that the indirect costs to the grant, which in most places is around 50% and it looks like this 40K (salary) + 24K (benis) = 64K x 1.5 = $96K per year. That might not be a big deal if a lab has a few NIH R01s, but for an NSF funded lab, that's a big fucking deal. Go to the NSF stats page, pick your favorite program and look at the median payout per year. It's around $150K and that includes indirect costs. So, as a postdoc, you eat 2/3 of a median annual budget. At $50K a year, the cost to a grant jumps to $120K. So, for those of you who ask, "why can't I get another $10K? for my labor?" realize that it's not that your PI is trying to screw you, it's that she's trying to run a lab off grant funding and a postdoc already costs 2/3 the total, before grad students, supplies and travel. If you want to get paid to sit in an empty room, maybe you can get that extra $10K. Just food for thought.
After 6 years, I have earned the RIGHT to be considered scientist. I don't know what you people in cell and molecular biology do during your degrees, but in Ecology and Evolution, as PhD students, we came up with the questions, designed the experiments, wrote scripts to analyze our data, and yes of course wrote the manuscripts. We even wrote grants to get money to do the research. All of these things are what scientists do. Thus, I am a fucking scientist.
I don't expect to have both money and independence immediately. But fuck if I don't get my independence in a postdoc then pay me the big bucks and I'll do whatever the fuck I'm told to do. But I won't be paid a secretarial salary just so I can have the priviledge of being a fucking monkey. That's just bullshit.
Now we're heading into Wackyland. I completely agree that anyone who does the above is a scientist and I have no idea where I said anything to the contrary. Girlpostdoc, you are a scientist. Of that I have no doubt. That said, it's time to reign things in here a bit Entitletor. One thing that needs to be clear is that no one cares what you think you are entitled to when it comes to jobs, resources or respect. This only gets worse once you are faculty, so it's a good idea to get used to it now.
The second mistake you make is assuming that it is still training. It is not. As a postdoc, I am collaborating with my supervisor. I am training and teaching him, as much as he is training and teaching me. I come with expertise and the postdoc is a chance to exchange our expertise. Making the mental switch from student to collaborator is crucial. I believe that is what defines a successful postdoc.
Welcome to crazy island, population 1. First off, if someone could point to where my post would have spurred this response, I would love to know. But since we're here, let's get something straight: A postdoc is still training, but it is completely different from the training a grad student receives. If it's not, you're in the wrong lab.
There absolutely should be an exchange of ideas and expertise between postdoc and mentor. When I look for a postdoc, I look for someone who has skills I don't. I don't need another me, I need someone who adds a new dimension to the work we're doing. I want someone who can bring in new ideas and take the research in new directions. At the same time, I have a mentoring responsibility to help the postdoc get to where they want to go. If that is a TT faculty position, I will do what I can to prepare them for that. I've been through the transition and TRAINING the postdoc to make that jump is part of the job.
I think it's telling that all of the talk about "I knew how to be a PI right out of grad school" comes from current postdocs, whereas almost all faculty bloggers will admit that the transition was overwhelming, more difficult than they expected and that they learned a lot in their postdoc that helped them. If you think this is a skewed sample, go find the newest faculty member in your department and ask them whether they found their postdoc valuable in becoming faculty. I would bet they will either tell you their postdoc sucked and they learned a lot about being independent and how to succeed on their own or that they got great mentoring that helped them anticipate some of the craziness that ensues in the first year.
Because, frankly, all of the talk by postdocs about how they don't need the extra training to be faculty sounds a whole lot like a bunch of one legged people discussing how to win an ass kicking competition.
11 hours ago