Friday, February 12, 2010

In defence of the postdoc

Over the past month or so there has been a lot of talk about postdocs, whether it's why people do them, the purpose of them or why some think they suck. In my field there is pretty much no getting around doing a postdoc if you want to do the whole TT thing, and frankly, I think that's a good thing. No matter how much you think you know about research and being a PI by the end of your PhD, the time as a postdoc is valuable in learning how much you really don't know. On top of that, being a postdoc should be one of the most exciting research times of your career.

The biggest complaints I hear about postdocing are 1) Money, 2) moving around and 3) lack of independence.

Money. This may be unpopular, but if you are in this business to get rich you might as well leave now. Yeah, PDFs typically make $35K - $50K, depending on the field and that isn't a ton of money given the training they have had to that point, but get over it. You're being paid to do research, and in most cases, have no other distractions. Assuming you have picked a research topic you enjoy, this is a pretty good deal. Personally, I would seriously consider the pay cut to be doing just research at this stage.

Moving around. Yup, the academic lifestyle can be somewhat nomadic and that can put a strain of relationships and make for difficult logistics. Because of that, a lot of people try and limit their geographic search, sometimes unreasonably. Personally, I would (and did) take the opposite approach and look for a postdoc in a completely unfamiliar place where you might never chose to settle. Why? Because a postdoc can be a lot more than just a job experience. I have numerous friends who are doing postdocs all over the world and the happiest of them are the ones that chose a place totally different from what they were used to. Maybe this wouldn't work in all fields, but there are plenty of excellent labs in other countries and you would be amazed how helpful international experience can be for collaborations. Not to mention that being in an unfamiliar place encourages one to go out and explore. Getting out of the lab for fun can be a good thing.

Lack of independence. Now I know that lots of people get into situations where they feel taken advantage of or where they are stuck doing projects they don't care about. That is why it is critical to do your homework ahead of time and know enough about the supervisor whose lab you are joining to determine if you can work with them and get the mentoring you need. Don't just take a position in any lab doing something remotely close to what you like. Talk to other trainees in the lab! Talk to former trainees. Is the lab a good place to develop as a scientist? That information can be FAR more important than the project. Put yourself in a place to succeed.

Obviously, this isn't a fool proof way to a happy postdoc, but give yourself the best shot you can. Expand you research horizons with something different from your PhD and do it in a fun place, both socially and scientifically. A postdoc can be one of the best times of your career.


  1. ahh...the joys of choosing a post doc place. I did exactly that though, moving to a place I didn't think I wanted to live in for long but wanted to try it out (and that the research place was awesome). I ended up staying after my post doc ;)

    (let's just go with that some family members aren't too happy about that, alas that's life though?)

    I agree to a point about the money. I never had much of an issue of "how little/much I made as a post doc" However, I was very happy and think it should be "obligatory" to have health insurance, some vacation & sick days and retirement in there. those are things I want more than a high salary.

    My beef with the post doc? That some PIs so obviously talked to me as I was a "lesser" and that the uncertainty of employment got to my mind after a while. I guess that might be ever so present in Academia and I might as well learn that as a post doc?

    I think doing a post doc is a very good thing. I thought I was fairly independent from my grad days, and I was, but it was slightly more "up to me" as a post doc and more importantly; other people recognise that I have worked more independently now after the post doc than before...

    [I guess this means I drank the cool aid? ;) ]

  2. I also postdocced in a foreign country. That was over twenty years ago and I'm still here (although no longer a postdoc of course!). I think people who dislike the idea of doing a postdoc are really missing the point. In the biomedical sciences at least, you are in no way ready for a faculty position straight out of grad school. Yes, I know that's how is used to work, but things are very, very different now and you need more training. That's just the way it is.

    And I agree, doing a postdoc should be enjoyable.

  3. I totally agree that, at least in most scientific fields, one is not ready to become a TT prof right out of a PhD. One of my favorite pieces of advice (I guess it's not really advice, but whatever) is: you learn the science during your PhD, but you learn how to be a scientist during your post-doc.

    I'll have to disagree with the moving around part - I think that one is more of a personal preference. Yes, I chose to stay in the same town as my husband, but that doesn't make the experience any less useful or meaningful to me. Of course, I was lucky to find a position in an area of research I've always been interested in pursuing with a very well-respected PI. So, it's not like I really settled either.

    Great advice overall, PLS!

  4. I completely agree with all this. I think another very good reason for taking a postdoc is that it gives an opportunity to outsiders, or those coming from schools that are not prominently ranked, to show that they are just as good as their competitors with a pedigree.
    If departments hired people straight out of graduate school outsiders would not stand a chance.

  5. Alyssa, I didn't mean that staying in the same place is automatically bad thing, at all. My point was that often times the people who complain the most about having to do a postdoc limited themselves to unappealing options at the start.

  6. I find it funny that I can't even spell kool aid ;) clearly not my thing...

  7. If you are lucky enough to have the right family and financial situation, it could be lovely to spend time doing research in a new country, and the poor pay of a postdoc might not be a hardship.

    However, people who have geographic limitations or financial responsibilities due to a variety of obligations, such as caring for aging relatives or co-parenting children after a divorce, often have quite limited choices when deciding on a postdoc position or even a t-t position. They can't simply decide to expand the scope of their job search to include other countries and might not even be able to expand their search to include other metropolitan regions. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that people in these types of situations often get stuck in postdoc positions where they have a lack of independence, regardless of whether they have done their homework.

    It is a shame that some people have to choose between putting themselves "in a place to succeed", as you wrote, and honoring their other obligations. It is even more of a shame that people who are struggling through such tough choices in their lives are also made to feel as if they should just buck up and try to enjoy themselves.

  8. Anon: Lots of people in many professions face choices regarding family and mobility, and they are tough choices. People sometimes have to put other things ahead of their careers, no matter what they do. It's life. I'm am not saying that this should never happen, because that's just stupid. All I'm saying is that being a postdoc should be something that people enjoy and there are many ways to make it a valuable experience. Many people seem to see it as a painful obligation or just another hoop to jump through, which I feel is a bad way to look at it.

  9. I'm in the same situation and total agreement with Odyssey. I found my postdoc to be a great opportunity to meet new people in both my own and related fields and this put me in an excellent position for future collaborations. Even though you're in someone else's lab, this is the time for you to prove you've got the chops to be an independent scientist.

  10. I also found my post-doc a great opportunity - and deliberately applied for distant locations BECAUSE at age 24 (UK system, OK?), childless, partnerless, with healthy parents, I knew this was a great opportunity to go somewhere really different. I loved my time there, some weeks I hated it, knowing it was for a fixed period of two years only made me make more of the opportunities and helped ride out the tough bits (I'm not naturally that adventurous a person. Being in a different culture and away from my friends and family was tough at times). Having 'international' experience helped my job hunt when I came back to my home geographic region.

    I wonder if one issue with the US system is that people post-doc at a later life-stage than some of us Europeans? Commitments are likely to be very different at age 30-35 than at age 25-30... especially for women who have the bulk of the disruption of being pregnant and having/feeding babies.

  11. "I wonder if one issue with the US system is that people post-doc at a later life-stage than some of us Europeans? Commitments are likely to be very different at age 30-35 than at age 25-30... "

    Yes, it is. Reading this blog post about how "fun" it should be to pack up and go anywhere in the world for your postdoc...sure when I was 24 I would have done that. But I wasn't a postdoc at 24, I was a postdoc at 31. I had commitments and family obligations and couldn't just decide to go spend 2 years in this country and 2 years in another country. the ideal postdoc experience is geared towards people with no strings attached, no obligations outside of their own career interests (or who can somehow suppress those other obligations). How many people beyond their late 20s are still like this? For many of us, it would be irresponsible. For those who put their lives on hold in order to remain without obligations, it often leads to personal dissatisfaction ultimately.

  12. Anon, maybe that's your personal position but I don't know that you should project that on every potential postdoc everywhere. Besides, there are bitter bloggers who will do that for you.

    I am married and was married when I took a postdoc at 28 to my wife who already had a career and who agreed to move for the experience of living in a different place. Her work experience from Postdoc Country has turned out to be a good thing for her job in Employment City, just as my postdoc turned into a good thing for me. But my experience is hardly unusual. Many of my friends who do postdocs all over the world are married and several have kids. We had a child while I was postdoc and now we have a daughter with dual citizenship. It was a great experience for us and the point I made above was that the people I know who are the happiest with their postdoc experience are those who took the show on the road. It doesn't work for everyone but try doing an unofficial poll sometimes of your postdoc friends and see whether my assertion holds up... or you can just assume that everyone lives in your shoes.

    I find it humorous that the idea that a postdoc might be a fun or exciting time in one's career (yes, even with a family) has caused such a stir.

  13. Or another way to put it is that you spend the first part of your postdoc learning how to be a scientist and the second half of your postdoc learning how to beg for money to a sufficient standard that you salary-support more people than just yourself.


  14. I see it is more common for postdocs who are married to also be able to move to other countries if they are male. It is still socially more acceptable for the wife to follow their husband for his career chocies, than the other way round. Your experience - being married, your wife moved to your Postdoc City, you had a child - is typical from what I see for those who do manage to do it. It is far less common and acceptable for it to be the other way round (female postdoc moving to other country for her career and husband tagging along happily.) So, Prof Like Substance, it seems that whether you admit it or not, you were in fact in the priviliged class for whom postdoctoral life is wonderful. I'm glad it worked out well for you, but I also hope you realize that your experience is not easily transferrable just by having an optimistic attitude so your admonishment of those who were not as fortunate as you, can be seen as off-base.

  15. by the way I'm not the same "anons" as before

  16. OMG OMG! Someone thinks a postdoc should be a good experience! Everyone tell him how delusional he is, quickly, before people get the wrong idea.

    Seriously folks, get a grip. I fail to see how I'm admonishing anyone for not being mobile. I wrote an account of what I and many others have done that has turned out successfully. I'm not saying other approaches are wrong or will end badly, I am proving examples of what one can do to make their postdoc a good experience. I prefer this tact rather than telling everyone else how wrong they are doing everything.

    Socially acceptable or not, there is an element of give and take in any relationship where one or both people have careers that require them to be mobile. Does it make me "in the privileged class" for having a spouse who was willing to move with me? I am certainly privileged for having married her, but every move we have made has been a discussion based on what was best for our family.

    None of the above changes the fact that there are shitty supervisors and inept postdocs out there. I'm not here to claim otherwise and I have no doubt that plenty of postdocs are getting exploited out there. Does that mean there is no hope? Um, hardly.

    Since the loudest voices on the postdoc issue tend to be those who feel they have been take advantage of, I thought giving some air time to the other side of the coin might provide some balance and maybe even make people think about options they might not otherwise have considered, take from it what you will.

  17. 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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

  18. I am a recent PhD student and was looking for some advice. Thanks! I also found this post.

  19. My 2 postdocs (over 4 years) were tremendous times of learning and training. I chose a path outside the education from my Ph.D. and broadened my skills considerably. I had good mentors, projects, and colleagues and feel this time was essential even though I had designed my own experiments, funded them myself, etc, in Ecology.

  20. What a bunch of whining BS. Get a grip postdoc-types. Pull your head out of your ass or remove the blinkers (delete as appropriate). Your agenda is blinding you to what PlS is trying to say/do here.

    You unhappy as postdocs. He gets it. I get it. Everyone fucking gets it. A postdoc can be shitty period where you're taken for granted. Or not.

    That does not change your mobility BTW. If you hate it that much, then quit. Move on. Change careers. Face it that academic science is fucking hard and shitty. You fight to get your PhD, then you fight for postdoc and then you get have a tiny chance of getting a faculty position and you fight for tenure and funding.

    Start swinging or get the hell off home plate.

    99% of you are so busy fucking whining about how unfair it all is, that every time someone tries to say something about the issue you immediately start flailing about with your rancid arguments.

    If you're incapable of thinking about or examining this issue then nothing is ever going to change.

    My postdoc was shitty, really fucking shitty, so do you know what? Did I lurk around the internets waiting for someone to write about postdocing so could vindicate my feeble sense of self-worth by lambasting perfectly reasonable arguments? NO!

    ...well, yes I did for bit. but then I realized how self-defeating this is and I did something about my situation. Quit your fucking whining and do something to improve your situation.

  21. I'm with Tideliar on this one. Except my postdoc has been awesome.

    Every fucking step up is work and once you get there it's more work. I deo ten times the work I did as a PhD student as an advanced postdoc. And my boss, who pulls in millions a year, does ten times more fucking work than I do. And I owe him my salary and career.

    Sack the fuck up and write some fucking papers and grants so you can get your own gig. Or, as Tideliar suggests, get out.

  22. I loved my postdoc. I went in knowing that I definitely did not want to be a PI, though, which really helped me to relax and enjoy the ride! I also got lucky with a PI who allowed me a lot of independence, and (mostly) great lab mates. The pay (CAD35,000) felt fantastic in the first year compared to my grad student stipend (GBP8,000), but felt pretty damn small by the end...

    Still, though, I consider myself privileged to have been able to spend 3.5 years doing original research, getting experience that has been very beneficial in my subsequent career, and getting easy access to a Canadian work permit (which I eventually turned into permanent residence and then citizenship). And yes, the latter benefit is one of the reasons I decided to do a postdoc despite not wanting to be a PI!

    JaneB has an excellent point about the earlier age at which us Europeans start our postdocs. I was also 24 and single when I moved over here. Now that I'm married, I'm tied to Vancouver because my husband's job is not at all mobile (he has an excellent reputation as a carpenter in the local movie industry, and is very well known within his own union (people come up to us at social events to tell me how great he is, and co-ordinators request him by name), but he trained via an informal apprenticeship and has not one single qualification on paper). Luckily for me, I chose a postdoc in a place I knew I would love, and am more than happy to make my move permanent!

  23. I personally absolutely love my postdoc. I've been at it for a year, and have one paper as first author, and two more as n-th auther (n>1). Although I was limited in my choice because of family issues (being married to a husband in a tt job, and with 3 kids, moving far away is virtually impossible, unless we're willing to totally rip the family apart). I don't get paid much, but I didn't expect to get a lot. I love what I do, it's perfect for doing research, publishing, without the pressures of having to graduate or applying for tenure. If it goes on like this, I want to be a postdoc forever!

  24. @Tideliar

    I am a postdoc and I hate it. And I think you are being ridiculous and frankly insulting. The reason some folks disagreed with PlS is that he tried to make a postdoc sound like a good thing. When you spew infantilizing crap like PlS did, you are asking for it.

    In some ways, you are better than PlS. You are saying outright that its shitty and hard in science. There is some honesty to that. But when people like PlS, who stand to gain most from the existence of plebians, try to teach the plebians that being a plebian is fun, it is usually obvious that they have their own agenda. And why shouldn't they? But, I have mine and if I can see through his utter BS, there is no need to be pissed off.

    I hate being a postdoc. I repeat that. I know academic science is hard. It's hard, cruel, unfair and frankly disgusting. That's why it's my game. The obnoxious field of science attracts obnoxious characters like me. What's so bad about that? I live with the truth ...the truth being that postdocs suck. And when some liar like PlS tries to tell me otherwise, either with the obvious profit motive or to assuage his conscience by telling himself that his slaves are happy and lucky to be his slaves, I refuse to have any of it.

    Oh...and I am not depressed. I am all fired up. I am only 25 (and I have been a postdoc for a year and I got my PhD in the US system). Tell you what: I will visit your blog on Feb 27, 2011 .. a year from now and let you know that I have a tenure track position at an R1 University. And...if you happen to have spent less than 2 years on TT at this point, let me guarantee you that I will have tenure before you do. That's a challenge. You think you have achieved tremendous by getting a TT position, I will show you how its done (only better...faster and easier) Save your insults for "postdoc types".

  25. Anon 8.14: you are generalizing that doing a postdoc is a bad thing because you've had a shitty experience yourself. And you're also asserting that academic is "hard, cruel, unfair and frankly disgusting" because of your own bad experience.

    PLS merely stated that postdoctoral training can be a time to really grow as a scientist and, for those that are able, a time to try living in a different city, state or country.

    There ARE good mentors out there and there ARE wonderful postdoc opportunities available. What do you plan to do with your own postdocs while you're busy achieving tenure before anyone else? I suggest that you take your bad experiences and make sure that the postdocs you mentor don't suffer like you have. Then maybe your postdocs will be singing the same tune as PLS, myself, and the other bloggers who said that they found their postdocs to be rewarding and enjoyable.

  26. i'm a postdoc (1st year), married, have a kid, moved to another country.
    and it's actually not that bad as i thought it would be. yes, the salary's not that good. but it's enough (well it probably wouldn't be if my wife didn't work). i can do _whatever_ i want and yet my boss always finds time to discuss. i know that i'll have to make another postdoc after this one before i hopefully get a position. but you know what, it all depends on ME. nobody else but ME. if i was a genius i would get a permanent position in one year.

    so all of you whining about how you can't get positions and hate being postdocs. suck it up. do better or leave.

  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. "Assuming you have picked a research topic you enjoy, this is a pretty good deal. Personally, I would seriously consider the pay cut to be doing just research at this stage."

    1. Sure cranking out the publications is essential to anyone aspiring to a tenure-track position. However, those Science and Nature papers cannot be guaranteed, and a mediocre publication record needs to be balanced out with mentoring, teaching, and outreach experience.

    2. How many postdocs can say NO to mentoring a PI's students AND expect him to write a glowing letter of recommendation?

    3. If it is such a great deal, why are you still considering it?

    What is stopping you actually quitting your current position and taking another postdoc???????????

  29. What is stopping you actually quitting your current position and taking another postdoc???????????

    Zactly. I did :)

  30. Well, my postdoc sucked. Never got the money they told me (got exactly half of it) and never got to do the project I thought I was going to be doing. Instead they just kept me behind a computer doing simulations that any undergrad with a freshman course in programming could do.

  31. My postodoc experience reveled a fact that science has become a “dirty business” and it has become a common norm to treat postdocs as "slaves". Funding scenario has created a whole system of “postdoc slavery”, which is impossible to escape from.

    PI's in some of the top institutes use postdocs as labors to advance their own career without letting postdoc advance, making it a parasitic rather than symbiotic association. Postdocs hardly get to choose their own projects, PI's use postdoc's results to write their own grants leaving postdoc dry. After all this, it has become a common trend to replace a postdoc with 2+ years experience with a new post doc to save on salary. (These statements are based on true experiences of some of my fellow postdocs)

    International postdocs have additional sets of issues to deal with and are highly prone to discrimination. Chances of getting tenure track position after a postdoc are becoming rare. With increase in number of years of postdoc experience a very few non-academic jobs become available.

    If you really want to do a postdoc think why you want to do it, with whom and for how long? DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME if it is not required to get you where you want to go.

  32. I have to agree with some of the anonymous comments above (presumably by women) about the postdoc system, as well as scientific academia in general being extraordinarily difficult for women. It is no coincidence that women make up a meager, meager percentage of tenured faculty. The whole system (moving here and there for postdocs, moving again for a tenure track position, working 60+ hours a week until you get tenure, and doing all of this between the ages of 25-40) makes it extraordinarily difficult for any women with a family to succeed. This is because the entire system was developed for men whom, if they had a family, also had a wife who did the bulk, if not all, of family and household obligations. In my experience this is generally still the case for the majority of male professors: their wife may have a job, but it is very secondary to the husbands and thus she does the majority of child rearing responsibilities. The few women I know who have made tenure are either 1.) childless (the majority) or 2.) extraordinarily ambitious and have had nanny's and day care do the majority of their child-rearing. Scientific academia is inherently sexist, one should not have to decide to be childless for life so that one won't be fired in 5 years (when tenure is denied) after training for 10 years for a position (PhD + postdoc, U.S. system). I definitely don't think the people in academia are sexist, the system itself is and needs to be changed. And yes, this is coming from a woman: however, I moved to a different country for my postdoc (doing it now), I have enjoyed it, I do love research, I loved getting my PhD, and not to toot my own horn, and have been pushed strongly by all my research advisors to get on the tenure track soon. My point is, despite all of this (loving my job, getting great publications, etc.) I am going to have children in the next couple years, and I think there is a very, very good chance I will have to drop out of the academic system as a result of that "children/career" choice. That is not fair, and it is not a choice that men have to make in academia either. They may have to choose whether or not to have a stellar career or a lot of quality time with their children, but they don't have to choose between either never, ever having children (cause for women after about 40 there is no changing your mind on this) or having a tenure track career at all (even a non-stellar one). Pointing out this does not make us all whiny, boo-hoo losers: it is our duty to not only carry out scientific research, it is also our duty as human beings to strive for a just society, and a just academia.

  33. I would have to agree with several posters on here that the post-doc system, and scientific academia system in general, is highly skewed in favor of men. I don't think individuals in science are generally sexist, but I do believe that the tenure track system (move one place for PhD, move 1 or 2 more times for postdoc, and yet again for a faculty position, then work 60+ hours a week until tenure all between 25-40 years old)pushes the vast majority of women out early on. The fact is that we (women) rarely have househusbands, or husbands that will follow us from country to country for our career, and we have to have kids by about 40. Yes, men have to choose between kids and career too: but the difference is men generally have to choose between having a stellar career or having a close, lots of quality time relationship with their children. Whereas, women in academia all too often have to choose between never, ever having children at all or having an academic career. That's a big difference, a hugely unfair one, and it is a reality. Yes, I have really enjoyed my postdoc (which is in a different country than where I got my PhD btw), I love research, and I have no doubt that I can land a TT position in the next year or so. However, it is equally true that I'm going to have kids soon (woman, biological clock, its now or never, etc.) and I realize there is a very, very good chance that I will have to scrap my TT aspirations at that point. This is not a fair situation and the system needs to be changed, it's not only our duty to do scientific research, it's also our duty as citizens and human beings to strive for a just and fair society, including the society of academia.

  34. So sorry for the above double post! It told me the first time I was over the limit on space and I thought it didn't publish ):

  35. Dear all,
    I have read all the above mentioned comments. There is no doubt that all of the post-docs are contributing enormously in all the discipline of modern sciences. There is one common thing in all the young productive scientists that they are solely driven by their motivation and curiosity. The drive for science in me was produced by seeing the misery of common and poor people suffering from tuberculosis. Second reason was the amazing beauty of inheritance and the process of genetic inheritance. Secrets embedded in invisible molecules. DNA strings with clear demarcations related to complex biological functions. Synergism, in biological systems and microbial entities. Simply amazing!!

  36. All this motivates me to be 1000 year old and work to explore. Unfortunately, many people around are not curiosity driven, they simply see it as a job! Since publication record is the sole factor for the grant and position so it gets really ugly at the time of authorship allocation in some cases. Unfortunately, Is and TT are also under pressure to proceed with their academic goals and things get unfair. Since science is not like other profession where people have to just finish the work, it is more like a personal thing, alot of thinking while taking coffee, taking a bath, walking in the forest and if atmosphere is not comfortable and majority academia sees it only publication and fund issue it would not work. People who want to solve a problem they have to be sincere with the problem solving with each other and open in discussions and sharing thoughts and absolutely convincing themselves that their efforts are worth it. However, unfortunately it is not the case now a day.

  37. There are tones of problems and many more have to come like climate change or nuclear disasters. Multi-drug resistance of pathogens and in my opinion in next 30 years policy makers will be astonished that they have failed innovation, and utterly failed it. Like now they are astonished after failing financial system of the world.
    Following steps should be taken to save science and innovation.

  38. 1- PIs should be strictly scrutinized for their knowledge and expertise. How? The scientist who is publishing tons of articles in all spheres of one field, does he really know. A live peer review of his work in conferences in front of panel of expert should be presented and it must be seen that what he has advanced in practical terms over the last 10 years.

    2- Post docs are doing most of the work and they are expert on particular things so the institutions of higher education should offer them teaching placement for MSc and PhD courses and they should be paid extra and after certain time they should be given a permanent teaching faculty position.

    3. Time for the post doc should be restricted to 4 years and after that a promotion in the system or assurance for the employment and freedom for the independent research should be granted for at least 10 years.

    4- Schools and colleges should employ PhDs and post-docs if they do not want to pursue their career in science. Since they are highly educated and one year vocational training should enable them to be good teachers.

    5- My spouse could not get entry visa though I tried my best, so bureaucracy should be given lectures to understand our work and responsibilities and our desires to work on projects. In other words family life of post-docs should be supported both for men and women. It makes easier to concentrate

    6- Peer review system should be changed where it matters who knows who.

    7- Direct submission of original data and pictures directly to the journal should be mandatory to ensure originality and fair contribution of authors.

    8- Numbers of publications to get tenure track position should not be the sole factor for assessment but rather experience, strength and importance of the theme and teaching skills should also be considered.

    9- Salaries at post doc level should be increased since they are too low to live a dignified life with one family member in many countries.

    10- Numbers of projects in science should be reduced and only the most important problems should be addressed at first.

  39. 11- Every university should make community halls and informal forums for interaction of new post docs or PhDs that they are not left alone in any given society.

    12- Young people in science should be told by mentors that a moral character and openness is a prerequisite to their own success and health.

    13- A brotherly feeling should be created between colleagues and they should not see each other job rival. Rather, they should know that their work is their merit and will be evaluated outside the institution by reviewers that will ensure their further funding opportunities. They should know that they have the luxury to spend public funds and they should be honest to spend these if only they see productivity. This can only be ensured if they have a save passage to leave and seek other orientation for their career incase of failing. Like school and college teachers. Bank loans for personal business on low interest or to go abroad to help communities in Africa and Asia. Their such mobility will fill gaps between cultures and countries.

    14- Research project should be seen in bigger prospective and with an integrated approach.

    15- Young native researcher should know that their international colleagues are valuable members of the team and they scarified more than them in pursuit of science. They are not mere for financial reasons.

  40. 16- International researchers have different cultures and they are far from homes thus for a creative individual more tolerance and emotional support must be warranted.

    17- Due to modern geopolitical and economic situations Xenophobia and discrimination has reached new peak as seen in many online surveys in many countries, governments should do something to encourage intercultural harmony since science is global and we all live in one world and have the common problems and desires.
    If xenophobia and discrimination will enter in corridors of science it will fail us all together.

    I wish you all the best and great fun with science, in next few months, I will return to my farm house and will start agriculture. I hope my son or daughter will enjoy a better scientific culture and opportunities with fewer problems. I must apologize in advance for any comment that might hurt feelings of any fellow!! I must also apologize any cynicism or negativity reflected in my comments.

    Disclaimer!!! Posted comments are not posted with an intention to question the credibility of anyone, however are just personal opinion!
    All the best, keep smiling!!

  41. I am the wife of a postdoc, married for 10 years now, and happened upon this blog post this evening in my search for the voices of others who have had common experiences.

    My husband and I met toward the beginning of both of our masters degrees, though he was studying chemistry and I business management / psychology. Our first child came along, and shortly thereafter, our first move - we were more adventurous than most and went to Germany where he studied in a highly specialized field in chemistry toward earning his Dr. rer. nat. I started doctoral studies in my field of I/O Psychology (while holding down my other job of being a mom and of teaching business English for a few extra Euros). Of course my husband finished his studies before I did and so, reluctantly, I left my research group, and great paying part-time job, and free socialized and spectacular daycare, and moved with him to his first postdoc position - in Vancouver, BC.

    In Vancouver I became depressed. I had gone from being in a highly stimulating environment, having my children's (oh, I forgot to mention that son number two came along our third year in Germany) need for variety and socialization met, and having a job where I was valued, to having no job, having no childcare (Canada does not have the same level of social benefits as Germany does), having withdrawal symptoms from leaving my doctoral program, and living in a basement apartment with no chance of escape anytime soon. Our firstborn child, who was now age five, started having difficulty in school, and I alone (since my husband was a postdoc and in the lab all day long) endured 17 grueling months of being called to our son's school day after day, to tend to minor issues that were too much for anyone else to handle. Our son was diagnosed with a mild case of Asperger's after these 17 months when I finally insisted that he see an Autism specialist; nothing else was making sense.

    Our marriage nearly broke that year-and-a-half. I almost took the kids and left my husband, but knowing (or hoping anyway) that this, too, shall pass, I decided to just be still - be zen - and wait. I did, and we made it through; however, I did negotiate that we immediately go back to the US where I (naively, foolishly, perhaps nostalgically) thought things would be, on the whole, easier for us. He was offered his second postdoc at Mayo Clinic and so we were off to Minnesota. That lasted 15 months due to a poorly planned pie-in-the-sky project dreamt up by the PI, lack of inspection and inquiry on my husband's part, and perhaps some ego clash between the two of them, to boot. I was unable to find a job in Rochester, Minnesota in those 15 months, though I did have four promising interviews.

    Which brings us up to date: he is currently doing the third - and definitely last - postdoc in Florida, where I am happy to say that we all together and living under the same roof. Our boys are doing well and our oldest was re-diagnosed with PDD-NOS, which is not as severe as Asperger's (he continues to kick ass on all standardized tests, though he still has occasional Autistic melt-downs when he gets his ass kicked in Halo).

    My career, needless to say, has been on the back-burner for a number of these years and I feel the definite sting of the sacrifices I have made in order for these other areas of my life to exist and thrive. I especially feel it now as I go daily into my current job, where I am taken advantage of and made to feel lower than the least common denominator because - well - I guess because they figure there simply MUST be something wrong with me to be someone like me working at a place like this (i.e., I took a job that I'm grossly overqualified for because our current community in Florida has 14% unemployment). I do it for the boys, and as an attempt pay my student loan, which I've come to realize will now probably never go away since my career momentum was lost a long time ago.

    See next post below.

  42. Has it all been worth it? That is a complicated question. I do believe that certain TT persons who have posted on here have simplistic, overly-optimistic, and altogether unrealistic expectations of the most natural human emotions that are involved in the incredible endurance that must be maintained in order to make it year after year as a postdoc. And, of course from a psychological point of view, I understand their perspective as well; there is now some distance between the time these TTs were postdocs and now, and indeed times have changed from when they were in these shoes (as some have mentioned, e.g., additional years expected for "training" as postdocs as compared to days of yore, somewhat hostile international environments). However, it has saddened me further, after searching for some common-understanding, to find how callous some have seemed on here.

    And yet, I agree with a lot of statements made by these same persons, as well. There have been definite days when I've looked back on the journey, and have thought "nobody else I know has been to the places I've been, and seen what I have seen!" Also, I started a small business in Germany that I run to this day, which would have never happened had I not married an academic. (BTW - if you need copyediting of your research or dissertations, send them my way! Especially you, javid! :) However, there have been equally as many days that I have been in tears because I feel a) we will never own a home, or b) I will never be in a job that I love, or c) I will never be able to finish my PhD and teach the way I REALLY want to.

    I don't know what the end of the road will be... I'm along for the journey. The view at times is breathtaking, at other times, dismal. One thing is for certain... the world's wealth is grossly skewed and there are many, many who suffer. If you sleep well at night, then you aren't taking enough notice.

    I started writing/blogging about the journey somewhere along the way - I think it was Minnesota -

  43. So.... because you don't like the twists your life has taken, the postdoc system is wrong? Seems like the exact flip of the argument so many, yourself included, took offense to. If we're going to argue* that one person's experience is not representative, let's stay consistent.

    *On an 18 month old post.

  44. Oh, I didn't know there were rules to this discussion. I suppose I should follow your lead next time and be an asshole. Thanks, prof!

  45. I like to think of "following logic in argument" as one of those unwritten rules.

  46. I think the three complaints you list in the blog entry don't quite hit the mark at - the real issue I think is that a postdoc is often a long road to nowhere. It is a long road (often 5-6+ years in fields like phys) after which there is still a good chance one won't land a great permanent position, even after all that sacrifice, and doing pretty excellent work.

    The length of the postdocing period does vary from field to field, as does the competitiveness, so if you're in a field where you only need to do a couple years 1-2 before being considered for faculty jobs, then I could see how it would be well worth it, if being a professor is the goal.

    Me personally, I did my PhD in a #1 ranked uni where I did pretty well, and will be doing a postdoc at another #1 institution. With that background you'd think I'd be pretty optimistic - not so, I will have to fight tooth and nail for the chance to get some mediocre little position god knows where while I get older and older. My colleagues from developing countries don't see it that way (I'm American btw), for them academia is a ticket into the U.S. and that meager grad student / postdoc salary still pays 3-5x what they could possibly get at home. And after all the postdocing, they can still look to professorships back in their home countries if things don't pan out in the U.S. So as far as they are concerned, they've hit the jackpot. Meanwhile I'm thinking about Wall Street :).

  47. Prof like Substance has a small penis and probably beats his wife

  48. I enjoyed reading all the posts about how people don't like being post-docs. I accepted a post-doc position in a different country where I don't speak the language. I love being able to just focus on research, and enjoy the experience of living somewhere new, but I am five months in and it is already getting old. I sit in my little office all day without any windows working by myself on my computer. I hardly ever talk to anyone else (because I don't understand them). I am fluent in two languages, and I know I have the ability to learn a third, but it is going to take a while. I recently came across a new position in a nice location in the US that I have a good chance of getting, but I feel like I should stick it out here a bit longer until I can at least understand people. Besides, my husband found a good job here (unexpectedly), and I told him that we could try to have a kid here. Also it is February - I probably just have seasonal affective disorder as there is hardly any sunlight and it is freezing outside. I'm sure I will feel differently in July.

    By the way, I enjoyed reading Bananastasia's post, and Prof like Substance's reply sure made him seem like a jerk. Obviously he doesn't care - not a someone I'd want to work for.