Wednesday, May 26, 2010

HBHM (3 of 5): Connecting the dots

Departments can vary enormously in their make-up and stratification. When you first get hired into a department this isn't something that most people think about, but it can become an issue for you before you know it. I was the first hire into my department in a couple of years and it will be another year from now before we hire the next person (I will have been here 3 years when they start). This is actually not a bad spread between hires, in some places the gaps are much larger, and conversely, there are those that hire multiple people in a year.

I recognized fairly early on that the pool of "new" people who I could go to with questions about getting started as a new PI was very small. Particularly since I was coming in from a different country and wasn't already in step with funding agencies here, my transition wasn't as smooth as it could have been. Although my department is very supportive in a lot of ways, I don't really have a strong cohort here who are reaching the same milestones when I am.

My way of dealing with this was to write everything down in the hopes that those coming a year or two later might benefit from a non-revisionist history of the stuff I went through. It's all well and good to say "Oh, yeah. I remember going through that, it'll get better." but leaving a written archive of when I actually went through something and my at the time reaction to it made a lot of sense to me, both to remember what it was like and to hopefully benefit others.

What I did not expect, in my naivety about blogging and this community, was that thousands of others had a similar thought. And not only were there numerous examples of other blogs written by people in my situation, but there are 10x that number of readers who struggle through the same situations. Suddenly my cohort was huge. Suddenly I had access to an enormous range of perspectives and advice. I felt like I looked under my chair and found the Poll The Audience lifeline from Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and without having to tolerate Regis.

And so the dynamic of this blog has changed for me as I make more connections and find a network where I once saw a chaotic arrangement of dots. And for every helpful conversation that occurs in a comment section there is another happening by email or IRL - each one drawing upon the collective experience of many great people. Whether it is things that come up in my family life, teaching or research there are others who are walking the same path as I am, have tread down this path recently or at least remember what it was like and have some great advice that makes me consider new things.

I do hope that post-docs and grad students who read this blog find the snippets of advice that will be useful for them or at least get a sense of what they will be facing if they make the jump to PI. I'm not sure there's any way to be completely prepared for what lies ahead, but at least some heads up will have you more ready. For me, however, this forum has become more of a sounding board / support group ("Hi, my name is PLS and I... am a... a junior PI) / muse for me to kick around ideas. It has made a lot of the stages of early PI life a lot easier to handle knowing that I'm not the only one facing certain challenges and hearing the advice of others. In turn I have tried to provide advice, for better or for worse, where I think I can add to the conversation.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go sing "The Circle of Life" at the top of my lungs.


  1. a) Thanks for the link love.

    b) Goddammit, now I have that stupid song in my head. Damn you PlS!

  2. a) I now have that song in my head too. Booooo.

    b) It's just occurred to me that I really should go back and read you straight through from the very beginning! I'm so glad that you find you get a lot out of keeping the blog, because it really is one of the best out there. I'm (hopefully) just a couple of years behind you, and your experiences are unquestionably valuable to me and others in my position. So thanks!

  3. Yeah, I was the first TT hire in my dept in a decade and will likely be the last for the next few years thanks to the economy. Just makes life more difficult than it really needs to be. But that's ok. We'll celebrate our tenure parties together!