There are times when writing a blog of this size seems like an open conversation between myself and the couple of dozen people who comment. I have no problem with that, but sometimes I forget that it's possible to toss out a post that you think is relatively innocuous and prompt a response you weren't expecting. Certainly that was the case when I touched off a lively debate about the merits of postdocing not too long ago, by suggesting ways I had seen people have very productive and fun postdocs. Clearly part of the response was my fault because, as Dr. Becca correctly pointed out, one could read the post as "if you don't do what I say and you're in a shitty postdoc, it's your fault". That is really the last thing I meant to put out there, but when you write a post in 5 minutes between other obligations, sometimes it's not well thought out and comes across to others in a way you never meant. Sometimes I forget that mentioning the words "postdoc" and "fun" in the same sentence in the science blog community can be like wearig meat pants at the pound.
PLS prepares to post on the subject of a happy postdoc experience
There are many postdocs out there who are in exploitive situations, where they are being milked like data cows by supervisors who care little for what happens to their carcass after they are done as a "trainee". To me, that type of "supervising" is unconscionable, but it doesn't mean it's not rampant. But, the point of my original post was to provide points to consider when choosing a postdoc that might aid in ending up in, at the very least, a tolerable position during what I view as an important career stage. Sometimes I forget "drive-by commenters" are almost always the ones who post the most emotional response about a topic because they pluck a single post out of the whole, cherry pick a few phrases they disagree with and launch into tirade.
Artist's rendition of a drive-by commenter.
Hey, that's fine. It reminds me to read through what I'm writing a little more critically rather than just hitting the post button after I finish typing. The flip side of course, is that simply calling someone else's points "propaganda for the system" based on your own reality is not exactly productive. To claim that another person is trying to falsely generalize based on their experience and then project your own experience to a group of people is a pretty basic flaw in logic.
Whatever you do, don't look it in the eye!
What I think is important here, however, is to bear in mind the fact that many of us want the same thing - to find ways to improve the postdoc experience. PiT already beat me to the punch with a good post on ways in which individuals can help make changes for themselves or other postdocs, so I won't belabor those points. Suffice to say that complaining without doing anything will be dismissed by others as empty blathering. If you're passionate about making a change to the life of postdocs, then do more than writing myopic internet content. To look at the real stats behind postdoc salaries, for instance, and claim that this is not your problem is to blame shift in a very convenient way. I'm not saying that postdocs have control over their salary (unless they chose a position based only on that), but in many cases PIs also have very little control. Not every lab is a biomedical factory running on multiple NIH grants.
If that doesn't appeal to you then at the very least, as a PI, break the cycle. Those who vociferously complain about how horrible being a postdoc is, only to turn around and treat their trainees the same way, either have learned nothing or have consciously embraced the exact thing which they fought against. Many of the PIs who blog are very aware of the training responsibility we have to the next generation of postodcs, whether you decide to call that "nauseating altruism" or not. Every trainee has their own goals and one of the PI's responsibilities is to do what they can to place that trainee in the best position to succeed. In the real world even a good PI will not be able to do this 100% of the time and even successful trainees will no reach their goals 100% of the time. Does that mean that all PI's are just out for themselves and to find more trainee wood to throw on the fire of science? If you think that is the case, why are you aiming to be a PI? If you are an unhappy postdoc, will you treat the people in your lab better or will you see it as a rite of passage that they suffer? The fact of the matter is that improving the postdoc experience takes commitment IRL, not just virtual opinions.
[Update Biochem Belle just added a post about types of postdocs that readers may find useful.]
21 hours ago