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Lessons from a Recovering Postdoc
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Lessons from a Recovering Postdoc

Hi. My name’s Belle. And I’m a recovering postdoc.

Maybe you think it will never happen to you. You were a successful graduate student. You got along with your dissertation adviser and your committee members. Your project progressed, and when it was stalled, you had something else to work on. You worked, you published, you defended, and you moved to the postdoc position of your dreams.

Then one day–maybe three, six, nine months later–you wake up to find that the dream is a distant memory. You are tired, angry, bitter, depressed… You have turned into the disgruntledoc that you swore you’d never become.

What happened? You made a decision about where to spend the next 2 to 8 years of your life based on a few hours of interaction with a group of people putting on their best face. There’s a chance you didn’t even spend a full twenty-four hours in the city you decided to call home. Once you’re there, though, you find that some things change, and some things simply never were. The stress of starting over in a new city, the “surefire homerun” project that proves more elusive than the Loch Ness monster, a new departmental and institutional environment, a clash of personalities… These are all factors that might contribute. It’s rarely a single thing that pushes someone to consider walking away and starting over again.

And it’s never an easy decision for those who do. It’s one that is filled with doubt and questions: Is it just because this experiment isn’t working? Am I a bad scientist? Was my PI simply having a bad day? Am I just not committed enough? Am I cut out for this? What will my family think? What about my grad school mentors? Will this kill my career?

At least those are some of the sentiments that crossed my mind, as I struggled for months to make and follow through on my decision.

But I also learned some important lessons along the way.

Trust your gut. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to convince myself that I was just experiencing “growing pains” associated with switching fields between grad school and postdoc… or that it was the steep learning curve of completely new, nontrivial methods. Both were true to an extent, but I also knew there was much more below the surface. As a postdoc, you have the experience of graduate school behind you. You know enough to realize when things aren’t quite what they should be.

Do not compare yourself to the “golden child”. There’s one in every lab–the trainee that gets along great with the PI, has all the freedom he or she desires, sends out manuscripts, receives praise during meetings… Do not use that individual as a comparator! Use caution in comparing yourself to anyone else in the lab as a marker of what you’re “doing wrong”. Different people have different responsibilities, projects, personalities, and tolerances. In grad school, we told new students that every PI/lab/project has its quirks or eccentricities, and you have to decide which ones you can tolerate. The same is true in a postdoc, but often you don’t have as much time to figure that out until you’re already there.

“Fake it ’til you make it” isn’t always the answer. When I first started to experience doubts about my situation, my first response was, as Tim Gunn would say, “Make it work.” Some people might stick out a tough postdoc and emerge on the other side with publications. If you consider this strategy, you need to ask two important questions: What is the likelihood of getting to the “make it” phase (e.g. getting publications and mentoring that you need for the next level)? And what effect will the “fake it” phase have on you and your career? I did not care for the spread on the “make it” phase. I got into science because I enjoyed it; I feared that none of that would survive the “fake it” phase.

Usually there’s the right choice and the smart choice, but they aren’t always one and the same. Make it work or move on? That’s the choice you face. You might tell yourself, “The smart thing to do is to wait a little longer, work harder, try to salvage something, even a single publication, from the wreckage. Maybe things will get better. Besides, who’s going to hire a “failed” postdoc, especially in this economy?” Then there’s something else saying, “Yeah, finding a new position is a terrifying prospect. But is it anymore terrifying than things remaining exactly as they are?” No circumstances are ever identical, but for me, it was between what seemed to be the smart choice–staying on–and the other choice–moving on. I chose the latter, because it was right for me.

Find an ally. If you’re leaving a postdoc on less than favorable terms, then most likely your PI isn’t going to be very supportive. Add to this, you’re combating all the self-doubt associated with this decision. It’s time to seek out someone you trust, who can provide perspective and feedback, and who is willing to back you up. My PhD research adviser was patient and helpful; talking with him helped clear things in my mind that had been muddied by the turmoil. As a reference for my new position, he was a strong advocate for me. I will never be able to repay that debt.

Rediscover your confidence. You’ve spent months stuck in the mud. You’ve been doubting your abilities and your judgement. You’re convinced no one wants to hire a “failure” of a postdoc with “nothing” to show. You have to stop this cycle of thought. Think about all the things you know, the skills you’ve acquired, the papers you’ve published. Having trouble with that? Prepare an industry CV (or something like it), even if you don’t intend to apply there. Part of an industry CV is listing out competency and expertise in specific techniques, skills, and concepts. A look at the list of things I had mastered during grad school and my postdoc made me realize how much I had going for me and helped focus my job search.

Don’t make it personal. This is a hard one. There is a great deal of tension and, potentially, animosity between you and your PI, running both ways. But you have to keep things professional, even if the courtesy is not returned. When you start sending out letters and going for interviews, keep the focus on you, your skills, and your science. Obviously you can’t just ignore the time spent in your current position, but you can at least cast it in a neutral tone. You don’t have to supply all the reasons you’re looking for a new job, so stick to the ones that are professional and career-driven. Trashing your supervisor during an interview will set off alarms. What you say about your supervisor says much more about you than it does about him or her. PIs can read between the lines; this is a good place to let them do it.

You are not alone. It’s far too easy to isolate yourself… To convince yourself you must be a terrible postdoc, an awful scientist… To tell yourself that no one else has this sort of problem… That anyone else would have made this work. The good and bad news is, you are not alone. When I first mentioned vague doubts and notions of leaving my postdoc lab, I received comments and messages from people, saying “I’ve been there”. Some were postdocs just moving out of similar situations. A couple were PIs telling me that their first postdoc positions were nightmarish. These served as reminders that I wasn’t alone and that a painful postdoc does not necessarily doom my entire career.

After more than a year and a half, I walked away from my first postdoc without a single publication. I have now made another lab my “home”. Things are different. I’m still a postdoc, but I’m happier. Hopefully, you won’t ever need this advice. If you don’t, understand that some postdocs aren’t so lucky. And if you do, just remember: You are not the first, and you won’t be the last, but find a way out, over, or through.


biochembelle is a protein chemistry junkie and a postdoc at a research and teaching hospital in the U.S. She blogs life as a postdoc at There & (hopefully) back again and Ever on & on.



Not sure a postdoc is right for you? Check out Stephanie Huang’s article on Finding Your Passion.


79 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. pegg

    wrote on October 27, 2010 at 9:36 am

    This advice is absolutely spot on. Never underestimate the value of trusting your gut. My first postdoc was unsettling in a way I couldn't put my finger on- many little things that individually felt like I was complaining, but taken together painted a bad picture. I left within 4 months of arriving. Although it felt very abrupt and was an extremely difficult time, I moved to a lab that was a much better fit and haven't looked back.

  2. joel

    wrote on October 27, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    I continued to work on a fruitless project for over 5 years with nothing more than a deflated ego to show for it. At some point, I felt too invested in the project to give up, which turned out to be a mistake. If you know it's not working at least consider your other options.

  3. biochem belle

    wrote on October 27, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    I stuck around a bit longer, but I had started having doubts many months before I decided to leave. A career in science involves constant learning, and sometimes it's about learning when to let things go.

    I'm sorry to hear about your experience, joel. Most scientists I know (myself included) are extraordinarily stubborn people, so it can be very difficult to let go. I was fortunate enough to have circumstances and a location that allowed me to move labs fairly easily.

  4. chl

    wrote on January 10, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    I'm in the same situation right now. I have been in my postdoc for 4 months and I just don't like it. I feel like I am complaining too much but my graduate advisor and another PI agree that it's not an optimal environment.

  5. anon

    wrote on January 27, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    When I started at my new laboratory, it felt like I had joined a cult. When I asked too many questions which they couldn't answer I was ex-communicated. Their loss. I'm in a much more sane laboratory now. The people here actually have individual personalities.

  6. alan@benchfly

    wrote on October 27, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    I think every scientist has either had and experience like this or knows someone who has – be it at the grad or postdoc level. What's great about this advice is that it is generally applicable to virtually any situation and it let's people know that there's always a way out.

    @pegg completely agree about the gut trusting- it's huge and often we ignore it.

  7. biochem belle

    wrote on October 30, 2010 at 11:52 am

    What's great about this advice is that it is generally applicable to virtually any situation

    Thanks, Alan, and I think you're onto something. It really sucks, but sometimes it takes a significantly "suboptimal" situation to learn somve very important lessons.

  8. Nimbud

    wrote on September 17, 2011 at 12:32 am

    I'm Ok with theses advices, They help me a lot to get back my confidence. But the question is how to get a second postdoc without giving the reference from the previous postdoc adviser? what is they ask for it?

  9. biochembelle

    wrote on January 16, 2012 at 10:00 am

    nimbud (apologies if this is a substantially delayed response) – Of course the best case scenario occurs when the parting is mutual and amiable, and your supervisor will write you a decent letter. These situations rarely fall into 'best case' though.

    A reference letter from the first postdoc adviser may not be crucial if you're early in your first postdoc and your other references are strong. If you can use someone in your lab or a collaborator/mentor outside the lab, then that may be satisfactory.

    If a potential employer asks for a reference from your supervisor, then of course you must provide it. If there are specific points of concern, this may be a good point to discuss them with the potential employer, but again be sure to keep it as professional and neutral as possible.

  10. microbiologist xx

    wrote on October 28, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    I had a similar experience in grad school and ended up switching labs after the first year. It was a difficult decision, especially since I was still going to see the old lab mates and PI every day. However, I am so glad that I made the move. Grad school would have been miserable otherwise.

  11. Prabodh Kumar Kandala

    wrote on October 31, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    I listen to "post doc life is not easy" at least once in a week.
    As a graduate student, I am enjoying although I spend most of my time in lab.
    No clue, how my post doc days would turn.

    At what time during your first post doc did u realize that things are not working. I am pretty sure you must have worked hard.

  12. biochem belle

    wrote on November 2, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    Good question, Prabodh. I started having some major concerns about 9 months in. Then we switched our approach on the project, and I decided to wait and see. It was about 9 months after those first major concerns before I committed to moving on. Frankly, that was too long. I did work hard. Then I worked even harder, and I still was going nowhere. I had known for months that I needed to get out, but I kept trying the "fake it 'til you make it" approach until a final push came along. I think people who end up in these situations know within the first year and often within the first 6 months.

    Let me add: Postdoc life is rarely ever easy… but it doesn't suck all the time for everyone. And honestly, it shouldn't. It's not going to be all good times, but there should be some enjoyment, in my opinion. If there's not, you should be asking why.

  13. mjs

    wrote on February 8, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    The post sounds very very similar to my first postdoc experience. I first suspected something was awry within weeks, but like Belle, took almost 18 months to get out.

  14. Juice

    wrote on November 3, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    Is this a common thing? Do many people leave their grad school only to land in a postdoc that sucks or with a PI that is a complete asshat? It's odd, because I'm having this exact experience.

  15. steved

    wrote on November 3, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    unfortunately, it's probably pretty common. there are a number of factors, but it starts even at the postdoc selection process. before we choose a graduate lab, we spend months doing rotations, learning the lab dynamic, the available projects and the asshat-edness of the PI. for our postdoc, we generally create a list and spend a day interviewing. anyone can seem reasonable for one day. imagine how high the divorce rate would be if everyone picked their spouse after a single blind date…

  16. biochem belle

    wrote on November 4, 2010 at 8:53 am

    imagine how high the divorce rate would be if everyone picked their spouse after a single blind date… — Great analogy, steved :D

    Juice, I would say that at the very least, it's not terribly uncommon. As steved and I mentioned, picking a postdoc is often based on much more limited interaction than picking a PhD lab. My sense is that this is further amplified when you're switching fields because neither you nor your PhD adviser probably know people (e.g. personality, reputation) in the other field that well.

  17. guest

    wrote on November 5, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    If you think being a grad student or postdoc is hard, wait until you get to be a young PI in this economic environment. It is about 10 x harder than anything else I have ever done. And I had nightmarish experiences as a student and postdoc, so I'm pretty tough already. Think hard, hard, before embarking on the PI path. It is very very rough.

  18. biochem belle

    wrote on November 9, 2010 at 11:26 am

    One thing that my particular situation forced me to consider was how badly I want to pursue the PI track, and even if I do want to pursue that path, how important it is to have a backup plan and what that might look like.

  19. Science Career Development Resources | BenchFly Blog

    wrote on December 2, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    […] Lessons from a Recovering Postdoc – not every postdoc goes as planned but when things go wrong, there’s still hope. Take it from this postdoc who dealt with the problem and is happier than ever […]

  20. peter

    wrote on January 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    I am there after spending fruitless 2 years. I can not focus one thing in the lab. Even small things that I was best before just did not work. Worse, my previous papers(regarded as stellar) became the best weapon of my PI. I am not as good as I should be? Time to move, finally I decided after suffering from depression for more than a year. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  21. Former Froglet

    wrote on January 15, 2011 at 3:20 am

    My first post-doc?

    No windows, one friend, very hard to please advisor, 11 months long, EMBO J paper, review that now has 150 citations, thrown out for being lazy, replaced by fplc apparatus.

    Second postdoc? Heaven in comparison!

  22. Pedro

    wrote on May 11, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    My PI has rejected every single paper I 've come up with..even the ones I feel would make a difference..in 2 years I haven't published anything… in the last review he suggested my approach was not scientific, literaly rubish, and he himself would reject it would he be a referee.. at that moment I saw the light, & decided to go for change..anywhere else

  23. aqua00

    wrote on February 2, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    I have been a postdoc for 9 years …dont know what to do …I am now 40 and no career prospects. I hung around in my lab to publish but only got a couple of mediocre publications. I feel like such a failure !!!!

  24. alan@benchfly

    wrote on February 3, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    You're definitely not the only one who has fallen into the stay-to-publish trap. It can be very difficult to get out of those situations. Not knowing much about your situation, I'd say a change in environment would probably be a good first step at feeling better – something to make you feel like you're back in the driver's seat and making progress – be it another postdoc or whatever. Feeling like you're just wasting time spinning your wheels is a pretty solid recipe for unhappiness.

  25. biomedpostdoc

    wrote on February 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Wow, this is exactly my situation. Almost two years into a postdoc, hoping to finish one low-level pub, at a tense stalemate with a verbally abusive P.I., and, of course, a woman in a field of men. I'm sticking around for a few more months, and then I'm signing up with any other lab with a decent environment. It's great that this discussion is online, but we should take it one step further and try to implement some kind of system that protects the people who actually do science. It's not right that students and postdocs should have to keep their heads down, take abuse and run when it gets too bad to endure.

  26. chrisb

    wrote on February 7, 2011 at 9:51 am


    Does your institution have a postdoc office? Who is responsible for oversight and/or ombudsman of postdocs there?

    If you are concerned about continuing this discussion publicly for fear of reprisals, contact me personally at csblagden@gmail.com. While there isn't (and should never be) a formal policing system in place, the National Postdoctoral Association has resources and information that can help. If you are a postdoc at one of the sustaining member institutions, they can definitely guide you to the right person. You and other postdocs should NEVER have to go through this.

    Chris B, former NPA Board Member

  27. Ruchi

    wrote on November 18, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    I went through similar abuse with my PI who openly threatened to take away the credit for the work done by me "You think think that you will be the first author because you did the work … NO!! I am the boss and I will decide" "you might have done everything but you won't be the one to finish it unless you are nice to me". Always trying to take advantage of my immigration and visa status with "i can put u on the road whenever I want" … and all this not cause he was not happy with my work … when it came to teaching anyone "she is the best to learn from" … I got things to work that others in the lab had been struggling with. It was after a lot of consideration that i went to the post doc office for help with dealing with these kind of threats. The post doc office is for name sake and she handed me the termination letter on behalf of the PI. The ombudsman who is the associate dean has virtually no powers .. he can only advice and the PI is under no compulsion to follow…. the only thing that i could salvage was an agreement that I would still be co first author though would be listed second … and this was when the first draft of manuscript had been done and i was putting together the figures.
    Now he is deleting my name from the project that I had been involved with and the univ authorities despite there being the policy on authorship are once again hand in glove with the PI. I can provide all the documentation about exploitation and harassment but they even changed my employment records … that's what the HR person told me in a meeting "your records have been changed with back date" That is the realty of how univ offices function.
    I can be contacted at ruchipandey01@gmail.com

  28. Angel

    wrote on January 10, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    I'm guessing that this happens more than we would like to think. I too had abad postdoctoral experience and upon leaving the lab had my name removed from all subsequent work published that I had contributed to, still the best move that I have made. A person can not sacrifice and take abuse to fuel the scientific system that holds them down!

  29. lostpostdoc

    wrote on February 24, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    I am in a bad post-doc situation. When I started grad-school i had low confidence in my ability because i switched fields. My PI was amazing and supportive, he is one of my close friends even now. For my post-doc I moved countries and the field is also somewhat different. My new PI does not mentor me (although claims too), is abusive and some of the abusive could be considered sexual harassment. Such as did you mess up the experiment because you were having *** in the lab? He told me i was no good about a year ago and told me i should leave. This was a year into my postdoc and i fought very hard to stay. I made it work and the abuse is not as bad however i work 12-14 hour days week long and will be leaving this summer as the grant money runs out. So i would of been here two years and at most i may get one paper, if I can get this last experiment working.

  30. lostpostdoc

    wrote on February 24, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    There are two other postdocs in the lab and have been here about the same time but they do not have any publications yet. However my PI favors them over me, he sends them to conferences and gives them freedom to order what they like. He even took one of my projects and gave it to someone else. I am glad to be getting out of here but i feel i need this one paper so i don't feel like i wasted two years. Plus i think it will help my confidence that have taken a beating, i don't think anyone will hire me :(

  31. Leona

    wrote on March 27, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Some PI's are very supportive of their postdoc staff, but sadly many just see you as someone on a temporary employment contract who can and should be exploited to death. If you are unlucky then you will have a PI with a personality disorder (yes, Ruth I am talking about you) who never forgives you for leaving prematurely and hounds you through your subsequent appointments and career achievements. There are, sadly, people in higher education employment who would utterly fail to survive in any other type of work. As long as they are good at achieving University targets for publications, attracting grants and being good value then their lack of personal and management skills are overlooked. The extent of harassment and bullying of postdoc staff who are dependent on PI's references is astonishing. I just feel lucky that I had the courage to leave academia and take up a new career with 'normal' people. It is so much nicer than working 60 hour weeks in University departments where you are verbally abused, insulted, refused any opportunities for career-development and not even awarded a decent salary. All the reasons why I got into scientific research in the first place rapidly faded away after experiencing post-doc working life first-hand for a couple of years at different University institutions. There is a life beyond the ivory tower and it can be a better one if you are a talented PhD and desire work-life balance.

  32. genie

    wrote on January 11, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    Leona thanx for your post, Im totally with you on this. I am a postdoc and suffering from Tunnel carpal syndrome due to too much pipeting, and working for 14 hours and on weekends. cant sleep and there is just not enough time for my mind to unwind from work each day, stress and depression are my closest friends. Im away from family and seriously feel its better to have a simple "normal" life than living in this grey area called postdoc.

  33. HPD

    wrote on April 10, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    My boss is a real fox. He wanted somebody to do the work until his graduate student came back from year out. During this time I did all the work on the project, developed new ideas, implemented and had great results. When i said about writing a paper he delayed it cleverly (which i didn't understand that time) until the grad student came back. Once he was back the grad student(another fox or Wolf or even worse) repeated all my measurements (since i found the right conditions and parameters, it's just easy for him to copy and repeat the measurements). Then i wrote the paper and the boss said the grad student should be the first author (what the hell, first of all he's a plagiarist). After lot of fight he let me write (since he wanted me to have another project done for which only i had the expertise) and we published in high ranking journal. Now he sends the grad student for conferences with my work and he is even getting prize for my work!!!. My boss always threatens me with short contracts and i am completely tied up(as i have a young family). He even writes bad references so that i can't get any tenure positions. I am completely destroyed. I don't know what to do?

  34. Guest

    wrote on February 7, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    Tell me about it. My PI pilfired my proposals, findings from my graduate work, and then got a grant with those to support his lab for five years. I stayed in his lab for the sake of my project that I brought to his lab, published an article in a first-tier journal. Now, he put me out of the lab and I don't have any idea how can I survive to get another position. Certainly there is a scientific mafia and slavery even in todays world. Nobody tries to look at the issue from my side, instead they advice me to move on, sacrifice everything to protect the thief PI.

  35. anon

    wrote on January 27, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    I'm very sorry to hear this. There's nothing that you can do but RUN AWAY AS FAST AS YOU CAN. The ideal solution is to find another professor in a closely related area who is a decent human being and will support your case. If you don't like this guy, then chances are there are plenty of other people who don't like him either.

  36. sadpostdoc

    wrote on April 20, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    This article is so comforting to read. I have been a postdoc for one year in this lab. I had been quite successful in my PhD lab.But here in my postdoc things didn't work out and my boss kept blaming my technical skills. Now I have decided to move and I have got another position too. My life is even more complicated since I need to transfer my visa too. I am in USA in J1 visa. I really hope I can transfer my J1 to the new lab without problems. If anyone has had previous experiences in J1 visa transfer please help. I just learnt that I need a letter of good standing for the visa transfer from my current PI. I am really worried if she will give me one.

  37. Legalese

    wrote on April 21, 2011 at 10:57 am

    I'm not an immigration lawyer. Got to put that out there.

    I assume you are classified as a "professor or research scholar" under the the classifications of the Dept of State (which oversees immigration).

    To transfer your J1, you're going to need the program sponsor (of the program he's transerring to) to:
    (1) verify your visa status and eligibility [for a J1];
    (2) execute Form DS-2019; and
    (3) secure the written release from the current sponsor.

    You should look at these links for specific guidance: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_126http://exchanges.state.gov/jexchanges/programs/pr

    At the bottom of the second link there there is a sub-category called "Length of Professor and Research Sholar Programs". It has a link to 22 CFR 62.20. Also look at 22 CFR 62.42 (which is where I got items (1) – (3) above).

    Good luck!

  38. Ruchi

    wrote on November 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    I might be a little too late in replying but I went thru similar hell with my post doc PI who used my J1 status as my weakness that he could exploit. I am from India and i reached a point where i was determined not to put up with any more shit … it was getting way too personal and bordering on sexual abuse … he would not give reference letter … the only people i knew who were familiar with my work were his friends .. so i used my references from India and some people who knew how he really was helped me with reco letter … thus i got offer from another univ and got my visa transferred … had to keep it completely under wraps … only giving the required info to the international students office (don't make the mistake of trusting them either as they would go with the PI and the univ) .. when he got to know that i have initiated the process of transfer he tried blocking it by ending my employment with immediate effect … I had to seek the help from Asso Dean who was familiar with the ongoing dispute and also contacted the immigration authorities for legal assistance. As per the rules/ laws no employer can prevent you from seeking another position as long as you are following the rules … just make sure that your program to which you are seeking transfer is as per the original program for which you were given the visa so that the objectives remain the same. I was in pathology dept doing molecular biology/ immunology and in my new place too its the dept of pathology doing molecular biology/ developmental biology/ immunology .. the code numbers are different but fall under the same broader area.
    Good luck

  39. Sandy

    wrote on May 27, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Hi Guys, After reading all these, I feel terribly sad. I heard many stories from post docs before. I think it is time for post doc to start a web site/blog or something like that with the power of naming and shaming PIs. These sites can be guide to other post docs when they search for new positions. Ultimately I think the PIs who abuses researchers working under them should not get any postdoc to hire.

  40. Death Postdoc

    wrote on June 16, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    I Sandy,

    I am agree with you. This is an excellent idea. Science magazine publishes an annual top ten places to do a postdoc, why not having a website which describes the worst places to do a postdoc. This could save the life of many persons…When a place is dysfunctional and completely insane (and there are a lot of places like that all around the world) this should be known.

    Personally my postdoc was a real nightmare. After my PhD I obtained a prestigious fellowship and I left my country to go for a postdoc in a center of excellence in Germany. I was in heaven..I thought that I would become a researcher….but the dream has turned as a nightmare. Sometime, the big research centers are not as good as they seem to be. It's just an appearance. People should be aware of that before engaging many years of their life.

    First, my PI was absolutely not able to handle the proper functioning of his lab. For him, the best management was to let the permanent postdocs make things happen by themselves. Result: there was a perpetual war between the postdocs. And here, I am not talking about competition but real war. If you did not behave like a vicious killer (meaning no limit to do bad things toward your colleagues) unfortunately you could not survive. And I died… The PI was absolutely not aware of what was happening into his own lab, even not aware about the real results of the on-going studies! This man received (and still receives) millions and millions in grants from big companies or cobsortium, and he did not need to publish in order to get money, so he did not care about his lab. He was always out of the lab for weeks even for months. We never had lab meetings. Three permanent postdocs who had their own small groups (with master and PhD students and few technicians) were running every things in the lab for their own benefices (and the war between these small groups was awful).

    All the other non-permanent postdocs (like me) had to lick their feet in order to have technical support or money for material and equipment or to get some advises about some specific techniques. I thought that just working very hard (during my last year I took only 7 Sundays off. I was in the lab 7 days a week) on my project and being creative and highly motivated was enough. I realised it was not. I just became exhausted. In order to survive there you had to learn how to play little dirty political games. It was like in prison where few little caids take over the place. It was really like this! Because of my fellowship, I could not really go to another place. And I felt responsible to fulfil my engagement toward the agency which gave me my fellowship by producing something in this lab. After 4 years, I was able to write two drafts of small articles that I could not finish. At the end of my fellowship, I needed a little more time in order to finish my articles, but two other postdocs make huge pressures on the PI to kick me out of the lab. They wanted the money for their own projects and to hire more students to do some work in their own groups.

    And the more sad in this story is that despite the reputation of excellence of this center and the huge amount of money available, science was not good at all, and the results obtained there were more that suspicious. No one was responsible, no one checked the results….And the joke is that these results got published into good journals…(pure bullsh….)

    It is a good idea to know where you will do your postdoc before you engage!

  41. Alexey

    wrote on August 29, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Hi Guys,

    Thank you Belle for the great blog post and others for their comments. I also experienced this bad gut feeling, but in my situation the PI is quite supportive and nice, but the problem is that I'm the only one working on zebrafish in the lab and that is quite lonely. So my problem is that although the project may be not bad in principle, in reality the lab may be the wrong one to do it.


  42. anom

    wrote on October 4, 2011 at 7:06 am

    It was great to see all the comments here and sort of makes me feel better. I am probably at a later stage than most here and thought (silly me) that I had a golden career in science ahead of me. I obtained three publications from my PhD (including a first author P.N.A.S) and 4 publications from my first postdoc (including a first author Molecular Cell). My second post-doc was supposed to be a short one with an "assured" professorship position at the end (Didn't quite work that way). After typically busting my gut from 9:00am till at least 11:00pm during the week and also performing a "normal" 9-5 stint on the weekend (with wife and 2 kids) and in my opinion producing data for three papers as early as 2 years ago I realized my boss had a different agenda and there was no way he was going to publish "biological" papers. It was a strange place to work, a group of 30 scientists, with a record publication year of 8 papers (so far this year 2 papers have come from the group)
    I am now completely disillusioned with science, despite the fact that my PhD supervisor and post-doc boss are great people. Currently sending my cover letter to lots of places, mostly industry, trying to live of my past glory and hoping someone ignores this gaping hole in my CV. My friends in academia tell me not worry as my H-index is good but I don’t really want to move into another temporary post-doctoral position If it was not for an amazing wife who earns a decent wage I think i would have gone nuts. Anyway keep up the good work and I hope everyone finds their way in the end

  43. Steven

    wrote on October 19, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    H-index is a nice measure, but I'm not too suportive of it. You should check out what the guy on cestagi is doing, defining a much more diverse index; the C-index.

  44. alan@benchfly

    wrote on October 20, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Very interesting- trying to account for funding, duration of employment, education, etc. Thanks for pointing this out Steven.

  45. anon

    wrote on December 30, 2011 at 1:58 am

    I have a weird situation because I have a nice guy for a PI, but I wouldn't call him a mentor. He definitely leans towards what he feels are homerun projects, but that leaves out half the people in his lab. My project seemed to have potential in the beginning, but after the first year I knew it would be problematic.

  46. anon

    wrote on December 30, 2011 at 2:01 am

    2nd part….Still, I decided to stick it out another year because I had a mouse project that I was starting to get results from. It turned out that the mouse project was going well and I was getting mechanism data too. I was hoping to publish within the third year. At the end of my second year, my PI attended a meeting and saw another person give a talk on the project I was working on. This person's PI is a legend in science. Sure enough, the paper was in PNAS in five months. We could have scooped him, but my PI insisted on a more defined mechanism for a higher impact publication. Another weird thing happened shortly after he attended that meeting. I had to give a talk to our unit a month later. He introduces me and stresses that I had no prior experience in that field before coming there. It was true, but it really seemed like he was trying to save himself from embarrassment. After the talk, which actually went well, I felt relieved. That intro stuck with me a bit.

  47. anon

    wrote on December 30, 2011 at 2:02 am

    3rd part…That same month my dad told me he had cancer and had to have an operation. I had to be there to help out, so I took nearly a week off. I had a lot of time to think that week about my life's direction. I had talked to a few people who left academic science and seemed miserable about it, but that wasn't changing my mind this time. Thinking clearly, I had talked to many more people who left academia and were loving it. I knew what I had to do when I returned to the lab.

  48. anon

    wrote on December 30, 2011 at 2:03 am

    4th….Within a couple weeks, I told my boss that I would be applying for non-academic jobs. He always said things that seem to suggest I dislike working on innovative things (probably because when the project was not panning out, I suggested that I might work on something different), and sure enough, he brought it up again. That's so far from the truth (why would I be in science otherwise), but I'd seen him use that protective mechanism before. In order to believe he's not a failure as a mentor, he has to reason that it must be the trainee's issues. The thing is I don't blame him really. Sure, he didn't support sending my manuscript ahead of the other group or didn't treat me as an equal to his favorites, but he did at least support my decision to look for work elsewhere. I guess that is all I could ask.

  49. anon

    wrote on December 30, 2011 at 2:04 am

    5th….I started to feel like a failure, but now I realize I was just a in the wrong place at the wrong time. I know I tried many different ways to solve that problem, got some results that were verified by that other group and will have that publication with mechanism at least, in addition to several co-author papers I spent a significant time on. At the meetings that I attended, I saw people paying a lot of attention to my posters. I know I can do good work. If I didn't have family responsibilites and other goals in life, I may have tried another postdoc at another location, but maybe not.

  50. fp

    wrote on January 13, 2012 at 4:05 am

    Your post helped me not feel isolated, thank you.

    Here’s my own experience, live from hell:

    I’m in an engineering field of research. I worked on my PhD in a lab where the culture of “fun doing science” was central. My supervisor was a great manager and researcher. That made me enjoy the experience very much and dismiss a career in industry where I would be robbed of much freedom and fun [or so everyone in my entourage has been telling me]. With a solid publication history, I got a prestigious fellowship and made it to this dream postdoc place. I came here expecting the usual hard work and commitment but that was never a problem, I’ve always had good self discipline in matter of work [I guess like most academic achievers]. I put all effort in this single direction and it backfired. I burned out badly.

    In my master thesis it took me 3 months to get my first paper in a field where I was plain noob, now it seems absolutely infeasible to achieve anything in a year.

    The golden child, as you put it in this post, is indeed around. He came prepared for the rules of the game, disciplined for the politics, manipulative, aggressive in recruiting students for his research, everything that I don’t have and don’t want to acquire.

    My love for understanding/innovating in my field is genuine and I am still doing my research whenever my depression lifts up a little. Right now though, I am not able to picture a brighter future for me in academia.

    Here’s another painful aspect: I come from a developing country that does not offer any prospect for people in my field of research, except perhaps for professorship [which I ruled out, because of my avoidant personality / social phobia]. My family, although very supportive, is conformist and conservative. Going back there at this stage with a dead will and no plans to use my long training is a debilitating thought. I cannot help but imagine people pitying me, pointing me as a failure. I cannot help but think I’m going to shame my family.

    I’ve pretty much isolated myself from everyone in the lab and I’m basically coping by reading online self-growth articles, keeping a journal, reading about psychology,…you get the idea. I have never allowed myself to seek the counsel of a therapist, fearing what it would mean to me but now I’ve sunken so low that I’ve gone and taken an appointment. I don’t know what I’m expecting from it, perhaps more effective coping skills to sustain a normal mood and think clearly about the next move in my life.

  51. folsom

    wrote on January 13, 2012 at 6:49 am

    [part 1/3]
    Thank you Belle, your post helped me not feel isolated in the trauma.
    Reading your introduction felt like reading about my postdoc:

    I'm in an engineering field of research. I worked on my PhD in a lab where the culture of "fun doing science" was central. My supervisor was a great manager and researcher. That made me enjoy the experience very much and dismiss a career in industry where I would be robbed of much freedom and fun [or so everyone in my entourage kept telling me]. With a solid publication history, I got a prestigious fellowship and made it to this dream postdoc place. I came here expecting the usual hard work and commitment but that was never a problem, I’ve always had good self discipline in matter of work [I guess like most academic achievers]. I put all effort in this single direction and it backfired. I burned out badly.
    In my master thesis it took me 3 months to get my first paper in a field where I was plain noob, now it seems absolutely infeasible to achieve anything in a year.

  52. folsom

    wrote on January 13, 2012 at 6:50 am

    [part 2/3]
    The golden child, as you put it in this post, is indeed around. He came prepared for the rules of the game, disciplined for the politics, manipulative, aggressive in recruiting students for his research, everything that I don't have and don't want to acquire.
    My love for understanding/innovating in my field is genuine and I am still doing my research whenever my depression lifts up a little. Right now though, I am not able to picture a future in the field.

    Here's another painful aspect: I come from a developing country that does not offer any prospect for people in my field of research, except perhaps for professorship [which I ruled out, because of my avoidant personality / social phobia]. My family, although very supportive, is conformist and conservative. Going back there at this stage with a dead will and no plans to use my long training is a debilitating thought. I cannot help but imagine people labeling me as a failure. I cannot help but think I'm going to shame my family.

  53. folsom

    wrote on January 13, 2012 at 6:51 am

    I’ve pretty much isolated myself from everyone in the lab and I’m basically coping by reading online self-growth articles, keeping a journal, reading about psychology, basically debugging my moods. I have never allowed myself to seek the counsel of a therapist, fearing what it would mean about me but now I’ve sunken so low that I’ve gone and taken an appointment. I don’t think he’d be an ally, but I hope to learn more efective coping techniques to sustain a normal mood and think clearly about the next move in my life.

    So, thank you very much for sharing your advice with the rest of us.

  54. biochembelle

    wrote on January 16, 2012 at 10:12 am

    Wow – hard to believe that over a year has passed since I wrote this post, yet comments are still coming in.

    I am truly sympathetic toward all who have had such grueling experiences. On some level, it is depressing, but at the same time, I am grateful that you are sharing your experiences because you're letting other people know they are not alone.

    And I will add, there can be light on the other side (and it's not a train!). In my second postdoc, I have rediscovered my passion for research. I am enthusiastic about my work again. Independence and creativity have returned. Also my spouse would tell you I'm a lot easier to live with ;)

    To all who are currently struggling through this experience – keep your heads up. There is hope. Good luck and good (job)hunting!

  55. Steve

    wrote on January 24, 2012 at 6:37 am

    Had really good 1st post doc job (35 papers over 10 yrs ) but the company funding went bust, now I'm in limbo on a new project and new methodology in a lab of really compeditive people finishing of someone elses project. Having a tough time focusing on whats next for me as with a wife and two kids I can just up sticks. Good to see others are in the same boat. Oh for a time machine.

  56. TruthSeaker

    wrote on February 12, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Dear Belle, When I was reading your post and some of the reader's comments, it seemed that I am not alone and these things happen so often in science. I have done PhD from a developing country and arrived in this country for my post-docs. I had a good experience of PhD as my mentor was very interactive and I got to learn a lot from him. I am a passionate guy and do everything with passion. Science interested me and I worked hard in my PhD. I generated data for at-least 4 papers. My PhD guide was good in every sense apart from publishing work. He is very slow and not very confident about his own project. He takes so much time in publishing and unfortunately I am still waiting for my papers to get published from his lab. I, though, got post-doc in a famous lab but a slightly different field from which I did PhD from. To begin with my post-doc mentor looked encouraging but again as you mentioned that there is some golden child in each lab and there is in this lab as well. Somehow, she had some kind of disliking for me and nobody else also welcomed me well in the lab. They tried to isolate me for everything. My boss also came out to be a person who encourages those behaviors in lab. He is not a good manager or mentor. I love science and am a hard-working person but I am not the one who is into politics and creating problems for other. I did not like this lab environment since beginning but in hope of publishing something and then moving, I kept on working hard. My boss did not give me any good project but still I kept working on something which I devised. I wanted to work on something else but this golden child never let me as she controlled the stuff for moving on that project. Somebody else started working on project which I was thinking of and discussed with people in the lab as they got access to the reagent. Everybody in the lab are political and have learned these skills in PhD itself. Also, being a foreigner was an added disadvantage as I could not make friend in the lab as I was not able to mix with people. Also, these people are low-life who always bitch about other lab members. I can also behave that way but my conscience and morals do not allow me to be an as***. Now after 2 years, I am at a stage where I do not have papers from current lab and my PhD mentor still going slow on my papers as keep giving me just assurances of submitting it soon. I feel so much depressed some time as I know I have a capability and ideas and I am hard-working but just that I am not very political. I still love to work in the lab but when I look at the people around me, I just despise science. We give so many hours at work both intellectually and physically and are always working hard but at the end, what we get depression, isolation, criticism and peanuts in the name of salary. I am still thinking, is it worth it even if I love it? Even if I want to move to other lab, I need my current PI's recommendation. What if next lab also would be like this? What consideration should I give while applying to other labs and how to know about it? Thanks, in advance.

  57. anon

    wrote on March 21, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Thank you for this post. It is however a bit sad to learn that PIs with poor management skills or personality disorders are not uncommon.
    I am working at one of "the top 10 places to work for a post doc" but my experience here is a living nightmare. My boss is one of the most manipulative people I have never met. The institution has been aware that numerous students and post-docs have left the lab prematurely in the past 10+ years, but has only given warnings, which PI has learnt to ignore / evade by taking sick-leaves or being busy.
    I am still hanging in there, trying to get at least one publication out, but I am battling with depression. This PI did not even know how to do the subtractions on Excel; it must be impossible to have full knowledge of all the latest techniques, but such fact makes me seriously wonder how this PI managed to publish in high impact journals in the past.

  58. Greg Ashley

    wrote on April 2, 2012 at 2:50 am

    After a Masters degree in Biosensors, i did a post doc in nanotechnology and it went very very badly. I dont know why, but i dont think the project was really thougth out too well, jsut a general idea about making a self-calibrating atomic force microscope cantilever – anyway, i " nearly" got it to work and "nearly" got a publication but after three years of verbal abuse from my 3 supervisors AND a technical person, i felt stupid and incapable. I could not get a job after this, as when employers called the dewpt, the dept must have said " this man is lazy goodfornothing" and rejection after rejection. I landed a second PostDoc in the subjecxt that was my PhD so it was easy, the trouble here was my boss was immigrant chinese, and such a slave driver that one of his students poured petrol on themselves and ignited it. I was not not prepared to go that far to protest at being treated like a slave, but my option were think on the ground. I got a few publications and now, after my expereice here, i find mydself in povery, wiht back rent and unemplyed for nearly 6 months. I regret the effort i put into my PhD. I am totally gutted and ….i cant express how embittered I am about be a doctor of unemployment. its shit and the system stinks of exploitation.

  59. sandokan

    wrote on April 17, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Thank you! Thank you for your post! I felt alone for long time, living the similar bad post-doc experience than all of you (post and comments). After a PhD in biomedical science, I went for a first post-doc in tissue engineering. The post-doc went good, but I couldn't find a permanent position at the end of my contract. So I looked for another post-doc. After hesitating between two propositions, I ended in a laboratory with topic related to regenerative medicine and microfluidic. I came for these topics, to learn microfluidic and improve myself in regenerative medicine. After few months, my PI showed is true face: harassment, insults (he insulted students in front of me, calling them sons of bitches), humiliations (private and public), incompetence (he is claiming that we have to do the 3 experiments at the same time and that's all we need… I tried to explain him that we have to do 3 distinct experiments but "no", obviously, I do not understand the beauty of his research/project/science), lies (well… after 2 months, it appears that I was not going to work on the topic I came for…, that they don't even have the authorization to do this kind of stem cell related research…, that the salary is not what he said…, etc…), aggressivity, manipulation…
    We also had a golden child… poor him… he was convinced that he was an excellent student, that he had the level to go to Princetone, etc… this grad student was so proud of himself that he was treating the other like sh***. Now, he is one of the PI's target who realized all the bad work done by this student (under his supervision).
    After few month in this lab, one visiting scholar left the lab (she became the 35th person leaving the lab in 6 years) and went to complain to the department chair. The department chair get involved in this and did all that he could to arranged the situation and forbade new comer in our lab. For more than one year, my PI calmed down. Changed his behavior and did everything to be polite (he remained an as***, humiliating people but at least, he was not aggressive anymore). At this time, I really thought that things were going to change, and that I could get at least one publication…
    Last month, the department chair accepted new comers in our lab, because the things were going better… since then, my PI went back to his previous mode… and I don't know if I am will be able to handle it one more year… I am burnt out a I'm fighting against a depression. My familly is trying to helpme, but I know that I am a pain in the as* for them, especially for my wife and my daughter…

    I am very worry about my career and for the future of my famiilly. Coming here was the biggest mistake i have ever done in my entire life. Professionally, I lost everything I built so far… And I know that my PI is giving me a bad reputation outside of the lab, to our collaborators, to justify of his incompetence. I know it because he did it in front of the students and some of them, that are my friends, reported me his comments.

    Sorry, it is a quite big comment… I think that, like most of you, I need to talk about that to people who could understand me…

  60. David

    wrote on April 23, 2012 at 5:40 am

    Hello everyone, Wow. I came to the end! I kept reading and reading and reading each and all of the comments of this post. I also had a really bad experience in my first posdoc. I m from Mexico where I earned my PhD, in lab that was well equipped enough to have both international projection and enough technical capabilities and even Im surprised of not finding the same degree of equipment in other places I've been abroad; Nevertheless my PhD was not a path of roses, at the end I developed and interesting but distant relationship with my professor, functional enough that he supports me every time I need to make a move (at least he writes nice recommendation letters). Much of the hard experiences I had to survive during my PhD: verbal abuse, from other Co-PIs, and even sabotage from technicians, gave me a bit of the endurance, I believe to survive what was coming next. However I though I had seen everything… Ha!, now I think anything can happen… Anything!. I was offered a posdoctoral position in a Max Planck Institute even before I defended my thesis… That was flattening, but at the same time I felt if that was the right decision. I needed a change, see different things, different people, different ideas, and I though that would give me change and invigorate my mind. I was assigned a project that I developed for about a year even I was invited to a present my result at conferences and other venues within weeks of my arrival to that lab. After returning triumphantly from that conference, I started to suffer the isolation and harassment form other PhDs, technicians and associated professors, I was given the wrong material, I couldnt have access to previous records, or lab books, the people around me were reluctant to help in any way and a few people was willing to cooperate or even teach me the very basic things like where do I get that reagent? where the hell you keep the antibodies???? which programs you use for administrating your records or plasmids. etc. My hell has just started… Another postdoc was telling lies about I didnt have the basic qualifications and even was spreading the rumor I didnt even have a valid PhD title. So imagine with that sorf of lies and intrigues my results at the end of that trimester had serious troubles. I asked my boss for a lab reassigment of the 3 she was managing. So I got my second chance when I moved away of the 7th circle of hell just to realize a few next months ahead that I would be reassigned to the bottom of the pit. At least I had a more peaceful environment at the beginning, I was next to 3 PhD and another Chinese postdoc that with the time they even became friends to me. I had an automatic recovery in a single month, I completed the lost work of 5 months

  61. David

    wrote on April 23, 2012 at 5:41 am

    Even my boss seemed confident and happy again… yeah quite happy everything was according to the agenda… HER agenda. I kept my self going proposing ideas, working and refining the pending experiments and even I was feeling happier with my personal life and some hard sentimental turmoils simply seemed superficial compared to that second breath. Group meetings in that lab were usually a muscle flexing contest, the more results you have the best you were no matter if it was just irrelevant stuff or truly ground breaking ideas or evidences, however it seemed that the only thing my boss valued the most was how often one can quote any of her catchy phrases. In one of those meetings I presented what could be my resign letter. I make a presentation and I exhibited my doubts about some conflicting new results with previously published data. Oh Oh… I think I found the dust below the carpet… Immediately after the meeting my boss talked to me and claimed that everything that i was doing was wrong and that she was not tolerant to mistakes like that… Hummmmm mistakes???? really?????? Keep reading… So she decided that we should make a "project engineering"… (ha what an elegant way to say I should give everything to her "superbright" new PhD)… So she forced me to do so and she wanted me to work on different new things (BTW I was working in 3 projects at the same time). The most worrying thing was I claimed the credit for the previous work, she accepted BUT only and only if her new PhD could repeat the same experiments… cause she was sure I was doing everything wrong… On a group meeting the other girl had to accept publicly that MY results were reproducible. Whit any shame she replied to her… "NOOOO THE METHOD IS WRONG!" Holy crap!!! and you have 3 papers published with the same method?????!!!! WOW!… At that time I was officially out of the lab and I was just fixing the arrangements to leave Germany and my presence there for the last couple of months was merely due to a timing on the working visa cancellation. What comes next simply make me think It was the best thing to move to a different place…

  62. David

    wrote on April 23, 2012 at 5:41 am

    Talking to this girl, the infamous Miss C. the "superbright" new PhD that in a way cleaned my name with this Vendetta, she confessed me something that is good material, for a fiction novel… She was asking technical advices of a couple of antibodies I prepared. before I left. I asked why a couple of the experimentals and 2 controls were always giving strange singals…? After an uncomfortable silence she dropped her gaze and told me… "Well… Miss I. (one of the posdocs that played the early dirty war), She made a mistake on preparing some the mutants… BUT the boss doesnt know it, so Sssshhhhh." OMG! I got my reality check!!!… I've been fighting inside a fraudulent lab that doesnt care of what they are publishing and defend their results like the ultimate true… !!!!!!… So everything was clear for me from that moment.!!!!!!!!. It was a relief but at the same time it was shocking, frustrating, and I was profoundly sad and disappointed of wasting my time and energy. Despite all that time I earned a great lesson, Fraud is more common that we think in science, secondly I was able to leave with out being involved in any possible publications that have muddy feet to sustain them!… and third… Power does corrupt the mind. My former boss was granted with 25 million euros for starting up a new institute, new building, new labs, new grants new people, and probably a brand new "director" office. I hope for the sake of the new students and personal that the new building would have a cautious architect otherwise it will fall down from its very foundations. Months after this traumatic episode I moved to Japan were I found a posdoctoral position. There have been highs and lows but defenitely this is much better than my german affair… I bet the great lesson we can acquire of these discouraging experiences is the fact that there is not much difference between a PI and a Department Manager or Producer or CEO. They are empowered, they control money, the control people, there a good bosses there a bad evil btiches… BUT if you believe you wont have to deal with that if you step out of a purely scientific career… No… this is human nature. The disadvantage is the we have less job security than a regular salaly man… I will share an advice that would contrast some of the comments found in some posts, To be a "chief in command" you need politics, politics, politics… thats the reason why the posdoc figure has turned the key figure in science production… the majority of PIs are no longer working for their scientific curiosity… that why you have posdocs naive young people that keeps the business running… Let face it statistically speaking there is a low chance to become a PI and secondly… Do you really want to????. Third… A failed posdoc???? No No… bad experiences are more enriching that the good ones, cause you have to chance to make react in identifying other people intentions, and you will know how to react in a difficult situation. Some battles are lost… But remember the system has to change and is solely in our hand to keep it this way o make science a better place to live and work!… Thanks for your time and I will be happy to read you.

  63. Dr.Flybrain

    wrote on April 28, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    I had a similar experience as a postdoc joining a brand new assistant profesdor lab which looked nice and great on the outside. About 7 months in, I realized that all promises made by the PI during the interview were not kept. Added to this, the golden boy in the lab got a girl ‘accidentally pregnant’ which made the PI nervous and not approachable. I had some data at that point which I thought I will quickly publish and get out. My PI convinced me that adding ‘ one cool experiment’ will get the paper into science. Looking back, I was such an idiot buying this BS. I wasted a total of 3 years of precious life in early thirties for something so trivial ( I wasn’t exactly curing cancer). Thankfully I got a job in intellectual property mangement and have not looked back since.

    There are countless postdocs out there suffering a similar plight. One solution is to come up a Yelp like rating system where each lab is rated anonymously by former and current lab members. I know this system will be open to abuse. But some information is better than nothing. Why should postdocs put their lives in the hands of some psychopathic PI

  64. P.Ostdoc

    wrote on August 4, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Great idea, unfortunately wouldn't work in my field because it is too small – if my PI were to receive a negative rating, there's a good chance they would work out it was me who did it…

  65. Squirmy

    wrote on June 25, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Does anyone have any advice on referees?
    I, too, am considering leaving my second postdoc (8 months in, 1st postdoc was 12 months) as i feel like a complete failure there. The ppl are awful and two faced, and i have lost all interest in the project. The fact that my Dad died last year, the end of my long term relationship and my ongoing clinical depression really hasn't helped my enthusiam!!
    I feel like i need a new start but my supervisor has such a poor opinion of me (cos i'm not the shining star she expected and my colleagues gossip nastily about me) i know she wont give me a good reference.
    I am actually an excellent scientist with publications and great references from my PhD years, but I just dont know if i can get another postdoc position without a reference from my current supervior.
    Apologies for waffling – any advice?

  66. @chrisdieni

    wrote on June 27, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    Hey Squirmy, here's my first question: do you have another position on-hand, right now, to go to?

  67. Yevgeniy

    wrote on June 28, 2012 at 12:49 am

    I would not worry about recommendations from your current boss, 8 months is really not long enough to form a thorough opinion. The recommendation of your PhD adviser carries a lot more weight and persuasion, so just ask for a recommendation from them. No reason to stick out this post-doc if it is so toxic. The pay is not nearly good enough to debase yourself and allow such humiliation. Go out there and find a place where your talent and work will be truly appreciated. Life is to short to waste it on being unhappy.

  68. biopostdoc

    wrote on July 17, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    Thank you Belle, it helps to see I am not alone in this.
    I am going through the same thing right now, I was fired from my first postdoc after 9 months.
    I joined a lab in a field that is very new to me and quite different than my PhD. The PI took me in with promises to train me and set me on some projects right away, but after I started, he didn't provide any guidance, backed out on all his promises, then later threatened to fired me, which he did a month later. So I don't even get a single publication out of it. But what's worse, is that I am also on a visa, which is now about to expire, so I will most likely have to leave the country and head back home to regroup. Taking this postdoc turned out to be the worse decision of my career.

  69. SHK

    wrote on August 3, 2012 at 6:29 am

    Thanks for writing this post…I have just finished my Ph.D. and now sailing in the same boat. I have been feeling terrible for the past 2 months….not able to decide where to join as a postdoc in the country. No
    response from good labs has completely shattered my dream. I am playing a little safe currently, sticking to the same lab for some more time until I find a best fit.

  70. mis-managed

    wrote on November 10, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    Reading these have been a great comfort, as I am experiencing alot of he same things. I don't want to emigrate again having already done it several times in the last year (I resigned from my 1st postdoc when the funding that had been guaranteed was used by my PI on another project and we had no real prospect of getting further funding so 2 moves from that and 1 here). Now I am micromanganed, my ideas are dismissed and it' s basically impossible to move the project forwards. I don't know what to do, but don't have the energy to look for another job (and references will be hard), emigrate again and start somewhere else, but I think I will have a breakdown if this continues much longer

  71. floR

    wrote on November 16, 2012 at 1:01 am

    There is no reason for not being able to publish a paper in 1.5 years. As a scientist it is important to coordinate multiple projects at once. I am in my third year of my phD with 7 first author papers. Blood and sweat went into that. Giving up is a for weak-minded people.

  72. offended

    wrote on March 13, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    This is such a narrow-minded view of the situation. I thought the main theme of science was never to make judgements without evidence–which you have clearly violated here. You do not know enough about that person's situation to judge why he/she could not publish in 1,5 years. And you call yourself a scientist? Everybody shows effort, some get more than they deserve, some get less.

  73. whatever

    wrote on March 15, 2013 at 12:16 am

    you are a smart-arsed idiot.

  74. Ummmmmm

    wrote on April 22, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    floR, POSTDOCS CANNOT PUBLISH PAPERS WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THEIR SUPERVISOR, you ignoramus. Do you think that you are the only one here who hasn't given blood and sweat to produce cutting-edge research? I can assure you that most here have, the difference is that not all supervisors are willing to publish cutting-edge research, especially if they are unfamiliar with the research topic, don't get along with the author, are mentally ill, or are lazy.

    I have thus far had a moderately successful, two-year-long postdoctoral experience at a world-class university, and can assure you that colleagues of mine who are much smarter than me, work harder than me, and have produced better results than me, have not been so fortunate. I would be interested to learn how your imminent postdoctoral experience humbles you, especially if approached with the attitude you have conveyed above.

    Good luck to you, Energizer Bunny! You will need it!

  75. FedUp

    wrote on May 24, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    You need a good project – 2-3 of them actually – that I bet your undergrad self didn't think of. You also need money – and I also don't think you wrote a grant for them as an undergrad. You need access to reagents, and equipment and lots of other stuff that someone has to show you, or at least not hide from you. You also need a PI who is not an a** shooting down everything you accomplish/think of because it's a threat to his/her own ego, and who is not lazy either, preferring to hide into commitees rather than read the paper you wrote six months ago. YOU didn't accomplish those papers standing on thin air, you worked hard, yes, but standing on the shoulders of others. People can work equally hard while standing on quick sand and only sink deeper each day – and you'd better bet your shallow head that that's depressing.

    There's two possible futures for Your Arrogance. Either you'll land a bad post-doc in which case your own fall from grace will be worse than most, or you'll be lucky again and get a good post-doc, in which case you'll end up being one of those moronic PIs that will make other people miserable. Alternatively, you could open your eyes and see what's really going on with your less lucky peers – not look down on, look at. Then again after reading all this your only reply was "hey, you are all weak-minded, lazy failures", so I won't hold much hope for you.

  76. Carrie

    wrote on November 27, 2012 at 9:51 am

    I hate my postdoc. I feel it has sucked away all my energy and my joy for science and left me with depression and a lack of enthusiasm. I have to get out. I am so fed up with it all.

  77. whocares,righ?

    wrote on March 13, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    I like my position, my PI is a nice person in general, and I am also taking courses in areas that I had no background in. My PI seems to be pissed a bit but I had my own agenda coming here just like he had his own agenda. My issue is he is such a control freak and likes to micromanage which is not something I am good with. Then he turns around and expects me to mentor his graduate students. What cracked me up one time was that when I was in his office, he answered a call and told he person to call back later as he was having a meeting with a 'student'. Oh…and the salary sucks..

  78. san gho

    wrote on July 5, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    I did 3 years postdoc a renowned institute of USA. But, I got pregnant after marriage. When mentor knows he starts giving so much stress and I left the lab. I am job less 15month. I attended more than 40 postdoctoral interviews and most are positive. But whenever they are getting my postdoc mentor's reference letter they are not willing to hire me. My PhD mentor is tired after writing so many positive letters.My PhD is from Other country.So when I am interviewing here in use for job they wants a letter from my postdoc mentor in USA. I requested him several time for a decent letter but he does not care. What I will do. A person /a PI is so strong and powerful in USA,who can destroy A person's whole career and make him/her struggle economically. Please suggest me how I can save myself fro this situation and have a postdoc job in usa.If I remove his name nobody is asking for job. I published 2 papers from his lab in reputed journal and more paper will come near future.
    I really need a job.

  79. BC-postdoc

    wrote on July 15, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Thank you for this post- I feel that I'm not so alone anymore.

    Have just told my boss that I'm leaving my current 1st postdoc after 15 months for another position. Moving from little college to bug University, great career opportunities and very excited currently. Went through 8 months of EXACTLY the internal struggle you are describing in the post. Have all the hope in the world for my new post and want to wish everyone who is still struggling good luck. So many people discouraged me from moving on but my gut feeling was that things were not right. Terrible reaction from my new PI confirmed all thins and I'm glad I got my new job lined up without his help or knowledge as I know now that he would have tried to stop me.

    So far it looks like it may work out for me. Just have to endure another month.

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