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My Postdoc Story: Research and Application Scientist, Anonymous
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My Postdoc Story: Research and Application Scientist, Anonymous

While nearly all of us face challenges during our postdoctoral years, we often feel alone in our struggles. In this series, we hope to share encouraging and uplifting stories of how other scientists were able to turn their situation around and move forward, despite a non-ideal situation. Like snowflakes, fingerprints, and nightmares, every postdoctoral experience is unique, so today we share the Postdoc Story of another successful scientist.

I. The Story

In grad school I was a virologist. As a postdoc I studied virology. Now, I’m a research and applications scientist. After completing my degree, I was motivated to do a postdoc because it was the next logical choice, and I wanted a chance in an academic lab that was different than the one that I did my PhD in. In selecting my postdoctoral lab, I based my decision on the virus it worked on, working with someone very different from my phd advisor, and the likelihood of having funding for more than 1 year.

Going into the postdoc I wanted to find out if I enjoyed research in a different setting, wanted to further my technical prowess, and learn new techniques. On the road to pursuing my goals, I didn’t expect to be at odds with the research assistant that was auxilliarly working on the same thing.


II. The Situation

During my post doc, I worked for Dr. A, but in Dr. B’s lab. There was also Dr. C who was a research professor in Dr. A’s lab, who would flat out say that whatever I was doing couldn’t be done, and then when I did it, would say that she already did that x number of years ago. I liked both Dr. A and Dr. B, but with Dr. C, I would never be able to be first author on a paper, or have my research acknowledged.


III. The Emotions

After dealing with this situation for ~2 years, I decided that I needed to move on. I realized that I didn’t want to be in academia anymore, and that I’d much rather have a more traditional job. I was frustrated and annoyed. Dr. B knew that Dr. C was a problem, and that it has previously been documented with a former employee. Dr. B could do nothing about it. Dr. A was told about it, but was oblivious to the situation (or just ignoring it) as many heads of large labs are.


IV. The Solution

Dr. B knew that I wasn’t happy. He knew that I was looking for jobs. I tried to be as upfront with him as possible, and at one point told him that I felt like I was cheating on him when I went on interviews. Eventually I ended up with my dream job.


V. The Lesson

There is no reason to stick it out in a lab where you are always going to be beat down and have nothing to show for it. I had a pretty good situation in my post-post doc journey (I still talk to Dr. B on a regular basis), I guess that I wish I would have taken a week off between jobs, and gotten all of the free academically provided software I could before I left. :)

Have you ever seriously considered leaving the bench?

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7 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. Erica

    wrote on October 1, 2012 at 9:26 am

    "I was motivated to do a postdoc because it was the next logical choice". I felt the same exact way at the time, and now looking back I can tell it probably wasn't the only "logical choice" I had, it was the only logical choice I *saw* and those are two completely different things.

  2. alan@benchfly

    wrote on October 1, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Hi Erica,

    I completely agree. I know a lot of colleagues, myself included, who didn't even consider another job opportunity after graduate school – it was postdoc or bust! I can say that in my own case although I wanted to be an academic I also think doing a postdoc was considered "part of the process". So even if I had known I wanted to do something else it seemed natural to first do the postdoc, then to ask the tough questions about what I wanted to do and move on.

    This is not an endorsement for people to leave the bench or bypass postdocs. Rather, I'd suggest asking some of the tough questions of yourself earlier. It can either 1) save you a few years you may waste in a postdoc, or 2) give you the confidence to know the postdoc is right for you (which comes in handy to remember if/when things get tough in the lab).


  3. phosphofan

    wrote on October 1, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Haha, the free academic software is a major benefit that everyone should take advantage of today. Seriously, if you haven't installed the Adobe suite on your computer, you'll kick yourself when you leave.

  4. Christopher Dieni

    wrote on October 1, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Sounds familiar…

  5. Predoc

    wrote on October 2, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    I'm amazed at the numbers here. Does the high number of people considering leaving the bench reflect a bad job market, more "alternative career" support from graduate programs, or a dying profession???

  6. @27andaphd

    wrote on October 3, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    I think it has to do with a bit (or a combination) of everything. Some people have bad mentors/grad school experience and that does it for them. Others have bad experiences further along, like for instance, at the postdoc stage, like me. Others simply decide to pursue other interests. The bad job market has a huge impact too. Part of it is becoming aware that there are other choices besides the TT, like I also did during my postdoc. In conclusion, there are many, many reasons people are moving away from the "traditional" path and looking into other options, some that have an academic component, but not a PI one, others go completely away.

  7. dredjah

    wrote on October 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Here's what I think the problem is for me looking at it as a PhD student. Academia can be amazing: it is intrinsically interesting, there is freedom to pursue your own interests, and it sure as hell beats the hell out of most 9-5 jobs. The problem is that to even have a chance of succeeding in this ridiculously competitive world, it requires (or at least helps enormously) that you turn it into your life rather than your job (I for one have a range of interests, and don't want to dedicate my whole life to just one of those). Many people I know just aren't willing to do that, especially considering that you can do all that and there is still a very good chance that you will be 35 without a permanent job… in that case you are over-qualified for most jobs outside academia, and have wasted 5-10 years doing post-doc positions which require you to turn your life upside down every 1-3 years. Even if you succeed, you are then entering an ever more cut-throat world where you have to compete for a shrinking pool of funding, and then publish like hell to continually justify your existence. Is all of this worth it? I haven't figured that part out yet!

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