That forever post-doc and stuff…….

In my last post I had interviewed an amazing post-doc candidate that I felt should be in a faculty position now.  And if he took on another post-doc he’d be saddling himself and unable to achieve a faculty role.   I don’t know how many years out of grad school is too much before you can jump in, but it seemed like he was approaching some kind of upper limit.  Following advice here and with mentors I offered him a 1 year post and told him if he could help develop a new program I would work with the University to get him into a non-TT position.  So essentially he would be a pseudo-independent and I could expand my lab without really drawing myself too thin.  He countered saying that he didn’t think he could get a TT job if he accepted the non-TT one.  So I offered him the 2 year post-doc and he accepted.  Then yesterday he told me he accepted a non-TT position at a traditionally more prestigious school.  Maybe I got him thinking.  I don’t know.  But now I’m freaking scrambling to find someone decent fast.  I should’ve handled this differently.

My toes are numb, my feet hurt, my back hurts, and I get angry a little more easily than I typically would.  I’ve been trying to get a lot done before I have personal obligations about to take over my life.  The summer has been mildly productive and successful regarding grants and pubs, but I’ve hit a few roadblocks regarding some of the volatility of industry funding in particular.  Having to recruit now also isn’t the easiest timing-wise.

I’m glad I submitted my tenure packet early.  My reviewers are already contacting me wanting some details for their recommendations.  One person, who I have had small collaborations with, didn’t even realize half the stuff I work on.  I guess that’s not surprising, but now I’m concerned that people might try and steal my ideas.  I think it’s just my industry paranoia creeping in.  We were always worried about people stealing ideas, both internally and externally.

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Forever post-doc

I’ve been interviewing post-docs over Skype and most are the usual international students with the occasional okay PhD student sprinkled in.  There are always so many more open post-doc positions out there than there are good post-docs.  So it’s not too easy for me to compete with the biggest names, but I’ve done okay.  However, I did find one good one who’s well experienced, mature, and would make a good fit.  He’s been a post-doc on seven years now and I’m iffy.  Not because he’s been in post-doc positions for so long and not because he might get an academic position and be gone.  His large amount of time in the post-doc is great because he brings great experience, and if he goes to an academic position I’d be happy for him.  I’m iffy because I feel wrong giving him another post-doc.  He should be at the point in his training where he should be running more of a program.  And if I saddle him here I feel I’m doing him a disservice.  I know it’s not my place to tell this person what to do, but I think it’s time to take a research prof (non-tenure track) position or skip off to industry.  He’s very smart, mature, and hard-working so he’ll do well where ever he goes.  He said he just hasn’t gotten bites on his application, which I agreed to look over, and it does seem a little run-of-the-mill.  Which usually is great if you have an Ivy league school on your CV, which he does not.  I just feel like I’d be exploiting this person by putting him in another post-doc.  I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do, but I want to tell him that I don’t think another post-doc is the right thing for him, but I’m afraid he may be insulted.  There are a lot of non-tenure track positions out there in addition to a bunch of industry positions (the economy, while slowing, is still quite hot if you have the right skillsets).  Maybe I’m overthinking this, and should just bring in who I think will be a great researcher, but I just feel dirty doing it.

 

Losing good students to bio

My background is physics.  I eventually bridged this over to the applied world and medicine, but having a good foundation makes it possible to do anything.  Each student has to be theoretically solid and capable of getting their hands dirty when the research inevitably goes applied.  Each summer I go through the same recruiting exercise where I try to recruit very theoretically sound students.  This summer is no different than the rest in that I try to create a diverse lab with talented students on the theoretical side, computational side, and experimental side.  I’m especially hurting for an experimental person.  Especially someone more on the biology side.  But because of the nature of the work, they have to have a good physics background.  These don’t always go hand-in-hand.  Bio people want to do bio, and typically don’t have the most solid background in math or physics.  On top of this, I haven’t been happy with the lack of gender diversity lately, and want to hold my lab as an example.

Now begins my big issue: I have found a couple female students that are great theoretically, but want to do bio.  As a lot of people know, there is a general interest of women in biologically based research.  My lab does this, but not like the hardcore bio labs running blots and transgenic experiments day-and-night.  So I’m having trouble recruiting the students I want because they want more bio or maybe because they didn’t study enough math as an undergrad.  So for the first time, I’ve decided to relax my requirements and basically pull in a student from a more unfocused discipline (like bioengineering) that can maybe do a little of a lot of different fields.  This allows me to get a female student that is willing to dabble with a little variety.  I’m not happy with this, but I’ll make due.  One of my initiatives has been to get female students into more math and physics with sprinkles of biology rather than the other way around since these fields are sorely lacking.  I’ve noticed some uptick, but I’m definitely not happy with my progress.

On the personal side of things, I was having a solid couple of months, and now I am nauseous all the time.  This needs to end now.

Play when you want

The summer is really the only time I can schedule long trips.  The next month we have a lot of conference prep for two important conferences coming up.  Then the next month I’m moving to a 3-day work schedule for two weeks (and four days working from home), then taking two weeks off completely.  One week I’ll be out of contact completely, and the other I’ll be available sparingly.  I love how I don’t feel bad that I’m away and I’m not worried about someone taking over my job.  I also am very grateful that I didn’t have to ask anyone if it’s okay that I take this time off.  It’s fantastic.  That was always one of my biggest gripes in industry: having to tell someone or get approval for my absenteeism.  If I need a mental health day I just tell my students over email then be available as best as I can.  If I want to schedule a long vacay I just do it.

Now, there is a general decrease in the lab’s productivity when I’m gone, but I’m very okay with that.  I don’t have shareholders or upper management to justify myself to, and my students deserve to slow down every once in a while.  I have one student who goes full-tilt all the time, and I’ve told her that she doesn’t have to, but she insists.  She’ll be a great worker some day, I just hope she doesn’t burn out.

When I was in industry, my employees would ask me if they could have such-and-such day off for whatever-activity.  I would always just tell them they don’t have to ask, they know what the hard deadlines are, and to just submit the vacation requests and I’ll approve it with no questions asked.  I wish I could have set up my department where I didn’t need to have them request time, but it was corporate policy.  Now, I have times I put in everyone’s calendar of critical times I need them in the lab (prep for grants, conferences, etc.), but otherwise, they just put that they’ll be gone in Google calendar and I don’t see them that time.

The freedom of time, alone, is worth the pay cut I took to get here.

Work when you want

Here’s a shocker for some: people are different.  Some people need 40 hours to get work done, some only need 30 hours, some like to work as much as possible to maximize output, and some like to get the bare minimum done.  Some can only get the bare minimum done.  I appreciate a job where I can work 80 hours a week whenever I want.  Realistically, (ignoring the time to answer a text, call, or quick email) I put in about 50-60 hours a week while classes are in session.  Occasionally more, but rarely fewer than 50.  I have always thought that a job shouldn’t be about the hours, but about the productivity.  When I was in industry, I almost always did the 50+ hours because I like doing a thorough job, but there were the times when I just didn’t want to be there.  I had to put in time, get it approved, etc.  I fucking hated that.  I like taking off in the middle of the day for a long lunch if I want, or leaving early, or showing up late without having to tell anyone.

When I became a group leader, and now in running my academic lab, I fostered a ‘work as much as you want, but also reap what you sow.’  I despise that the culture is, at minimum, work 40 hours, and at maximum, work until you can’t anymore in most areas.  I do get annoyed when I don’t see students around, but ever since the recent bad student I had, I do have contracts where, barring any crazy circumstances, I will not fund students past 5.5 years.  So they know they need to work or they’ll be out of the job.  I only demand that they’re around during set times for meetings, and so I can drop in (1000-1130 and/or 1400-1530).  Other than that, they can work early mornings or late nights if I’m not around.  I do demand to see progress, since that’s the only thing I care about, and I’ve been pretty blatant when I haven’t been happy with progress.  I feel this gives the students the freedom to work the way they wish while keeping them all on track.

I got to thinking about this because I have a new student that always tells me when they’re taking off like they’re asking for permission.  I always tell them to make sure they’re around when they’re supposed to be, and that’s it.  They can take off all they want and don’t need my permission unless they’re taking off for large swaths of time.  I know that I would’ve appreciated that, and I definitely appreciate that now.  Just a bit of gratefulness to write about….

Dear admins,

Leave me alone.  I appreciate you have had a part in my relative success here at the University.  But I hate being paraded around as your little showdog.  At first, I have to admit, I was honored that some guest was coming in town to give a commencement speech or that wants to buy some wing and you want to show new research.  But I just don’t have time to be going across campus for a couple hours to help you win over some dickhead that can cut a big check so long as we look diverse and appear to be solving some kind of problem.  A big check that most likely won’t even be seen by students in the form of better instruction or facilities.  Now, if they want to cut a check that gets my department some new fume hoods or some more TAs then sign me up.  But, why the fuck you brought me in on a meeting with someone that wanted to expand the practice field for the football team I won’t understand.  I get it, you want to show diversity, and one breed of person isn’t enough, but I don’t want to be a showdog.  I want to be a dog that works for a living.  There are a lot of annoying things you do, but this is near the top.

Regards,

Phindustry

Summer break baby!

Not that kind of baby. Though lately I have been feeling good. Before, I had a ‘fuck everything’ kind of attitude. Now I have a ‘fuck most stuff attitude.

I’m referring to the excitement that comes with summer break. My students don’t have classes, SO and I have some free moments, and the weather could not be more beautiful. Stepping outside and sneezing, I mean, breathing with all the flowers in bloom and everyone getting over the constant overcast and gloom of winter is great. Spring arrived so late this year, but I really prefer it this way. Putting on some shorts and sunscreen is upon us, and it’s wonderful. No partying for me, but enjoying a book (I mean writing a grant and reading manuscripts) on the grass while listening to the birds is amazing. I love that I can get so much done without anyone on campus. Also, I don’t feel as bad about leaving early or showing up late and doing work outside or at home. At the start of the semester, I love the sound of the students and the liveliness, but eventually, I get tired of it and just want my peace and quiet again. I’m grateful that I have students around to keep me young, but they don’t overstay their welcome. The larger thing is I have all these grand plans of what needs to happen during the summer from a personal and lab standpoint. Summer rocks.