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.