Warning: this post might be ranty, angry and disillusioned. For your reading pleasure, the most ranty and disillusioned bits are in italics, so you can choose to skip those, or decide to only read those for the ultimate #disgruntledpostdoc experience.
When I was in grad school, I was told that getting high impact factor papers and postdoc experience abroad were necessary in order to get personal grants, which in turn were necessary to establish oneself as independent scientist. Fast forward about a decade and I can say that I have learned that this is neither necessary nor sufficient.
At the end of my PhD (output: a couple decent papers and one so-called high IF paper) I decided that I wanted to do a postdoc abroad. Not just for CV-building-sake, but also because it seemed like a good opportunity to live in the US for a while. My husband (boyrfriend at the time) and I bought plane tickets (that we had to pay for ourselves by the way) to interview at a couple labs across the US. We ended up finding two positions in different labs at the same university. A good university, but not Harvard or Stanford or UCSF, which the homecountry scientific organization apparently seems to think is necessary to give you a personal grant to go there. But fortunately we both had PIs willing to cover our salary.
Fast forward 4 years (3 as post-doc, 1 as research associate, output so far: 3 decent papers, 1 high IF, 1 still coming, 2 babies): we decided to move back to the homecountry, as husband got a personal grant there, my PI had left academia and we wanted to be closer to family. When you go from one post-doc to the next (because my husband's personal grant still makes him a post-doc here; I guess it's the equivalent of a K99) you have to pay for this yourself. The university gave us each a compensation that was less than the cost of a plane ticket, let alone moving stuff and kids. I looked for tenure-track jobs or something like that but in the two years I applied there were only two jobs, both of which I did not get (which I guess is not weird with only 3 years post-doc experience at the time).
So, I also found a job as a post-doc. I was excited about this job, as it was in the group of someone I was already writing grants with together and I could do the things that I knew how to do and in the meantime apply for funding. However, it was a job for only a year, that stretched a little longer as I decided to work 4 days a week instead of 5. After that year, I either had to have my own funding, or the PI is was working for needed to have more funding. Both of these scenarios were very insecure. And as much as I think I'm competitive from a scientific perspective, I'm not sure if I'm competitive from a stress-resilience perspective. Every day I realized how many days I had left on this project, and how much of it had needed to happen yesterday so to speak. It felt like a huge burden on my shoulders and I had a hard time finding a way to deal with this. And since I wasn't allowed to apply for the homecountry grant anymore, the only option I had left was a Marie Curie fellowship for two years. And what would happen if I didn't get that grant, or what would happen after those two years, nobody could tell me. There was no money for a back-up plan it seemed. And the decisions on who gets to have a position in a lab or not are based on the personal grants, so they are made by anonymous reviewers instead of by people in the department. And in turned out that some people who never went abroad but just stayed in their own university were just as likely to get them.
Another aspect that cost me a lot of energy being upset about was the fact that this post-doc project was a huge step back in autonomy. For the past 6 or something years (end of my PhD, post-doc and research associate time), I was able to decide which experiments to do and where to take a project. This project, that was only a year, had completely been written and I was basically the pair of hands to execute it. On top of that, the two PIs who had written this small grant were now writing a bigger grant to continue this project, but they did not involve me in this writing at all. Even though I had been writing grants with one of them, I was completely being ignored in writing this one, despite my knowledge and experience with this subject.
So the combination of a very insecure future, the fierce competition of other post-docs and the feeling that nobody seemed to want to invest in me made that when I saw an add for an industry scientist job, I decided to write a letter and see if I would be competitive for this. To cut a long story short (more on this some other time): I was competitive and was offered this job, and decided to take it.
I would be lying if I'd say it doesn't feel like defeat to leave academia. It does. But it also feels like a huge weight off my shoulders to know that this job is a lot more secure. Here, if I do my work well, my contract is extended, whereas in my current post-doc job, if I do my job well it is still insecure if I can stay. Also, it is nice for a change to have the feeling that people are happy to have you, instead of the feeling that you're the umpteenth post-doc to compete for the very few jobs at the university. It's nice that when they ask you how much you want to earn and you say a number that feels very high, you actually get offered exactly that number. It's nice that this company has time and money for personal development, and it's nice that I am encouraged to choose which direction I want to steer my career into. And on top of that, it's nice that in this period in my life with small kids and sleep deprivation and very little time for myself, I don't need to feel like everything has to happen yesterday. I found out that I just don't deal well with this stress, and I feel relieved to be able to step out of this. Not that I think that this industry job isn't hard work, it will be, but all the energy spent at worrying can now be used for something useful.