What the nature series on post-docs forgets to mention

Naturejobs has a whole series about post-docs which is quite interesting. Today's post is about finding the right lab and PI.

“If you chose the wrong lab, a lab that isn’t publishing heavily or is not pushing you, you’re not going to be able to get the papers you need to get into that lectureship or fellowship position that you’re looking for.”

They list a bunch of important things to consider and most of them have to do with strategically planning your career as a post-doc. What they forget to mention is that it is very helpful when your PI is flexible and open to change. As a post-doc, you can change from someone who is single and in the lab 80 hrs a week to someone with a family who needs to leave at 5 to pick up their kid. Or you can change from someone who wants to become tenure track faculty at a fancy-named university to someone who would rather pursue a career as a science writer. Then, it is no longer the most important thing to that your PI is an important scientist who cranks out high impact factor papers, but it is nice if she is supportive of your choices. (luckily the nature piece acknowledges this in their last paragraph, that loving what you do is very important too). But when looking for a post-doc position, knowing that I would maybe want to have a baby in the time I was there, that was the hardest thing: figuring out if a PI would be supportive. I've seen instances where the support of a PI greatly diminished when post-docs started their family or looked for jobs outside academia and it doesn't seem like something to bring up at your interview. So, how do you find out if that supportive mentor is willing to support you through periods of change from the initial plan?

And then just before posting this I saw this post from the new PI about the questions to ask when interviewing for a post-doc position.


4 responses so far

  • selfish PI? says:

    Here's the opposing perspective. Why should a PI be supportive when their postdoc decides they want to work 50% less or that they're no longer interested in publishing high impact papers? What YOU forget to mention is that expectations placed upon the PI by their funding agencies, by their institution, by their department chair, and by their peers does not change because a postdoc/grad student/technician/whatever decides that they are no longer committed to being an academic scientist. They should move on to something else, and let the PI hire someone who is motivated. Grant money is limited. The PI's own career is on the line. Either do what you were hired to do or leave.

    • babyattachmode says:

      So then what does "training someone" mean in your book? Getting a pipetting monkey that keeps their mouth shut while working for your high IF paper?

    • postdoc says:

      um, last time I checked, I was being hired for a 40 hour work week...if I'm working 80 hours, that's on me and no one has a right to demand it. So, I'm well within my right to cut that down by half! I have a problem with the fact that science/PIs/etc seem to think overly long hours is an acceptable expectation. I'm motivated, but I also want a life and expect to not work 80 hours a week when being paid for 40

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