When I went abroad to do my post-doc, I was determined to apply for funding from the homecountry's national science organization to be able to fund my project. This was a little tricky, because you were only allowed to apply once, and could only do that in the year after obtaining your PhD. My dilemma was whether to wait until my high impact factor paper was accepted (if it would be accepted in time of course), or apply as soon as I could. At that time, all of a sudden the science organization announced that the next round of that fellowship would be the last one ever, without a clear picture of the type of funding that would replace it. I did not hesitate and applied, as did many others. In fact, they received three times more applications as they did otherwise, and mine was ranked such that in any other round it would probably receive funding, but in this round it fell just outside the ones that were funded. I was seriously bummed, especially when the next round the fellowship reappeared. It still exists today, but of course I was only allowed to apply once, so I had wasted my chances in the worst round ever.
Now, the Dutch science organization is announcing that for the next round of two prestigious personal fellowships - the kind of funding that can make or break a young researcher's career - all of a sudden applicants need to have a guarantee from the university that they can stay there. This is very similar to the NIH's requirement that you need a faculty position in order to apply for an R01. However, before this rule got into place, many young groupleaders only got permanent positions at a university AFTER they obtained this funding. And because of that, very few permanent positions are being advertised at the moment. Changing the rules so suddenly means that for individuals this can literally break their career because it robs them of the chance to apply for funding to establish themselves as a group leader. It specifically affects those people who have made the effort to go abroad for a post-doc, because some of the people who stayed will by now have a permanent position at a university. It will surely reduce the number of applicants, which is the reason NWO is doing this, but at what cost for individuals...?
If you have been living under a rock and think sexual harrassment doesn't happen in academia, this new blog is for you.
If you think: this only happens in the US, this story is for you.
If you think: men who are accused of committing these acts lose their whole career, then read what the women it has happened to have lost and are still losing.
If you think: these women only come forward hidden behind pseudonym, that is not the case. Although understandably, many are.
If you think: if stuff like this happens, people who see it will speak up, this story is for you.
If you think: I have my own story, these resources are for you. Also, consider sharing your story.
If you think: I want to thank the person who is bringing this to light ánd started a petition to remove sexual harrasers from the National Academy of Sciences, then consider sending @McLNeuro a supportive gif on twitter!
After I just got off the phone with my PhD advisor feeling all warm and fuzzy, I suddenly thought of this post from five years ago:
Recently, I realized that I now love my PhD advisor more than ever. Even though during my PhD I have frequently thought otherwise. This graph nicely illustrates how liking my advisor changed over time.
This morning I came to a realization that shocked me and that made me quite painfully aware of my own biases. Already a couple of times I had come across this headline on twitter: She Was a Rising Star at a Major University. Then a Lecherous Professor Made Her Life Hell. Every time I saw it I couldn't help but think: Oh man, another person who was oppressed/harrassed/assaulted in whatever way by some man who has the power to do so and still goes unpunished for way too long. But it didn't touch me enough to read the piece. Or to retweet it or say what I think about it. It just made me a little numb that this just keep happening over and over and over it seems.
And then someone tweeted the name of the victim in this case. And I recognized the name and realized that I had seen her present her work and I was so impressed with her. She was energetic and funny and a really good presenter who did very interesting work. All of a sudden I cared so much more about this case. And that is the part that shocked me.
Because someone shouldn't have to be energetic and funny and a good presenter for me to care. I should always care when someone is oppressed or assaulted or harrased, whether they are boring or funny to me and whether I like them or not. It made me think of whenever men say things like:"We should care about women because they are our daughters and wives and sisters" and I think to myself: no, we should care because they are people. Yet I do the exact same thing in my head: I care more about people that I know and/or like.
How can I change this attitude and make sure I don't stop caring about cases like this one? By reading the statistics about how often women are sexually harrassed in science that make me angry every time I look at them. By linking to all the pieces online that show how hard it is to file these complaints against established men when you are the victim, but also how there are kind people that stand by the victims. Although at the end of the day the question remains whether you can ever really win in a case like this.
Years ago I went to our annual PhD retreat and one of PhD students from a different lab presented data from a screen they did. They talked about the model and the screen and just when we thought things were getting excited and they would talk about their findings, they showed data about "protein X". They described some of the features of said protein, but did not want to disclose the name, in fair of getting scooped.
I thought this was overly cautious and unfair to the audience, but the other day I heard an even more striking story of someone who was this vague about their data in a labmeeting of their own lab. For months they presented data without wanting to tell to their lab members the identity of a protein that was at the center of their project. It makes me wonder: is the lack of input you can expect from your lab mates when you hide critical information worth the reduced risk of getting scooped by someone close to you?
Most academics work hard, whether it is the amount of hours you spend in the lab or the efficiency and focus with which you dedicate yourself to your work. And having spend the last 2,5 years outside academia, I don't think this is much different for people outside academia. If I look around the company I work for, many people put in more hours than stated on their contract and work hard.
But lately I've been wondering why we all work so hard? When I was in academia, I worked hard because I wanted to have my own lab one day, and I knew that for that I needed papers and funding. I worked hard for a long-term goal. And even though I liked doing the work, on many days I did not like the work and purely did it because of that long term goal.
Now, being outside academia, I don't have such a clear long-term goal, and I especially didn't have one when I had just transitioned outside academia. I have been working less hard than in academia, or perhaps I should say: I've been less obsessed with the feeling that I have to work hard. But I'm still working more and harder than I technically should. And I'm trying to get a clear view for myself why I do it. Is it because I hope it will get me higher up in the company (yes, I think), is it for external recognition (yes I guess), is it because I like doing the work (yes, on most days), is it because this is the example my parents have given me (yes, both my parents worked hard and outside of their official working hours)?
What about you? Why do you work hard? Or do you like your work so much that it never feels like hard work, but rather like being allowed to play around all day?
More recent discussions on this here, here and here.
A pessimist would say: "nothing like comparing yourself to your peers who went into marketing straight after an MSc to doubt the value of spending nearly a decade in academia." Similarly, Science Magazine has a recent article on the price of doing a postdoc where they calculate that:
"On average, they give up about one-fifth of their earning potential in the first 15 years after finishing their doctorates—which, for those who end up in industry, amounts to $239,970."
Having spend 4 years in the US (3 years as postdoc and 1 year as non-TT faculty), I have definitely made economic sacrifices compared to peers who stayed in the homecountry, and especially to those who left academia after an Msc or Phd. Not just the difference in income between academia and outside (which by the way is a much larger difference in the US than in EU). But also think of moving costs that weren't compensated: moving back to the homecountry we were both postdocs again and the university compensated us for 500 euros total. The costs of moving an entire family across the Atlantic was at least 10 times and maybe 20 times that much. We spent a good portion of our savings on moving costs and I'm sure we're not the only academic family to do that. Also, not paying for retirement savings for 3 years, and having a tiny foreign retirement account that will cost about the sum of what is in there to move it here. I realize it is a privilege to be able to spend money on choosing a career that is not financially optimal and at the same time that means that academia might miss out on people who are not able to do that. But then again, shouldn't we all go to school for whatever job it is where you sell shady mortgages and get filthy rich? That's not what life is all about, is it?
I tend to be an optimist and I wonder if we're not missing the value of doing a post-doc here. Looking back, it was a great period of being able to focus solely on the scientific projects I was working on, without course work and the pressure to graduate that happens during a PhD and all the other stuff that comes with a more advanced scientific career either inside or outside academia. Also - to me at least -, it was a uniquely flexible time for having babies, being sleep deprived and pumping milk. Also, it was great to be able to live in a different country for a while. But I guess I could have done that while working for a company who would have paid for my moving expenses.
I'm not quite sure what the answer is here. I've asked before if you felt you spent too much time as a postdoc, but I guess the bigger dilemma here is how to deal with all these people that are in academic postdoc positions without the prospect of all landing permanent positions...? And what is the value of doing a postdoc if afterwards you leave academia?
The disgruntled postdoc – or disgruntledoc - is a specific species of the academic family, first discovered in the wild and described by DrugMonkey. Its body is often found in a particular non-ergonomic posture that is intended to entirely devote itself to academic science, for example bent over to stare into a microscope, crouching on the floor to put a laboratory animal into an operant box or crawling behind a rig to fix the wiring. Its brain however is mostly occupied with online conversations on twitter or blogs discussing fair pay, the difficulty to obtain grant money and general unfairness of the academic system. This behavior has been observed consistently since the early history of social media.
At the end of the day, the disgruntled postdoc either indulges in cheap beer and free cookies – when these are left over from other occasions – or scrambles to be in time to pick up its offspring from their daycare that the disgruntled postdoc’s salary can barely pay for. In unique situations, the disgruntled postdoc will try to combine these two activities often with mixed success.
Similar to other adolescent mammals, the disgruntled postdoc stage has a hypothesized purpose to “learn how to maximize utility of their environment and emigrate to new social groups in order to prevent inbreeding”. It is expected that the disgruntled postdoc will leave its environment at some point in time. This point will either be reached when the disgruntled postdoc is able to rise in the academic ladder, or when the disgruntled postdoc reaches a threshold where their level of dissatisfaction is higher than their level of willingness to work hard on science. Where this threshold lies is different for each individual disgruntled postdoc and depends very much on the conditions of the habitat, most notably the amount of grant money available in said habitat.
I came back from SfN last week and want to write about some of my observations there, but with little time to sit down and write this, somehow this post came out first.
I’ve been asked a couple of times (both at SfN and elsewhere) what my pseud means. I thought it was an obvious play on words, but I guess it was a very nerdy play on words, so here is some explanation. Before I left academia, I was a post-doc doing electrophysiology doing whole cell recordings in slices. When doing that, before you reach whole cell mode, you are first in cell-attached mode (ie when the pipet is attached to the cell membrane, before you actually break into the cell). A good image on how that works is here.
At the same time, BlueEyes was born, and he was somewhat the opposite of babies that you often see in pictures: relaxing and/or sleeping in a crib or something like that. He was mostly happy when he was being held and even then he was sometimes unhappy *. I quickly discovered babywearing and other types of attachment parenting thingies that seemed to help retain everyone’s sanity.
So when I started tweeting and blogging around that time, babyattachmode seemed a good name. I did not really think ahead to the time when I would no longer be a post-doc doing electrophysiology and no longer have little babies. So I contemplated whether to change my pseud, but since I already find it confusing when people change their avatar on twitter, I’m just going to stay who I am online.
Have you outgrown your pseud and have you changed it because of that?
* I know, this is normal baby behavior too – but we see it much less often in books or on TV…
This morning, I went for a run before work and listened to this week's Recovering Academic podcast. In this episode, they talk about how a large part of being an academic in recovery means having to figure out how much of your identity is being an academic scientist, and if that is gone, what is left? I very much recognize this feeling, even though I'm still a scientist, just not in academia. I did very much have to redefine myself, not just on the outside (new outfit, different haircut), but even more on the inside. What I am mostly still struggling with, is the difference in achievements and how visible those are. In academia, I was very much motivated by getting papers published and being able to search for my name on Pubmed and finding an increasing number of hits. The output is very tangible and is celebrated with press releases and such. Now that I work for a company, the end-product that we make is even more tangible (an actual thing that can sit on the table), but my part in it is much less visible, especially to the outside world. Think about it, you can read everywhere who invented CRISPR or optogenetics, but many inventions coming out of companies are celebrated in a much less personal way (to the outside world at least). Sort of connected to that is the fact that I took pride in the things I finished (experiments, papers), whereas now it is much less clear when something is actually finished and the work leading up to that thing that can sit on the table is much longer most of the times.
On the other hand, the fact that everything was so personal was also a reason for me to leave academia. Because the downside of celebrating personal accomplishments was the fact that also criticism on papers and grants proposals felt very personal. Anyways, just some rather incoherent thoughts after listening to that episode, which you should do too!