The price and value of doing a postdoc

(by babyattachmode) Jan 11 2017

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?

 

11 responses so far

Link love #1

(by babyattachmode) Jan 06 2017

Like all those people in the gym in the first week of January, I'm also getting a good start on my blogging resolutions by offering you my first link love post!

Getting Unstuck - a Hidden Brain podcast episode about how there is not one right career path, but rather you can experiment with different prototypes of your ideal career. Not sure if this also holds true for the rather linear career path in academia...?

Are bias- and privilege-free PhD admissions possible? - Doc Becca is blogging again and there is an interesting discussion going on here.

Giving up on academic stardom

New Year frustrations

Ten easy ways you can support diversity in academia

2016 in cycle science research

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Happy new year!

(by babyattachmode) Jan 05 2017

Happy new year, dear readers! I hope the new year will bring you lots of whatever it is that you wish for! I’ve had a great start of the new year because my parents took us on a nice, warm, week-long vacation to celebrate their wedding anniversary. It was also a nice space to think about what my resolutions would be for this year. Here they go:

Work: In the first half of the year I’ll be doing a new work thing, as I’ll be taking over from somebody on maternity leave part-time and do my own job in the rest of the time. I’ve been debating how much to share here but wanting to remain pseudonymous I’ll just say that I’m moving a little more to the commercial side of the company. I’m really excited about seeing and learning new things and am actually currently* on the train back from my induction meeting with the person I’m replacing. People have asked me what my plans are after that, and if I would want to stay at the new place. To be honest: I have no idea and I’m perfectly fine with not knowing and just seeing what will happen and what will come on my path. I’m actually quite surprised to find myself thinking this because for the past couple years I’ve been trying to plan my career or at least I was in the illusion that this was possible.

Personal: Basically being in two jobs at the same time plus having to move somewhere in the next six months (because our newly build house will be finished then) plus having a family will be busy. The way I deal best with busy is to schedule time for self-care, because I know otherwise that might fall by the wayside. I’m running another half-marathon in March so I’ll be running 3 times a week. Also, I’ve been trying to build a consistent meditation practice. I’ve meditated before but was never able to sustain some kind of routine. This time, I’ve bought a year subscription to Headspace** and that has work really well in making me sit down to meditate for 10 minutes each day.

Blogging: I want to be more consistent in posting, so I’m going to post twice a week. Riding the train twice a week might help in writing down all the posts that are in my head but don’t always get transferred to words on paper.  And I am going to try to include more link love posts. I really enjoy other people’s link posts and I’m going to compile whatever I tweet/read/listen to also here.

What are your new year’s resolutions - if you have them?

 

*That was actually 'currently' earlier - am posting this now at home

**This is not a sponsored post. I wish it was 😉

3 responses so far

Twelve months of InBabyAttachMode (2016)

(by babyattachmode) Dec 27 2016

Same thing as last year: the first post and first sentence of every month of the past year.

January: First of all: happy 2016 everyone! I hope next year will be a great one for you all!

February: I was the smartest kid in my primary school class, I think.

March: Four years ago today, I published my first blog post.

April: The other day I was invited to attend a meeting with a couple of important (internal and external) people at my company.

May: Last week I went to a conference with nearly 100% medical doctors.

June: Everyone who is involved in animal research has heard about the 3Rs: Replacement, Reduction and Refinement.

July: Instead of: "Hey, are you an intern/graduate student/post-doc here?", you can ask: "So, what is your position here?"

August: Two people buy a house together.

September: Recently, an anonymous postdoc emailed me with the following question [slightly redacted by me]: I realize it is time for me to start taking my career switch to industry seriously.

October: Yesterday I attended a seminar and I noticed that at least 75% of the audience were women.

November: I think that in the past couple of weeks I have cried more at work than in the years before that combined.

December: This week I received feedback that I need to act more confident in my role as expert.

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The mixed success of 2016's new year's resolutions

(by babyattachmode) Dec 26 2016

I was looking through old blog posts that I wrote and nearly forgot I had written a post with resolutions for 2016. Or actually, tweeted resolutions for 2016. My resolutions were:

  1. Change my face moisturizer
  2. Figure out my career path and next steps
  3. Organize home like I organize work

I did number 1: found out Nivea also makes anti-wrinkle face moisturizer with SPF15. Not sure the anti-wrinkle part actually does something, because I did not use a scientific approach of using it only on one half of my face. (I'm also not sure if I would want to get rid of my wrinkle over my eyebrow that says:"what?! 10 t-tests without correcting for multiple comparison?" or:"did you just cut your brother's drawing in a million pieces?").

I kind of did number 2. At least I blogged a ton about it. Here, here and here for example. But just before the end of the year I found out that however much you think about what you would want, sometimes an unexpected opportunity comes up that may be just what I wanted.

I nearly forgot about number 3, even though at the beginning of the year I made a white board in our kitchen with the coming two weeks so everyone can see what events we'll have, who will take which kid to school and what other things are coming up. It's very useful and because I try to draw some of the things that are relevant for the kids, BlueEyes uses it as well to see when events are coming up. But other than that, I'm still a bit overwhelmed from time to time about all these adult-things, like special events at school, presents that need to be given to daycare teachers, mortgage stuff and choices for our new house that is being built, etc. I feel that the hard part is that because my husband and I try to be equal partners, sometimes nobody is actually the 'owner' of a thing that needs to be done, which usually results in me doing it in the end. And my husband tends to feels less guilty when we don't send Christmas cards or are late in buying treats for school. And then of course there's the fact that we probably both feel we do 50%, but you may need to feel like doing 75% to meet in the middle. Resolution for next year may need to be to outsource more things when both our work is going to be busy + moving to a new house... Stuff to think about.

 

 

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A shiny new (work) thing!

(by babyattachmode) Dec 21 2016

A couple months ago I went to a networking thing with women I had never met before. I would encourage everyone to do this, because for some reason explaining who you are and what you do to people you've never met is really interesting and allows you to re-examine what you tell people about yourself and thereby how you see yourself.

I talked a little about how I had some doubts about whether I was enjoying my job and when I should worry about when to make a next step in my career. One of the older women said:

"You should realize that you have another 30 years of work ahead of you, so change doesn't need to come right this minute. In the meantime, you should try to enjoy what you are doing now."

I knew in a rational way that she was right, but it took me a couple weeks to really realize what she had said. And then when I was at SfN and I heard myself talk about what my job entails, I realized that I actually have a job with so many aspects that I really like. And it seems like just when I became aware of that, a really interesting opportunity presented itself: next year I get to take over from somebody on parental leave for six months who has a job that I have been wondering about whether I would like it for a while. I get to do that for 50% of my time and my current job for the other 50%. It will allow me to work at a different location with different people and see a different side of the company there that is a bit further away from what I have experience with so far. I'm super excited about it and also realize that this seems exactly the shiny new opportunity that I needed to get out of the disrguntled slumpy feeling!

6 responses so far

On being happy (or not) in your job

(by babyattachmode) Dec 15 2016

The other day I wrote about being a disgruntled post-doc and how that becoming disgruntled as a post-doc seems to serve the purpose of forcing you to move to another job, which is exactly what you’re supposed to do after x years of being a post-doc.

However, after finding what I thought was my dreamjob, this past year I felt the same kind of disgruntle on some days that I did when I was in the last phase of my post-doc. With the difference that this is not a temporary job, it could be my job for the rest of my life if I wanted it to be. And, for those of you thinking: “what a whiny post!” keep in mind that our HR department reminds us on a frequent basis of the fact that they believe there is a job for everyone in which you will feel satisfied and ecstatic with happiness. I think I can admit that I don’t feel like that every day. Some of the reasons for this feeling, in order of importance:

- comparing myself to others and feeling that I should be appreciated more, either in terms of money or in terms of praise. This –to me- is really the key reason for being disgruntled and a really annoying one, both to others and to myself. When I think about it in a rational way, I realize that I don’t see everything others do: it is impossible to compare yourself to others in an objective way. But on the other hand, I have been discussing a promotion for 2 years now, since after I good a really good evaluation when I had been there for a relatively short period of time, but for some reason it just doesn’t happen.

-having very little influence on decisions. In this big company, I am a microscopically tiny little wheel in a gigantic scheme. Unlike as a postdoc, where there were a few people who needed to agree with things like where and when to publish a paper, here there is a huge decision tree before something can get done. It took me a while to understand that however much energy I would spend convincing people, there would always be decisions outside of my circle of influence.

- having to do work that I don’t like. Obviously, every job has aspects that you dislike (I assume ). For me, they are filling out administrative forms. However, my job does involve setting up contracts with people and being the in-between person between the legal department and the external partner, which involves administrative stuff. At some point this year, it seemed like ALL I was doing was filling out forms and that whenever I had completed one, 2 would pop up somewhere else.

And as I said, at the same time HR makes us believe that for every single person there is a job that makes them run/cycle/drive to work in excitement every single day. Is that really true? Or instead of frantically trying to figure out what makes you most happy and excited is it better to be satisfied with a job you don’t hate and that even pays pretty well? And most importantly: nobody likes someone who whines and complains all day, and it will definitely not lead to favors and promotions and things like that (I have actually witnessed that happening to a colleague quite literally recently). More on how I think I deal with that soon, first more forms and powerpoints here!

10 responses so far

A detailed observation of the disgruntled postdoc

(by babyattachmode) Dec 12 2016

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.

5 responses so far

A manel that talks about women in science

(by babyattachmode) Dec 07 2016

This morning I tweeted this when I saw that there was a Nobel prize press briefing with a table full of men in front of paintings of men (or wait, maybe that one person painted in a light green jacket is a woman?).

Briefly after that, the ERC tweeted this very ironic tweet:

Yes, role models are key, but where are they??

2 responses so far

On becoming an expert outside your direct area of expertise

(by babyattachmode) Dec 01 2016

This week I received feedback that I need to act more confident in my role as expert. I recognize myself in this feedback, because often when I'm in a discussion about something neuroscience with someone who is not a neuroscientist, I come with all these nuances and considerations and find it hard to make very concrete statements. However, that is something that is needed when decisions need to be made about how to measure something or how to interpret literature.

This lead me to think about the difference of what you consider an expert on a topic in academia vs in industry (at least in my line of work).

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My interpretation of the difference between being an expert in academia vs in industry. Not drawn to scale. Also, the yellow is a drawing from Little Brother that I thought would not be visible but clearly is.

In academia, after having completed a PhD thesis and some time as a post-doc, you can consider yourself an expert in those topics (even if it feels like there are others who are even more expert). I definitely feel confident making statements about subjects in those incredibly tiny circles. However, now that I am in industry I am supposed to be an expert in much larger areas in a group of people who know even less about this topic (along the lines of: "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king"). I have always been more of a generalist, so I like reading and thinking about these bigger areas (with dotted lines in the drawing because the areas change every now and then).

But I guess what comes next in this transition from the left circle to the right is to stand up in a meeting and either say:"I know that this is such and such and that's why I recommend this" or "I need to analyze this further and will come back to it". I need to figure out how much knowledge and analysis is needed to fulfill this role, because it is impossible to take the time to reach the expertise level from the left circle in my current job. And in academia, I feel I've been trained to withhold from any firm conclusions until you've looked at a topic from different viewpoints.

And I guess for a part it comes back to the question of how you become visible and get your opinion heard if you don't look like the prototype expert...?

2 responses so far

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