I am annoyed and I think it is not because I can’t figure out how to hang our curtains that I just picked up from the store. It’s also not because our internet is very slow because the cable that goes into our apartment hasn’t been put in place correctly. (Sorry to my husband who I just called being annoyed with the things mentioned above, I found out I’m not annoyed because of that). I’m actually annoyed because of this blog post I read this morning. It’s about how you need to be the best post-doc in order to become an academic PI. (it does actually have a bunch of good points about how to write efficiently and don’t waste too much time trying to get things to be perfect).
Sure, it should be possible for someone to work 37.5 hours per week and still get senior positions in academic science; it should be the case. However, I fear it is not. And what incentive does the academic science have to change? What universities have are a workforce who happily work their 37.5 hours per week and then stick an extra 10-20 hours per week on top voluntarily. A workforce who don’t take their entire annual leave allowance. A workforce who work when they are sick and rarely take time off.
So yeah, you need to work hard. I don’t think this is unique to academia. As I tweeted in response to this, I think academics aren’t special snowflakes who work for love instead of money. They are people too. And I think in every profession, the best people are at the top. The best soccer players probably are the ones who practice while others sit in front of the TV. The best garbage men are those who walk those extra two steps to get the garbage that people put a bit further away from the street. And the best academics are perhaps the ones that work 80 hours a week and never take vacation. But does it help anyone to keep repeating that? To keep saying that if you don’t work hard you won’t succeed? As someone who just took a month off in order to make sure our new place gets organized and our kids are supported while moving to another continent, I can so: No, this is not helpful at all. It just makes me feel like everyone is passing me left and right while I am busy being a mom and a wife and a very proficient IKEA-furniture-builder. I think we need to hear more of that: of how to be more than just a scientist and be very successful at it too.
So I’d much rather read things like this: You don’t need to work 80 hours a week to succeed in academia!
Filed under absurd, academia, disgruntled postdoc, efficiency, leaving academia, life in the lab, parenting, postdoc, role models, science, women in science, work-life balance
We often talk about how and when to combine having babies and an academic career, but we don’t often recognize (at least openly) that having babies is not something you can always plan. I was fortunate enough to not have to struggle to have my two children, but I have seen the pain and suffering that infertility causes very closely. This week is Infertility Awareness Week and TenureSheWrote has a great post about dealing with infertility as an academic scientist. Go check it out!
When you apply for a post-doctoral fellowship and the review comments say you’re not a very strong candidate because you haven’t received previous funding yet…
Being still partly on maternity leave (I work 1 day a week in the lab, husband 4 days a week so Little Brother doesn’t have to start daycare until we are in the homecountry), I do most of my work as #naptimescience. This is tricky because you never know when it ends: sometimes you get a long stretch of productive time, but other times you have just laid out everything you needed to complete a task and then the baby wakes up and you have to stop. I guess kind of the same as for faculty as you never know when the next desperate grad student or disgruntled post-doc will run into your office to show you some ugly Western blog they just did. What I try to do to be productive during these unknown amounts of time is break things up in the smallest unit possible. When I have to write something I make bullet points of all the things that I have to write and then break the bullet points up into even smaller units. This way, I can take one unit at a time instead of being right in the middle of a lengthy discussion when the baby wakes up and then not know where you wanted to go next. When I do something else, like analyze data, do stats or make figures, I try to take notes of what I have been doing so that if I start again during the next bout of naptimescience I can pick up right where I have left off.
From when I just started grad school I knew I wanted to do a post-doc in the US. I understand that many disgruntled post-docs will laugh when I say that being a post-doc was my dream job; not many kids will answer “post-doc” when asked about what they want to be when they grow up. It’s also not something very permanent. But what appealed to me is that it was an easy way to live in the US for a while. America. The country I knew from watching The Simpsons and Beverly Hills 90210. The country that made me realize that Sim City was based on actual cities, because to a European it seems weird that you can start a totally new city from scratch. Unless it was bombed in WW2.
So we did it: my husband (boyfriend at the time) and I moved to the US and became post-docs. Fast forward 4 years, some papers, a baby, a wedding and another baby and we’re almost ready to move back to the homecountry. I guess this extended maternity leave time gives me some space to reflect and made me realize: this was what I wanted and now it is almost over. I have a husband, children (saying this in plural still feels weird) and I lived in the US for 4 years. I guess now the rest of my life starts. (I know, I’m ‘only’ still a post-doc, there’s so much more after this, but stopping and realizing this makes me feel both appreciative and a little shocked about how time goes by as well).
So now these last few weeks that we’re here I am extra mindful of the squirrels outside (we don’t have those in the homecountry), the homeless people falling over after taking opiates (we don’t have those either; at least not visible), the potholes in the streets, the public bathrooms everywhere, the American flags on every building (in the homecountry you only put the flag up when a member of the royal family has their birthday or when you kid graduates high school) and the easy commute by car that leaves your hair like you did it at home (the homecountry is the country of bikes, but also that of tons of rain… not the best combination).
But this is also the country where quitting your job means no health insurance anymore, and where people go bankrupt because of medical costs. You call that freedom, I call that scary. Coming from a country of lots of social security (although I notice that in a crappy economy that is the first thing to go), that is something that I value more than I thought. Also, this is not the country where all of our family lives. And after BlueEyes was born, we quickly decided that eventually we were going to move back. And eventually will be in 3 weeks. Three weeks. I’m going to need new dreams.
Filed under advice for foreign post-docs, baby, cultural differences, cycling, disgruntled postdoc, health insurance, marriage, observations, postdoc, safety, travel
This time I want to talk about finding a post-doc mentor. This topic of course not only applies to foreign post-docs but to anyone looking for a post-doc position. Lots and lots and lots and lots has been written about finding a mentor. And when I say mentor here, I mean the PI in the lab that you decided to join. Because of course you can always find more mentors in the people that surround you.
However, there are a couple things you might want to consider as a (non-native English speaking) foreigner:
First, a major reason – at least to me – to work in the US as a post-doc for a couple of years was to become more proficient in speaking and writing in English. In order to learn this, it is important that your PI, who you will be writing papers with and who will critique your presentations, is good at these things. This does not mean that your mentor needs to be American, but it is a good idea to go through hir publications and/or see them speak at a meeting and check out their style. Also, when you interview, ask who writes the papers. Because your mentor can be great at writing, if ze isn’t willing to teach you that, it’s useless.
Another reason for me to go to the US is that there are so many great scientific meetings here. Of course there are also great meetings in Europe, but living here is a great opportunity to go to meetings that are otherwise much more expensive to fly to. But you need to find out if your future mentor would be willing to let you go to meetings or whether ze chains you to the bench and never allows you to leave the lab. Ask this when you interview.
A last thing to consider specific to foreign post-docs is funding. Since your presence (and that of your family) here in the US is dependent on your visa, it is nice if your future mentor can offer you some guarantee of funding. Because it’s not that great if after a year the lab runs out of money and you need to find something else fast or you will need to leave the country. Of course another option is to come with your own funding – I will write about that later. Again, this is important for anyone, not just foreigners, but an important thing to remember is that if you’re not a US citizen, you’re not allowed to apply for an NRSA for example.
Filed under academia, advice for foreign post-docs, cultural differences, decisions, funding, grant writing, life in the lab, managing people, meeting, mentoring, networking, postdoc, publishing papers, role models, travel