I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back (online) again. Probably soon!
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
Coming from a country that’s just a little bigger than the state of Maryland, but with more than three times as many inhabitants, I am not used to seeing a lot of empty land. Wherever you are in my homecountry, you’re usually just a short car (or bicycle!) ride away from the nearest supermarket. However, here in the States I am always astounded by the amount of emptiness, for example when we were driving through Wyoming on our way back from Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
Look at that, there’s just NOTHING there! It always gives me a bit of reverse claustrophobia. Is there a word for that?
Nothing says back to work after a good nice vacation like a good spell of the post-holiday blues. When I thought about going back to work yesterday all I could think was: ”Yuck!” The feeling that you have to do actual work again, and that the choice isn’t beach or pool, but lab or office. Not caipirinha or mojito but paper or grant. Yuck again. I have been complaining about this after every vacation I’ve been on, but only found out today that it’s actually a thing. According to WebMDyou should set big goals to fight it off, like change your career (if that means become a professor, then yes please!), make more money (also yes please!), or plant a tree. I just made artificial cerebrospinal fluid to keep my slices in, does that count too?
|That’s me with BlueEyes on my back in flip flops with a palm tree in the back, just strolling.
One of the exciting things about going back to the home country to visit is that we can eat all of the foods that are unavailable or hard to find here in the US. Here’s a list of things we ate in the past ten days (pictures are not my own because I was either too lazy to take a picture or too lazy to take them off the camera yet):
Raw herring, eaten with raw onion.
Bitterballen and kroketten: they’re both ragout with a fried crust around them. Kroketten are best eaten with fries served with mayonaise.
Lots of awesome Indonesian food, all of it homemade by Dr. BrownEyes’ family.
And last but not least: bread with cheese. And with this I mean tasty wheat bread with good old cheese!
With our suitcases filled with cheese, stroopwafels and liquorice we came back home yesterday evening. I’ll write more later about the fruitful and less fruitful scientific meetings I had!