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Postdocs

matkisso at opal.tufts.edu matkisso at opal.tufts.edu
Thu Aug 14 11:26:15 EST 1997


The attitudes towards post-doctoral positions displayed in this thread strike
me as ... narrow-minded?  That's a kinder word than what first popped into my
mind.  Some people dismiss the training aspect of a post-doc, others reduce the
time to mere resume padding and networking.  I'm interested by the prevailing
notion that a shiny new Ph. D. qualifies you to run an independent laboratory.

The _only_ thing I agree with is the outdated $19K salaries for NRSA 
fellowships.

Although I'm only starting the fifth year of my Ph. D., I've been in labs for
over 10 years.  I've seen a state school, a smaller private institution, and
the World's Greatest University from the inside.  I've seen post-docs who
stayed in the same field (same molecule!), switched fields (immuno->neuro), 
switched techniques (patch clamp->molecuar), changed disciplines (physics->
neuro), left for law firms, got turned into faculty, you _name_ it.

Here's what I think:

Current biomedical science operates pretty much on the apprenticeship model.  A
grad student is an apprentice, learning the basics of how to handle the tools,
think through a problem, get the work done.  A post-doc is a journeyman,
skilled at the basics, but needing to learn how to interact with the patrons
(funding agencies), sell the wares (write papers, give talks), and supervise
the apprentices.  A (insert rank) professor (or senior scientist for industry)
is a master, prepared to handle all the duties of keeping the shop running,
including paying the rent and the salaries, and coming up with new designs.

I have never seen anyone truly prepared to run a lab fresh out of grad school. 
_Yes_, you're a skilled worker.  _Yes_, you can tough it out through adversity. 
_Yes_ you have proven your potential.  However, you have likely see only one
style of science, one type of departmental politics, one way of handling those
pesky interpersonal lab dynamics. 
  
The prevailing sentiment I see is that no one cares too much what you did for
your Ph. D.  They expect your post-doc to be the measure of your worth.
Perseverance alone can get you a Ph. D.  The growing independence in the post-
doctoral years is more a test of how you'll be on your own.

A Ph. D. is a union card.  Sure you get trained in how to work in a lab and
carry out research, but I learned that as a technician.  What I'm learning in
my graduate training is a depth of thought I never had as a tech.  What I would
hope to learn as a post-doc is a breadth of approach I will not learn in a
single lab.

But this is me, and my 0.02.  I'll go put on my asbestos underwear, now, and
await your flames.

Peg.  





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