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postdocs -- ask your mentor

aloisia schmid a-schmi at uiuc.edu
Thu Aug 14 15:55:42 EST 1997

In article <5sv6f1$cab$1 at light.nih.gov>, bjag at ln.nimh.nih.gov (Bharathi
Jagadeesh) wrote:

> aloisia schmid (a-schmi at uiuc.edu) wrote
> >:    I don't think any of us see our post-docs as low-paid entry 
> >: level jobs.  Far from it.  It is all too clear these are jobs with NO
> I have a question for Alice, and the others who are posting; how is your
> current situation (post-doc, perception of the future in science) different
> from what you expected? If it's not what you expected, how is it different?
> This information might be useful to young graduate students listening
> to these posts. 
> Science is a high pressure profession, and I was aware
> of that, certainly from the period when I was in graduate school (if
> not before). I knew that scientists were not well paid, and that post-docs
> were not well paid. I knew that there was no guarantee of an academic
> tenure track position, and that even those in tenure track positions
> had to fight hard for funding, and continuing their research.
> But, I am also in a field where I _do_ get to chase butterflies, where
> my advisors get to chase butterflies. If the powers that be stop letting
> me chase butterflies [Alice, thanks for the allusion to chasing butterflies;
> I recently went to a garden, and watched hundreds of butterflies flitting,
> and realize it is a very apt analogy for what I enjoy about doing
> science], I hope that I can find another paying job that I don't hate.
> But I don't think I'll regret the years I spent getting to do this. And,
> lest something think that I am a naive graduate student who has only
> invested a year of my life, I am a post-doc, and have many years invested
> in doing science, but I have _enjoyed_ what I've done, not seen it as dues
> to pay for the future. 
> I have learned a few new things as I've "grown up", including one that
> Julia Frugoli mentioned -- that is that you probably need to be in the
> top 1% these days, rather than in the top 10% to get a tenure track
> position, especially if you have any limits on your flexibility
> imposed by family, other requirements. Another is the surprising number of
> institutions that require that "professors" fund a large part of their
> salary through outside research grants. These are things I think I was
> unaware of, but most of the rest has been what I expected. I mentioned
> to one of my advisors that many institutions require 50% of your salary
> support to come from outside sources these days, and he was surprised!
> -- 
> Bharathi Jagadeesh/bjag at ln.nimh.nih.gov
> Lab of Neuropsychology, NIMH
> Building 49, Room 1b80
> Bethesda, Maryland 20892
> (312) 496-5625 x270

Dear Bharathi,

     You asked how my current situation is different from what I expected:

     Well, I would say there are only a few differences in my post-doc
from what  I expected.  But they are significant.  

     First of all, when you are in graduate school and living on
$12,000/year, for 6 years or so, becoming a post-doc and earning about 60%
(or more) more than that seems like heaven.  I had little preparation for
the fact that I would be earning only about $400 month more than I did as
a graduate student and that I would now have to pay back those student
loans.  No more defering them.  So in actuality, I feel poorer than before
and I am just really getting tired of that. 

     Secondly, I think I was not prepared for the fatigue.  in graduate
school, I routinely worked vampire hours.  I don't do that anymore (not
that I am unwilling---but the university makes it difficult to be in the
building really late (after midnight))---and it means I am getting less
work done.  And so a vicious cycle begins. You get less work done, you
start berating yourself, you get less productive,.....  

     Also, I never expected more before.  Now that I AM a 
post-doc and have friends leaving academics to take jobs in industry, and
see so few of my friends getting faculty positions they love and
enjoy---and seeing no one get any of the perks you would associate with a
successful career in academics----I am beginning to long for satisfaction
in areas of my life that have nothing to do with work.  I want to enjoy an
occasional lazy week-end away from the lab.  I haven't had any week-ends
off in YEARS.  This last Saturday I was thinking, "God, I would love to
stay home today.  I do not want to work today."  It was a rainy day and
all I wanted to do was stay home and be domestic---clean house and do
laundry, etc., watch a movie on TV, maybe read a novel....and I realized
that if I were in industry, not only would I have most week-ends off, i
would have three times as much money all at the same time!  

     Finally, I used to think i was in the top 1%.  I really did.  Now I
have seen in my boss the top 1% and I know I am no where near that.  

                  That is just the start of how my post-doc has surprised me...


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