Should I be bothered or be proud?

Before I start my whining I need to set up the context. I came to work as a postdoc in a multidisciplinary lab, that combines “theoreticians” and “experimentalists”. Two PIs, two R01s. NIH complained about experiments overlapping, we just got the experimental grant renewed. A couple of years ago the experimentalist PI retired and I’ve been pretty much “bossless”. My current PI doesn’t have a clue about what I actually do in the lab! Despite being really smart and able to give me a lot of science insights, there’s no lab experience. None. But things have been working fine so far. Got used to be on my own. Graduate student is also under my direct supervision, as well as two undergrads.

Now we have little more than a year left for our R01 to finish and it’s time to send a renewal. Current PI put some ideas together and it kind of looks nice, but… just too old fashioned and not sexy. Our research is not glam enough for us to submit just that! The other two research associates (that will be co-PIs in the grant) also gave some contributions, but mainly to their in vitro experiments, that’s about one third of the grant. So as I pointed the weakness of our grant I was awarded with the task to fix it.

So I submitted my very first R03 grant and I’m applying for a couple of jobs. I’m also working on writing another NSF grant with collaborator. But every chance I have I stop to read and try to work in our R01. Slowly. And every time I tried and couldn’t work I was feeling guilty. Thinking that if our R01 is not renewed everybody is going to lose their jobs. Terrified with this idea, but still unable to make it look better. Thought it may be something that cannot be fixed, or that I just can’t do it. But I have tons of ideas for my own future research, I know where I want to go and things flow so easy with no pressure!

So before leaving for SFN I sent the updated version for the PIs to see what I’ve done and complement, as there’s still a lot of work to do. Coming back after more than a week, guess what? Nothing changed! No one worked a single bit in the grant. Then I realized. It’s not that I can’t do it, but in fact I’m bothered, and now that I realized it I’m angry and tired. This is just not my job. I can’t have all this responsibility in my back. That’s their job. Their salary is about double than mine. My name is not going to appear as a co-PI in the grant.

I know one might think it’s good for me, that’s learning and it will help me long term. But in the middle of all this I have little time (almost no time, actually) to go to the bench and do MY experiments. Gotta publish too. Ahhhhh right now I’m just tired. But I’m really wondering… should I be bothered or be proud?

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Research dreams shaken after SFN (gotta go where the money is)

So SFN is officially over and now I have time to assimilate all things that happened there. As always, SFN was a little bit overwhelming: posters, networking, and of course meeting lots of old (and new = banter) friends. Doing all this for 5 days requires a lot of energy! This SFN I didn’t go shopping. Didn’t go to the zoo or sightseeing anything. I was all the time in the convention center, working and working hard.

This was my 11th SFN meeting. I attend to it every year since 2002 (except last year when I had my visa problems). Along these years I met many researchers and I believe I can say that I know almost everybody in the subarea of the big area of my research (does it make sense?). So it is a subarea. And it’s not cancer, or Parkinson, or similar. No one dies because of it, and unfortunately there’s no much incentive to it. Number of posters were clearly diminished, it’s been a couple of years since there was a nanosymposium about it.

This year I had more background to talk to researchers about research and funding. Thanks to twitter I know what’s going on in the big research world, but I had no idea what was going on in the microcosmos of my research. I am terrified. People slowly leaving the field, or asking grants for some other topic and working in both at the same time. Talked to a member of the search committee for my top job app and he told me that he changed fields because “you gotta go where the money is”. Another European researcher told me he has been in his position for 5 years and just now he got his first grant in this line of research. Before he was asking money for something else and doing this at a side project. Always.

I still have that romantic view of science, of getting excited with data, with results – and not really worried about top techniques or top journals. I still wanted to do animal physiology and not intracellular measurements of calcium currents, or genetic manipulations of a specific receptor or ion channel. Don’t take me wrong, I believe that’s really important, but it’s just not what I’ve been trained to. And now I’m starting to believe that I have to rethink my future research to find out hot topics that can be combined with my research, not because I care about them or because I think they are necessary, but because I need to get a job and money for my research.

This makes me feel like a research whore.

Academic Job Season

It’s that time of the year. Job Season.

After being more than a year away from the US, it took me a while to get everything on place again. When I finally did it, decided to write my very first NIH grant proposal. Just an R03 to begin, but still, it took me A LOT of time to write it. Then when it was finally done I started to look at TT job adds. There are many positions out there! Of course, lots of glam places where they expect you to have a CNS paper (at least). Then there are those adds that are very general: “The Department invite applicants for TT positions in Neuroscience”. Do I fit there? Of course, but so do another 300 candidates!

Anyways, started making my first list. Came up with a big number for me: 26 positions. After discussing the list with some people and having in mind that I wouldn’t have time to apply to every position accordingly, came up with a short list: 11 positions. This sounds very little for what I’ve been listening around. People say that they applied to 50-80 places to get a job! What I also hear a lot is that some places don’t even read your cover letter if you don’t have funding. As a foreigner, all my history of funding has been fellowships on home country. They are really competitive and hard to get, but who gives a damn about it here? Afff

Against all the odds I’m applying to these 11 positions. There is one, a lone one, a beautiful one, that I’m a little more hopeful. They are looking for someone in the specific area of Neuro…ology that I currently work. It’s a very good University and people say the city is beautiful. I’m always afraid of having expectations high and be devastated later on, so I protect myself with a self-inflicted impostor syndrome. It will probably won’t work, but I still have some hope.

I’ll keep you posted.