Advice to new postdocs

Tonight on twitter biochembelle started a trend of tweets giving some valuable advice to postdocs. And that made me think about how I’ve been doing it all wrong.

“A postdoc is a job. A *temporary* job. You (postdocs) should be thinking about where you want to go next and what you need to get there…”

When I moved to the US, I didn’t know if I wanted to stay here or come back to home country. So I just came here and started working. Without any clear goal in mind. I also moved to a lab that did pretty much the same as what I did during my PhD, so that was my first mistake. You should go somewhere you can grow, learn new techniques and expand your research.

“Then look for opportunities to get what you need. As a postdoc, primary job is research. Publications are metric of productivity…”

Working in the lab of a senior researcher, there was a lot of romanticism about the questions of our research. We don’t work in a top-priority field, but even then, there are stronger questions that can be asked, new methods to be learned! Along the years our subfield became smaller and smaller and there was no motivation from my PI to change the field of research that he’s been working for more than 30 years! But, as a postdoc, one has freedom to work in aside projects! Of course, I did publish during all these years, but I don’t have any publication in glam journals, and my top IF is around 5. So, focus on publishing, yes, but aside all those little projects try to work on some research that you may publish in a good journal.

“Research & pubs are important. No one will argue that. But alone they’re not sufficient (especially when looking outside academia).”

There were two R01s in the lab when I first arrived and not so many people working there. So we were pretty “rich” and I never bothered (and no one told me) to write grants or apply for travel grants. When I first heard about the possibility of getting a K99, I was already passed the 5 year-limit to apply. NRSA training grants are for new postdocs learning new techniques, and I was already too “trained” for that. After 5 years in the same lab I just applied for an R03 last cycle. That’s just wrong! If you want to stay in academia writing grants will be your everyday life, so you better get started as soon as possible!

Now I am in the job market for a TT position and I feel that my CV basically lacks high impact publications and funding. I’m trying to fill those blanks, working hard on a project that I believe can be published in a good journal and also applying for grants. I think I’m already too old to go for another postdoc where I can have better opportunities of learning and publishing. But it may happen, if our grant is not funded and I don’t get a faculty job. I’m still hopeful things can work for me, but if only I had known those things before, I’d have done things different and I could be in my dream job!

On pseudonymity

I’m not a big ass scientist (yet). Most of the people don’t give a fuck about what I say on twitter or when I occasionally blog. But still, I don’t write under my real name. Why? Because… academic life! How many times have you heard “Twitter is a waste of time”, “You should focus on writing papers instead of blogging”, etc… I’m a postdoc applying for jobs. I have my reasons. And so does every scientist that twits or blogs under a pseudonym. That’s why it’s not ok to out someone’s else pseudonym. I don’t care if you were insulted, or “endured 3 years of unwarranted, undeserved unpleasantness from a pseudonymous blogger”. There’s nothing preventing to answer or fight with the pseudo person! Simply outing the blogger seems such a childish way to fight. And it just shows who is the real bully of the history.

I feel like it’s easier to be yourself when you write under a pseudonym. “Hiding” behind a pseudonym may give you freedom to say whatever you wouldn’t say IRL. The good and the bad. But I’ve been actively on Twitter for more than a year and I really don’t believe that the main reason people don’t write under their real names is to insult others. The academic world is as nasty as any other world, and what’s in the internet is public and lives forever. When I started to use twitter I was writing under my real name. I would think 300 times before writing anything, wondering what my boss would think, or if it would be appropriate. After I adopted my pseudonym, I found it so much easier just to be myself and write whatever was in my mind. That makes me wonder, who is really hiding here – the ones that write under a pseudonym or the ones that write under their real names?

Regardless on how you write, personally I found the most supportive group of people on Twitter. Answers to scientific questions, proofreading of my job applications, samples of grants and statements, and most important of all: personal support. I met some of my twitter friends in real life. We do google hangouts to discuss science or just for fun. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care how many papers you have published or where do you work. All I care is people are there for me. And I’ll be there for them. That’s all.