Jobmageddon

I believe most of you know that our R01 grant was not renewed. Our score was pretty close to the payline, what means that “maybe” it can be funded in a couple of months. The thing is, we don’t have a couple of months. After the money from our current grant ends, that’s it. Everybody is jobless. I know we’ve made several mistakes along the way, and now we are paying for them. But there’s no time to blame or shame, now it’s time to look forward! I cannot say I was surprised. I saw it coming, and I guess I had my deep crisis during the holidays. So now when the news was finally out, I just had one thing in mind. It’s time for jobmageddon – apply to ALL the jobs!

As weird as it might seem,  I was almost happy with the news. Reading @IHStreet post about feeling you are just not enough, I realized that’s exactly where I was before the grant news. I receive several job alerts in my email, so I knew that there were jobs that I could apply. However, after having applied to several jobs in 2013, unsuccessfully, impostor syndrome was all over me. I thought I was just not good enough for TT, so why bother to apply? But there’s nothing like a kick in the butt to make you move forward! In reality, with luck I will have a paycheck for a couple of extra months. So now I NEED TO BE ENOUGH FOR SOMETHING. Anything.

And it made me think. What are my options? What’s out there besides academia? I talked to several people on twitter and IRL, read articles, really tried to open my mind. The more I read, the more I felt I really love academia and didn’t want to quit. I am not saying I could not be happy working in industry or something related, but I realized I simply LOVE the academic environment. I like working in the bench, but not for the sake of pipetting. I love the whole research process, with a purpose! To come up with ideas of new experiments, designing and performing them… and then getting the data. There’s a special joy on plotting your data that’s almost addictive! And then there’s mentoring and teaching. Showing a whole new world to your students, and feeling really rewarded to see their progress. How can I live without it?

Then I made up my mind. I am not quitting. I am not giving up. Not yet, and not without a fight! On the other hand, the idea of getting a TT position in a R01-Institution kind of started to scare me. The actual funding situation and the constant pressure to get grants and to publish. And also realistically, I know I missed the TT boat long ago. There are holes in my CV that cannot be filled anymore – my research is not very sexy (at least not for NIH standards) and I don’t have any US grant or glam publications in my CV. But R01-Institutions are not the only available jobs in academia! There are SLACs 🙂 I cannot say how lucky I am to have a collaborator working in a SLAC. As a foreigner and academically ‘raised’ to just aim for a R01-TT job, I didn’t really know what a SLAC was until starting our collaboration. I know my CV also has holes for a SLAC position, I have very little teaching experience. But this hole it’s easier (and more pleasant) to fix, IMO.

So here I am now. I am not literally applying to ALL the jobs, but now that I see no light at the end of this (grant) tunnel, I started to look at job adds with a different mindset. I am focusing on job adds in the Chronicle website instead of Naturejobs or Sciencecareers (more SLAC jobs there, and also more VAP, that could buy me some time AND improve my teaching skills). I am still applying to TT jobs, and with my eyes opened to local *alternative* jobs. I am hopeful. My applications look better. I am still the same candidate, I still think I am not enough for a big tier 1 University position, but I must be good enough for SOMETHING!

Now I see that if our grant had been renewed I’d probably just have continue here, doing more of the same and with no real perspective of a future in academia. It may still not work, and I may have to try to be happy outside my beloved academia, but at least I am trying. And in a way I feel I must thank NIH for denying our grant. Without this shake in my life, I feel I would be forever still.

Is it time for a change?

Just realized my last blog post (except for the #DiversityJC ones) was on June, 18th. Yes, I’m not a very active blogger, but no, I’m not okay. Writing definitely helps, but I don’t want to sound like a broken record – that’s why I’ve been away for so long, I suppose. But I need to get it out, somehow…

When did my crisis begin? I’m not sure. I believe during job season last year, when I applied for 15-20 TT positions at MRU and didn’t get a single interview. Shortly after that I started to attend to job talks for a position in our Program, and started to realize how my CV falls short of theirs!  Decided to write an R03 grant and try to teach – to fill up some holes in my CV. Teaching went great, but my R03 was not discussed. When I talked to the PO, it was not because of the science, but because I’m a senior PD and I’d need to receive research staff status for them to fund me. Except that our R01 grant is ending next January and they can’t promote me now. Sigh.

In the middle of all this I met someone. Even though I was busy and totally focused in my career, one cannot predict romance.  I tried to fight it, and I was still strong enough to tell him that I could not promise anything for the future. He owns business in town and told me he would not move from here. There’s no place for me at a MRU here. So case closed. We split apart. Buuuuuut, of course, he planted the seed. I have forgotten that I also needed someone by my side. That I still have some hope of getting married and having kids. And I was sad… I started to doubt if I wanted to go for TT at a MRU. I started to look for *alternative* jobs in town. Because of him? Not sure. I think partially, but wanted to see what was out there in case that our R01 was not renewed. Didn’t see anything that caught my attention.

Then we wrote the R01 renewal, new job season arrived. I had a big project to finish and needed to write the paper, so I decided I was not going to “waste my time” applying for all the jobs. Why would I bother trying jobs that kind of suit me if I still don’t have a grant on my own nor glam publications? Started to look for jobs at SLACs too, but most of them were in tiny cities, that is for sure a no-no for me. I finished my project, I’m almost done with the manuscript. Ended up applying for a single position, the only one I found that asks for my specific neuroscience area of expertise, in a SLAC. Haven’t heard from the job and our R01 grant received a 16th percentile score (we are still in the grey zone). Grant ends in January 30th, and I still don’t know if I’ll have a job or not next year!

As the end of our grant gets closer, so does my stress level. I start questioning myself why this is happening to me. Bad choices, I should have gone to a different lab for a second postdoc and not the same I’ve been doing since grad school. Bad mentoring, because no one told me I should apply for grants by the time I’ve got here and we had 2 R01s in the lab (life was good). But that’s all done and now I have to face that I cannot come back in time and fix my mistakes. Now I feel I don’t want to go for a TT position at a MRU, I don’t want to live under the constant stress of having to get grants and publish to get tenure. But then I wonder, is it really that? Or I’m just giving up because I feel I’m just not good enough? Or, do I feel like choosing a TT pathway would definitely end my dreams of finding someone and starting a family? In this meantime, I briefly dated someone else, thought that my ex was done with me, but recently we had a *deja vu*. He seems not to be over with me, I’m definitely not over with him. He is helping me a lot with this crisis, despite we don’t talk about “us” anymore. He is also not happy with his job and thinking about making a move. I know we cannot talk about us until I know I’m going to be here for a little longer. Or until I know what I want to do with my life. And I also think that it will not be wise to make career decisions in the middle of all this mess. But maybe I’ll just have to…

 

 

My first R03 review

So as I told you before, my first R03 grant was triaged last month. Not much surprise, as that was my very first submission and I basically did it without supervision or science advice. Of course, I did the best I could, and there was a tiny bit of hope to get a score. But it didn’t happen.

However, when I received the reviews, they were not that bad. On average, all my scores were around 3, except for approach, where I’ve got a big 6. There were good moments such as “Concerns about XXX diminish enthusiasm for this otherwise excellent study”. But they had a really big concern about me being a PD: “Lacks an academic appointment and is dependent on her mentor for laboratory space and access to facilities”. So why on earth a PD is able to submit a R03 grant as the PI if the reviewers are going to be all cranky about that?

And it gets worse!

Other thing that the reviewers were all confused was about my actual department: “This laboratory is in the Department of Mathematics, which appears to be an unusual place for a neuroscience laboratory”. Yes, my former PI retired and co-PI took over. So despite being a neuroscientist and have absolutely no idea about math, I’m in the math Dept. And that’s why my PI cannot help much with the scientific part of my grant.

Despite this advice, my former PI is the closest and better help that I can have. He gave me some tips about how to fix the approach of my grant, but he suggested me to apply for an R21 instead of an R03. Lots of people on twitter suggested alternatives such as K01, F32… Gosh, this grant applying thing is so complicated! Anyways, twitter as always did help me a lot with advices and guidelines. I emailed my PO and scheduled a phone interview. I’ll keep you posted.