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.

Visiting Professor Opportunity in a SLAC. Worth taking it?

Today was one of those days that I’m really glad to be on twitter and have awesome followers! All started when I had my weekly skype meeting with my collaborator and we talked about a possible 1-year visiting professor position at the SLAC where she teaches. Then I posted this tweet, and you can follow all the input that I’ve got from there all day long:

After talking (and thinking) about it during this whole day I believe I can write down my thoughts so far. Most of the people said “Apply anyways, you can always decide later if you take the job or not”. This would be true, if this was not a position in a place where I have a strong collaborator (and friend), where I’ve taught the last two springs, and personally know the chair. If I eventually apply and get this job, I can’t turn it down, unless I get a permanent offer. If our grant is not renewed, the decision becomes much easier – a job is much better than no job. Period. However, our grant is very close to the payline and there’s still hope it will be funded.

But even if the grant is funded, should I stay here? I’ve been in this lab for 7 years, clearly doing research that’s not competitive enough for getting grants. I’ve been doing much of the same and not being able to grow (research-wise) at all. My R03 was not discussed because I’m a senior PD with no strings attached to the University. My PI said that if our grant is renewed, I would be promoted to research staff and then I could re-apply for my R03 grant. But there’re no guarantees that it will get funded and even if it does, I don’t think it would make my CV improve that much in order to be realistically competitive for a TT position in a R01 Institution.

I really don’t want to give up academia and research. And I really enjoy teaching, so a position in a SLAC looks appealing to me. However, despite having some experience teaching here and then, I was never fully responsible for a course and that’s a big gap in my CV when applying for SLACs. So staying here in the same lab will not improve this, unless I find some teaching side-job in a community college around here. Most of the comments on twitter were positive about applying to the temporary position to get teaching experience and improve my CV, if ultimate goal is to apply for SLACs positions.

Of course, I don’t even know if I’ll get the job to begin with. But it’s good to be forced to think about it, because in the end of the day it’s not about this job in particular, but where I want to go with my life! So far, the pro’s of applying are that I’ll get more experience teaching and will have a more competitive CV after that year. I could use this year to doing another PD somewhere else, but I believe the research hole in my CV (no grants or glam pubs to get a regular TT position) is much harder to fill than the teaching deficiency (needed for a SLAC position).

On the other hand, there are several things that terrifies me. First, the SLAC is in a tiny town (7000 ppl). I am really a city person, and for me, the bigger, the better. I’m currently single and usually I stay home 2-3 nights per week. Simply cannot stay one whole day at home and crave for social interaction all the time. I know getting this job would mean a LOT of work and this will probably slow me down for a while. But I know how miserable I get when I don’t go out and have social interactions. I know small town doesn’t mean that I won’t have social opportunities, but the idea of living in such a tiny place scares me. A lot. And I’m not talking about being not confortable about it, I’m worried about getting depressed and not able to make it. I had 2 experiences when I tried to spend a weekend out of civilization and had panic attacks. Literally, I cannot take silence, green and peaceful environment. It sounds weird, but that’s exactly how I am.

Then you may say, it’s only for 1 year, it will pass so fast you won’t even notice it! True. But then comes my second point. Regardless my professional life, I still have dreams of finding a partner and having kids. I’m almost 40 yo now, and in my mind, spending this year in a temporary position means to literally give up any dream that I still have of having a family. And last, as I said, it’s a temporary position. What are the real chances of getting a real TT position in a SLAC after that year is done? I’d be applying for new jobs after being there for 3-4 months, and interview process would be in the middle of that crazy year.

I believe I covered everything I wanted to say. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it!

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…

 

 

I feel like I’ve failed

So lately I’ve been focusing on trying to understand why I’m in such a mess lately. Of course, a lot is going on in my life, but seriously I’ve never been so beaten down as in the last couple of weeks. It’s not just that I don’t know if our grant is going to be renewed and I’ll have a job next year. It’s not just that I don’t know what I want to do next. It’s not just the end of my “relationship”. Or my green card that never arrives.

Deep inside I feel like I’m a failure. Feel that I’ve failed in my professional life and I’ve failed in my personal life. I am almost 40 years old and I see myself in a foreigner country, with no stable job and no family around me. Deep inside I know that we make our own choices in life, and I know I could still be “married” if I wanted. But after that I also know I focused myself so hard into my professional life, leaving every feeling and every possibility of relationship for a future “after I get a job”. Years went by, I had to spend a year away in home country, and when back everything I did was to find that dream TT job. That never happened.

It seems that this last short relationship just made me aware to the fact that I am getting old, and I’m getting out of time. I still dream to find someone and have kids, but, can I really dream about that AND a TT position? While I was with him it seems that I lost my focus in a certain way. It was good, I was happy. But I lost my focus. Now that I’m finally seeing things clearer now, I can see my fear of the unknown was indeed fear of having to choose between my work or love life. So, as everything is over now, I should be happy and just focus on my career again, right?

Wrong. The little bug has been awaken. It’s there, all the time. Your biological clock is ticking and you have to be aware of that. Don’t shut yourself down like you’ve done during all these years, find someone nice and just settle down. I wish things could be simple as that. I’ve never been that kind of woman. If I was, I’d be married to my long-time BF from UG and be *happily* working as a dentist in a little town in the middle of nowhere at home country. I always wanted more. I always had big dreams. I wanted to be big. Today I realized I can’t be scared of being alone. Maybe a family is not for me and I was born to be by myself. Maybe I’d regret it someday. But I think that’s just the way I am, and I’m way to old to change it.

Changing is hard to do

This wasn’t an easy week for me. Started with a huge wake up call from former PI telling me that our R01 is very unlikely to be renewed and I have to behave as I’m going to be out of a job by January 31th, 2015. Also, in order to be successful into this new funding tendency, I’ll have to come up with a wonderful idea and use a totally different technique that no one has ever used before in our field of research. Ah, and also have preliminary data for that, of course. Not forgetting to mention that our R01 is ending and there’s no money (and time, and expertise) for anything like setting up a new technique in the lab! Later in the week, I received the news that my R03 was triaged. That didn’t really surprise me, I really didn’t have high expectations due to it being my very first submission of a grant and with the shortage of funding to new researchers. But such a bad timing for unpleasant news!

I get it. I can’t continue doing more of the same. I have to change. I have to learn new techniques. Look at my research from a different perspective. But right now I also need to look for a job. There’s no space for me as a TT researcher, at least not yet, not with my CV. I feel like I need to develop an strategy of plans A, B, C… and Z! But my problem is that I can’t see any thing that pleases me right now. I could try to go to industry or other “alternative careers”. And give up my research dream that I’ve been pursuing for about 15 years? That seems so lame.  I could also try to go for a teaching position in a tiny small college and try to do some research in my *free* hours. Very unlikely to be happy, but at least I’d have a job…  I could also try to apply for another postdoc and change my research focus, moving to a lab that does fancier research. But after being here for so long, I always told myself that I was done with PDs, that just wanted to move from here if it was to have my own lab somewhere else. And be able to move on with my personal life also!

Now, what I need to do is start applying for jobs. Everywhere, anything. But that makes me so sad. I don’t wanna give up my research. I don’t wanna give up my dreams. But on the other hand, I don’t know if I want this crazy life of writing grants desperately and living in the constant stress of not being funded. I feel lost and I see no light at the end of the tunnel.

You gotta know what you want!

Today I woke up with that Rolling Stone’s song in my head: “You can’t always get what you want”. Really? In fact lately I’m leaning towards the “Be careful with what you wish for”. But this brings the big question: Do I really know what I want? Do YOU really know what you want?

Professionally speaking, of course postdocs want a job. A REAL job, one that brings stability, professional realization. Personally, as a single woman reaching my 40s, I still hope to find someone that I can share my life with and start a family. Am I asking too much? That’s what I’ve been telling myself for a while now. But is it? Really asking too much?

I described myself as a postdoc looking for a TT position. That’s always what I’ve dreamed of, having a lab, gathering people around to continue my research. Teaching undergrads and graduate students to be scientists. Lately I have been very cranky and thinking a lot about my future. Of course, this has a lot to do with a certain Mr Handsome that appeared into my life. That bothered me a lot, specially because I don’t want to change any plans of life because of anyone. At least not now. But after reflecting on the issue for a couple of days I realized that this has nothing to do with him. He was just the trigger.

I explain. I’ve been seriously disappointed with the academic situation. I’ve been attending to job talks at my University where all I see are candidates with glam publications or grants. As I have neither of those, my dream of getting a TT position gets farther and farther away every day. But as always, I tend not to really think about my problems, and keep postponing the pain. After meeting him, and being directly asked if I wouldn’t want to continue living in this town (he probably couldn’t move anywhere), it really made me think.

Is a TT position what I really want?  Do I want to deal with the pressure of getting grants and tenure status? Would I be happy if I would just do science somewhere? Is it really that bad if I turn into an research assistant and continue here if our R01 gets renewed? I feel like if I had a little bit more freedom in my research (i.e. get a personal grant) I would be pretty much happy and with a certain stability. Food for thoughts…

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!