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!

Open Access Publishing

Recently I’ve participated in a survey on publishing in neuroscience and it was all about publishing in Open access journals. I don’t think I was of much help, as I never published any paper on these journals. But it made me think about why this happened. My first papers were published on wherever my advisor wanted to submit them, as I really didn’t know exactly what that meant and just wanted to have a publication! But later on… what happened?

When you decide where to submit your work first of all comes your area of research AND the status of the journal. My area of research doesn’t have high impact factor journals, and most of the top researchers publish their results in one specific journal (X, IF around 5). Of course, if there is some ephys involved they publish in Journal of Neuroscience, but that’s not usual. So as a graduate student I “grew up” reading papers from that  X journal and dreaming that one day they would accept a publication of mine. Time passed and now I have 3 papers published there. So now it became a matter of being used to submit my papers to this X journal first. It’s just a matter of habit! I also realized that I don’t know ANY journal specific to my area that are open access.  So I googled open access journals + my specific area of research. Found one, yay! Never heard about it, tried to see the IF of that journal. Tried by title, by ISSN.

***** No matching journals were found. *****

Really? Ok, so I guess this is not a good journal to try to publish. But really? Of course IF matters and every scientist wants to publish at Nature, Science, and beyond. But when it comes to more realistic IFs does it really matter? When it comes to pubmed, everybody will find your research no matter where you publish. Quoting Damian Pattinson, the editorial director of PLoS ONE in a recent blog post “it’s a good time to remember that it is the papers, not the journals they´re published in, that make the impact.” PLoS ONE has a pretty good IF, so should I care about being specific to my area of research?

On the other hand, I receive TOCs from all the specific journals to my field, knowing exactly what’s been published out there. My field is not that big, and I know most of the big guys from the field. Sometimes someone publishes a paper in a totally different journal that takes me a while to find out. That is one of the things that make me skeptical about publishing in somewhere other than the usual journals.  What’s your opinion about this? Should we alternate between specific journals and open access journals? If so, how which criteria would you use to choose what to publish on each one of them?