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!

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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.

Midpostdoc crisis

All this OA discussion around twitter this week made me enter in a midpostdoc crisis! Even though I am into my 7th year of being a PD, I consider myself way too naive and still with a romantic vision of science. Before this week, I was really punishing myself for not having a single paper published in an OA journal. C’mon, we are cool scientists that tweet and blog, how come one don’t have an OA paper? I was planning on publishing my next paper on OA (if the budget allowed, of course!). But, after reading all the discussion I’m having second thoughts about it…

So everything started with a simple question from Dr. Isis Length VS IF and then twitter turned into chaos. Wow, I was surprised of how inflamed the discussion got! I might not have twitted a lot about the subject, but I read everything that I could about the discussion. It seems to me is that all this OA thing is relevant, and worth pursuing. I understand the importance of it, and I’m really grateful that researchers like Michael Eisen are so passioned about this topic, but I have to agree with Dr. Becca and Proflikesubstance when they say that this must be a task for senior scientists, not for postdocs and junior faculties.

Then Michael Eisen did a #publishingsurvey asking “where was the paper(s) that got you your job published?”. I was shocked! I don’t know if all scientists on twitter are very clever, but everybody started answering CNS, Neuron, Cell, etc… I felt so bad and so small in between all this people! My highest IF is a 4.7 paper. I actually have 3 papers published in this journal, and this is the top IF for my area of research. I’m not doing straight neuroscience, I do neuro-something-ology. I don’t work in cancer or Alzheimer and although I love my research it seems quite unlikely that I can publish anything on a CNS journal!

Maybe I could try to do a parallel research project aiming to J Neurosci, that might be doable. But I might not have enough time for that, since I want to start applying for positions this year for practice, and next year for real! I have a kind of sexy project going on that could turn into a sort of glamorous publication, maybe… But is this really necessary? Should I bother about that too much? Now I look at my CV and just see 15 small publications that won’t take me anywhere…