Monday, March 1, 2010

"Research Scientist" postions; waiting

I feel unsettled these days, restless. Did I once say that I was enjoying my time off from work? Well, I was, but I think I’m at my limit now.

I’d dreamed of having time and space to write creatively. But I think my dream of being a writer is just that—a dream. I don’t have the guts for it. I don’t have the discipline, and I can’t take the silence. I don’t know how real writers and aspiring writers—those who have pinned their true career hopes on this, who truly pour their souls and self-esteem into this work—can possibly do it.

I finished a short story and showed it to an acquaintance of mine—a published novelist and the editor who handled my first published piece. She kindly pointed out that it needed work. I showed it someone else, who gently agreed. I can’t bear to look at the thing again. My critics are correct, but I’ve fallen in love with certain passages and turns of phrase, and I can’t bear to rip them out. And I can’t bear the rejection forms of journals. I had beginner’s luck last year, and I suppose it went to my head. But faced with the reality of time to write? I can’t do it. I surf the net and fritter time away. I think I wrote more effectively when I had an outside job and external structure to my days; I was more efficient when writing time was squeezed into an hour here or there at night. Left to my own devices a few days a week, my discipline relaxes like wet spaghetti.

Anyway. Perhaps this is all just prologue to say: I am really really looking forward to heading back to the lab.

My potential PI e-mailed me out of the blue last week to ask me: Have you heard anything about the grant? I had to laugh when I mentioned it to my husband. Um, it’s the PI who is the PI of the grant, and whose name and contact information is listed. Not the lowly trainee applicant (me), who currently even isn’t affiliated with an institution. Nice to know that my potential PI still remembers me and our application, though.

I’ve been advising someone who is applying (and has just gotten an interview!) for teaching positions at undergraduate-based institutions. And I’m hearing rumors through the grapevine of big changes at my former institution. Not all good changes, either, in my opinion. One rumor is that the Research Scientist position will be eliminated, meaning that postdocs can no longer be promoted to non-PI staff positions. If the institute’s current 5-year limit on postdoc positions holds, this means that all postdocs at the institute will automatically be kicked out at the end of five years. This really makes no sense to me, because our institute has great difficulty in recruiting postdocs as is. This difficulty means that PIs have generally sought to retain senior postdocs if funding permits, meaning that a great number of our postdocs were promoted to Research Scientist. I am assuming that this perhaps became too expensive for the institute to handle? (I’ve no clue as to how financing of these positions is handled) And yet our PIs will be in trouble if they cannot retain their skilled talent; it’s very difficult to recruit people to this little-known corner of the Midwest, and I know of PIs who have been searching for postdoc candidates for over a year. It seems that forced turnover of senior postdocs/scientists would only increase these gaps in staffing coverage.

Of course, I have concern for more than PIs at heart. I myself was hoping to eventually land on the Research Scientist track.

It all seems to be going backwards to me, although of course I don’t have the full story. These are rumors, after all, relayed to me second-hand by people who rank fairly low on the research hierarchy. Pity if it should come to pass as described, however. As described in this post, I think the creation (or increase) of the number of professional, permanent Ph.D-credentialed but non-lab-head research staff in the world would go a long way to both increasing research efficiency and absorbing the postdoc glut.

But of course, given my own unstable position, I’m kinda biased.


chall said...

_One rumor is that the Research Scientist position will be eliminated, meaning that postdocs can no longer be promoted to non-PI staff positions. If the institute’s current 5-year limit on postdoc positions holds, this means that all postdocs at the institute will automatically be kicked out at the end of five years._

My old place had that. Lathough, after 5 years you could get "extended 6 months at a time".... as a post doc. Not as anything else. And they saw it as an incentive to get your post doc' ass out the door and go to happier places.

Me? I don't think it is a good thing. Then again, I don't seem to agree with Academia/Grant world in general. Too many thoughts about what seems to be "cost effective" as well as "good for people". (And no, I don't think the current climate is good for people. All these time line with a need to publish 1000 papers in the HIGHEST journal etc).

Oh btw, did I mention that my old place wasn't really pro post docs applying for grants on their own!? (guess how well you get TT positions without grants?)

The bean-mom said...


Yes, the intent here, too, seems to be to "get your postdoc ass out the door and go to happier places." Which would be great, if there were happier places to go to! (we all know about the extreme shortage of positions these days, in and out of academia). Also, considering how hard it is for the institute to get qualified postdocs in the first place, it doesn't make sense to me...

Currently, Research Scientists (but not postdocs) at our institute are eligible to apply for grants. Rumor is that going forward, Research Scientists will no longer be allowed to apply for grants on their own. Again, I don't understand the thinking here. Maybe I need a PI or higher-up to explain the thinking here?

chall said...

BeanMom> I think the thinking from my older place was "well if we give the post docs rights and means to apply for thir own funding they will not do OUR research but rather THEIR own..."\

Of course, I see the point for some places not to have squeky new post docs apply for grants but one-two years into it? Wouldn't it be better it the PI and the post doc hash out the boundaries of the research already?

Not to mention that if you don't get the grant as a post doc, already in a place, it's really hard to get a grant for the new place.

I'm with you with the confusion.

(until I think like this "post docs are my word force and I don't want them to move on with my stuff. And after a few years say 5, they are all done being told what to do so I might as well get new post docs". I don't really think all PI thinks like this, but maybe the head oif the institute that is looking out for itself rather than the post docs!?

The bean-mom said...

This is why I'd like the perspective of a higher-up =)

I can see that maybe some PIs would think as you suggest... but from an institutional point of view, I would think the institution would want to maximize any chance to bring in NIH funding (after all, the institution gets a cut of that funding in the form of overhead!) So why wouldn't the institution encourage everyone--including postdocs/non-tenure track staff--to apply for NIH funding? Is the paperwork just not worth it for non-PIs who have only a small chance?

Aurora said...

Oww, hang in there. Things will turn around. I didn't like being at home either. It is strange because there are huge numbers of women who would love to be stay-at-home mommies and there's a lot of pressure to relax and enjoy the time home. In my case at least, it became clear I would go nuts if I didn't work.

Amelie said...

I agree that it doesn't make sense to eliminate these permanent non-PI positions. But, as a lowly grad student, I cannot offer the insight from above either...

Cloud said...

The longer I am away from academia, the stranger it seems... I hope your waiting is over soon!

On writing- I have a dream that is destined to never be realized of being a writer of non-fiction. In my dream, I write books like the ones Michael Pollan writes, or like "Cod", books that pull information from lots of different disciplines and tell interesting and enlightening stories. But back here in reality, I know it can never be. It is not that I lack the discipline (I am actually quite good at making myself do things), it is that I lack the talent.

The bean-mom said...

At Cloud,

Do you really think you lack the talent? Your blog posts are always well-written and thought-out!

I'm not sure if I have the talent or not to be a writer... but I think lack of discipline holds me back even more!