Postdocs

Sabine Dippel sabine at hlrz28.zam.kfa-juelich.de
Thu Aug 14 11:42:10 EST 1997


In article <1997Aug14.112615 at opal.tufts.edu>, matkisso at opal.tufts.edu writes:
|> The attitudes towards post-doctoral positions displayed in this thread strike
|> me as ... narrow-minded?  That's a kinder word than what first popped into my
|> mind.  Some people dismiss the training aspect of a post-doc, others reduce the
|> time to mere resume padding and networking.  I'm interested by the prevailing
|> notion that a shiny new Ph. D. qualifies you to run an independent laboratory.

I don't think any of us here saying that we do not regard post-docs as a training
period mean that you are qualified to run an independent lab with only a PhD.
I think there is some stage in between. At least a PhD qualifies you to do 
research independently. Sure, there are still a lot of things you have to learn -
but that's true in _every_ qualified profession (or in life in general). Maybe 
my opinion is so narrow-minded because during my master's and my PhD I've always
had advisors who really let me run loose - so I did pretty independent research,
partly in collaborations with other labs my advisor was hardly involved with.

|> 
|> The _only_ thing I agree with is the outdated $19K salaries for NRSA 
|> fellowships.
|> 
|> Although I'm only starting the fifth year of my Ph. D., I've been in labs for
|> over 10 years.  I've seen a state school, a smaller private institution, and
|> the World's Greatest University from the inside.  I've seen post-docs who
|> stayed in the same field (same molecule!), switched fields (immuno->neuro), 
|> switched techniques (patch clamp->molecuar), changed disciplines (physics->
|> neuro), left for law firms, got turned into faculty, you _name_ it.
|> 
|> Here's what I think:
|> 
|> Current biomedical science operates pretty much on the apprenticeship model.  A
|> grad student is an apprentice, learning the basics of how to handle the tools,
|> think through a problem, get the work done.  A post-doc is a journeyman,
|> skilled at the basics, but needing to learn how to interact with the patrons
|> (funding agencies), sell the wares (write papers, give talks), and supervise
|> the apprentices.  A (insert rank) professor (or senior scientist for industry)
|> is a master, prepared to handle all the duties of keeping the shop running,
|> including paying the rent and the salaries, and coming up with new designs.


This is certainly true, but there is one big difference - the disparity in
ages. Someone who has gone through the regular apprenticeship thing (which 
is very common here in Germay) and has gotten the qualification to become
a master is approximately the same age as a fresh PhD (as a matter of fact,
I have a cousin my age who just got this sort of master degree, which exists
here, and is what you need to be allowed to take on apprentices) - and here 
in this country makes approximately the same money as the german equivalent 
of an assistant prof (not counting the money he earned on his way there). 

In the older times, where the apprenticeship model originates from, and when 
the journeyman really did travel for a few years, he was still very young after
that, young enough to start a family etc. In science, you put your life on 
hold for a very long time - and by the time you are settled, it may be too 
late to have a life (I admit that I know some people who seem to be perfectly
happy with having spent their 30s working very hard, and, with a snug faculty
position, start a family at 40). 

|> 
|> I have never seen anyone truly prepared to run a lab fresh out of grad school. 
|> _Yes_, you're a skilled worker.  _Yes_, you can tough it out through adversity. 
|> _Yes_ you have proven your potential.  However, you have likely see only one
|> style of science, one type of departmental politics, one way of handling those
|> pesky interpersonal lab dynamics. 

That's what post-docs were meant for originally. Seeing something new, if 
possible even go to a different country, learn about different styles of doing
research - in the times when you did maybe 2-3 years of post-doc. Now, post-docs
have become a substitute for a regular job.

Maybe this bothers me only so much because I moved around too much in the last
time, and I have seen that I tend to put my life on hold if I know I'm not going
to be longer than 2-3 years in the same place - I am longing to "settle down"
at least for a while. Maybe I will get bored after 5 years - but right now I 
am fed up with moving so often. 

Maybe this last remark was a bit off-topic, but this is something which bothers
me a lot lately.

Sabine

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|>   
|> The prevailing sentiment I see is that no one cares too much what you did for
|> your Ph. D.  They expect your post-doc to be the measure of your worth.
|> Perseverance alone can get you a Ph. D.  The growing independence in the post-
|> doctoral years is more a test of how you'll be on your own.
|> 
|> A Ph. D. is a union card.  Sure you get trained in how to work in a lab and
|> carry out research, but I learned that as a technician.  What I'm learning in
|> my graduate training is a depth of thought I never had as a tech.  What I would
|> hope to learn as a post-doc is a breadth of approach I will not learn in a
|> single lab.
|> 
|> But this is me, and my 0.02.  I'll go put on my asbestos underwear, now, and
|> await your flames.
|> 
|> Peg.  



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