postdocs -- ask your mentor

aloisia schmid a-schmi at
Sat Aug 16 16:30:11 EST 1997

In article <33F5FC31.4EC457BA at>, Bart Janssen
<bjanssen at> wrote:

So to clarify points that Bart has raised:  I had said in a previous posting:

> > They are supposed to get grants and also keep publishing in an era
> > when
> > papers incorporate HUGE volumes of data---stuff that even only 5,6,7
> > years
> > ago would have filled three or four papers.
> Hmm that's actually not my perception.  Sure after a given technique has
> become "routine" it no longer warrants a paper in it's own right.  But
> in contrast very few papers now constitute a complete body of work, that
> is, conception of a hypothesis and testing of that hypothesis to
> completion.  Most papers now describe one or two experiments in the
> testing of a given hypothesis.  That wasn't always true, my biggest
> shock was when I went back and read the Leamlli (sp) paper that first
> described SDS PAGE.  I expected a relatively short description of a
> novel technique, what I found was a deep intense study of a problem
> where the paper was clearly the product of several years of work and the
> technique I was looking for was buried in a figure legend almost as an
> aside!  So I'd say people today publish less work per paper than they
> did back then.

Hmm, maybe there is a difference in our fields?  In developmental biology,
papers ar enow huge.  If you look at Cell, they are starting to publish
teensy tiny little figures in an effort to squeeze as much data in as
small a space as possible.  Previously, when someone identified a gene
they were interested in chracterizing, they would publish the cloning and
sequencing first, then maybe RNA and protein expression data, and finally
maybe a paper of phenotypic analysis or genetic interactions.   Now all of
those things would definitely go in to a single publication.  

Papers like the SDS PAGE paper you describe don't get done anymore.  That
takes too long.  I agree that people don't take the time to really immerse
themselves in a topic anymore---have to get the quick and dirty stuff done
first!-----nevertheless, the key points are getting published alot faster
and they are getting published together...not spread out.  

> > So are we saying it is time to go back to the PACE of the days when we
> >
> > chased butterflies?  Has the PACE we've arrived at made a more
> > responsible
> > training rate impossible?  If so, how do you institute changes that
> > affect
> > these kinds of things?
> I agree the pace of lab work is very high and the expectation of output
> is also very high.  But surely one way of dealing with that is to employ
> more researchers?  That is the way other professions deal with
> overloaded workers.  Of course could argue that that is what has
> happened, more workers, just not more money to pay the salaries.

But you know what?  I bet if people had 9-5 hours as post-docs, they
wouldn't mind so much being paid such low salaries.  For one thing, if you
got desperate you could get a part-time job to supplement your income.  

> As an aside I've worked in several labs now and one observation I've
> made is that while in general most PIs respect long hours in the lab,
> the number of hours in the lab usually bears no relevance to actual
> productivity.  I've seen 9-5ers (yes really 9am to 5pm with half an hour
> off for lunch and morning and afternoon tea breaks) who really worked
> the whole time they were at the bench and their output was as good as
> anyone elses in the lab.  You can argue that if they worked longer their
> output would be more but in practice the reason they were able to work
> properley while they were at work was because they were always fresh and
> alert.

I agree that this is true.  But to find people THAT focused is rare.  Most
of the 9 to 5-ers I know still shoot the breeze over coffee, still spend
time emailing, still spend time on pleasantries.  There aren't all that
many people I know who are so focused that they can make up the difference
between 9-5 and maybe 75% more hours than that.  

I am not happy to admit that's true, but on the whole, I think it is.

I am trying to figure out how European labs, before recent changes took
effect, managed to achieve the system they had?  How is it that right from
the outset they weren't as insanely driven as American labs were,
seemingly (I don't know---were they always so driven?-----) right from the


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