postdocs and respect

JuneKK junekk at
Wed Aug 20 07:28:59 EST 1997

Dear Karen (and all),

Yes, there are definite perks to being a postdoc that transcend the ones
you get in being a predoctoral candidate.  The greatest of these is the
fact that, in general, your self-esteem increases as you confirm to
yourself that you can successfully contribute to your field of research in
a way that is acknowledged by your scientific colleagues (i.e. your
committee members).  A certain amount of respect is also generally given
to you during the postdoc period, since PIs generally recognize the
importance of your role in churning out successful experiments quickly,
and having the results successfullly interpreted and written up....BUT

...while the amount of money you get in grad school is pittance, it is
usually enough to live on, and you get tuition remission (a BIG perk),  as
well as travel money to present your work at conferences funded by
institutions and PIs, etc.  As a postdoc, salaries and travel funds are
NOT guaranteed and depend upon the financial status of your PI (as well as
the rapport that you have with said boss).  A salary of $24K is great, but
it could be as low as $18 (NIH scale for first year).  

(Full member and even postdoc registration fees for membership to
scientific societies and conferences are also often more expensive
compared to student fees).

<<2.  No required coursework, studying for prelims, writing a thesis, etc.
Ironically, that means you have nothing holding you back from doing three
times as much work as you originally did in grad school- and THIS is
generally expected.

<<3.  Knowing more and not feeling like I had to "prove myself" as much>>
Perhaps, but it is different as a postdoc as well, since now you must
prove yourself to EVERYONE, just like every other scientist must do  with
regard to the critical appraisal of their research.

<<Being a PI on the other hand, looks to me to be pretty difficult and
stressful (although for this I would "blame" larger forces such as the
funding situation, not Caltech the institution).  I'm not sure I really
envy them, which could be why I'm in no hurry to leave my postdoc.>>

Although being a PI is a difficult career path, I would be less happy on
every level being a "permanent postdoc"-  a fear that many of us have

Given all of these stresses, one might ask, "is it worth it"?  For me, I'd
have to say- YES definitely.  My growth as a scientist has increased
immensely during my postdoc TRAINING period (yes, I believe this
experience did train me while still under the blanket security of someone
else's funding!)- this in regard to learning new techniques (as I also
contribute those I already know to the postdoc lab), improving my grant
and peer-reviewed writing skills, increasing my "critical thinking"
abilities, and learning to fight out of the "student" mentality to one
encompassing the more confident, aggressive attitudes needed to work in
academia as a PI.  

Whether this will get me an academic job outside of postdocing is still
undetermined- I feel confident though, that this experience will help me
keep this kind of job, once I do find one.


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