Being a PI ain't all unicorns and rainbows…just like most actual jobs

January 19, 2011

Hoo boy. Dr. Becca has a live one over at Fumbling Towards Tenure Track.

I am got the dream got at a Tier 1 institution. It is what I expected but in reality it sucks. want to find a way out. Be careful what you wish for.

Ouch. Well, upon further probing this DisgruntleProf lets us in on the problem. And it smells to me like we can chalk this one up to RealityCheck.

I think its a combination of worrying about grants, science not going as fast as I want it to, dealing with annoying staff at my institution, not much help from other faculty versus what I had been told there would be, grad students not working as hard as I think they should (don’t people work weekend anymore?)

Yeah. Stuff gets real in a big hurry once you start your own independent laboratory doesn’t it? I’m half surprised this person didn’t mention the magically disappearing space or major equipment that appeared to have been promised in the recruiting phase!

I’ll indulge myself about the trainee issue and repeat my constant refrain- If you won a tenure track job, chances are very good that you were a much better than average postdoc and graduate student. Consequently, the trainees that work for you are overwhelmingly likely to suck worse than you did. Get over it and learn how to make do.

I had so much love and energy for the Science when I was a grad student and post-doc. Being the PI is just a very different business, with business being the important word.

Yup, you have a job now homes. The thing about jobs is that they aren’t always unadulterated joy. Our business is a pretty good one, because we have lots of opportunity for it being Teh Awesomez. But never forget, in your vocational fantasies, that this is still a job and a professional one at that.

Look, no offense but I’m smelling a certain type of career arc here. Excuse me if I’m over assuming but this seems like a type of person that had it unusually good in training. S/he mentions being in a “top tiered graduate school”. Probably the research all went pretty well in a stable and well funded lab. Setbacks were probably minor. The PI shielded the trainees from the mundane stuff and s/he never manged to clue in to what was going on behind the scenes. Publications came. More of the same for postdoc, no doubt. Because after all, if this person is recently appointed at a top institution, odds are good that the CV looks very good indeed.

I’ve said it before. Having it too good in training is crappy preparation for being a PI. It is even worse selection for being a PI. IMO. I’d rather hire someone who had to struggle and overcome some adverse consequences than someone who had a cushy ride to three first author GlamourPubs. Any day of the week.

Having an easy time of it during training sets up unrealistic expectations. Which, IMO, leads to a big old let down when the going gets tough as a newly minted Assistant Professor. And potentially a lack of mental fortitude to buckle down and overcome, as opposed to whining.

I used to love coming into lab everyday. I was the person you hated in your department who always had some really cool idea or experiment to talk about. Not sure how to get that back.

I do feel a little sorry for this commenter. Who would not? It is a bit sad, really. But I have confidence that things will look up. S/he will get through the local paperwork, get some usable data out of a graduate student and land some grant support…eventually. And things will look one heck of a lot better after these successes start to roll in. The trick is to SaqueUppeTM and make successes happen.

How do you get your joy for science back? My opinion is that you have to be gratified, at some fundamental level, by the proceeds of having your own lab. That means that the amount of data crossing your desk, data that you can in no way generate with your own hands by yourself, balances out all of the headaches. If seeing the results of science that you directed, influenced and supported is not enough then there is no point in wanting to head a lab in a professorial level appointment.

No Responses Yet to “Being a PI ain't all unicorns and rainbows…just like most actual jobs”

  1. I got my MS in a lab that didn’t have much funding, and I even went over a year without being paid. It teaches you how to scrap and fight for what you need and learn how to do good work on the cheap. While things didn’t end up so well for my old boss who got knocked out of the research game, I find the experience in his lab to be personally and professionally invaluable. Now working in a very well funded lab, I know how good I’ve got it and don’t try to take things for granted.


  2. CoR Says:

    Yup. Totally my problem. I had it pretty damn good in terms of things being set into place (however, I always did my own damn work) and yeah, starting up led to shock at being in charge and having to get things together myself. Helllooooos mental fortitudes……..


  3. gerty-z Says:

    I agree 100%. I think it is really important to struggle a little during training, so that you have a chance to learn to deal with adversity when the stakes aren’t so high. I certainly struggled a little-I did my grad work in a fairly new and not-yet-highly funded lab. My project didn’t “work” right away and it took a lot of hard-ass work to get my pubs from grad school (none in C/N/S, but in decent places). When I went off to postdoc I had the tools to start up a new project from nothing. It took some work (and false-starts) to get it off the ground, it really prepared me for some of the trials and tribulations of starting up a lab. The best part is I had a chance to cut my teeth in a protected environment, and I think I was a little more prepared to move into the office-even if I do have the occasional freak-out. When I am looking at job applicants, I’m way more enthusiastic about those that had to overcome obstacles during training. I think it would be really difficult to walk out of a place where the Science went like a well-oiled Machine to start up your own little operation, held together by duct tape.


  4. becca Says:

    Wait, being a PI isn’t all about checking your fantasy baseball team stats while going for coffee with the other PIs? They LIED to me!


  5. Dr. O Says:

    I’ve been fairly privileged in my training, in that I’ve always had the tools that I needed. My postdoc lab is well-funded, but I’ve had very little guidance as compared to my grad lab. I picked up my own project, started my own collaborations, fought for my publications, and got my grants out the door – after learning in the first few months that it wouldn’t happen if I didn’t do it (pretty much) on my own. I know this isn’t all of what I’d be dealing with as a PI, but I’m hoping the independence will have some positive impact on my future path. It certainly can’t hurt, and I’ve considered it a pretty decent stepping stone for where I want to go.


  6. antipodean Says:

    S/he’s applied for a TT job and got it after working in science for years and now s/he’s stunned that you have to deal with grants and deadlines and grad students and crappy admin staff? Caveat emptor: you should have had a reasonable idea of what the job entailed.

    The weekends comment is bullshit too. Working weekends makes people less productive not more productive.


  7. Bashir Says:

    I’d rather hire someone who had to struggle and overcome some adverse consequences than someone who had a cushy ride to three first author GlamourPubs.

    Do you mean assuming both eventually made it to the GlamourPubs? Or are you saying you’d hiring someone with significantly less pubs.


  8. alreadyTTandhateit Says:

    OK, here we go:

    Becca and antipodean, of course I knew this wasnt going to be all Facebook postings and coffee breaks. I am not an idiot and knew what I was getting myself into. My point was that the shear volume of things you have to do as a new PI is overwhelming to even the best. FU.

    As to the grad students working on weekends. I dont expect them to be here at 7AM through 9PM on a saturday or sunday, but if you are working on a cloning project and can do a ligation on friday, you can come in on saturday for 2 hours and do a transformation then come in on sunday for 15 minutes to pick colonies and then now you can miniprep on Monday. You save yourself 2 days. How’s that for productivity, A-hole.


  9. GMP Says:

    …you have to be gratified, at some fundamental level, by the proceeds of having your own lab.
    If seeing the results of science that you directed, influenced and supported is not enough then there is no point in wanting to head a lab in a professorial level appointment.

    This. You have to get some joy from mentoring junior people, thinking about the big picture problems, working with collaborators, writing grants and papers. If you hate writing or if comes really hard to you or you are too slow, you are screwed. Also, if you don’t like going to seminars or conferences or talking to people, you are screwerd (will have no connections and won’t get enough cool ideas). Essentially, regardless of the field, if you don’t like people or you don’t like writing, you should probably not be a PI.

    Like most PI’s, I have a love-hate relationship with my job. Sometimes you are in the deep depths of despair, when several grants in a row get rejected and things are just not working out. I find that my students and close collaborators are often what lifts me from professional gloom. Getting a grant funded works ever better.


  10. becca Says:

    Ok, so because I want your life to be easier, I’m going to share some secrets with you:

    1) the reason you can’t motivate your trainees… is because you are a defensive jackhat. Whenever something goes wrong, you blame their work ethic.

    2) Also, why the FUCK would you do a ligation on Friday? A ligation SHOULD take you five minutes; that sixteen hour bullshit is for suckers. This would be spectacularly obvious to you if you were a single mom and had no fucking daycare on saturdays. Don’t talk to me about efficiency and then give me an example of using a fucking sixteen hour ligation when the five minute ones do the job just fine.


  11. alreadyTTandhateit, I’m starting to figure out why you are being promoted to captain of the SS Fail, your attitude sucks dick. You figured out you are in over your head, good. Now fucking grow a pair Sally and act like a boss and mentor. Quit whining and get to work! Oh and your trainees probably don’t want to work weekends when their boss sounds like a whiny asshole and maybe you didn’t take into account they have shit to do on the weekends.


  12. drugmonkey Says:

    Do you mean assuming both eventually made it to the GlamourPubs?

    I am one who is entirely unimpressed by the fact you got your study into a journal of impact factor X or Y. I am quite happy to substitute my own opinion of the impact and awesomeness in lieu of some proxy like the journal it is published in. If I really wanted some quant, I’d look at the citations of the paper itself.

    Or are you saying you’d hiring someone with significantly less pubs.

    This is always a tricky question. Of course more is better, all else equal. But all else is seldom equal. So heck yes, other issue can compensate for fewer publications. Maybe the model was really complex, maybe the rec letters testify really strongly to independent ability to overcome difficulty. Maybe you know for certain fact that GlowingCandidate came from a lab where you’d have to be an absolute idiot *not* to end up with 5 first author papers in three years. etc.

    My point was that if I detect evidence of someone overcoming adverse circumstances this is highly salient to me. Those talents/accomplishments are more critical to PIness, in my view, than are papers that were just kind of a slot-in-and-get-it-done type of experience.


  13. drugmonkey Says:

    becca, genomicrepairdude….let us not forget that just because there exist hardworking grad students and postdocs who have PIs that are insane Kern types, this does not also mean that there are *not* lazy ass trainees. There are. The relationship goes both ways and as I said, the odds are good that not every trainee in a lab is going to be as hardworking and/or brilliant as the PI was as a trainee. The selection process predicts this.

    alreadyTTandhateit MAY simply not have had enough trainees yet to get to anything like a reasonable sample.


  14. Dr Becca Says:

    Rainbows and unicorns are like, #1 and #2 in my startup list.

    ATTAHI, I feel for you, I really do. I hope things get better.


  15. proflikesubstance Says:

    On the surface, I agree with what Becca and GR are saying, but if you took any random sample of my blog without context, you might have the same reaction. Yes, there are times when this shit is overwhelming and I’ve written about that just like everything else. My guess is PiT, Arlenna and most other new(er) PIs could say the same. As much as you think you’re ready for the next step and know what it is going to take, you don’t. Just trust me here.

    So, as a random comment thrown out in the interwoods, I can appreciate where this person is coming from. I’ve felt the same way in my tougher times I’m sure I’ve expressed that. The difference in “making it” (assuming I actually do) is indeed just STFU and getting things done, but I also don’t think it is particular fair to jump all over someone for a moment of feeling overwhelmed. Give this person a little bit of a benefit of the doubt here and assume that their entire existence isn’t summed up in a couple of comments over two days.

    ATTAHI, you’ll get over it ans push through, just like the rest of us. Pushing the first papers out and getting some money in the door helps the situation, but it’s never going to be grad school or the glory postdoc years. There’s a lot more on your shoulders now and it’s important to accept that.


  16. Namnezia Says:

    ATTAHI, if you had success as a grad student and postdoc you’ll likely be fine, they wouldn’t have given you the job if you were not qualified for it. It does take some adjustment to realize the job IS different from what you had been doing, but once things fall into place it really is much more gratifying as DM points out. Complaining about others doesn’t help, ever. It’s basically up to you to make this work. So stop reading science blogs and start revising that grant dude.


  17. becca Says:

    DM- Of course there are lazy ass trainees. I myself am fully capable of being a lazy ass trainee, if my PI tells me how much I suck instead of inspires* me. My point is, someone who complains about someone not coming in on a saturday to do transfections that could have been done on a friday if you would have just done the rapid ligation, is NOT having problems with lazy trainees, so much as totally unoptimal (indeed, counterproductive) expectations.
    proflikesubstance- dude, I get that. I view the trials and tribulations of the PI as above my paygrade. They don’t pay you the ‘big bucks’** because you were the very model of a super awesome scientist; they pay you to deal with the headaches and be responsible and shit. My condolences (for serious). And we all need to vent.

    My response in this case is not due to an entire lack of empathy for the situation ATTAHI has found hirself in. It’s just, I had also been ranted to about ‘save a day’ cloning science by a punkass insecure starting out PI who is totes missing the point about what would *actually* increase productivity, and instead chooses to rant about weekends. ATTAHI hit my triggers, so I didn’t edit.

    *(pro tip: inspiring a becca is pretty much an inevitable effect of talking to her about anything at all, other than how much she sucks. You can even tell me about your fantasy baseball team. But if you talk to me about the dept. seminar speaker, or what you think makes a good chair candidate, or the next grant application, or anything remotely related to papers/data/science occurring in our lab, I will luffs you 4evar. And, more importantly, work hard)

    **yeah, I know….AHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHA… but, comparatively speaking, you do ok.


  18. gerty-z Says:

    well said, PLS.


  19. Physician Scientist Says:

    I’m with Proflikesubstance as well. Being 4.5 years in, its overwhelming at first, but once you figure out how to deal with the administrative stuff and get some renewable grant funding, it goes much better.

    They key to dealing with my people has been to recognize their weaknesses and put them in a position that accentuates their strengths. Its very important to have people on tasks/projects that they are capable of performing. This took me some time to figure out, but it is key.

    and becca…you need to back off this person until you’re in a position to have stood in his/her shoes.


  20. All you fucken motherfuckes are fucken delusional. Everyone knows that PIs just sit in their offices playing Tetris and waiting for their trainees to come up with some shitte so they can steal it.


  21. Physician Scientist Says:

    CPP – you are so old. Tetris -Ha!!Ha!!Ha!! Do you even put your teeth in before you steal the trainees data?

    Fragger is the game of choice for us PIs.


  22. Odyssey Says:

    CPP: Tetris is for old geezers. All the cool profs play Halo and Call of Duty.


  23. drugmonkey Says:

    Frogger? I love those crazy frogs hopping all over the place!


  24. Physician Scientist Says:

    Fragger – killing terrorists like a good American. On a thing called an iPAD.


  25. becca Says:

    Physician Scientist- My original response was primarily to DM’s title, and indeed, it was a joke about exactly how far off the mark trainees can be when it comes to seeing how difficult PIs have it. I am not sure why it merited an “FU”, but if only I could stand in ATTAHI! Surely, then, I would understand why that was a reasonable response. Also, I would be able to tell why it is ever a good idea to do a 16h ligation.

    Alas that I have not.
    Out of curiosity, have you stood in my shoes? Have you been berated over your weekly cloning schedule by someone who was actually suggesting a *less* efficient way to work? By a PI in the mold of our own St. K3rn, who told you that you must not care about the millions of children who died of malaria while you were putting your plates in the fridge to come back to? Have you brought your child into work on saturdays and locked him down the hall with a baby monitor because you have no childcare or family to help just so that you can feed your stupid cells?


  26. Physician Scientist Says:

    Becca – Don’t be so literal with this poor person on the stupid cloning strategy. S/he was simply illustrating an example of a way one could put in a few hours of work on the weekends and shave days off an experiment. S/he doesn’t need someone jumping down their back on something that was clearly meant as an example of where one could save time.

    If s/he had thought it out, s/he could have done a 5 minute ligation, transformed the same Friday, picked colonies on Saturday and miniprepped on Sunday (if one was so inclined – this saves a few days). Another example might be to split cells for a transfection on Friday. Take 45 minutes to do the transfection on Saturday. Harvest the cells to do the IP overnight on Sunday (another 45 minutes) and then run the gels on Monday. This saves 3-4 days and over the course of a PhD, it could save months to even years. The point is…it doesn’t matter. Science is filled with examples of putting in an hour’s worth of work on a typical off day saves you days later and I think this is the point the person was trying to make.. Some students choose to do this. Some students choose not to. The worst, though, is the students who don’t have enough insight to realize that there is even a choice. I have found that some students who complain about how long a PhD takes don’t always think ahead on how to save time and be more efficient.

    I also give my students/post-docs the freedom to do things like get their oil changed or run errands on weekdays. Time spent incubating can be spent going to the gym. Science is very flexible. This is one of the key perks, and I expect my people to take advantage of this – both for their own mental well-being/getting their chores done/etc. and for advancing their science (eg popping in to lab on the weekend to split cells).

    And before you jump on my back, I am a father with a full-time physician wife who cannot get out of her schedule 90% of the time. I have been the father of 2 young kids while I was a post-doc and as a PI. I have had to have my kids in lab. I have had to entertain them on my lap while doing tissue culture. These times are obviously not ideal and I try to avoid them if I can help it. Sometimes, though, it can’t be helped. Lastly, I have found that mothers with young children are very efficient scientists. I actively recruit them to my lab as there is no bs. They just get their work done efficiently and well -(in my experience anyway).

    All I’m saying is give this poor person a break on a minor mistake in their example.


  27. CoR Says:

    Wait, I’ve been playing angry birds. Passé? I don’t give a shit!

    I chime in and say give ATTAHI a break. Setting up a lab, being schmoozy to get invites, talking up your PO….lots of new potentially awkward situations to manage–plus, most likely recently moved to a new city, possibly w needy kids…the list goes on…


  28. givethemabreak Says:

    OK, give them a break. THey are obviously in the weeds here. Probably a pretty new Prof, still figuring out how to balance all the big shit they are dealing with.

    The cloning thing was obviously just an example Becca, lighten up.

    I think they were just trying to share their experience and you guys jumped down their throat!

    Don’t you remember what it was like in the beginning?

    I sure do.


  29. I can totally understand where the original commenter is coming from … because I feel exactly the same way right now. Exactly.

    And I also expect more out of my students than they’re capable of doing because I think I did a better job when I was in their shoes. And of course I know I’m looking back at my former self with warped lenses because I was never as good as I’m convinced I was.

    I’m just hoping that things will get better. And feeding my big fat face with Doritos and chocolate in the meantime.


  30. alreadyTTandhateit Says:

    Thanks PIT


  31. becca Says:

    I don’t think anyone is disputing that it is a huge source of stress to set up a lab, and that the things ATTAHI is struggling with are very common (and don’t in any way reflect poorly on ATTAHI). At issue is whether being humor-impaired, or bitching about every possible way a trainee can save time, are healthy responses to that stress.
    Also at issue is whether tetris pwns all those modern new fangeled games (protip: YES).

    physican scientist- I view children as but one issue (albeit a very visible one) that might cause students who know perfectly well they could do things faster to not really have certain options as *viable* choices. I’m almost left wondering how many students know damn well they have choices like transforming on saturday… yet find it easier to pretend they never considered it rather than argue with a St. K3rn type.


  32. becca Says:

    (also, in case anyone missed it, the cloning thing could have almost been taken verbatim from something a PI said to me once. Apparently, I was deeply emotionally scarred)


  33. Becca, I generally just ignore your inane contentless logorrheic gibbering, but at this juncture it’s probably worth it to others to point out that the opinions of graduate students concerning how best to run a lab and mentor trainees are worthless.


  34. You mean to tell me that great scorers do not always (or even often) make great coaches or GMs? There is more to effective management than having the ability to rack up personal stats? Unpossible! Incontheivable!


  35. pinus Says:

    another data point from a new PI

    It is a shit ton of new work that you didn’t have to do as a post-doc. yes. it is annoying. I hate dealing with all of it as well. but I do it. I was somewhat lucky, in that my post-doc mentor brought me in the loop in as many things as possible so I wouldn’t be totally blind-sided. It was a great help, but there is still so much more…basically the difference between playing lead and being director…or whatever metaphor you like the most.

    The good eventually gets better…you figure out how to balance things, you get people that are good, generating data and ideas. It is generally true, that when you start out, you are not going to have people working as hard and as smart as you were at the end of your post-doc. but…I look back to my first few months as a post-doc (or grad student) and realize, I was not that great. I am amazed at how much my people are doing in a short time. I take a similar tact to PS up there…science is flexible…so I let them do stuff they have to do when they have to do it. I think in the long run it improves morale and clarity of thought.

    I would say, that in general, I am pretty happy as a PI. Yes, absolutely there are some good days, and some bad days, but such is life. I get paid more now, so I see it as my responsibility to handle the bad days and not complain to my lab. I have been moderately successful obtaining funding, so that is one large pressure that is off (for now…because no money lasts forever).


  36. Physician Scientist Says:

    Geez…next CPP is going to tell me that Becca doesn’t even have children, but conveniently uses this example whenever she can.


  37. I agree that being a PI isn’t all rainbows and sunshine, like any job. Furthermore, it is totally true that the job of a PI is NOT to generate data anymore. As DM and GMP said above, you need to be interested in the big picture and take satisfaction from the mentoring and directing part, or you should not be a PI.

    I’ve seen more than a few PhDs who should have stopped at a MS degree–they finished the PhD because they LOVED research (the doing science part), but now can’t find the bench jobs they really want.

    I think new profs should be able to complain about the stresses and disappointments of the TT, but NOT at a site run by a postdoc trying for a TT position! Would yo complain about an inflexible work schedule to someone who is unemployed? Want to complain? Start your own blog (or comment at a blog run by a prof).


  38. Tideliar Says:

    This fukken thread needs a stickie and should be mandatory reading for every fuckein disgruntledoc who thinks she or he can go run a fucken lab any day, better than the fuekin PI.

    Jeezus, I don’t even have a to run a lab and just deal with the admin bullshit y’all go through and some days I want to jump off the fuckein I40 bridge and let the Missisissppi wash me away.

    To the OP, good luck, find space in your head and try and fall in love with science again. but remember, it’s just a job. If yiou’re happy 60% of the time and can pay your bills you’re better than most people. Now, welcome to the bloggosphere. Go write a fuckine grant 🙂

    To the disgrunts, cut the fucker some slack. And go do your fuckine ligations you lazy ass tittie babies.


  39. DrugMonkey Says:

    Prodigal, I might note that a site where people in search of tenure track jobs cluster is a good place to talk about the negative factors of the job. There are going to be some folks who need to think a little harder about that which they seek…


  40. becca Says:

    CPP I said nothing of the optimal way to run a lab or manage trainees. I was commenting on a healthy way of dealing with stress. There is absolutely nothing that says the two should be the same… which is likely part of the underlying problem.


  41. neurowoman Says:

    It has repeatedly amazed me how clueless some new assistant profs are. How did these people get positions when they’ve never gotten independent funding, don’t know how to write a grant, don’t know what a study section does or what a PO is (bioscience/NIH types), or have some extreme form-phobia that prevents them from taking care of business? A MacArthur awardee who had no idea how to enroll in a 401k. Don’t know how to budget for ‘fringe’ above salary. Fill out a purchase order. write a paper review rebuttal. Plan out a rotation project for junior students, fill out animal protocol forms, get bureaucratic approval, route applications. Just clueless.

    I think new TT profs who moan about all the work involved didn’t spend enough time getting there. I am a (non-TT) PI and I love it. love it. Finally! My own lab, my own peeps, my own projects, invitations to write reviews, I love writing grants, chatting with my students and techs. Yes, I don’t have to teach, there’s no expected service, I didn’t have to move to a completely new place and learn the bureaucratic ropes. But sheesh, let me tell you, you want to quit the TT and go back to the bench? Do it, I’ll take that puppy off your hands.

    Another part of me says, I get it. My spouse has worked harder than what seems humanly possible, was pretty miserable early on in TT, and thought about quitting. But he had a relatively easy road to that point too.

    I couldn’t be happier that someone else is generating data, programming code, making solutions, cutting tissue. Doing the 10-12 hour experiments that I am too freaking tired to do anymore after nearly 20 years of bench work. That I can leave at 5 to pick up my kids and no one can say boo. Being the boss rocks.


  42. Odyssey Says:

    When I was but a wee lad, preparing to leave the warm bosom of my postdoc lab to start my TT position, the department chair called me into his office to say farewell (yes, he was/is that kind of guy). “Odyssey my boy,” he boomed, “you have neither been trained, nor are you prepared for what awaits you. Good luck.”

    Now, I did have a lousy grad student experience, but a great postdoc one in a a high profile lab that allowed me to pump out a lot of first authorships. My postdoc advisor had me write proposals and papers, and help train students. Eventually I was involved in the day to day running of the lab (i.e. I became lab manager more or less). Despite all this…

    My former chair was right.


  43. jobgrabber Says:

    Odyssey seems more convincing to me…. self-confident YES, having overcome every hurdle in any aspect of human life..?.. Who?…. God maybe… but he was only human for 33 years, or so does the Christian teaching say…..


  44. Odyssey Says:

    I’m not a god.

    But I do play one in the lab.


  45. antipodean Says:


    Does that mean you can get one of those add on TV “Hi my name’s Jock Itch and I play a Doctor on General Hospital. You should buy this shit I’m advertising because I look the shit in a white coat”

    Just like that ‘cept you get to be God and sell miracle pipettes or somesuch?


  46. How did these people get positions when they’ve never gotten independent funding, don’t know how to write a grant, don’t know what a study section does or what a PO is (bioscience/NIH types), or have some extreme form-phobia that prevents them from taking care of business?

    You do understand that the selection process for tenure-track positions at research university is 100% indifferent to all of those skills you listed, right?


  47. Arlenna Says:

    Frogger? I love those crazy frogs hopping all over the place!

    Okay, this had me literally LOLing and I crack up every time I remember it.

    Otherwise, the only thing I have to add to this thread is some ditto to what PLS, PiT, pinus, Gerty-Z, CoR, Odyssey and DM said. Because of my incredibly transparent mentor, I was as clued in as someone might possible be able to be about this world when I started my job, and it still kicked me in the ass. I came into it with the amazing leg-up of a K99/R00, and it is still f’ing crazy shit to make this job work. Everyone who wants this job should be thinking about these things and I hope that ATTAHI DOES start a blog to share some of this so people can see some of this transparency, warts and all, if they aren’t getting it elsewhere.


  48. alreadyTTandhateit...sometimes Says:

    OK, well all of this has been fun and a nice distraction from grant writing.

    But something happened tonight that puts all of this into perspective.

    I was driving home from lab after picking my daughter up at daycare. We drive home on a busy highway about 40 minutes in traffic each night. Traffic was pretty bad but eventually let up and everyone was driving around the speed limit, about 60 mph. While driving in the center lane, I notice a car approaching me in the right lane. It was about 10 feet behind me and then all of a sudden it flipped end over end, barely missing my car. It was almost like it hit a wall and flipped over itself like in the movies. I pulled over as soon as I could and called the police. I couldn’t get back to the accident because of traffic flow and don’t know how the driver ended up. But driving the last 20 minutes home I realized that if I was 20 seconds later on leaving daycare, or took the elevator rather than the stairs to my car or…I could have been behind that car as it flipped, or actually have been that car.

    All the hard times getting a lab started, getting funding, dealing with collaborators and grad students, doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. We all have a great job, playing with Science for a living, getting paid for our hobby and passing that joy of discovery to the next generation of scientists.

    At the end of the day, thats a pretty great gift.

    Go give your wife, husband, son, daughter or dog a big hug tonight. Have an extra scoop of ice cream and take an extra 5 minutes walking outside tonight.


  49. About 40,000 people in the United States get killed in motor vehicle crashes every year. You just all of a sudden realized you could die in a car?


  50. alreadyTTandhateit...sometimes Says:

    heartless Comrade, heartless.


  51. becca Says:

    CPP- do you really think people who think dismal statistics apply to them make it to the TT very often?


  52. Drugmonkey Says:

    Glad you didn’t cash in, ATTAHIS, we’re just getting to know you.


  53. leigh Says:

    there’s only a certain idea one can get of what it’s like to do a job until you’ve been doing it for a while. it’s easy to look up the ladder and say to yourself, ya know, i could totally do that asshole’s job. but it’s not quite so simple out in the real world. you can’t acquire an entirely new perspective immediately, simply by signing an offer letter that assigns you a new title.

    i was *entirely* unprepared for what i was up against when i landed at my current job. i’m figuring it out. slowly, and with errors, but hey.


  54. CT Says:

    As CPP alluded to, it really is remarkable how disconnected many of the skills one uses as a postdoc to demonstrate fitness for a TT job are from the skills one actually needs to succeed in that job. For me, losing that hands-on connection to the data was very difficult-actually doing the work myself aids my thinking about it tremendously. I was very surprised by this, as I had been looking forward to not being tied to the bench and becoming the ‘idea man’ as a PI, but the ideas did not come when I wasn’t at the bench.


  55. ATTAHIS, I am glad you are OK.

    DM, I think that TT applicants who don’t know the negative factors are in denial or willfully ignorant. My experience is that people who are “hanging out with peers” so to speak are not open to hearing about what it is like for people who have “made it” and view it as sour grapes.


  56. I was very surprised by this, as I had been looking forward to not being tied to the bench and becoming the ‘idea man’ as a PI, but the ideas did not come when I wasn’t at the bench.

    I became even more creative than I already was when I stopped dicking around at the bench, because I was no longer hemmed in by silly notions of what’s “practical” or “too hard”.


  57. DrugMonkey Says:

    How many times in a week do you say “Make it so!”, PP?


  58. Odyssey Says:

    Personally I go with “My will be done!” Goes more with the in-lab god complex.


  59. pinus Says:

    I need to start saying that…and maybe get myself a long flowing white beard…


  60. a Says:

    Man this place is full of negativity, everyone so keen to point out everyone else is an idiotte etc

    Being a new PI is f’ing difficult, especially if you’re starting out in the current economy and environment. It’s overwhelming and not that many of us had old boy mentors holding our hands into it (according to neurowoman we don’t deserve to be here thus!). Some of us are buried under increasing teaching loads on top of having to compete with funding with the experienced PIs. It’s overwhelming – and no, I did not have an easy ride through grad school & postdoc by any means (I have a disability, advisor left in the middle of phd, visa problems etc etc).

    My only hope is that it gets better, that’s what everyone says and I am trying real hard to believe it


  61. brooksphd Says:

    “Personally I go with “My will be done!” Goes more with the in-lab god complex.”

    haha, I go with the traditional, “I don’t care how f**** hard it is, just f**** do it”


  62. DevelopingGeneticist Says:

    “Personally I go with “My will be done!” Goes more with the in-lab god complex.”

    haha, I go with the traditional, “I don’t care how f**** hard it is, just f**** do it”

    My boss simply tells me that “technique X IS working”, even if it isn’t. Sometimes I even believe him! Ha. It does help me stay motivated though – his faith in my ability to make it work makes it easier to keep trying.


  63. Odyssey Says:

    I need to start saying that…and maybe get myself a long flowing white beard…

    A long flowing white beard does add gravitas.


  64. drugmonkey Says:

    A long flowing white beard does add gravitas.

    Like these guys?


  65. isabella Says:


    I suspect that even with your long flowing white beard you must be a very attractive gentleman/gentlewoman. Are true photos permitted?.


  66. drugmonkey Says:

    Are you saying that the faculty of the Unseen University are not the very pinnacle of Teh Hawt?


  67. Odyssey Says:



  68. msphd Says:

    They should have hired me. Ain’t nobody struggled more than me. Problem solved!

    Seriously, I have trouble feeling sorry for these people who were unprepared for the realities of how bad things can be.

    And DM, nobody is beating down my door asking to hire me because I struggled so much for so long.

    Still, it is sad. I’m sure it’s a hard adjustment, starting any new job is stressful, and it’s not uncommon to get the bait & switch in terms of what to expect from a new department. I’m sure people complain even if they’re well equipped to deal with the problems.

    But it’s much sadder for their trainees who join the labs of the people who really aren’t prepared to do their jobs, for the department who should have hired someone better (me!), and for science in general.

    And at the end of the day, I’m sad for all the layperson taxpayers, who have to rely on this fucked up system to determine who is supposed to be in the top tier of problem solvers and innovation. And who don’t have any idea just how fucked up it is.


  69. I have to say that I, for one, feel better about ATTAHI struggling. Like CPP said:

    “You do understand that the selection process for tenure-track positions at research university is 100% indifferent to all of those skills you listed, right?”

    Those top tier jobs so often go to asshats that coasted through super funded labs getting glamourpubs based on the PIs name and don’t know how hard the job will be or all of the human factors involved in being successful. I made it a point to meet my competition at conferences when I was on the market. Many of them were good, but some of the people that ended up with jobs… Makes me wonder if this is the real reason why the top schools have higher percentages of PIs not making tenure?

    Yes, I’m a still bit bitter about not being at a top place where start up packages cover everything you need and you get enough funding to hire personel, plus the instant name recognition, lighter teaching load, and competent administration. I don’t envy the extra pressure they are under to be phenomenal, but my opinion is that it is even harder just below top where you are expected to bring the school to the top without the resources.


  70. Odyssey Says:

    Yes, I’m a still bit bitter about not being at a top place where start up packages cover everything you need and you get enough funding to hire personel, plus the instant name recognition, lighter teaching load, and competent administration.

    Sorry, but I had to laugh at this. Especially the “competent administration” part. The grass isn’t that much greener on the other side. A bit greener, yes, but not that much.


  71. Spiny Norman Says:

    “As to the grad students working on weekends… How’s that for productivity, A-hole.”

    Funny thing, but IME time spent in lab — especially on weekends — is a rather poor predictor of productivity. I never tell my people to work late or on weekends. Ever. I make it clear that they should do their work in a way that they meet *their* goals as trainees.

    And yet when I come in on weekends, or at night, my lab is more often than not one of the ones with the doors open and the lights on.

    You might ask yourself how that is possible.


  72. Spiny Norman Says:

    …I’ll also add that in my class of six at at what was arguably a tier THREE institution, five of the six of us have ended up as tenure-track faculty members. And the sixth was easily good enough to have done so, if it was what he’d wanted (he’s happy doing other things now). As so many here have said, the easy route is not always the correct route.


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