When your labors benefit the next person in line
February 4, 2013
Fascinating topic raised by @rxnm_ on the twitts today:
Hard to be excited that my work helped someone else get money they can use to pay me to continue being a temp.
I am not ungrateful and don’t think PI’s don’t deserve grants on their own merit. It is just hard to feel it as a shared success.
This is one of the realities of the training arc. When you are a postdoc in a lab, part of what you are doing is servicing the grant game. Whether you realize this or not. You are going to be expected to work on topics related to the lab’s current funding (in most cases, biomed, ymmv, etc, etc). In this your work will be included in progress reports and in future grant applications as well. Your (“your”) papers will be used by the PI to support her reputation as a productive scientist. To shore up the appearance that when she proposes a given research plan, by glory some cool stuff will get published as a result!
But the NIH grant process can be lengthy. Submit a proposal in Feb/March for review in Jun/Jul…Council review in Sep…and first possible funding Dec 1. And we all know that means no budget, Continuing Resolution and good luck seeing your money until late Feb, early March. If the grant doesn’t score well the first time, it must be revised in Nov, reviewed in Feb…Council in May..for funding in Jul. Eighteen glorious months.
So chances are very good that the hard work of the postdoc will end up in tangible grant support results for the laboratory that only the PI is going to “enjoy”. Well, and the techs. And of course any more-junior trainees….and….FUTURE POSTDOCS aaaaarrrrrghhhhhhh YOUR COMPETITION!!!!!!! arrrgggghhh!!!! dammit!
How many postdocs think about the labors of the prior trainees when they enter a laboratory on a funded grant? And how they are benefiting from the work of those prior individuals? How many late-stage postdocs who are starting to feel pretty damn exploited when that grant based on their work, that they wrote half* of, gets funded just as they are leaving**? I wonder if any of them think about the grant that funded their first three years in the lab…
**leaving for a professorial job, no biggie. but what if there has been a great laboratory shrinking due to grant loss and the timing is such that the new grant comes in too late for the current postdoc?