Monday, July 23, 2007

Dr. Bright Side

Chris wrote a lovely post about the perks of being a post-doc. Since few people whine more than me (I had to go to a retreat! At a nice hotel! And eat and drink and listen to interesting talks! Weep with me, people!), I thought I might offer my thoughts on how being a post-doc doesn't suck so much at all.

(For better post-doc posts, perhaps you could visit the new Postdoc Carnival.)

I stayed at home with Mom for over a week and am planning another weekend at home in the near future. I've spent time in Hawaii, Seattle, Cleveland, Chicago, the Poconos, and Destin in my time here. I work from home a great deal and have suffered a major depressive episode that left me largely unproductive for several weeks. I spent hours and hours in therapy. At no time have I been threatened or berated for my performance and have been consistently encouraged and coddled.

Granted, this is likely due to having a delightful boss who is among the kindest men I've ever met. But said freedom did happen during my postdoctoral time, so it's possible to achieve this kind of lifestyle.

I should also note that I've written 597 blog posts in my post-doc time. This is 598. That's a lot of time spent writing. I've also read and befriended some amazing people who live on the other side of my computer. Not all jobs allow one this quantity of time to pursue a hobby.

Scientific Freedom
I'm funded on a training grant that pays my salary and provides a basic framework of scientific questions. But I opted out of work with small animals and have focused on problems that I find compelling. I've spent the past 2 weeks analyzing data that Boss thinks has long since been archived and deleted. I predict he'll be completely supportive of the paper I'm drafting and will - as always - work diligently to rework my words and ideas so that they're simple and clear and publishable.

The ability to latch onto a problem and develop hypotheses, optimize methods and write results with slowly decreasing supervision is a nice feeling. As my time in science grows larger, I find I'm more informed, more capable of doing the work without getting stuck and discouraged. It still happens, of course, but I have more experience to know that there will be a solution and I am capable of finding it.

It turns out I'm a bit of a whore for accolades, small as they may be. But getting papers published is delightful. Getting reprint requests, compliments and questions, invitations to Italy to give talks (we still email, though he's not set a date for the invitation. The option is, I think, still open though. I hope.), being placed on an impressive roster of speakers for a small meeting in September... It's enough to make me flush with pleasure. People think I know stuff! And they'd like me to write book chapters or travel to speak to their research groups! I'm still at the point where I think they're silly - I don't know much at all, really - but it's such a feeling of delighted surprise when each new thing happens. I like it very much.

OK, this one does hurt a bit since I make about half of what some of my peers in grad school pull down. But I can afford a lovely house, eat out often (too often, perhaps), shop often enough to be content - all that good stuff. I would like a new car, but mine still runs fine. I have a bit of residual credit card debt (which is sad since my education was all free. I'm lame.) but rarely feel that I can't afford things I need. I do make considerably more than the NIH average though and it's not like I'm living in complete luxury.

I also don't have money for resources at work. This has been the big drawback of this particular position. It's possible to obtain funding, but it's cumbersome and time consuming to do so.

I also feel I'm at a point where I want to move on. I like the feeling of being free to make this next big decision, though it's a bit scary as well. I could be anywhere next year! Doing any number of very cool jobs and picking a new house and meeting new people. There is a continuous process of learning - what works in science and on a personal level - and these years (and the one to come) have provided me a great deal of information. I'm very comfortable meeting collaborators and listing my strengths. I'm learning who to ask about less familiar areas and what characteristics of an institution and department are vital for me to be content.

This is an incomplete list, I'm sure. But I've felt ill today and have been analyzing and writing and lying around moaning. I believe the retreat (Are we still weeping at my misfortune for having attended? Anybody?) has sickened me, but Friend thinks I'd have a fever if that was the case. So instead of listing symptoms and generally whining, I decided to remind myself of how lucky I am to be here, doing this, and to have time to figure things out from here.


CJR said...

I'm so glad that you can find some positives too, Katie. I hope you feel better soon.

Kisha said...

what a nice did cheer me up a bit. (Maybe I should write one of these) I hope your mom is doing okay, and that you are okay as well.

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