I started as a postdoc over a month ago at National Lab. Everything (and everyone) at National Lab is different from my time a Grad University. There are obviously the big differences between being a student vs being a postdoc, and doing research at a university vs a national laboratory setting. Aside from the obvious differences, I really like where I’m at. I like that I’m in a much more professional setting (i.e., I’m not expected to be a part-time nanny to my adviser’s children or treated as 2nd rate because I don’t have light complexion and blue eyes). The postdocs in the group work independently from each other, but discuss science- and research-related issues with each other. My postdoc adviser is fairly low-key, and gives me the space and independence to do research and is approachable when I have crazy ideas or hit roadblocks.
National Lab is not Disneyland with rainbows and puppy dogs, but it’s a good place. My peeves so far are the type of bureaucracy that’s present (versus what I was accustomed to at Grad University) and some laboratory equipment inconveniences — it’s not centrally located but spread out across multiple buildings. But those are not the things that bring me down. Those are annoyances and I push through them.
Weeks leading up to my start at National Lab, I received a couple of comments from former postdocs that I used to work with at Grad University. Their comments were along the lines of, “I hope that National Lab meets your expectation.” These postdocs knew that I was unhappy during my last years at Grad University, and also knew that I was eager to leave and start at National Lab. I still think that my expectations were reasonable… I just wanted to work in a professional environment. To put it bluntly, I don’t know what (fucked up) graduate experience they had where think that my graduate adviser’s group was functional and operating normally. I suppose it’s like those who continuously seek to be in an abusive romantic relationship – they are too fucked up to know what’s better. And I think that for a long time (and evident in my earlier posts), I thought how my adviser ran his group and treated his students was normal, and that there was something wrong with me. And after reading numerous academic blogs and their version of their academic world, I now see that this is not normal at all.
About a month ago, I found out that my graduate mentor had been pushing and supporting the new graduate student in my adviser’s group. I consider my mentor to be a former postdoc in my graduate adviser’s group. My mentor suggested a fellowship for this student so that she could have a research stay at his group, and he even supplied a successful research grant for her to rebrand as her own. For a while, I was really betrayed that this guy who I considered to be my mentor had selected this other student to be “successful”. At that same point of my career, I was better than her in every way (from a technical background). The difference between us is our outward appearance. When I went to him as a first year student and suggested new directions and approaches for my research project, he killed it instantly. He told me to stick with what my adviser had laid out. Sure, maybe my research ideas were not good but I was trying to instill some creative control into my work.
When I applied for various graduate fellowships, no one (not my adviser, not my mentor) offered me any advice and my adviser even said, “You don’t have to apply for fellowships. I have enough money to support you.” That was not the point of why I was applying. My fellowship applications were rejected. And now I know that I likely went up against applications where the student proposals were basically authored by a much more seasoned scientist and not some first year graduate student. In my final year as a student, the adviser suggested to the golden graduate and undergraduate students to apply for fellowships so that their “CV’s will look good.” What about my CV? Anyway, this type of bullshit from my graduate adviser does not even faze me anymore. I almost expect it now. But from my mentor… I did not see this coming at all. Perhaps while I was a student, I looked passed his similarities to my adviser. Maybe they are one in the same.
This was a lot harder for me since I have a personal friendship with my mentor. Some of his professional decisions do influence my personal opinion of him. I’ve thought about effectively separating my professional and personal opinion of him, and I just can’t do it. There are people that I don’t personally like, but I can work professionally with them. And there are those that I like on a personal level, but I know that we could never work professionally. So I’ve decided to keep the professional relationship, and cut-off any personal ones. I can’t subject myself to being in a friendship where I know that he thinks I am inferior or undeserving of professional awards/opportunities because I am not Caucasian. I already subjected myself to 4 years of that attitude in graduate school.
But hey, look at me now? In spite of my adviser’s dementoring techniques (and his influence on my mentor and others in his group), I wrote a kick-ass proposal for my postdoc fellowship (scored 92/100) to join postdoc adviser (whom I had never met until a few months ago, and most importantly, my graduate adviser does not know). I published four 1st-author papers by graduation (+ additional conference proceedings), and will submit my fifth paper this month. So how are the other graduates doing? Of 2 (and soon to be 3) other Ph.D. graduates, they have ONE 1st author paper between them all!
It looks like I have gone from unhappy graduate student to a happy postdoc – and I hope that my frustrations as a postdoc stem from my research and not the working environment.
And my favorite monologue ever (from Trainspotting):
Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourself.
Choose your future.
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