March 10, 2006

More Postdoc Commentary

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at March 10, 2006 3:32 PM

Since this is becoming a theme around here, I'm linking to another perspective on the postdoc experience, this one embedded in a rant about public perceptions of scientists.

This is not reality. If you want to do science, you're in the lab. You're in the lab a lot. Sometimes you forget what the sun looks like. You gotta pay your dues. That means laying your intellect bare for harsh criticism for years on end. Committee members and advisors constantly challenging you. Who the hell do you think you are? What makes you think you can succeed in this field?

The underlying point seems to be that the academic career path selects for scientists who are dedicated and intellectually rigorous, although this is not explicitly stated. The author's "job description" for a neuroscience postdoc is amusing. (Via Pharyngula.)

Tags: Academia, Science

After reading that, I am _so_ glad I'm in astronomy and not one of those "lab" fields! :-D No monkey shit for me, man!

Posted by: Justin | March 10, 2006 3:49 PM

And the modified version of Justin's comment: While I do some research in lab fields, I'm glad I'm a theorist!

At least I can choose a bit more where I spend my hours tenaciously trying to make it in this business. That person was right-on about what it takes to succeed in this business. (Although I don't think it was necessary to insult Bill Murray's character in Ghostbusters to do it...)

Posted by: Mason | March 10, 2006 4:38 PM

The most vile substance I've had to handle in lab has been used pump oil. (We managed to drop the plug in the drain pan so I really got to sink my hands in the stuff.) If I'd done any fabrication I'd probably have dealt with worse. And the MRI guys in our group have handled horse brains, cow blood, and human prostates (ex vivo, at least for academic purposes).

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | March 10, 2006 7:56 PM

Mmm... braaaaaaaaaaains.

Posted by: Mason | March 10, 2006 8:49 PM

Mmm...prosta--err, never mind.

One of the labs we share space with has an HF line. Whee!

Posted by: Jolene | March 11, 2006 3:58 PM

I've worked with explosives, but only microgram amounts. And hygroscopics, although again, micrograms.

That article, though, that article makes me seriously consider looking outside of academia.

How do you find out if your potential postdoc has heath benefits?

Posted by: Wren | March 11, 2006 7:46 PM

You can ask your potential advisor, but you'll probably have to call HR because the would-be advisor may not know the answer.

If you're doing a postdoc that involves teaching (which probably means you're in math), you typically have more health benefit options that other postdocs. (Many universities will look at postdoc vs, say, "Visiting Asst Prof" or "Lecturer" [the legal names for the jobs one sees in math depts] as different in terms of what benefits are there because of the teaching, despite the fact that they represent people in the same stages of their careers. Ususally, though, that means one has a larger variety of options---it doesn't seem to be an issue of no options vs some options.)

To be more concrete, the options available to me at GT were exactly the same as faculty, but my physics postdoc colleague there did not have as many options as I did. (My salary was also something like 50 % higher than theirs, so having to teach definitely came with a lot of compensatory factors.) I have fewer health-insurance options at Caltech than I did at GT, but things are good enough in this respect.

I guess that guy complained about salary, but I think a big issue in terms of postdoc salary is whether one is hired by an indivual prof (or, more precisely, from a grant) or by a department or even umbrella program/institute. (I've been hired only at the department and umbrella institute levels, so it seems like that's help me avoid several of the issues that guy brought up.)

Posted by: Mason | March 11, 2006 8:17 PM
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