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Gaining independence as a postdoc

  1. Feb 14, 2014 #1

    Monique

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    After four years of postdoc I'm wondering how one develops further. I have set up a research line that is independent from my supervisors, but I'm using the lab resources. That means my supervisors are claiming the project and are closing me in. I've obtained funding for a PhD student, which was based on my conception of a project, but now I'm not allowed to carry responsibility for training of the student. I've come up with a promising new research line for the student to follow, but the idea is instantly assimilated by my supervisors and I feel shut out.

    I've had a little conversation about the situation, that I expect more independence and responsibility. The message was: "No way am I letting you have responsibility, I've worked my * off to establish the lab and I'm not letting you take profit from that". Actually a while ago a researcher approached me, he was interested in setting up a research line with me. After this recent enlightenment I suspect my supervisor told him I can't be his collaborator.

    Is this reasonable behavior for a supervisor, shouldn't I be allowed to set up my own (mini) network and develop my own (mini) ideas? Or should I really first get 1.5M in funding and then start building from nothing? I've asked a consultant management development, but she couldn't give any insight. The consultant advised me to talk to a successful researcher in the department, but I think that's a bad idea (feels like gossiping).

    People who simply continued their PhD work in the same lab are already junior PI or assistant professor, I wonder whether I should try to get funding with my current supervisor and stay a few more years to increase output and move from there, or start looking in other places for opportunities?
     
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  3. Feb 14, 2014 #2

    maajdl

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    If your are employed, your an employee and your are not independent.
    Therefore, the minimum for your is to collaborate with your boss.
    If the collaboration is impossible, then you better leave to somewhere else.
    Otherwise, you should talk frankly with your boss.
    You should also have reasonable expectations.
     
  4. Feb 14, 2014 #3

    Andy Resnick

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    It sounds like you are in a really bad situation, your advisor should be *enabling* your path to independence, not preventing it. It's not clear how best to proceed; all I can suggest is to get out immediately, if not sooner, and find a more appropriate laboratory environment.

    You have my sympathies.
     
  5. Feb 14, 2014 #4

    Choppy

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    What you're saying indeed seems odd to me. I agree with Andy that your supervisor should be enabling your path to independence.

    The caveat I would include on that is that you're meeting your other committments as a post-doc. Most PIs probably won't want you spending time on your own ideas when they need you working on a particular project.

    If you're moving your primary project along at a satisfactory rate, I see no reason why anyone should inhibit you from pursuing your own ideas.
     
  6. Feb 14, 2014 #5
    I'm an undergraduate that is working with a postdoc. I've only met the PI 1 time, and I'm completely under the direction of the postdoc. The research we are doing is an offshoot of the project that the PI is working on. It uses the same experiment but focuses on a different aspect of it.
     
  7. Feb 14, 2014 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    Does you institute have a postdoc mentoring program or officer?
     
  8. Feb 14, 2014 #7

    lisab

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    Do European universities have Ombudsmen (or something similar)?
     
  9. Feb 15, 2014 #8

    Monique

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    Sure, I'm being employed so I'm not asking to run my own lab. As a postdoc however, I expect to be trained towards independence, or at least be given the opportunity to develop. Collaboration is not the problem, expectations is.

    Thanks Andy, I do think I get opportunities and have things to be grateful for, but things turned upside down in the last half year. The "agreement" is that I'll have to wait a few years, but I'm not going to sit back.

    That's true, I'm working on a paper that's a spin-off from a course. It's forbidden to work on it in regular working hours. With the amount of time I put in research I thought that was a bit silly, but ok I can understand the point of view.

    I've been selected for a competitive postdoc talent program. I was really looking forward to this, but at the last moment the talent management informed me I couldn't participate with the round that started last year. I'm the first to be selected for the next edition: 2015. That will be useless though, so I convinced them to let me participate in some of the individual activities. So, the management development consultant I talked to is coach of the program, but then she couldn't advice me on this topic.

    I know that in the program the participants must pick a coach outside of the hospital, a senior researcher in a relevant field to have meetings with. I've started thinking about who and how I could approach someone, I can do that without being coached by the program.

    That's what I was expecting. I had to explain to my supervisor why the PhD project was a good idea and expressed several times I was really fond of pursuing the research, did all the work to get it off the ground, but now lost all responsibility. I'm encouraged to further contribute my ideas to the project, but it feels rather unsatisfying. Maybe I'm overreacting and expecting too much.

    I'm not going to make any kind of complaint, I just want to know how other people deal with the transition and what are reasonable expectations. Unfortunately the department has created an ivory tower that segregates the senior from the junior, they are located on the 6th floor and I'm on the 3rd (others juniors are spread over other floors/buildings). So, no conversation at the coffee machine with more established people, not even social functions to mingle. Except for promotion ceremonies.. maybe I should use those more to my advantage..
     
  10. Feb 15, 2014 #9

    atyy

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    Since you developed the ideas, I think you should definitely be included on the project as a collaborator. But "independence" is, I think, a different matter. Personally, for me, a small group of equals who treat each other with respect is most fun, and that can include the PhD student being given essentially complete independence, as I was fortunate to have during my PhD. So perhaps you could ask to be included in the project as an equal, but leave the supervision of the student in the formal sense to the PI. In this case, you, the student, and the PI would be de facto "independent" collaborators on the project, although you wouldn't be the formal supervisor of the student.

    The other notion of independence is that you should have a project you can take with you when you start your lab. This doesn't mean that while you are in the lab of your PI, that the PI is not a collaborator who appears on the author list. Rather, it's a project that your PI agrees to hand formal leadership over to you when you start your lab. The way this is done varies tremendously, and it would probably be best to find out the variety of practices in your field. Anyway, these are just my random thoughts and there could be many reasonable ways of proceeding.
     
  11. Feb 16, 2014 #10

    StatGuy2000

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    I'm not a researcher so perhaps I'm not qualified to give a good suggestion, but have you had a serious one-on-one discussion with your supervisor about what is actually expected of you as a postdoc? From the way you describe it to me, your advisor considers you as nothing more than cheap labour and doesn't even consider you as a colleague or researcher.

    Given your earlier comments (in another thread) about # of hours you are putting in without being paid and inability to take vacation days, I would make one of 2 suggestions:

    (1) Search for another research position (either within the EU or in North America) while continuing your current research.

    or

    (2) Leave academia and search for a position in industry; since according to your profile your research is in developmental biology, perhaps you could find a position in, say, pharma or biotech industry or in firms specializing in providing consulting services to the pharma/biotech sector (similar to where I'm working now).
     
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