I’m pregnant YAY!!! Now what?!

(by Curiouser&Curiouser) Feb 21 2017

Long time readers of this blog may know that my husband and I have been trying to get pregnant for many years. Well, it finally worked!!! I’m now 31 weeks along and we are beyond excited. We had our babyshower the other weekend and I was so grateful, not just because it was beautiful, fun and delicious, but also because it felt like such an amazing milestone in this journey.

I couldn’t believe it when our doctor first called to say that I was pregnant. I was totally convinced it hadn’t worked, after so many failures I couldn’t imagine we’d get pregnant on our first round of IVF. I’d just wrapped up a major project at work and had decided to take 2 weeks off. We did the implantation and then took a road trip and went camping for the next few days. I tried not to focus on what may or may not be happening in my body and just enjoy myself – although I was less than pleased when I got bitten by 2 mosquitoes in the first 5 minutes setting up the tent (OMG zika?). When we got home I decided not to get my hopes up and didn’t take a pregnancy test, after all I didn’t feel nearly as terrible as I had with any of my previous pregnancies so I couldn’t be pregnant, just goes to show what I know/knew.

The first 4-5months were scary and exciting. We were trying not to get our hopes up that this one might work, but I also didn’t want to miss the joy of it. My husband didn’t get excited until he saw me throwing up – I usually have a stomach of steel and hadn’t gotten morning sickness any of the previous times– unfortunately, me throwing up would become a pretty common site up untill… well actually I’m still waiting for that loveliness to end, but never mind.

Trying to figure out who to tell when was tough. I decided to let our environmental health and safety person know pretty much right away since I work with isofluorane and other toxic stuff. They were great and had people come test the lab and me right away (although they did accidently forward an email with the info that there was an un-named pregnant person in the group to a few of my colleagues, which was a little awkward, but it worked out fine). I had to make some work modifications so I told one of my coworkers when asking for help at around 8weeks.

When my boss asked me for an updated plan for our upcoming year-long study, which I obviously wouldn’t be able to complete before my due date, I decided to tell him that I was pregnant (at 10.5 weeks). I was really really nervous to tell him, after all, I’d just finished one big study and we weren’t going to start the new one for a few months – and I’d need to go out on leave partway through – it would almost make sense if they let me go (I know they probably couldn’t easily do that legally, but I’m a worrier and I always try to think up the worst case scenario). My fears were totally misplaced, my boss has been so supportive and a huge advocate for me. He encouraged me to accept help – which felt totally unnatural – and helped me to realize that I probably wouldn’t be comfortable running 8hours of behavior for weeks at a time at 8.5mo pregnant. Now that I’m getting a little closer to the end and I’m still retching, dealing with back aches and having to take breaks every few hours to eat and test my blood glucose (yup I got gestational diabetes) I’m so thankful! He also brought up the option of my coming back part time for a little while once my maternity leave is over! I don’t know if I will take him up on this offer, but I am so grateful that it might be an option and I feel so supported.

Hopefully, everything will keep on going (pretty) smoothly both with the baby and at work and I can’t wait to report back what it’s like having a newborn while working in industry.


4 responses so far

Hidden Figures Book/Movie Club

(by peirama) Feb 14 2017

A number of us recently read and watched Hidden Figures, a book and its film adaptation about a group of female black mathematicians, known as computers, who individually and as a group played a crucial role in early air and space flight. It focuses on Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn. Both the book and movie touch on topics of racism, sexism, and how a combination of smarts, hard work, and confidence can break barriers.

What was the most relatable part of the story for you?

SweetScience: I related to the way many of the people featured in this book more or less stumbled into their careers – yes, based on talent and interest in mathematics, but also because they just needed a job and this was the most appealing one for practical reasons. Especially early in my education and career I felt like I just kept going ahead in a field I enjoy and am good at even when I didn’t know where the path would take me. These brilliant women make you wonder how many people have the abilities to make a major impact if only given the opportunity and exposure to different fields to test their talents.

Curiouser: Although the book only touched on this peripherally, I related to the two body (or more) issue that popped up for many of the women in the book.  It was interesting to see them choose between career and living close to family and how they managed having families and husbands with their own careers.        

peírama: I related to the relationship between work and family that was highlighted in these women’s stories. Some gave up career opportunities to get married and have children, even though they really enjoyed their work. They all ended up getting the opportunity to do work that they loved in addition to having families, a situation I hope can be achieved for all of us.

StrongerThanFiction: These women accomplished so much. I related to the quiet persistence that they had. Sometimes in the type of world we live in today that seems like it is never-ending headline to headline with constant drama. I found it so refreshing to read about people who worked so hard professionally, and made slow but steady steps in social justice issues. They earned respect instead of trying to grab it.

 

What surprised you about the story?

SweetScience: I was constantly surprised by the treatment of women and people of color as ‘less than’, even though I already knew. For example “The black teacher and her colleagues, including the principal, made less money than the school’s white janitor.” Ugh, it just hurts!

Curiouser: Since I had not heard of women computers of any color, that was fascinating to me.  It made me wonder how we went from the mentality that women were able to do the advanced and meticulous math required to be a “computer” to the idea that (hopefully is going away) that girls aren’t good at math.  

peírama: I know that before computers people did math by hand, but it is still amazing to think about the calculations required for space travel being written out with pen and paper.

StrongerThanFiction: I knew that race relations were very bad at the time, but I was very surprised by the persistence into the professional sphere. An analogy can be made relating the work that gets done to currency. The more work, and the better quality work that gets done is like more money. It is crazy to me that supervisors and other higher ups could still be totally degrading and unfair when they saw firsthand the work that these women did.

 

Who would you recommend the book or movie to?

SweetScience: The book was a little hard for me to follow even though the author clearly tried to keep reminding the reader who was who, so I would probably only recommend the book to anyone who really wants to understand the history of this group of women and operations related to race. I imagine I would recommend the movie to everyone though!

Curiouser: I also had a hard time following the book.  I wanted to be fully engaged but because of the range of characters and time, the plot was a little meandering. However, I think the facts and message behind the story are absolutely critical for everyone to know so I would say either give the book a try or at least watch the movie.

peírama: The movie is great for all audiences. It is easy to follow and inspiring. Like the other reviewers said, the book is not so straightforward. I really like the background that the book includes that the movie does not have time for and I highly recommend the book. However, you may enjoy it more if you have a lot of time in a couple of sittings to read it rather than spread out over weeks like I did.

StrongerThanFiction: To parents that want to watch a movie with their kids and discuss it afterwards. To my daughter when she gets old enough.

 

Here are a few quotes that resonated with us.

 

While the importance of mentors and women helping one another is stressed throughout the stories of Hidden Figures, the primary theme was about women who forged their own paths, and earned their positions and respect in a meritocracy.

“There’s something about this story that seems to resonate with people of all races, ethnicities, genders, ages, and backgrounds. It’s a story of hope, that even among some of our country’s harshest realities – legalized segregation, racial discrimination – there is evidence of the triumph of meritocracy, that each of us should be allowed to rise as far as our talent and hard work can take us.”

“A new future stretched out before them, but Dorothy Vaughan and the others found themselves at the beginning of a career, with few role models to follow to its end. Just as they had learned the techniques of aeronautical research on the job, the ambitious among them would have to figure out for themselves what it would take to advance as a woman in a profession that was built by men.”

“Each one had cracked the hole in the wall a little wider, allowing the next talent to come through. And now that Mary had walked through, she was going to open the wall as wide as possible for the people coming behind her.”

 

The women coped with bias on several levels in a variety of ways:

“Bemused, Katherine considered the engineer’s sudden departure. The moment that passed between them could have been because she was black and he was white. But then again, it could have been because she was a woman and he was a man. Or maybe the moment was an interaction between a professional and a subprofessional, an engineer and a girl.”

“Against ignorance, she and others like her mounted a day-in, day-out charm offensive: impeccably dressed, well-spoken, patriotic, and upright, they were racial synecdoches, keenly aware that the interactions that individual blacks had with whites could have implications for the entire black community.”

 

This quote is really important for everyone to consider regarding how invisible fences and glass ceilings can cause biases about limits to be internalized – think about it for any marginalized group, and think about it for yourself.

“The electrified fence of segregation and the centuries of shocks it delivered so effectively circumscribed the lives of American blacks that even after the current was turned off, the idea of climbing over the fence inspired dread. Like the editorial meetings in 1244, like so many competitive situations large and small, national and local, black people frequently disqualified themselves even without the WHITES ONLY sign in view.”

 

One impression that stuck out was that these women had different expectations for themselves. They worked harder than anyone else, and (it seems) made more sacrifices than anyone else just to coexist. While they noticed this, they persisted. I think that they noticed that while they could certainly have an influence on social dynamics, there were still many things out of their control. And they chose to work hard instead of give up.

“Mary didn’t have the power to remove the limits that society imposed on her girls, but it was her duty, she felt, to help pry off the restrictions they might place on themselves. Their dark skin, their gender, their economic status – none of those were acceptable excuses for not giving the fullest rein to their imaginations and ambitions. You can do better – we can do better, she told them with every word and every deed. For Mary Jackson, life was a long process of raising one’s expectations.”
Have you read Hidden Figures or seen the movie? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


One response so far

Hidden Figures Book/Movie Club

(by peirama) Feb 14 2017

A number of us recently read and watched Hidden Figures, a book and its film adaptation about a group of female black mathematicians, known as computers, who individually and as a group played a crucial role in early air and space flight. It focuses on Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn. Both the book and movie touch on topics of racism, sexism, and how a combination of smarts, hard work, and confidence can break barriers.

What was the most relatable part of the story for you?

SweetScience: I related to the way many of the people featured in this book more or less stumbled into their careers – yes, based on talent and interest in mathematics, but also because they just needed a job and this was the most appealing one for practical reasons. Especially early in my education and career I felt like I just kept going ahead in a field I enjoy and am good at even when I didn’t know where the path would take me. These brilliant women make you wonder how many people have the abilities to make a major impact if only given the opportunity and exposure to different fields to test their talents.

Curiouser: Although the book only touched on this peripherally, I related to the two body (or more) issue that popped up for many of the women in the book.  It was interesting to see them choose between career and living close to family and how they managed having families and husbands with their own careers.        

peírama: I related to the relationship between work and family that was highlighted in these women’s stories. Some gave up career opportunities to get married and have children, even though they really enjoyed their work. They all ended up getting the opportunity to do work that they loved in addition to having families, a situation I hope can be achieved for all of us.

StrongerThanFiction: These women accomplished so much. I related to the quiet persistence that they had. Sometimes in the type of world we live in today that seems like it is never-ending headline to headline with constant drama. I found it so refreshing to read about people who worked so hard professionally, and made slow but steady steps in social justice issues. They earned respect instead of trying to grab it.

 

What surprised you about the story?

SweetScience: I was constantly surprised by the treatment of women and people of color as ‘less than’, even though I already knew. For example “The black teacher and her colleagues, including the principal, made less money than the school’s white janitor.” Ugh, it just hurts!

Curiouser: Since I had not heard of women computers of any color, that was fascinating to me.  It made me wonder how we went from the mentality that women were able to do the advanced and meticulous math required to be a “computer” to the idea that (hopefully is going away) that girls aren’t good at math.  

peírama: I know that before computers people did math by hand, but it is still amazing to think about the calculations required for space travel being written out with pen and paper.

StrongerThanFiction: I knew that race relations were very bad at the time, but I was very surprised by the persistence into the professional sphere. An analogy can be made relating the work that gets done to currency. The more work, and the better quality work that gets done is like more money. It is crazy to me that supervisors and other higher ups could still be totally degrading and unfair when they saw firsthand the work that these women did.

 

Who would you recommend the book or movie to?

SweetScience: The book was a little hard for me to follow even though the author clearly tried to keep reminding the reader who was who, so I would probably only recommend the book to anyone who really wants to understand the history of this group of women and operations related to race. I imagine I would recommend the movie to everyone though!

Curiouser: I also had a hard time following the book.  I wanted to be fully engaged but because of the range of characters and time, the plot was a little meandering. However, I think the facts and message behind the story are absolutely critical for everyone to know so I would say either give the book a try or at least watch the movie.

peírama: The movie is great for all audiences. It is easy to follow and inspiring. Like the other reviewers said, the book is not so straightforward. I really like the background that the book includes that the movie does not have time for and I highly recommend the book. However, you may enjoy it more if you have a lot of time in a couple of sittings to read it rather than spread out over weeks like I did.

StrongerThanFiction: To parents that want to watch a movie with their kids and discuss it afterwards. To my daughter when she gets old enough.

 

Here are a few quotes that resonated with us.

 

While the importance of mentors and women helping one another is stressed throughout the stories of Hidden Figures, the primary theme was about women who forged their own paths, and earned their positions and respect in a meritocracy.

“There’s something about this story that seems to resonate with people of all races, ethnicities, genders, ages, and backgrounds. It’s a story of hope, that even among some of our country’s harshest realities – legalized segregation, racial discrimination – there is evidence of the triumph of meritocracy, that each of us should be allowed to rise as far as our talent and hard work can take us.”

“A new future stretched out before them, but Dorothy Vaughan and the others found themselves at the beginning of a career, with few role models to follow to its end. Just as they had learned the techniques of aeronautical research on the job, the ambitious among them would have to figure out for themselves what it would take to advance as a woman in a profession that was built by men.”

“Each one had cracked the hole in the wall a little wider, allowing the next talent to come through. And now that Mary had walked through, she was going to open the wall as wide as possible for the people coming behind her.”

 

The women coped with bias on several levels in a variety of ways:

“Bemused, Katherine considered the engineer’s sudden departure. The moment that passed between them could have been because she was black and he was white. But then again, it could have been because she was a woman and he was a man. Or maybe the moment was an interaction between a professional and a subprofessional, an engineer and a girl.”

“Against ignorance, she and others like her mounted a day-in, day-out charm offensive: impeccably dressed, well-spoken, patriotic, and upright, they were racial synecdoches, keenly aware that the interactions that individual blacks had with whites could have implications for the entire black community.”

 

This quote is really important for everyone to consider regarding how invisible fences and glass ceilings can cause biases about limits to be internalized – think about it for any marginalized group, and think about it for yourself.

“The electrified fence of segregation and the centuries of shocks it delivered so effectively circumscribed the lives of American blacks that even after the current was turned off, the idea of climbing over the fence inspired dread. Like the editorial meetings in 1244, like so many competitive situations large and small, national and local, black people frequently disqualified themselves even without the WHITES ONLY sign in view.”

 

One impression that stuck out was that these women had different expectations for themselves. They worked harder than anyone else, and (it seems) made more sacrifices than anyone else just to coexist. While they noticed this, they persisted. I think that they noticed that while they could certainly have an influence on social dynamics, there were still many things out of their control. And they chose to work hard instead of give up.

“Mary didn’t have the power to remove the limits that society imposed on her girls, but it was her duty, she felt, to help pry off the restrictions they might place on themselves. Their dark skin, their gender, their economic status – none of those were acceptable excuses for not giving the fullest rein to their imaginations and ambitions. You can do better – we can do better, she told them with every word and every deed. For Mary Jackson, life was a long process of raising one’s expectations.”
Have you read Hidden Figures or seen the movie? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


No responses yet

March for Science hat?

(by torschlusspanik) Feb 07 2017

Imagine the recent Women’s marches all over the US and world without pussyhats.  Sure, signs were clever and creative, but the collective message and solidarity of participants were loud and clear in the sea of bright pink hats with pointy corners.

 

Does the upcoming March for Science on April 22 need hats? What will be the unifying message?  Ideas are trickling in some corners of internet.  

 

Because there are so many areas of science and implication of its celebration, advocation, and protection is vast, it may be difficult and/or unnecessary to come up with a single symbol that encompasses all of them.  

 

But being a former neuroscientist turned a crafter, I’m going to put on a thinking cap on…(pun intended) and explore some possibilities for a March for Science hat.

 

Among my neuroscientist friends, a brain hat has been a popular idea [each image is linked to its source].

brainhat

Now, this is truly a thinking cap (again, intended). I’ve seen this design in many places and most often.  In a way, this can be a unifying symbol/hat, that we all need to use our brain to make well informed decisions regarding the environment, our health, and future of this planet.  And to demand that our government make policies based on evidence-based facts, not the other way around.

 

In the theme of knitted hats, I have seen two designs of DNA hat:

dnahat1

danhat2

These are all cute, but the patterns look a bit more complicated and time-consuming.

 

Though I am not a chemist, this may be considered a straightforwardly “science” hat:

chemhat

Again, the hat is fancy, and may be too fancy to make in a short time.

 

Just to carry the trend of resistance from the successful Women’s March, we can always wear pussyhats, or the same design in colors of the earth, maybe blue and/or green.

 

In the time of resistance, self-care is very important.  Knitting is definitely a part of my self-care.  It is meditative, relaxing, and provides a true measure of productivity when a project is completed.  I have recently seen articles regarding its benefits in health and parenting,  but then, most days you just do not have the time.

 

What are some do-it-in-15 min-or-less ideas.  Print and stick one of these images/messages on the top of a graduation cap?  Or draw on it?  

marchforscience

My personal favorite (though my internet digging suggests that a part of the design was originally produced by a vaping company):

16425835_10208301488390667_8275017472300273350_n

As a Star Wars fan, this one is nice and simple:

starwars

Finally, I found this posted in March for Science – Seattle Facebook page, but a comment indicated that it originally was posted on March for Science – Orlando FB page :
16300460_10154906428051092_5794063531151031794_o

There is a knitted version of Klein Bottle Hat:

kleinbottlehat

Of course it does not have to be just hats.  I have seen ideas of wearing lab coats, eye protection goggles, bow ties (re: Bill Nye), carrying flasks and test tubes…

 

One impression I had having participated in Women’s March was how shrewd and creative signs were (I had a sign envy).  If we all could put our creativity and intelligence together, I feel that we can overcome this tide.  Or at least we can strategize ways to resist.

 

What ideas for hats, outfits, and signs have you seen?  What are your favorites?  What would be the way to best communicate to the the public that Science is Real?  See you on April 22!


12 responses so far

A Tale of Three Labs: Reflections on Environment Dynamics

(by ragamuffinphd) Jan 31 2017

Sticking to the scenario in which I am a fish, I’d like to reflect on having been a variably sized fish in various sizes of pond… and learning to swim in corresponding tides. In this metaphor, ponds have tides.

Before graduate school, I was a research assistant for 3 years at a medical university in the Pacific Northwest. It was a very small ~4-6-person lab in which I grew partially out of the notion that I could never be a scientist. I wrote my first book chapter, led my first experiments, published my first manuscripts, acquired some semblance of expertise, and had tea with my PI almost every day. It was personal, and the team dynamic was always encouraging. Big fish, small pond.

In graduate school, I entered a medium-sized lab of ~15 people. It was a brand-spanking new lab in which I was fortunate and cursed to spearhead my own research out of nothing but experience. And I did. And it was painstaking and infuriating and rewarding. I became the expert of my field in my lab, but mine became an area of lesser interest to my PI. It was scientifically lonely despite strong personal friendships, and I was an expert whose contributions were of lesser interest to the team. Medium fish, medium pond.

After defending and with a heretofore unknown air of confidence, I launched myself into a postdoc in a huge ~50-person lab. For the first time in 8 years I entered an entirely new field of research. I have adjunct professor and postdoc supervisors-who-are-not-supervisors. I am bringing my own research to fruition under more fiscal and intellectual strain than I have ever experienced. While there is a communal reciprocity, there is no team dynamic. The encouraging aspect is that my PI seems to respect me. Small fish, ocean.

Unsurprisingly, I have found that as the body of water has grown, the tidal force has changed dramatically. In a large lab, one comes up against more subtle yet consequential social dynamics. Often I actually feel oppressed as a scientist*, and have to consider whether I have been spoiled by the luxuries of more personal research experiences or whether this is a real problem. Each lab I have worked in has had meaningful and unique perks and drawbacks. The pattern seems to be that both of these grow with the size of the lab. I am not sure that the perks of my postdoc lab will continue to stand up to the drawbacks, but for now I aim to rage against my restraints and pursue the science that I know to be important and worthwhile.

My experience of course does not speak for everyone’s. In fact, I have no idea how broadly these observations are shared. But these three labs have demonstrated to me that a large lab is much more challenging to navigate, and while protecting my newfound confidence is a battle every single day, I find each win precious and satisfying. Thus far.

 

*The dynamics of being a woman with all-male supervisors-who-are-not-supervisors is a separate subject for another post.


No responses yet

A Tale of Three Labs: Reflections on Environment Dynamics

(by ragamuffinphd) Jan 31 2017

Sticking to the scenario in which I am a fish, I’d like to reflect on having been a variably sized fish in various sizes of pond… and learning to swim in corresponding tides. In this metaphor, ponds have tides.

Before graduate school, I was a research assistant for 3 years at a medical university in the Pacific Northwest. It was a very small ~4-6-person lab in which I grew partially out of the notion that I could never be a scientist. I wrote my first book chapter, led my first experiments, published my first manuscripts, acquired some semblance of expertise, and had tea with my PI almost every day. It was personal, and the team dynamic was always encouraging. Big fish, small pond.

In graduate school, I entered a medium-sized lab of ~15 people. It was a brand-spanking new lab in which I was fortunate and cursed to spearhead my own research out of nothing but experience. And I did. And it was painstaking and infuriating and rewarding. I became the expert of my field in my lab, but mine became an area of lesser interest to my PI. It was scientifically lonely despite strong personal friendships, and I was an expert whose contributions were of lesser interest to the team. Medium fish, medium pond.

After defending and with a heretofore unknown air of confidence, I launched myself into a postdoc in a huge ~50-person lab. For the first time in 8 years I entered an entirely new field of research. I have adjunct professor and postdoc supervisors-who-are-not-supervisors. I am bringing my own research to fruition under more fiscal and intellectual strain than I have ever experienced. While there is a communal reciprocity, there is no team dynamic. The encouraging aspect is that my PI seems to respect me. Small fish, ocean.

Unsurprisingly, I have found that as the body of water has grown, the tidal force has changed dramatically. In a large lab, one comes up against more subtle yet consequential social dynamics. Often I actually feel oppressed as a scientist*, and have to consider whether I have been spoiled by the luxuries of more personal research experiences or whether this is a real problem. Each lab I have worked in has had meaningful and unique perks and drawbacks. The pattern seems to be that both of these grow with the size of the lab. I am not sure that the perks of my postdoc lab will continue to stand up to the drawbacks, but for now I aim to rage against my restraints and pursue the science that I know to be important and worthwhile.

My experience of course does not speak for everyone’s. In fact, I have no idea how broadly these observations are shared. But these three labs have demonstrated to me that a large lab is much more challenging to navigate, and while protecting my newfound confidence is a battle every single day, I find each win precious and satisfying. Thus far.

 

*The dynamics of being a woman with all-male supervisors-who-are-not-supervisors is a separate subject for another post.


No responses yet

New blogger!

(by strongerthanfiction) Jan 31 2017

We are welcoming a new blogger to the group – Ragamuffin, PhD. Welcome!

Her bio has been added to “Who Are We?”


No responses yet

I have to pay back what?!

(by sweetscience) Jan 23 2017

As if it isn’t difficult enough to be in your mid-thirties starting a family while living on a postdoc salary and waiting to move yet again before finally getting a “real” job, some of us also have to worry about making career changes that don’t result in having to pay back up to a year’s income. Yes, you read that right – I could be made to pay back a year’s stipend if I don’t follow through on a commitment to stay in research or select other related positions for a set amount of time.

If you’re unfamiliar with this payback agreement, here’s an article that covers most of the issue and risks, but in short: certain NIH training grants (i.e. institutional T32 or postdoctoral individual F32) require a signed contract that you must “pay back” the time you are sponsored by the grant, up to one year, either by working at least 20 hours per week in research or a related position (including teaching, working in industry and many others at the NIH’s discretion), or by literally paying back the money that was granted to you.

To some degree, I get it. The NIH is trying to fulfill a mission, and in spending money on training researchers as part of that mission, they want to ensure  that they benefit from those investments as much as possible. And, as they will tell you, most people accomplish paying back the first year of training by fulfilling a second year or more on the training grant. Others find related jobs or receive alternate funding for research, which fulfills the obligation.

For the sake of this post, I am not going to go into all the possible scenarios that put someone in a difficult position to pay this back – you can imagine a laundry list of nightmares (needing to quit working for medical reasons and having to owe a year’s income?!?) – but I will focus on the situations for starting and wanting to get out that are most relevant for my situation.

First, it is often the case that a postdoc can only join the lab they want (or find any position at all) if they are sponsored by funding other than the PI’s grants – this is typically going to be a T32 or F32. So right away, one could be faced with the decision to either take a job with this sketchy payback agreement, unsure of what their feelings will be in 1-2 years, or not have a job (in the academic research career path) at all. I actually was given the option and, thankfully, had a boss who was thoughtful enough to bring up the payback issue and discuss it with me. Some people get blindsided with this once they’ve already settled on a position. I accepted it, thinking that I would be staying in my current position at least as long as I needed to fulfill the payback obligation.

So now I find myself in the early phase of my payback year, searching for jobs and leaning more and more toward a new career path that will certainly not fulfill the payback obligation. And a great opportunity has come up, in a place that would be perfect for my family to relocate to… but what do I do? Apply and (if offered a position) ask to delay starting for another 9 months? Accept a position and incur a huge loss in my net income as I payback my training stipend? Not apply now and just hope that another perfect opportunity will present itself when the time is ripe?

And there’s the rub. By being paid by this funding mechanism with the intention of supporting my training for my career, my ideal career path may actually be blocked. I try really hard not to make choices based solely on financial reasons, but this time it really matters, as the financial aspect would immediately and severely affect me and my family, and there is no apparent remedy or even band-aid.

The thing (well, one of the many things) is that there’s no way to demonstrate to the NIH how destructive this may be. There’s no way to measure the lost potential or even count the number of people who haven’t started the career they wanted because they felt stuck in research due to their financial obligation. There’s no way to know how many people signed on or stuck it out because it was the only option for making a living. Importantly, those trainees are really not serving the NIH’s goals in the long run either.

Now, not only am I losing out financially just by doing a postdoc, as this recent heartbreaking article describes, but I am also losing financially and/or in potential career happiness by having signed this payback agreement. I know, it’s never too late and I’ll give the new career direction a try when the timing is right, but I want to be able to make that decision on my own terms, not for fear of owing someone money. In a career path where I’m constantly reminded that the cards are stacked against me, I don’t think this is too much to ask.


15 responses so far

The layoff

(by peirama) Jan 20 2017

I’ve heard stories of it happening. I know it can happen. It has happened to plenty of people. But to me? It couldn’t happen.

But it did. I was laid off. With one month of notice. In some industries that is plenty of notice. In academia, in science, it is no time at all.

I had already been on a path to discovering a new career and I was already unhappy with where I was. I tried to take it as a blessing in disguise. At least it was a push to find something else, maybe even something better.

But a month. A month is no time to find a job. My PI told me his health made him do it. He would be cutting down his hours in the new year so he wouldn’t be able to focus on my project. It is not worth worrying about how much this is true versus an excuse. Certainly my project was not his favorite anymore. It took too long. It was too slow. But I am the only one out of 7 postdocs to get a pink slip. Also there were complications. I told him I don’t want to be a PI. I was working less than full time. Then there is the other thing. Someone said it and now I can’t get it out of my head. I was paid on the postdoc payscale. Most others were paid less. Anyway, it is not worth worrying about why I was laid off … is it?

Regardless, I tried to stay positive. I tried to use this as a kick in the butt to find something better. At least a step in the right direction. I applied to more jobs than I ever have. I pursued more options, branching out beyond my comfort zone. I considered alternatives like freelance scientific editing and tutoring.

In the end, at the point when I was really starting to think I’d be unemployed, I was offered a six-month postdoc position in a collaborator’s lab. It is not my dream job and it is not permanent, but it is a good right-now solution. It is better than losing money on daycare while doing freelance editing (I can’t be sure but I don’t think I would break even with daycare costs). No other application came to anything and my emotional energy has been eaten up with all of the applying, looking, and one enormous surge of effort – a phone interview that got me nowhere and left me feeling worthless.

I know job hunting is painful for everyone. I know that I am not worthless. I know something will work out. Regardless of where I end up, I believe that being laid off was for the best. Looking back, my situation was even more toxic than I could see close up. It beat me down in ways I couldn’t see how to get out from under. My new department is much friendlier. My new boss is much more human. I am going to take this month to collect myself, to regroup.

Then I will get back to figuring out what’s next.


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Your boss can’t always be your mentor

(by sweetscience) Jan 10 2017

“You shouldn’t be afraid to tell your boss exactly what you want to do for your next step – it’s their job to mentor you,” is the advice I have given many people, particularly grad students and postdocs who decide they want to pursue careers other than strictly academic research but are afraid to tell their bosses. And now under similar circumstances myself, I have become very hesitant about what information to give my boss about my career plans. I see all the reasons that people would not want to be upfront with their bosses.

  1. I don’t want to get fired. If my boss thinks that I’m no longer right for this job, or the kind of person they want to train, they could just let me go.
  2. As far as I can tell, my boss is not interested in mentoring me for a career outside of academic research.
  3. I don’t want to appear flaky or uncertain. Mostly for reason #1, but also because I still want to be able to count on good letters of recommendation if needed.

At the same time though, there are reasons I should talk to my boss about this.

  1. I could use some advice, mentoring, and maybe even connections or referrals, and I still believe it is part of a boss’ job to provide those things.
  2. I don’t want to waste any more of our time or energy applying for research and training grants, if that is not a direction that will help my career.
  3. Doing so may actually push me to move out into the career I want – even if it was because I got fired.

Plus, I just prefer to be open and honest and I’m sure my boss would prefer that as well. So I will try to first get some mentoring outside of my boss, come up with a game plan for my next career steps, ideally a plan that includes a clear reason why my current position is valuable for my future, and then open up to my boss about it.

With this new perspective, I completely understand why people would not want to be completely open with their bosses, and I apologize for acting like it was so clear cut. That said, as many before me have noted, I do think that most PIs need to be more aware that the majority of trainees are not going to end up as PIs like them, and be open to the many career possibilities that appeal to PhDs. And let’s be honest, your PI probably can’t be a great mentor to you when you’re pursuing a career outside of academia, the only path they’ve traveled, an you’ll want to find another more helpful mentor anyway.


2 responses so far

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