Thursday, February 24, 2011

Devil On Your Shoulder

Belle once told me that the voice of her conscience sometimes spoke to her in my voice, saying "And people in Hell want ice water!"

Dr. S is currently a postdoc. His boss is... well, unbalanced is a polite term for it- in a way that is not immediately apparent, but instead a joy saved for a few years' experience of her. The last experiment she suggested to him was something like this:

1) You are putting rubber balls in a bucket, punching holes, and adding water. The water comes out. Great!
2) For a control, you did not punch holes. The water stayed.
3) I want you to cut out shamrock shapes and leprechauns and see what happens to the water. It might not come out! YOU NEVER KNOW!

He is becoming increasingly disillusioned with academia and really, who can blame him?* So every so often he asks what I think about X, Y, and Z. After the last round, I have decided that 99% of all the advice I ever give people could be summarized like this:

Decide what you really want, what you're willing to sacrifice to get it, and what you're NOT willing to sacrifice. Example: I want to be faculty, but I will work no more than 40 hours a week, not 80-and-never-see-my-family.

Think about what happens if you don't get it, and will those sacrifices then leave you bitter, angry, and furious with the world? If so, don't make them. Example: My kid is five and I see him 30 minutes a day and those years are never coming back: FAIL.

Decide whether it's worth it to keep doing what you are doing. Example: I will give this one more year, apply for faculty jobs next fall, and then say, screw you all.

If it is, find something you can learn or get from the experience, and make it happen. Example: Hey! I will go learn to run, fix, and use mass spectrometers! That is marketable!

If it's not worth it to keep on... the classified ads are this way.

Tell your boss/ partner/ coworkers what your terms are. Firmly. Repeatedly. One more time, all together now. Example: I need this paper to be out the door in two months. I need you to choose which of these seventeen experiments are most experiment, because I can only do two. And I need you to actually READ THE DAMN PAPER, bitch. (The last part, maybe in the inside voice.)

If they don't like it, they can take a, repeat with me, long walk off a short pier. Example: Go to hell, I'm getting a job in industry. Take your grant and shove it.**

* Thanks, Amelie.
** I worked in industry; yes, I know what it's like. Also, someone in this lab walked away from a Damon Runyon fellowship to get away from the PI. Everyone together now: OUCH.


  1. "And people in Hell want ice water!"

    love that!

    Great blog!

  2. You're welcome.
    And I think your advice is spot on. I saw Black Swan yesterday and felt very reminded of a career in science. Sigh.
    To Dr. S, good luck with the leprechauns...


Comments are moderated, so it may take a day or two to show up. Anonymous comments will be deleted.