The discussions about postdocs in the blogosphere of late seem to have polarized into those that absolutely loathed their postdoc time and those that found it to be fantastic.
I agree that unless you have found yourself in a lab from hell working for a PI who is a tyrannical asshole, you are unlikely to truly understand how postdocs can be exploited and burned. My own postdoc was not without problems and dramas but I wouldn’t say that it was hellish in any way.
But here’s the question ... what are we/you/I going to do to fix the situation? How can we make sure that others don’t suffer at the hands of fucknut PIs? How can we ensure that postdoctoral training is a rewarding learning experience?
A change at the institutional level is key but this isn’t likely to happen overnight. Nevertheless, here are a couple of ideas that would be relatively easily implemented:
1. Annual reviews performed by more people than just the PI
Maybe it's me being naive but hopefully this would force the PI to be more accountable for mentoring and training the postdoc. Part of the annual review could include identifying and setting project and career goals.
2. Setting a time limit on postdoc positions
Hopefully this would force both the postdoc and the PI to view it as a finite training period rather than an ongoing situation that often turns into exploitation of cheap labour.
3. A strong institutional commitment
A dedicated postdoc office that acts as an advocate for the postdoc and mediates conflicts and problems between postdocs and PIs. The office could also run regular seminars on career options, preparing CVs, interviewing, trainee symposia, etc.
4. Institutional recognition of postdocs
This includes treating postdocs as a valued part of the research team within their school. Leaving postdocs in the bizarro world in which they are neither student, staff nor faculty is complete bullshit.
Changes can also happen at the individual level, too.
For me as a new PI, the first step is to make sure that my own postdocs don’t experience the same problems that I did.
I’ve previously discussed the financial constraints associated with running a lab and that I simply can’t afford to pay my postdoc a huge salary but I do pay him more than the NRSA and he receives full benefits (exactly the same benefits as me).
I can’t make the science any easier but I can do whatever is within my power to give him all the tools he needs to be successful, including access to research assistants and students. He has his own project that he is developing within the broad framework of where I want my lab to go and we meet regularly to discuss his progress and plans.
For me, the bottom line is that there ARE good mentors out there and there ARE good postdoc training opportunities. If you’ve had a shitty postdoc experience yourself, you can make sure that your own postdocs don’t suffer as you did. Be a better mentor to your trainees than your PI was to you.
Blogging the lost
1 hour ago