Why the heck am I still getting "please get me out of [insert non Western country here]" postdoc inquiries? Haven't they heard our funding situation is horrible in this country?
Why the heck am I still getting "please get me out of [insert non Western country here]" postdoc inquiries? Haven't they heard our funding situation is horrible in this country?
Eve Marder has an opinion piece up in which she discusses the "luck" involved in career outcomes.
Our present world is filled with great angst. Our junior faculty are writing too many grant applications for not enough money. Our postdocs rightfully feel that they are in purgatory, not knowing when and if there will be an academic position for them, should they desire one. Our graduate students are watching the struggles of postdocs and faculty. For me, this era is especially frustrating, because it is a time of extraordinary opportunity for scientific discovery, and it is criminal that our young scientists can not experience the excitement and challenge of scientific discovery without being worried about their futures.
There is no right answer to the question of how long a talented scientist can or should remain in a ‘looking for a job’ limbo. Every individual must take into account their own ambitions and circumstances as they try to answer this question. And all of us should also be aware that we have the potential to be successful in many careers, in and out of science.
Go read (and comment).
A Twitt by someone who appears to be a postdoc brought me up short.
@mbeisen @neuromusic @drisis @devinberg Does this mean I an screwed since I have NO FREAKING CLUE what the IF are of journals I publish in?!
A followup from @mrhunsaker wasn't much better.
@drisis @mbeisen @neuromusic @devinberg I agree that high IF is demanded. I'm constantly asked to find a Higher Impact co-author & I refuse
What this even means I do not know*. A "Higher Impact co-author"? What? Maybe this means collaborate with someone doing something that is going to get your own work into a higher IF journal? Anyway....
The main point here is that no matter your position on the Journal Impact Factor, no matter the subfield of biomedical science in which you reside, no matter the nature of your questions, models and data...it is absolutely not okay to not understand the implications of the IF. Particularly by the time you are a postdoc.
You absolutely need to understand the IF of journals you publish in, people in your subfield publish in and that people who will be judging you publish in. You need to understand the range, what represents a bit of a stretch for your work, what is your bread-and-butter zone and what is a dump journal.
If your mentors and fellow (more senior) trainees are not bringing you up to speed on this stuff they are committing mentoring malpractice.
*UPDATE: apparently this person meant for text book chapters and review articles that editors were suggesting a more senior person should be involved. Different issue....but the phrasing as "higher impact" co-author is disturbing.
from someone on the Twitts going by @ilovepigenetics
Annoyed that PIs prefer to cut positions vs. experiments. #sciquester #dotherightthing #shortsighted Fewer jobs=less taxes=less funding
this was followed with an interesting response to YHN:
@drugmonkeyblog Do the right thing. You have a responsibility to your trainees.
and the lunacy goes on (reverse chron):
There are two main problems here. The first one is related to whom the PI owes "responsibility".
The NIH Grant funded PI typically has a number of responsibilities in my view.
She has a laboratory of employees and trainees with a good bit of smear between who is an employee and who is a trainee. On the one end is the straight-up employee who is a technician and on the other end an undergraduate "volunteering in the lab for experience". The former might have a reasonable expectation of life-time employment (within the confines of normal variation and the grant cycles). In between there are the postdocs who are on for a 2-3 year training stint without explicit expectation of a life-time job and graduate students who are there to achieve a semi-defined task (the doctorate). The PI has a responsibility to do well by these people, there is little doubt. But there is also little doubt that perfection cannot be achieved for everyone. Not everyone is going to have an outcome commensurate with their expectations. This is reality, not evidence of a PI who is uncaring, irresponsible or insufficiently "creative".
The PI also has a laboratory. This is the edifice built by and for the prior trainees, the current trainees, the future trainees, the PI herself...and her University. Sometimes this laboratory has been inherited from a prior investigator (or a chain of investigators). It may be a laboratory that will obviously be passed down to subsequent investigators. It may be a laboratory that has enjoyed considerable University support over the years. It may have enjoyed considerable support from a specific Institute or Center of the NIH. The PI may have to compromise on other responsibilities to service her responsibility to the laboratory, from time to time.
The PI has a career. She has to continue to publish papers, secure funding and supervise research to keep this career going. You may view this as a selfish responsibility but hey, if you are complaining about the fact that another person is taking a career hit by the PI not being "creative" enough...you need to explain why one person's selfish goals are to be prioritized over another's.
The PI has a life. Just like you do. Sure they may be further along in years, stage(s) or whatnot than you are. They may have some things that you cannot see yourself ever attaining (like a mortgage, twopointseven kids and even a stay at home spouse. perhaps college bills for offspring). And their salary is clearly higher. It looks to you like they are totes moneybags and should just forgo 25% of their salary so that someone else can stay in their job for another 6 months. Guess what? It's time to get real. NIH grant supported investigators do make a lot more than postdocs do, mostly, but they are by no means insanely compensated. And just like you, they went through a period of training and fell into debt, behind the mortgage curve, behind the 401K explosion, they came along post-pension, etc, etc. Just like you they nursed ancient cars through postdoc and into the first years of faculty. They ate pasta. They did all that and got lucky to get a job. And started a life. And now they have people who depend on them to maintain that life. My sympathies are limited for those who claim that the people farther down the path just aren't responsible or creative enough to ensure that each and every person to come through their lab achieves the same outcome as they have.
There is another big one, this one related more to "what" the PI owes responsibility. I might suggest this is even the first priority of the NIH funded Principal Investigator.
The PI has a responsibility to the grant. You know, the tax payer funded money that has been dropped on the laboratory, under the PI's guidance, in expectation of some sort of return. A return of information, otherwise known as published papers. Yes, the PI has a HUGE part of her creativity and responsibility tied up in making sure that some science actually occurs. Published science. It is very easy for the trainee who has just been told that they have two months to find a new job to overlook this. The PI should be a good steward of the public purse. And sometimes that role is going to conflict with the above mentioned responsibilities to staff members. This is why the salvo from @ilovepigenetics about prioritizing salary lines over experiments drew my attention, btw.
If you keep people employed "over experiments" this means that the experiments aren't getting done. Or aren't getting done efficiently. Then where are we? If you can't buy reagents, can't analyze all the samples in the freezer, can't support cage costs, can't maintain mouse lines, can't buy rats, can't recruit human subjects, can't afford scanner time... then everything in the above list crashes down. Because eventually productivity suffers, no new grants come in, no new trainees can be afforded, the dollars eventually run out and everyone needs to be fired.
Just to avoid firing one postdoc today.
postscript: This Twitt is also spectacularly clueless about the fact that the current extra good news of the sequester comes after a good 5-8 years of serious squeezing and pressure on the NIH budget and NIH funded scientific labs. PIs have been scrambling like crazy to be creative about funding, maintaining trainees salary lines as far as possible and to get the most work done that they can. Like crazy. For years now. And believe you me, this ain't news to any postdoc with half a brain. They've known about how bad things are for ages. If they've been burning the midnight St. Kern oil to write fellowships and papers and assist the PI with grants (so that s/he can get one more out per cycle) then hey, I'm a bit sympathetic. Somehow I suspect not all of them have been doing this though....
Fascinating topic raised by @rxnm_ on the twitts today:
Hard to be excited that my work helped someone else get money they can use to pay me to continue being a temp.
I am not ungrateful and don't think PI's don't deserve grants on their own merit. It is just hard to feel it as a shared success.
This is one of the realities of the training arc. When you are a postdoc in a lab, part of what you are doing is servicing the grant game. Whether you realize this or not. You are going to be expected to work on topics related to the lab's current funding (in most cases, biomed, ymmv, etc, etc). In this your work will be included in progress reports and in future grant applications as well. Your ("your") papers will be used by the PI to support her reputation as a productive scientist. To shore up the appearance that when she proposes a given research plan, by glory some cool stuff will get published as a result!
But the NIH grant process can be lengthy. Submit a proposal in Feb/March for review in Jun/Jul...Council review in Sep...and first possible funding Dec 1. And we all know that means no budget, Continuing Resolution and good luck seeing your money until late Feb, early March. If the grant doesn't score well the first time, it must be revised in Nov, reviewed in Feb...Council in May..for funding in Jul. Eighteen glorious months.
So chances are very good that the hard work of the postdoc will end up in tangible grant support results for the laboratory that only the PI is going to "enjoy". Well, and the techs. And of course any more-junior trainees....and....FUTURE POSTDOCS aaaaarrrrrghhhhhhh YOUR COMPETITION!!!!!!! arrrgggghhh!!!! dammit!
How many postdocs think about the labors of the prior trainees when they enter a laboratory on a funded grant? And how they are benefiting from the work of those prior individuals? How many late-stage postdocs who are starting to feel pretty damn exploited when that grant based on their work, that they wrote half* of, gets funded just as they are leaving**? I wonder if any of them think about the grant that funded their first three years in the lab...
**leaving for a professorial job, no biggie. but what if there has been a great laboratory shrinking due to grant loss and the timing is such that the new grant comes in too late for the current postdoc?
on the perennial topic of underpaid postdocs who want more money.
per usual, PhysioProf:
The only possible end-game to this continued simultaneous slashing of RPG budgets and inflation of the NRSA pay scale is (1) more layoffs of RPG-supported post-docs and (2) the few post-docs still supported on R01s sitting in front of computers playing Angry Birds because there is no money left after paying their salaries to pay any other research expenses.
To which some bonehead replies:
Quit viewing us as cheap labor and recognize that we are desperately scrambling for security. We’re getting older, forced to constantly move, write grants -and- do the actual research, all without job security, and you think a salary less than half of yours is fair? Well I guess you got yours so the rest of us can suffer.
Later on in the thread there is another comment suggesting that any PI who can't just pay their postdocs $3,000 more is incompetent.
The mind boggles.
There is a fixed pool of NIH money here supporting science. Actually it is shrinking. But whatever. If all the postdocs are paid more per year, there are going to be fewer post docs supported. Or, as PP points out, no money to do research. Perhaps these disgruntledocs are okay with the latter but they sure as hell aren't going to be okay with the former when it is them that is out of a job.
What gives these morons the idea that they would be magically exempt from the axe?
So one of the Twitts was recently describing a grant funding agency that required listing the Impact Factor of each journal in which the applicant had published.
No word on whether or not it was the IF for the year in which the paper was published, which seems most fair to me.
It also emerged that the applicant was supposed to list the Journal Impact Factor (JIF) for subdisciplines, presumably the "median impact factor" supplied by ISI. I was curious about the relative impact of listing a different ISI journal category as your primary subdiscipline of science. A sample of ones related to the drug abuse sciences would be:
Substance Abuse 2.36
Behavioral Sciences 2.56
Fascinating. What about...
Veterinary Sciences 0.81
Plant Sciences 1.37
aha, finally a sub-1.0. So I went hunting for some usual suspects mentioned, or suspected, as low-cite rate disciplines..
Geosciences, multidisc 1.33
Statistics and Probability 0.86
This a far from complete list of the ISI subdisciplines (and please recognize that many journals can be cross-listed), just a non-random walk conducted by YHN. But it suggests that range is really restricted, particularly when it comes to closely related fields, like the ones that would fall under the umbrella of substance abuse.
I say the range is restricted because as we know, when it comes to journals in the ~2-4 IF range within neuroscience (as an example), there is really very little difference in subjective quality. (Yes, this is a discussion conditioned on the JIF, deal.)
It requires, I assert, at least the JIF ~6+ range to distinguish a manuscript acceptance from the general herd below about 4.
My point here is that I am uncertain that the agency which requires listing disciplinary medians JIFs is really gaining an improved picture of the applicant. Uncertain if cross-disciplinary comparisons can be made effectively. You still need additional knowledge to understand if the person's CV is filled with Journals that are viewed as significantly better than average within the subfield. About all you can tell is that they are above or below the median.
A journal which bests the Neurosciences median by a point (3.75) really isn't all that impressive. You have to add something on the order of 3-4 IF points to make a dent. But maybe in Forestry if you get to only a 1.25 this is a smoking upgrade in the perceived awesomeness of the journal? How would one know without further information?
Academic trainees should not be publishing in journals that do not yet have Impact Factors. Likewise they should not be publishing in journals that are not indexed by the major search database (like PubMed) used in their field.
A question arrived about publication expectations for trainees at the blog mailbox recently.
I was wondering if you would consider a blog post and perhaps encouraging discussion on a related topic, on how do you evaluate your student/postdoc performance and how common is the 1 paper/yr "rule"?
At the outset I was skeptical that much use would come of trying to answer this because the real answer is "It depends very much on subfield and ultimate career aspirations, therefore broad sweeping pronouncements are of little value.". And this is true. But what the heck? I'll give you my thoughts from my point of view, no doubt some others will go shitnutz about how it is clearly different and maybe we can hash out the space of useful answers.
Some detailed stuff that I thought about, but often are not discussed thoroughly include:
- I always assumed that when people talk about 1 paper/yr it refers to 1 first-author paper but not in a top-tier journal (usually "best in the sub-field" journal, e.g. Org. Lett., J. Med. Chem., etc.)
Yeah. I think one paper per year is a pretty good general starting point. Emphasis on general. For trainees, I think this average will be lower, ditto if you only count first-author papers. But it is a pretty good target expectation for the central tendency. One first author per year in a "top tier" journal is a ridiculously absurd expectation for postdocs. Even one per year in a "top tier" journal as senior author is only possible for the very top laboratories and is therefore not the expectation for everyone. If you can do it, good on you, but it ain't typical. So if you are in a place where you think this is the standard for postdocs? please. I'm familiar with a lab that has probably one of the highest CNS counts ever and the postdocs do not hit one CNS pub per year as first author. They have not done so over the ~15 years I've been watching the lab's production. So anyone who does this out there in the whole postdoc population is the rare exception.
- How do you factor in non-1st author papers? Ignoring the effects of journal IF, would one 1st-author paper = two 2nd-author paper?
There is no direct relationship, I would argue. Non-substitutable quantities. No amount of non-first author papers makes up for not having any first-author papers. They are just that important in the minds of many people, including me. Conversely, the existence of some 2nd-Xth author papers is better than not having any, because more is better when it comes to publications on the CV. I suppose at some point there would be a balance point in which too many Nth author papers starts to subtract from the credit generated by the first-author list. It would be related to the thought of "why doesn't this trainee have more firsts if she is this experimentally productive?".
- Do people even consider anything greater than 2nd-authorship (i.e. having 3rd authorship is basically useless or not counted)? If so, does the level of the prestige of the journal change this perception (i.e. having 3rd authorship in PNAS is equivalent to a 1st-author in some 2nd-tier journal like Biochemistry)?
In my view, no, the Nth author on an article in a higher IF journal doesn't trump first-author in a lesser journal. See above, the Nth authorships count but I would say they are independent of the first-author credits. So within the sphere of Nth authorships, sure, the higher IF is better.
- How do you factor in the prestige or IF of the journal? Does publishing in Science/Nature/Cell count as having 2-3 1st-author papers in 2nd-tier journals?
Indubitably the CNS first-author counts more than several first-authors in lesser journals. One might even suggest that CNS first-author as a postdoc trumps infinity non-CNS first-authors. For some situations. There are those that assert that the presence/absence of very specific journals on the CV is the difference between round-filing an application for an Assistant Professor position and placing it on the long-list for consideration. I credit these assertions but would also point out that there are many perfectly acceptable jobs that would not have this absurd criterion.
- Do people take a time-average (i.e. as long as you get 5 papers in 5 years it's fine), or is having a regular output more important (i.e. would prefer to have 1 paper every year as opposed to 2 papers in 1st year and 3 papers in 5th year but nothing in between)?
I would say that it is only once one becomes a PI that it is ever reasonable to look at consistency of output. This particular example would not even be noticed, I would say. And even then it sort of depends on the type of work you do. I know of multiple types of work in my areas of interest (particularly human studies) that have years of data collection followed by a flurry of papers.
When I have recommended shooting for consistent output, being concerned with whether a manuscript submitted to Journal X at this point in the year will have a pub date from this year, etc it has to do mostly with motivation. Most of the time the pace of submission for a postdoc is not going to be easily controlled. The experiments have their own timeline. Things come up. New things need to be done to wrap up the paper. Then there are the many sources of delay in the review process. There is no reason to obsess about 2 in first year / 3 in fifth over meeting a strict rate of 1 per year for 5 years.
The clock is ever ticking, however and since one cannot go back and fill in missing publication-years, one is best keeping one's eye on the prize. If you haven't had a paper in a two year span, well maybe it is better to dump out a quick one, give up on hitting the highest possible IF, etc. You have to make this judgement thinkingly, of course. And no, there are no formulaic answers such as my correspondent seems to be seeking.
Balance. That is my best suggestion.
This one is mostly for the PIs in the audience but I'm sure trainees will have experiences to share as well.
What fraction of the people who have spent time in your laboratory have ended up with authorships on published papers?
(Including students and techs)