I'm on the job market again. This first post-doc has been largely unhappy, unproductive and overall miserable. It's partly me, mostly the boss ;), and over all just "not the right fit". But if there's one thing life has taught me, it is the importance of getting out of a bad situation earlier than later. So I decided its best to cut my losses and leave, rather than get into a comfortable non-productive zone or kill myself trying too hard to make it work.
How did I go wrong in picking this place? What am I doing this time round to make sure it won't happen again?
Well, there are no guarantees. But to ensure that my next stint is a happier one, I have decided to pay attention to the following
1) DO Not get carried away by glamour. I did when I picked this place.
2) Do not start off with two high risk projects. Plan such that one project is in my area of expertise, the other can be a discovery/broadening horizons/learning new techniques experience.
3) Find a mentor I'll like. I knew there were personality "quirks" about bossman before I joined this place. I thought I could "deal" with it. Clearly, I couldn't. I found it very difficult to go up to him and get help mostly because I couldn't stand him and worse, couldn't trust him. Even though he was of little help the few times I did reach out, not going to him often enough has definitely hurt me. Moral of story: the smallest whiff of negativity, difficult personality, etc. should be a blaring sign to keep away. Call it paranoia, but there are enough nice people out there to have to settle to work with a difficult person.
4) Be really incisive an finding out if past experiments (even if they have been published by the lab..its time to wake up and smell the coffee..) have been reproduced by others. I spent a year chasing something I was told was "done by others"..when I have finally come to learn, piece by piece, that nobody could ever get this exact experiment to work, besides that one successful attempt that got published. Definitely not a good choice for my first project.
5) Find out what a lab technician's responsibilities are. I always thought that they were responsible for overall upkeep of lab and making sure things run smoothly. It is not always the case. Often, especially in mid-size to big labs, they have full blown projects of their own, and the lab running smoothly depends on collective effort of all. Which often translates to empty cartons when you go to reach in for that pack of tubes or plates, and a few conscientious people doing all the grunt work. If you're one of those, bitterness sets in soon.
6) Just for me, I need to pick small labs. 3 to 5 people. Thats what works for me.
7) A relatively young mentor, still in the ascending phase of his/her career. They are motivated, and your interests are important to them. Avoid places with a clear revolving door policy and rapid turnover rate.
8) How do I ensure the decent personality bit? I am networking with old pals from my masters in India..or friends of friends..orkut and facebook to the rescue. Trying to find links to the labs I am applying. Writing to at least 3 people, preferably post-docs on the lab alumni list asking them if they'd recommend the lab, and about their experiences. [I did that when I joined here too, except I just heard back from one and it was a very positive reco]. If they have nothing positive to say besides "the lab is well funded", you know there can be issues.
9) Reach out to the people I know are looking out for me. I'm heading homewards now. Ph.DAdvisor and my old professors from lutom have been really supportive. Ph.D Adv has been forthcoming with suggestions of people I should write to who she knows will make good mentors..and I have a good reputation in my Ph.D field that make me a prize candidate there.
9) Work back my confidence and a positive attitude before I go interview again. The reassuring part is that people are remarkably understanding about a post-doc not working out. In my case, bossman also has a reputation of sorts so people that know him seem even less surprised about my situation.
10) I have learned a great deal out of this experience. Very important lessons and I think my first taste of real-world life. Its taken a good many weeks of depression, self-doubt, self-flogging, dissection and all that good stuff, but I have now come to believe its happened for a very good reason. Onward and Upward!
11) The market is tight right now. I have sent out over 60 applications, to labs all over, and heard back from a handful. (I started in October). But that is the name of the game. Another friend sent out a 100. And heard back from a few, and found a great position eventually. So there.