My post-doc sabbatical

Feb 16 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

To say I've hit the ground running would be a massive understatement. It's only my second day, and already I've learned a new surgery, gotten in touch with vendors, stared perplexedly at a box full of ancient apparatus parts, and read about a gazillion papers. Not to mention had my new-hire physical with an EXACT REPLICA of Dr Strangelove (minus the wheelchair), who literally asked me to sit on his "torture table." I almost died from all the win, though I can only imagine what the less cinematically-informed among his patients must think.

Watch as long as you like; it's one of my absolute favorite movies of all time.

Anyway, the new lab is pretty great, and although I'm feeling overwhelmed by all the new stuff I have no experience with and pressure to perform in areas I do, I think this is going to be really good in the long run. I'm very excited about the project, about how different it is from things I've done before, and how much more I'm going to know when it's over. This morning I was chatting with my PI and co-PI (they are totes the Odd Couple and I <3 them!) about the things I'd learned so far (i.e. on day one) and co-PI remarked that "this is sort of like your post-doc sabbatical!" which is pretty spot on, when you think about it.

I'm quickly getting in the mindset that this is not a stop-gap, but an opportunity. And I'm also thinking, what a great fucking idea! Location (and funding) permitting, how awesome would it be for post-docs to get to go spend 6 months or so immersing themselves in a new lab, learning new techniques and broadening their scope of interest and knowledge?

The answer is, very awesome. Look, as the beautiful and talented Candid Engineer recently noted, we post-docs need to diversify our portfolios. Interdisciplinary is in, and I'm pretty positive that a big part of the reason my TT apps fared better this year than last is that in the interim, I started a new collaboration that gave me not only new methods, but new perspective on the research I'd done so far.

With the average time spent in  post-doc-land  ever increasing, the definition of what one is meant to do during those 5-7 years may need to change.  A post-doc sabbatical could not only expand a TT hopeful's repertoire and infuse him or her with fresh ideas and knowledge, but could also be the zap of newness needed to help prevent the burnout many of us feel as we reach our "elder" post-doc years. Post-docs loving science again = better science, I am so sure of it.

Now of course, the $64,000 question:  who's going to fund all this?

9 responses so far

  • gerty-z says:

    I was SO hoping that link was to a picture of a lab junk drawer, full of old and awesomely weird sciency tools. *sigh*

    I'm glad that you are having a good time at your new gig. I think it probably would be good in general for postdocs to have a chance (and maybe a nudge) to try some new things.


  • NatC says:

    Yippeee!!! I am so excited for you, and by this description.
    Loving it!
    But like Gerty-z, I'd love love LOVE to see the box of old weird science-toys.

  • Dr. Koshary says:

    It's good to read such encouraging news! We ought to have more such posts in academic blogland.

  • Dr 29 says:

    Huzzah!! Congrats on the postdoc sabbatical. It's so awesome to read that things are going so good. And I totes agree on the part that interdisciplinary is in. I'm realizing that even though I may not be getting the type of mentoring I was looking for when I started the postdoc, I am getting in touch with stuff I'd only heard but never done and I'm teaching stuff and drawing from my knowledge of the interdisciplinary program that trained me. I think the reason I got one of my interviews was because I've worked with 2 totally different structural biology areas and can speak their language well ... which is something that sets me apart. I'm so glad to see this training validated and appreciated. Kudos and best of luck! And see, I do read your blog :-).

  • Dr. O says:

    Now of course, the $64,000 question: who’s going to fund all this?

    This is the ever-increasing question on my mind these days.

    So excited for your sabbatical fun times - enjoy! 🙂

  • csb says:

    hope it works out for you. i did the exact same thing you did, and fast forward 9 months, i was promoted to a TT position at the same institution.

  • Oh, you flatter me, you doll. The idea of a postdoc sabbatical is awesome- the funding thing, uh, yeah, is the major roadblock. Glad your PIs were so into the idea, and glad it's going well so far.

  • Dr. Cynicism says:

    Congrats and glad you're enjoying the new lab! Soak it all up like a good little post-doc sponge and enjoy how awesome it's going to make you look afterward 🙂

  • brooksphd says:

    I coulnd't agree more. And to derail epically...

    Anything like this could be expanded into non-bench opportunities as well. As Lori Conlan of the NIH said the other day in a seminar on Science Policy jobs for postdocs - usually, unless you're really lucky no one is going to hire straight out of your postdoc to do something you're not qualified for. Being a awesomez scientist in your narrow subfield isn't enough.

    We need to enthuse folks with he idea of the sabbatical (i.e. an internship by a less shitty name). Get experience relevent to your future career goals and use it to develop your network.

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