Thursday, April 19, 2007

Postdoc: luck and and the rest

This post is submitted to the fourth Postdoc Carnival, at least if I can get the Technorati tag to work.

Due to some quirks of my country's hiring system, I never was a postdoc myself. There never was a postdoctoral fellow around when I was a student, or an assistant professor. So it was with some trepidation that, some years ago, I selected "my" first postdoc. I had no clue what I was supposed to do to help him, and even less as to whether he could help me. I just knew I had volunteered to help him making the big step from student to research scientist, and was quite scared.

PD#1 started to help me by asking clever questions during my lectures, and discussing with me afterwards what I might do to improve them. He had many informal conversations with students, and gave me useful feedback (he even went initiated conversations when he felt a student was in trouble but too shy to ask for help). He helped organising various seminars and study groups, and more mundane events as well: wine and cheese party, dinner out together.

As he became technically more proficient in my expertise area, which was due to his hard work but also to my help, he started having projects of his own, collaborating with other postdocs which he got in touch with via email or met at conferences: I helped him find money for his travels, and for hospitality at our institute for his collaborators.

Finally, we are now working on a joint research project, which I really like a lot.

Looking back, I feel first of all lucky. I made a difficult choice two years ago, faced with research programs that were hard to understand, and cv's that were impossible to compare. I don't know, and will never know, whether I made the best choice. But my choice was at least good.

I have now learned that a well-turned postdoctoral grant is a win-win-win game, with the profit being equally shared by the grad students, the PI and the postdoctoral fellow. I think this depends more on the goodwill of the people involved than on the actual skill with which the selection was made (on either side). I went through my scientific career choosing people to work with on the basis that they were, or at least seemed to be, nice people. Humans I trusted. It has worked very well, so far.


Propter Doc said...

Thanks for the submission, and also for a different perspective on postdocs.
Propter Doc/Postdoc Carnival

estraven said...

I was a bit unsure whether professors were also allowed. And very unsure as to whether I would be able to manage a technorati tag. Nice to know it works!