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this too will pass - best post-doc advisor, industry, leaving for a new job (Sep/21/2008 )

I became an emotional wreck by the last year of grad school. My PhD mentor, an abrasive man ( I thought refreshingly honest) when I started, became more and more antagonistic and prone to outbursts of anger. Finally I was the only female left in the lab and the one on whom every new graduate student or post-doc tried to cut his teeth. Every day was a ridiculous repeating scenario of defending myself against people who could only feel successful by trying to put me down. Eventually I got quite good at thwarting assaults on my person -- and turned into an aggressive, edgy thing. I was miserable, bitter and hiding the fact that I had absolutely no confidence left in my ability to be a scientist. Why would otherwise normal people attack you unless they were absolutely sure you are an awful scientist, an impostor? I was just waiting until all the papers for the PhD got signed so that I could quit it all. And then a friend of a friend suggested a post-doc in industry and gave me a phone number of someone who was looking for post-docs...

For the last ten months I have been in a safe harbor. My post-doctoral mentor is kind, energetic and smart. He is unassuming while being intelligent, easy to get along with while being intense. He remains fair and keeps his temper when things go wrong -- when things go right he gets totally excited (and there is sushi and beer). As a mentor he is sensitive and focused and able to see the big picture, including my future in science, while always being enthusiastic about the small things -- new experiments, new thoughts. He does experiments, trouble-shoots and knows how long experiments take and what they take out of you. He is scrupulous about the attribution of ideas. He takes responsibility. He insulates our lab from the vagaries of existence within a pharmaceutical company -- he was fiercely protective of me and my project in the beginning, when I really needed it, and has gradually encouraged me to be kind but firm and to stand on my own. Sometimes he is haggard and tired at the end of the day, but he always has time to look over the new data. He sees the ways forward, better questions to ask, more direct experiments. He is the science mentor I always knew existed but never hoped to meet.

But this is a post about all things changing. He is going to a different company, and I can not go along. I am looking for new post-docs, writing a grant, thinking about all the new experiments to try -- and consoling myself that no matter what happens to me I can always talk to him about science or life, be reminded of the ideal, know that finding this ideal is possible.


you know, these things happen to so many people, however it depends on the character too, some people are always treated good wherever they go, and some are treated like crap no matter how good they are. you just need to be lucky to land in a good environment in my opinion.

I am suffering from the same thing; I'm a PhD student in a foreign country and I tried so hard to get here. I'm just keeping my mouth shut and let people do whatever they want because I just need this PhD badly!

But I swear to God if I become a post-doc like you I will stop being the always-head-down Curtis.

during my undergrad I was bullied, when I started my first job my boss bullied me and talked behind me to other managers because he was scared if I took his position some day. And now again I'm facing the same problem, crazy people are everywhere.

If just I finish this PhD, I won't let anyone hurt me anymore. I won't scare if I lose any job because of defending myself, I won't scare of having no job for some time if I'm fired.....the most important thing for me now is to get my PhD to prove myself to myself. Who gives a damn about money?....or being jobless for some time?


hearing that just brings back so many memories for me. I hated my PhD lab at first. My "advisor" would let his tech just run riot over the grad students and if you were stupid enough to try and fight back to be "fair" he would always just take the tech's side. He was abusive- verbally and mentally. He never did a single experiment and would think that if you were sick, that just meant you were in the lab with a mask on.
After the tech left for another job, he realized how much he needed the grad students in the lab. But then it started being too late-- many of us had either left not finishing or coming to the end of our tenure.
Now, I found a job in industry with a boss who is kind and is helping become a better scientist. The advisor is left in the dust trying to piece together the shattered remnants of his lab and compete with younger professors who are enthusiastic and constantly surrounded by eager students.

Life does get better. And perhaps those of us who came out of lab like that learn to appreciate kind bosses and mentors. Moreover, we should learn from those horrendous bosses to be strong scientists confident in our abilities. Maybe it isn't all bad.... except while you're drowning in it.


Curtis, I was in the same situation as you, coming from a different country to do my PhD, keeping my mouth shut through all the abuse just because I needed it so badly. You know, now I honestly regret it so much and I think things would have been so much better if I had stood up for myself. I was always so humble, so patient, overlooking all kind of s* people would do to me, just thinking, "perhaps if I avoid conflict and try to be always nice, they will leave me alone and even appreciate me."

Guess what, it worked otherwise. The more I allowed them to cross the borderline and disrespect me, the more they did. And then, it came to a point where they were just so used to treat me like that and not see any kind of response from me that I couldn't revert the situation anymore.

So, my advice would be, don't wait until u are a post-doc to change things. They won't fire you just because you defend yourself (I thought they would, if I did). On the contrary, they will learn to respect you, and you will have peace to do your work, to enjoy it more and be more productive. Which is what counts in the end... And now that (hopefully) I am getting out of that place, I just can't believe I allowed this kind of people to treat me like that! I was so afraid of them, and now looking back, this person was just a self-conceived and idiot brat, who is insecure and bullies everybody around to get what she wants. Its pitiful! But I couldnt see it when I was in there.

You don't need to be rude. Just assertive, and show limits.

Easier said than done, I know, but I so identified with your post that I just had to write this! Sorry! wink.gif And good luck, things will get better and you will show your value!! smile.gif

-Julianne W-

PS. Lapa, thank you so much for your post. I SO dream that this kind of mentor does exist. And be happy, you wont lose him, and you'll always have a role model to look up to! smile.gif

(I suppose I have a negative role model now, hehe, of all things I don't want to become as a scientists wink.gif)

-Julianne W-