Saturday, February 26, 2011

How SHOULD a postdoc act?

Greetings, dear readers.  When we last saw me on this blog, I was excited for my first day of work and still playing Starcraft in a camp chair.  Well, no more (at least, regarding the camp chair)!  My things are finally here, and I am mostly unpacked and set up, minus a few little odds and ends that I still have to take out of boxes.  The American postdoc has officially settled in Canada!

As for the lab, it's been fun to just take in all the differences.  The group dynamic is a lot different here, and this may be due to the differences in gender, age, and personality.  As I've mentioned before, my current group is VERY young and largely bottom-heavy, what with the 6 first-year M.Sc. students and all.  Also, of the entire group academic group of 15 and soon to be 16, there are 2 females.  Our group is split into 2 buildings, so in my subgroup of 10 and soon to be 11, I am the only female.  This isn't bad per se, just different, and I'm trying to find my place.

And while we're on the subject of that, how SHOULD a postdoc act?  My experience with postdocs in my previous labs has been one where they were much older than me, married, and very professional and, in large part, reserved.  I've never run into the hotshot young postdoc for longer than a few weeks at a time, though I know they exist.  I came into this telling myself that I was going to be more professional and reserved.... but there are two problems with trying to be these preconceived notions of a postdoc, and they are very important.  So important that they warrant their own paragraphs:

1) It doesn't fit in with the group.  The group is the group, and I'm a new little piece of it.  Everyone who joins a group of anything, be it a multimillion dollar laboratory or a knitting circle, changes it somehow; however, they largely don't overhaul it single-handedly.  My group is a very relaxed, but ridiculously bright environment where ideas are shared freely, and me being a bit more subdued just wouldn't fit with this open concept.  Additionally, the young age of many of the group members has put me in the position of a kind of adviser, and being proactive about heading them off at the pass when they make a wrong turn is definitely helpful in this line of work.

2) It's not me.  I've started dressing nicer and watching what I say a bit more, but largely, I'm still my light-hearted and good-humored self in lab.  I'm not going to refrain from participating in the joking just because I have a Ph.D.  It doesn't change my personality, and I don't have to shift my paradigm to fit what I've seen before.  Trying to be something you're not throws a wrench into the works.  Being myself helps the group run more smoothly and lets me do my job better.

It's amazing that I can even take this stance of observation so early in my career with this lab.  I think this is because my mind is less occupied with the science.  It's truly a beautiful and welcoming thing.  I'm learning new techniques, but I already understand why I am doing them, whereas as a new graduate student, I did my fair share of floundering with the influx of new information, as everyone does.  This crystallized experience is something that only comes with immersion in a subject for a good period of time (i.e., the length of a Ph.D.)... now I see why postdocs are such valuable researchers.

1 comment:

  1. In my experience, postdocs can come in a couple of flavors. There are those that are mature, insanely committed, and thus somewhat aloof to everyone else. On the other hand, there are those that join the lab crowd, come out to socials, make friends etc. I've been a postdoc for over a year at an institute which is pretty much all postdocs, so my experience is different; however, many of my friends have told me that they find postdocing challenging because they feel like such an 'outsider'. My experience is also that postdocs tend to work a lot, which has a strong influence on their free time to do other things. I certainly have a lot less time than I did in grad school :-(