I love being a postdoc, although I often get the sense that, at least on the internets, I am in the minority. This series of posts is dedicated to some of the more wonderful aspects of this middling, temporary, and underpaid position.
This is not the real world. This world of the postdoc, where the words "you can't" are rarely spoken.
Armed with a Ph.D., presumed evidence of his intelligence, perseverance, and creativity, a friend of mine foraged into the world of industry some years ago. There, people only wanted to hire him to do exactly what he had done before. Motivated by quarterly profits and complicated investment models, the real world is unwilling to take many chances. No chances on you learning something new. No chances on broadening skillsets, no chances on real innovation.
And that's fine, there are some other benefits in those sectors. But it's not for me. The opportunity to increase my knowledge base, the call of the experimental unknown... giddy up! Being a postdoc, at least for me, has been like taking a trip to Disney World, and being told to "go play". And just like when you're at an amusement park, you have a choice: you can ride the merry-go-round again and again and again, or you can hop on every ride in the damn park. The former choice is comforting and fun, but the returns are diminishing. The latter choice- disconcerting, maybe, but thrilling.
It's this opportunity for Reinvention during the postdoctoral training period that is so outstanding:
Candid Engineer reinvents herself. A) As a virgin researcher enamored with gaudy lace, Candid Engineer carried out her graduate studies on Banana Peeling. B) Dr. Candid was thrown for a loop in her new position as postdoc, and did a lot of praying to get her through a transitional period. C) Confident and beautiful, Candid Engineer slices and dices Mangoes for the first several years of her postdoc. D) Maturing in her intellectual desires, Candid Engineer cuts her hair and shifts research focus as a senior postdoc. E) Professor Candid embarks on the Tenure Ambition World Tour (projected).
And you know what? I'm getting it in while I can. Because once I'm an assistant professor, the funding agencies aren't going to want to take a chance on me, and at least for 5 or 10 years, I'm going to have to rely more heavily on everything that I already know. Not that you can't reinvent yourself as a professor, but it appears to become significantly more challenging. This is the time, I say.