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While you were gone...

March 23rd, 2008 at 09:59 am

I've been sitting here, trying to decide how to portray this past year, whereby I transformed from a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed academic wannabe to, well, a corporate whore. Wink

For anyone in biomedical research, especially in academia, the funding situation is getting dire as NIH grants become more and more scarce. Labs, including my own at Yale, were running out of money, and new grant applications still get continually rejected. My PI's (principle investigator, also known as the boss or head of the lab) attempt to solve this problem involved hiring more postdocs, and pushing his staff as far as they can stand, and then some, to try to eke out the publications that the lab needs to renew existing grants and land new ones.

I don't think anything has shaken my faith in science more than reading and generating data for my PI's grant applications. I'd do the experiment once, and get a small positive effect. I'd repeat it, and get a small negative effect. The third time is the charm, and will finally answer the question, right? Nope, the third result is *no* effect.

If I had to draw a conclusion, it would be that there is no effect. What ends up happening? The PI grabs the result that fits with his hypothesis, plops it into the grant application like it is fact, and pretends that the other two results don't exist.


I've heard the justification. "We must put our best foot forward in the grant application to get the money FIRST, and then we can explore the complexities in greater detail AFTER," he explained. Um, okay. That's great and all, but if your hypothesis is WRONG, or even seriously flawed, you won't be able to publish those coveted Shiny Papers In High-Impact Journals, even if you get the money.

Right? Or am I missing something here?

And then there were my PI's ill-conceived attempts to save money, like giving every lab member a monthly budget for their experiments. Now I take care of keeping the lab stocked with "common" lab supplies, while the other lab members ordered the specific reagents they needed for their own experiments. But after the budget got imposed, everyone was afraid of ordering reagents and spending money, so they all ended up coming to me and asking me to order their reagents for them, since I'm "in charge of ordering stuff"; but really, they just wanted my name on the bill instead of theirs. In fact, in the weeks prior to my departure, I was informed that members of the lab were specifically saying amongst themselves, "Oh, X, Y, and Z reagents are expensive, but we need them for the experiment! We must make Mimi order then before she leaves!" Rolleyes

I could go on and on about how the budget crunch, and my PI's clear inability to effectively manage his funds and his staff, sent everything into a downward spiral, but I'll spare you the grisly details. Let's just say that I grew increasingly bitter, disheartened, and I completely burnt out.

By the summer of 2007, I was already sending out e-mails and scoping out new jobs. I got my driver's license, moved in with my boyfriend, and started carpooling to work so that it forced me to adhere to a consistent work schedule, rather than pouring in countless hours of unpaid and thankless overtime. I also enrolled in culinary arts classes at a local community college, because all I could think about at work was how much I'd rather be cooking at a restaurant. It's the same kind of manual labor, minus the biohazard.

I got a break during November, when attending a conference. (Me and three other postdocs crammed ourselves into a tiny motel room for five days to cut expenses. After that experience, we vowed never to do that again. Two guys, two girls, two bed, and one smoker did not a pleasant experience make.) I found out that a major pharmaceutical company in the state was hiring. Immediately, I sent in my resume.

The Monday before Thanksgiving, my PI comes into the office while I'm alone (I'm always the first one in, so he knows when he can find me alone), and asks me "what my plans are". I answered in the usual fashion, that I was going to stay until next summer, and then move on to industry. He replies that the funding situation is bad, and that I should start looking for jobs as soon as possible; the job market's not great, it may take me eight months to find something; I should even consider looking out of state! But, if I do get an offer, they'll probably want me to start right away, so I can leave earlier than next summer if I want to. Even next February!

Hint hint.

My PI can be incredibly passive-aggressive and manipulative, I can recognize a layoff warning when I hear one. Lovely. Maybe it's because he found out that I was no longer working 15 hours a week in overtime, thanks to my need to catch my carpool? Or that I was taking culinary classes, which had nothing to do with the Lab To Which Everyone Must Devote Their Entire Being? Or that my name is associated with all the major lab supplies expenditures? Or did he just choose me because I was the only staff without a family, and had the best chance of landing another job? Or because he knew I'd planned on leaving anyway? It didn't matter. It was done.

(Did I mention he had this talk with me the Monday before Thanksgiving? I had a really crappy Thanksgiving.)

But then, in December, I got a call back from Major Pharmaceutical Company. They wanted a phone interview! And then they wanted an in-person, on-site interview! I went out and spent $250 on an interview outfit, including $150 at a specialty shoe store on the only pair of shoes that fit me that I found acceptable. (As it turned out, I'm a size 4.5. Department stores don't even carry below a size 6, so I had to go to a specialty shoe store and pay the premium.)

The day after my interview in mid-December, I get a phone call. They're making me an offer! And paying me $10,000 more than I'd asked for.

I had a good Christmas. Wink

I told my PI of my job offer in January, and gave him my two weeks. I could tell by his body language that he was surprised and even dismayed that I would be leaving so soon (it kind of figures that he realizes at that particular moment that I am not, in fact, easily dispensable), but I insisted that my new job wanted me to start as soon as possible, and I would be taking a week off between jobs (the ONLY time I have EVER taken off), and two weeks was all that he was going to get.

My PI completely avoided me my last two weeks. He didn't attend my farewell lunch. I couldn't even find him on my last day to say goodbye.

And so, I closed that particular chapter of my life, and turned over a new leaf.

On January 28, 2008, I officially became a corporate whore. Smile

And corporate whore-ism never felt so good. Wink

5 Responses to “While you were gone...”

  1. sillyoleme Says:

    Haha, welcome to the corporate world! On the positive side, you can take the money you make and put it to what you think is a good use. Smile

  2. debtfreeme Says:

    welcome back! may this be a good experience for you and the new job!

  3. baselle Says:

    I had a similar situation when I left. Congrats on handling it well, and for actually still remaining in science.

  4. homebody Says:

    Maybe you will discover some great cure for something!

  5. Dido Says:

    Welcome back! I'd wondered what had happened to you and am happy to see you back posting again. Congrats on making the big academia-to-real-world transition! (I'm looking to transition myself in mid-2009). I'll be looking forward to hearing more about your life post-move!

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