The top 10 things your post-doc will steal from you

By: Roche Life Science

Posted: September 08, 2015 | Lab Life


You got your Ph.D. – check. You're now a full-fledged scientific doctor – check (don't worry, you can still answer "no" to this question when it's asked over the speakers from a flight attendant). You're now ready to take on the scientific world as you transition to an independent investigator, because you are now a post-doctoral fellow.

However, shortly after the honeymoon phase of finishing your dissertation, you begin to experience what many before you have bravely faced, what we like to unaffectionately refer to as "post-doc stress syndrome." While this may not in fact be a real medical term according to those in the health care system, it certainly is real in the eyes of many of the nearly 40,000 post-docs across the U.S.  

So what it post-doc stress syndrome? It's basically the highly predictable end product of being an integral (yet somehow equally disposable) component of the historically cheap labor work force in academic research. You likely work double the hours at one-fourth the pay of your college buddies, with little job security, even less benefits and almost no chance of a raise in the next, like, infinity. You will also face a daily barrage of comments about how there are "no jobs" in science.

Like many before you, your rose-colored glasses eventually turn a very fitting and ever-so flattering shade of blackened soul (that's a real color, right?). And, in doing so, you look back and realize the innumerable things that your post-doc stole from right underneath your nose like a stealthy ninja in the night.

So without further ado, here are the top 10 things your post-doc will steal from you:

1. Time. This is perhaps the most obvious, and insidious. This can include readily apparent things like time to do laundry, cook, feeding your cat. However, there are also more nuanced things, such as your prime fertile years, as well as the ability to take vacations and have an actual social life.

2. Money. All of your friends in the working world will be making double or even quadruple what you will be make for the next … indefinite … period of time. So, there's that.

3. Holidays. There's nothing quite like spending Christmas morning doing flow cytometry or ringing in the New Year running qRT-PCR replicates and sadly seeing you are not alone. In fact, your building seems to have decidedly renamed all national holidays "bring your post-doc to work day."

4. Sunlight. You may actually go weeks without seeing the sun. From early morning experiments to late evening hours writing papers or grants or whatever - sunlight can sometimes come at a premium. Your only chance at experiencing the weather might be from windows you walk by to get your seventh cup of coffee by eleven in the morning. You are most assuredly vitamin D deficient at this point, just go ahead and buy the Costco-sized gummy vitamins.

5. A normal response to your email alert. You used to just hear the phone alert without any emotional response. You now hear your email alert go off at 10:30 in the evening just knowing it's about doing another experiment or to discuss why the experiments you are doing aren't working, and you then debate whether you should feign sick in the morning or just flush your phone in the toilet and hope for the best.

6. Your social life. When you get that text asking if you're free for happy hour or just to hang out somewhere, your responses have slowly evolved from "I think I can make it but I might be a little bit late" to "sorry, can't make it this one, maybe next time" to now just wordlessly replying the angry face emoji followed by the tearful face, ending with the emotionless straight-mouthed face.

7. Food. You miss real meals, the kind that happen more than once a day. Because now your entire nutritional supply consists of nine cups of coffee and a granola bar (or three, from the Costco-sized box in your lab drawer). You now eat more dinners from the cafeteria than at home, and your refrigerator is just a sad cold box that stores beer, frozen vegetables and ice cubes.

8. A healthy relationship. It's hard to have a normal relationship with someone who is working 80-plus hours a week and spends the remaining wee hours writing papers, grants, and preparing seminars. Your significant other must be fairly independent as well as equally amenable to the whole "you being a hermit" situation. 

9. The ability to have a normal conversation. Most of the awake moments of your day revolve around data and papers, talking about data from papers, making data into papers, and preparing talks about data from other papers and papers from your data. So, like, what are current events?

10. Optimism. Remember those rose-colored glasses you had before? Well, clearly you aren't getting those back, like ever. They were pulled from your shell-shocked face and stomped to pieces in the dirt like a bully on the playground. So embrace the new, dark, jaded, you. It fits, and it's fashionable these days. 


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