Underthebridge Posted August 20, 2015 Share Posted August 20, 2015 (edited) Hello all, I'm a ... 'super-annuated' Ph.D. student in molecular/cellular biology at a state university on the east coast of the US.I'm here to vent to/relate my story to/get advice from, the group here. I've been googling for other's stories about situations like mine and it would seem that few are informative for my own 'unique' predicament. And so I'll just dive right into my story and let you guys give me your two cents. This is a HUGE wall of text, and for that, I am sorry. I tried to include only as much detail as necessary and no more to convey the nuance of it all. I'd be deeply grateful if you read the whole post and given me your advice.I'll preface all of this that I'm finishing my 8th year as a Ph.D. student... It pains me even to type that sentence. I feel like I'm damaged goods, and will be all but unemployable once I -am- graduated because of my time spent in grad school. I've become cynical about the future of academic research and have largely come to hate the science that once fascinated me because of the system built around it. People I've spoken to about my feelings regarding my situation often talk about the 'imposter syndrome' which is not true for me at all. I feel like a smart, competent, researcher with a very firm grasp on my research and a good knowledge of its place in the field. I do not suffer from the notion that I really don't know anything about my subject, biology, nor from the delusion that I do (or even should) know it all. I accept that neither I, nor most Ph.Ds, including PIs, have encyclopedic knowledge of all of biology; in fact I often talk to knowledgeable, very well respected, PIs after seminars about stuff, assuming that they would know all about the process I was referring to, just to learn that they don't have a clue about it whatsoever. In short, not everyone is Jeremy Thorner and I'm well aware of that fact. I do, however, suffer from the idea that my protracted stay as a grad student, my unremarkable institution and my only passable publication record (once I'm done, more on this facet later) has already doomed my career. I'd LIKE to stay in the geographical location but... it's highly competitive here.My situation:I got my bachelors in biology from an undergraduate only institution in Nevada as the first four year class to matriculate from the college (I chose this school because it was affordable and had an 8:1 student:professor ratio). This was a non-research institution so there was no 'lab volunteer' experience for me to have and so it took until my senior year before I realized I really was smart enough (how naive) to take on a masters or PhD in my field. I liked the field, as I enjoy figuring out complex systems (the intricacies of engines, for example, were fascinating to me) and biology was the ultimate complex system. So, I took a year off after graduation, living at home and volunteered for a year in a lab at a lab at the only research institution in the state I was in doing PDT work on glioma cells. With this in hand I applied to about 8 Ph.D. programs with my former undergrad mentor's full support. I only got into two programs, one in the southwestern US, of which I had had enough of and wanted a change of pace. The other school which I'm at presently was on the east coast. It provided a worderfully different experience than the southwest where I had essentially lived my entire life. My second school was also was in the vicinity of a HUGE biotech/life science research hub and seemed like a great place to get my foot in the door to a much healthier research area than the other school. At no point was I advised against any of this, and I was never told by anyone along the way that this was an high pressure -very- low paying field... unless you managed to land a tenured professorship which paid a reasonable amount, and was held up as the example to me for what to expect for compensation in choosing this path. I was also never advised that there were so few academic positions available to so many PhD students. In essence, I was (?unintentionally?) lied to by a lot of people about what I was getting into and I ran headlong into it. I'm making a logical leap when I say that I am apparently not the only one that this happened to, leading to a massive overabundance of Ph.D. students in my field (see the Alberts paper recognizing this problem along with a line back to still well after I joined the fold and was in 'too deep to quit now'). Fast forward 5 years. At 5 years in, I had a difficult project that was not yielding good results, a PI who in no way demanded results nor gave meaningful direction. I had walked into the lab with two grants totaling over $500k a year, with two senior grad students (3rd and 4th year); both grants were lost during my stay, leaving my project unfunded. A new grant was obtained after a year gap, but on projects that I wasn't working on that still left my project unfunded. My PI still managed to get tenure with a single publication that she was first author on because it was tying up her final paper from her postdoc. She had graduated no graduated students except washing out a PhD as a master's degree. At this point I began to realize the kind of program I was dealing with. The two PhD students mentioned above, were as follows; the first one, I'll call him Joe, graduated after TEN years with one paper, the second washed out with a masters as mentioned above with a second author paper after six years. Joe is still in the lab two years later, working for free trying to shore up three additional papers to help make him competitive for a job (which he has not yet been able to get). The one who washed out, got screwed over. Her paper was about 60-70% finished after her 6 years (being generous with how much had to be completed) when she left and another PhD student who I'll call Jill, who came in a year after me, took the project, finished up in a year wrote it up and took exclusive first authorship over the objection of Joe and myself. She had 'her' publication out in her fourth year, took a year to search for jobs and graduated at 5 years with a fairly prestigious postdoc fellowship. Meanwhile Joe was more or less forced to defend his dissertation without a paper, passed and graduated at the same time as Jill, and since spent the rest of this time as described above, in a unpaid faux-doc finishing three manuscripts in hopes to look productive. This smacked of favoritism. Jill did not even come CLOSE to providing the majority of the work, or intellectual contribution to claim first authorship, then also get ushered on into a post-doc.The paper Jill published was not particularly good =, largely a 6 figure cheeseball of mostly unrelated experiments aimed at characterizing an gene's unknown function that told no coherent story. This is not to say it's bad science, it's just not an amazing paper. In the meantime, I managed to break open my project and in the course of one year put together a 7 figure paper that superseded the previous paper on my gene of interest, firmly placing my protein's role firmly in a much earlier point of development. I slid copies of my figures under my PI's office door, emailed her revised versions every few weeks, presented my work at lab meetings and got back NO FEEDBACK. I had a full first draft written up and submitted to my PI by May of 2014. Joe's first paper, was finally submitted in late September and accepted in October 2014. By this point I had already taken my work, in complete form, and presented it as a poster at a conference in July 2014 and presented essentially ALL of my data publicly there. At that point, the entire premise of my paper became public knowledge. When my PI and I returned from the conference, I did not get any feedback through November in which Joe's paper was in review. At the time I was promised that my paper was next up in queue In December 2014 she decided that another paper from Joe was more important to publish (a three figure paper in a low impact journal). Joe's paper was accepted in very early January 2015. There were no other papers in the pipeline to be worked on from this point forward except mine. From mid January to mid February I inquired on a 2-3 day basis about the status of my paper until one day in her office I was dismissed with a curt "You'll be the first to know," at which point I stopped prodding. I continued to work on other projects in the meantime including a collaboration with another lab. Fast forward to late JUNE of 2015, my PI finally starts to work on revising my paper and gets back drafts to me until in current state over two weeks requesting lots of changes to figures which I completed overnight because I want this thing OUT. After all, people have seen all the data for almost a year, anyone could scoop me at this point. This situation has gotten so protracted that the PI we're collaborating with told us in a conference call that he 'must have somehow missed your publication'. She then stops working on it and asks for a whole extra experiment that will not make it into a figure and requires a whole new strain to be created TO PROVE ONE FLUORESCENT PROTEIN IS BETTER THAN ANOTHER WHEN MY PAPER HAS NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH FLUOR COMPARISONS and will not budge on this requirement. I am working on this, but I -am- making a whole new strain so it's been taking time (a little over a month now and I'm onto my third strategy). Honestly, this feels like a stalling tactic more than anything. I now feel like my PI is actively holding back my publishing and ultimately my graduation. In short, I've completed 8 years of PhD research and my paper has been in 95% of its final form for over one year now and she still won't submit it, get it accepted and let me graduate. I've gone to my committee but this is a very small program with a lot of professors on each other's student's committees and no one is willing to call out another PI for not graduating their students. I was not told this outright, but it's what's happening and it's crazy. I've summed up the average time a PhD takes in this program and its 7.7years... conservatively; and I couldn't have possibly known this going into the program because when I got in, there were -only- 3-4th year students who all thought they were "this close" to their own graduation and now all sing a similar tune as I albeit with different circumstances. Professionally, I can't afford to burn the bridge with my PI and graduate through my committee like a hostile take-over, as basically the rest on my career rides on her recommendation letter, but I can't stay here any longer as my career is already sliding down the tubes. At this point I feel exploited, I feel betrayed and I feel the academic system is a sham. I need advice. Ask any detail you want I'll be happy to clarify. Edited August 20, 2015 by Underthebridge grammar Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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