Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Friday, June 06, 2008

being a scientist right now...sucks

I have been thinking a lot about long ranging planning, the funding situation, etc. I have had some good talks with my mentors and sr. faculty. Given how bleak things are right now, it is clear to me that I will have to have a small lab. There just isn't enough money to keep a large lab going. This is unfortunate because I have several ideas that I think are really good and I know that I can handle a larger lab, but I just can't keep it funded.

The way that NSF grants are right now one grant will only fund one student (100k/yr including overhead). NIH grants are better, but the average age to receive an NIH grant is 42 (I am 32) and it frequently requires several revisions. Since I am only on round 1...well...it is unlikely. Even the young investigator awards are extremely competitive right now, probably because no one can get funding anywhere else.

This decision makes me a little sad. I probably won't take any new students for 2-3 years. But I think it is the right one, for my sanity at least. My senior colleagues are by and large doing the same thing. Many of them are downsizing to 1 or 2 students. I am told that this can work well because you have more time with each student, and I certainly hope that it turns out to be a good thing. Right now, I think that is just where we are.


At 10:50 PM , Blogger Candid Engineer said...

Where are all of the grad students going to go? Will the departments be cutting back on admissions big time? Oil wars take all of the science money, and the science and future scientists suffer. Sucks.

At 9:44 PM , Blogger EarlyToBed said...

Hi Dr. Mom,
Nothing wrong with building slowly. Keep your program strong, and it will grow. Keep on plugging, and try to avoid getting discouraged.

At 10:32 PM , Anonymous Dr. Shellie said...

It's good to hear this warning. I have to be very careful about taking on new students until I know I can cover them. I think it would be nice to take a new student each 1-2 years for continuity, but we will see how the grant writing goes.

At 9:50 PM , Blogger Mary Coussons-Read, Ph.D. said...

Good for you for thinking about all this now, and congratulations for having honest people around you! I went throught this same set of, at the time, really scary realizations when I came to my University 16 years ago, before I started my family. I have managed to build a really productive, efficient, research program by cherry-picking great UG and Graduate (MS and PhD) students, and creating collaborations that support projects outside what is funded by my grants, which are smaller than those of my colleagues at bigger reserach schools. I have no regrets about making this choice- I have time for my family, a productive career, got tenured and Promoted to Full Professor, and get to mentor younger faculty (parents, BTW) at my school and around the country on how to make choices that stay true to their core values as scientists and help them enjoy their lives. Know that this type of approach can ultimately lead you to a much more balanced place in your life and career. Hang in there, and keep up the good work!!

At 12:39 PM , Blogger Isis the Scientist said...

I think the current funding situation make the baby Jesus cry. It is really disheartening to spend one's day try to be innovative with, essentially, bubble gum and coat hanger and then to drive home listening to the state of the economy. I try to remain an optimist though. The alternative is too depressing.

At 12:41 PM , Blogger Isis the Scientist said...

PS: I apologize for my underuse of the letter s in the comment above. My toddler touched my keyboard with jelly and I am still trying to completely unstick a,s,d and w.


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