As a PhD student, I had an amazing supervisor who truly cared about his group- in a particular way. He wouldn’t write a sentence of your paper(s), or put your name in someone’s else paper so that your thesis or C.V. would look good. You could come and go as you please, as long as you attended the weekly lab meetings and journal clubs, and presented your own work and an original paper for discussion once every 6 weeks. You could even take as long as you want to write your thesis. Years. He couldn’t care less. As he said once “I’ve got my PhD. Your PhD, your business”. The lab had very limited funding and he was also a busy full professor, engaged in the field and in academia who seemed to love his family very much. Yet, should you need to ask him something, anything, anytime, he would always be there for you. He taught me so much, not only all the molecular and cellular biology as I know it, but looking back, he taught how important it is to PhD students and postdocs to choose and work in a project they love, to let their creativity bloom, to be ambitious, to set goals and go for it. But, as lab camaraderie and knowledge sharing are indisputably a healthy sign for engagement in science, he stressed how students and postdocs should never forget that their diplomas and careers belong to anyone but themselves. Even when there is clearly something or someone to blame for your experiment going wrong, your cells getting contaminated, or the paper getting rejected. Because it is very simple. Whose experiment ? Whose paper ? Whose goals in life ? Academia is a complex world full of bizarre and opportunistic people. It is a everyday “learning the art of how not to let people treat you like shit and how not to end up treating people like shit too”. Last year, just a week after my PhD defence, I went to a conference where a researcher concluded her talk with the following advice for people wishing to stay in academia : “The rule #1 when swimming with sharks is : if you get bitten, don’t bleed.” God, this woman was so right. Little did I know on that morning about the lab I would land on a week later for my postdoc. Despite being my dream lab (one of world’s best in the field, or at least it was 15 years ago), a multi million dollar funded facility, with all the people I talked to during my 2 visits saying the place was great… No one told me (fear, fear and fear) postdocs were not allowed to have internet access (no wi-fi, no cable for them). The lab simply doesn’t have a single computer for work use except for computers connected to plate readers and other machines. Postdocs in this particular lab are not allowed to have desks too. Only benches. The PI is away about three weeks every single month (flying business class) while if you want to attend a conference, chances are he will tell you it is too expensive, go back to work. The most hilarious thing in my opinion is that his offsprings are undergrad summer students in the next door lab. They have a nice large desk with laptops and high speed internet access. And for the “if you’ve not happy, just leave”…. Good look with all you’ve invested in moving there, the shiny black hole in your C.V., and with getting a recommendation letter for another postdoc job application. The guy is not friendly. I said no internet access for years ? It happens in a country’s largest University. Everybody knows, no one does anything about it. People, this is called EGO and POWER.

Images from here and here.


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