Thursday, March 21, 2013

ChemProfCramer's comment on PIs and helping with "the next job"

For those of you who did not see it, UMN chemistry professor Chris Cramer on PIs, their graduate students and postdocs and mentorship:
So, colleagues around the U.S. (to be honest, I think this is a pretty American problem -- my experience in Europe is that ties in research groups are much stronger), I exhort you to treat your students and postdocs as the most precious raw material that you will ever have the chance to refine and polish. If they do great work in your labs, good for you and them, but if you also facilitate their ability to do still better work as they transition to their own, independent careers, your opportunity to bask in their reflected glory will be at least as rewarding, if not more so. Investing time, effort, and maybe even a little bit of empathy, is simply the right thing to do. Lots of faculty obviously get this, but a disturbingly large number seem not to.
Read the whole thing. 


  1. I really like his post. Both of my advisors have been similar to him in terms of helping me with positions (although one was much better), but I know of many advisors who aren't as dedicated to helping their students and postdocs move on to new positions. Kudos to Chris Cramer for saying what he did in his article.

  2. That's a nice comment, but pretty much every PI Ive ever worked for (and now its been 5) has never really helped me to a large degree on my project.

    Of the five, Ive had three that I would rate as "OK", one that was "bad", and one that was "terrible" The later one was grossly incompetent and you were very lucky if he did not interfere with your project. The "OK" ones gave some help but for the most part didnt stand in my way when I drove the project to completion. The only thing that they could do was write a grant and get money.

    Ive never had the luck to work with a PI that was useful in a very significant way to my project, and that has lead, in part, to my low paying career.

  3. Dear Professor Cramer and Chemjobber,

    What are you thoughts about advisors who may be hesitant or concerned that they might not be able to help a student interested in an "alternative" career? What is the best way to help these students? Of course still going through the practice job talks, and proofreading resumes/cover letters are good regardless of the potential career. However, advisors for the most part have only gone through the process of applying for academic positions, and are unaware of how other career's hiring practices, would it still be an expectation of students to have their advisor network and help place students in careers other than academia or traditional chemical industry careers? Or should these pursuits be the responsibility solely of the student and to investigate through avenues such at career centers? Personally I have found that career centers seem to have a limited knowledge of avenues for our unique skill set as Ph.D.s interested in careers other than academia and industry. Thoughts?


  4. When it comes to "alternative" career options, it is certainly true that the advisor's role is likely to change from "expert" to, at best, "networking facilitator". With luck, you know someone from the past who did something similar, and perhaps you can connect the student with that individual. Or you can imagine connections one step away from such people and ask them for advice to pass on. In my case, my college has a pretty robust alumni association, and I'd probably suggest that the student contact them to see if they might suggest a mentor with relevant experience. Beyond trying to help form such connections, gotta admit I don't have more brilliant ideas...

  5. My former PI at Mediocre State U used to regularly tell us during arguments that we would never surpass him. If he's right, I wonder if he'll ever realize how badly that will reflect on him.

  6. I would be interested in knowing how common it is for advisors these days to pick up the phone and ask someone about a postdoc or other position for their students. From what I know this was quite common in the old days but very rare these days, even if the student is a star performer.

  7. CoulombicExplosionMarch 25, 2013 at 12:27 PM

    I think this was a great post. Related to STEM_Wonk's comment, what about students that seek a job in industry or government, and not a faculty job? Certainly, there are advisors out there that consider such jobs as "alternative" careers. Even within academia, students that seek positions at PUIs are seen by some advisors that envisioned them as becoming a R01-level PI.

    In my own experience, I've seen advisors actively try to steer students into applying for postdoc positions as opposed to industrial/government positions, seemingly with the intent of turning them into academics. I've also seen advisors try to steer students towards postdoc positions at top 5 institutions as opposed to postdoc positions more aligned with the PUI faculty-track.

    I think this is a possible negative outcome of the self-serving aspect of placing one's progeny. How are students in this sort of position supposed to handle pressure from their advisor?