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Offline Guitarmaniac86

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Postdoctoral Research UK
« on: February 21, 2016, 06:09:37 AM »
Hi.

I am 10 months away from completing my PhD and I am under no illusions that I will struggle to defend my thesis because it is full of negative results and as such I have no publications. I want to pursue postdoctoral research in a medicinal chemistry setting but I am limited to London and the surrounding areas. Is it really worth pursuing a postdoc with no publications and limited ability to move around?

I have been doing a PhD with an industrial placement and there is one thing I have learned during my PhD. I dont and cannot work in the chemical industry, I prefer working in an academic environment. If I cant do a postdoc I will leave chemistry forever.
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Offline Arkcon

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Re: Postdoctoral Research UK
« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2016, 06:56:19 AM »
The UK may have different rules and conventions, and the academic and industrial landscape have been changing for years.  However, nothing in the world of man is written in stone, except for gravestones.

I don't think you have to "leave chemistry forever", you may not be able to find the choicest postdoc, and may have to slog through some industrial work where you may be less than inspired.  But I think you should try to cheer up, and look to new, expanding prospects as time passes.

FWIW, the PhD owner of my first job had a less than perfect thesis, but his university was moving, and they said he could have done more, but he got his PhD anyway.  He was a good enough PhD physicist for years of industry before he started his own company.

To cheer yourself up, go to your library and read the various PhD theses on file.   Each was somebody's life for a long time, and now they're just documents that hardly anyone reads.  You'll find gaps, but these people went on with their lives anyway.

Meantime enjoy some Matt Groening:
Hey, I'm not judging.  I just like to shoot straight.  I'm a man of science.

Offline Dan

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Re: Postdoctoral Research UK
« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2016, 08:56:25 AM »
I am 10 months away from completing my PhD and I am under no illusions that I will struggle to defend my thesis because it is full of negative results and as such I have no publications. I want to pursue postdoctoral research in a medicinal chemistry setting but I am limited to London and the surrounding areas. Is it really worth pursuing a postdoc with no publications and limited ability to move around?

You can try. Apply and see what happens. Postdocs are usually advertised 3-6 months before start date, now is a good time to start sending out feelers. Apply for advertised positions even if they are advertised for start dates earlier than you can commit to, but state your available date clearly in your cover letter. You can still get interviews and start dates are often flexible. Keep your interests broad, some positions turn out to be more interesting than they sounded in the advert, and interview practice is always good. See how it goes, but I think you should start thinking about alternatives as well.

Geographic inflexibility is a problem, but if you're limited to one place, in and around London is probably one of the best options in terms of density of opportunities. Consider also that a postdoc will probably only be a 1-3 year contract, then you have to find another academic post. If you're not prepared to move, you are going to struggle again. My honest opinion is that if you want to have a serious go at academia you have to be flexible, but there's no harm doing a postdoc even if a long term academic career is not your ultimate goal. I've had to move around a lot, so have most of my friends who are still in academia, and many of us have moved abroad for work (myself included) at some point. It seems to be part of the territory.

Lack of publications is certainly a problem, but it is not necessarily the end of the road. A carefully constructed cover letter and strong references might make up for it, but it's not going to be easy. Be prepared to talk about it at interview, justify your situation and sell yourself. You should talk to your supervisor about publishing something even if it's not spectacular or in a "high impact" journal. It can be a struggle with some PIs who are very reluctant to publish in "lower" journals. A paper in a peer-reviewed journal is a box ticked, and while a lot people just coming out of their PhDs don't have many publications, zero is a red flag unless you can say there is something in preparation or justify it with a good reason. 10 months is quite a long time, so maybe you can discuss the possibility of doing a fairly "safe" short project, maybe sharing the workload with another student, or even joining a working project to get your name on something as a minor author? Publication is the currency of academia, you get cut some slack at the start but after that you have to be producing to stay in the game.

Good luck.
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Offline Guitarmaniac86

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Re: Postdoctoral Research UK
« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2016, 09:30:23 AM »
The UK may have different rules and conventions, and the academic and industrial landscape have been changing for years.  However, nothing in the world of man is written in stone, except for gravestones.

I don't think you have to "leave chemistry forever", you may not be able to find the choicest postdoc, and may have to slog through some industrial work where you may be less than inspired.  But I think you should try to cheer up, and look to new, expanding prospects as time passes.

FWIW, the PhD owner of my first job had a less than perfect thesis, but his university was moving, and they said he could have done more, but he got his PhD anyway.  He was a good enough PhD physicist for years of industry before he started his own company.

To cheer yourself up, go to your library and read the various PhD theses on file.   Each was somebody's life for a long time, and now they're just documents that hardly anyone reads.  You'll find gaps, but these people went on with their lives anyway.

Meantime enjoy some Matt Groening:

Thank you for Matt Groening, the image made me smile. I didnt mean to come across as down in the dumps, I am actually panicking a little bit about the future and am trying to weigh up the choices I have, or whether I have them.

With regards to leaving chemistry I think I do better in an academic environment than an industrial one, mainly because I am used to having a lot more freedom to explore different avenues, whereas in industry I was stuck doing the same thing over and over. I would leave industrial chemistry behind but would probably go into management or do something else other than lab work.

I am 10 months away from completing my PhD and I am under no illusions that I will struggle to defend my thesis because it is full of negative results and as such I have no publications. I want to pursue postdoctoral research in a medicinal chemistry setting but I am limited to London and the surrounding areas. Is it really worth pursuing a postdoc with no publications and limited ability to move around?

You can try. Apply and see what happens. Postdocs are usually advertised 3-6 months before start date, now is a good time to start sending out feelers. Apply for advertised positions even if they are advertised for start dates earlier than you can commit to, but state your available date clearly in your cover letter. You can still get interviews and start dates are often flexible. Keep your interests broad, some positions turn out to be more interesting than they sounded in the advert, and interview practice is always good. See how it goes, but I think you should start thinking about alternatives as well.

Geographic inflexibility is a problem, but if you're limited to one place, in and around London is probably one of the best options in terms of density of opportunities. Consider also that a postdoc will probably only be a 1-3 year contract, then you have to find another academic post. If you're not prepared to move, you are going to struggle again. My honest opinion is that if you want to have a serious go at academia you have to be flexible, but there's no harm doing a postdoc even if a long term academic career is not your ultimate goal. I've had to move around a lot, so have most of my friends who are still in academia, and many of us have moved abroad for work (myself included) at some point. It seems to be part of the territory.

Lack of publications is certainly a problem, but it is not necessarily the end of the road. A carefully constructed cover letter and strong references might make up for it, but it's not going to be easy. Be prepared to talk about it at interview, justify your situation and sell yourself. You should talk to your supervisor about publishing something even if it's not spectacular or in a "high impact" journal. It can be a struggle with some PIs who are very reluctant to publish in "lower" journals. A paper in a peer-reviewed journal is a box ticked, and while a lot people just coming out of their PhDs don't have many publications, zero is a red flag unless you can say there is something in preparation or justify it with a good reason. 10 months is quite a long time, so maybe you can discuss the possibility of doing a fairly "safe" short project, maybe sharing the workload with another student, or even joining a working project to get your name on something as a minor author? Publication is the currency of academia, you get cut some slack at the start but after that you have to be producing to stay in the game.

Good luck.

The main barrier to publishing is the fact that the industrial sponsor wants to delay publishing anything until after the biodata and patents are back and not before the PhD is submitted to viva though my PI has instructed me to start planning and writing the general outline of a paper so its ready to go by next year. This is for the work that I am currently doing and it took 3 years to get it to work and its the main chapter of the thesis as well. The other chapters of my thesis are just pages of "tried this, didnt work, tried this, didnt work either, probably because of x so done this but it didnt work... and now we have no idea." Whiich my PI thinks will be very hard to defend in a viva.

The geographical inflexibility is a major issue for me, but its because I am married and my wife has such a well paying job that if we left the area, she would unlikely be able to find a position that pays as well. I am trying to convince her that she will find a similar role elsewhere but she doesnt think so. I think she actually loves where she works and does not want to leave and I cant force her to leave because of what I want to do.

Thank you for you post Dan, it has opened my eyes a little bit more to what I need to do and I am formulating a plan of action to help me get to at least applying to post docs. I will need a longer term plan for after. I wont put all my eggs in one basket just yet.
Don't believe atoms, they make up everything!

Offline Dan

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Re: Postdoctoral Research UK
« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2016, 01:46:27 PM »
The main barrier to publishing is the fact that the industrial sponsor wants to delay publishing anything until after the biodata and patents are back and not before the PhD is submitted to viva though my PI has instructed me to start planning and writing the general outline of a paper so its ready to go by next year. This is for the work that I am currently doing and it took 3 years to get it to work and its the main chapter of the thesis as well.

Ah OK, this qualifies as a perfectly legitimate reason for not having published. It is probably the best reason you can give and it will be well understood. Explain the industry/patent situation in your cover letter, and mention the fact that there is a manuscript in preparation.

Quote
The other chapters of my thesis are just pages of "tried this, didnt work, tried this, didnt work either, probably because of x so done this but it didnt work... and now we have no idea." Whiich my PI thinks will be very hard to defend in a viva.

Not necessarily a problem. If you have a solid chapter of things that did work, and you can tell a story of how you approached the failed projects in a logical way, it's not a problem. Depending on how interesting this discussion is, and how much material you have for the successful project(s), you can consider leaving some things out. I often see PhD students trying to cram every experiment the did into their theses - the truth is it's not necessary. You don't get points for length, short and interesting is better than long and dull. If you can say, "we wanted to do this, here are the problems we had, this is what we tried, this is what we learned, this is why we think it doesn't work, here are some ideas for alternative approaches" that still makes an interesting story that showcases your knowledge and skills. It is just tricky to write well. All the PhDs I know (including me) have wrestled with a thesis inadequacy complex as some stage. It's normal, don't beat yourself up over it. You'll get through it, then you never have to do it again. 

Quote
The geographical inflexibility is a major issue for me, but its because I am married and my wife has such a well paying job that if we left the area, she would unlikely be able to find a position that pays as well. I am trying to convince her that she will find a similar role elsewhere but she doesnt think so. I think she actually loves where she works and does not want to leave and I cant force her to leave because of what I want to do.

Yeah, that's the way it goes sometimes, you have to make compromises for each other. My partner and I are both postdocs (she's a biologist), and we have been more or less successfully taking turns following each other around when one of us gets a good opportunity, but with a few periods of long distance. It's a pain, and I don't think I'd want to continue hopping around if she got a secure position - I can understand the problem.

Re the industry path, with postdoctoral experience (where you could gain experience designing projects and directing a couple of students) you could enter at a higher level and could have plenty of freedom to run research projects. You can also progress once you're in at a lower level. You shouldn't necessarily write it off.

Quote
Thank you for you post Dan, it has opened my eyes a little bit more to what I need to do and I am formulating a plan of action to help me get to at least applying to post docs. I will need a longer term plan for after. I wont put all my eggs in one basket just yet.

No problem. Keep your options open and apply for things, it's good practice. You can either choose a location or a job, rarely can you hit the jackpot on both.
My research: Google Scholar and Researchgate

Offline kriggy

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Re: Postdoctoral Research UK
« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2016, 03:08:14 PM »
Thank you for your post Dan. Im nowhere near close to post-docing but some of the points you made are very interesting to me

Offline Corribus

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Re: Postdoctoral Research UK
« Reply #6 on: February 22, 2016, 11:13:28 AM »
Dan makes some very good points. Your CV should at least list publications you are working on - it will be very strange to have nothing at all written in the publications column. Manuscripts in preparation are almost worth nothing, but not quite. You may consider also talking to your supervisor about writing a review article or something. While this won't have as much weight as a research pub, at least it will demonstrate that you know how to write and get things published. Also, have you presented your work at scientific meetings? This is something else that can help compensate for an anemic publication record.

If your CV is weak in publications, make sure it (and your cover letter) emphasize skill sets that will be valuable. Especially analytical or instrumentational techniques you are proficient in.

I have been responsible for hiring post-docs in the past. While a short publication record does raise some flags, it is not a death knell. It is something you will be expected to talk about in an interview, but if you are honest about the reasons why you haven't successfully published, I think there are PIs out there who would overlook it if you brought other things to the table that made you an attractive candidate.

You may also consider government research post-docs. The people hiring for those positions often are more interested in certain skill sets than a history of publishing high impact articles.
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Offline DrCMS

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Re: Postdoctoral Research UK
« Reply #7 on: February 22, 2016, 11:30:44 AM »
As an industrial chemist I would suggest you should not be too quick to dismiss industry as a career choice.  I can see how the low level position you had did not suit you but that would not be where you would stay if you went into industry.  Also the freedom you think you'll have in academia may not seem quite as free once you have to secure the grant money to pursue your own ideas.  I think the reality is industry later in your career will offer more freedom than you expect while academia may well offer less than you think.  Academia might be the best place for you but then again it might not.  Personally I would say medicinal chemistry is going to be very very competitive in both arenas.

Offline Dan

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Re: Postdoctoral Research UK
« Reply #8 on: February 22, 2016, 01:02:28 PM »
I think the reality is industry later in your career will offer more freedom than you expect while academia may well offer less than you think.

This is certainly true, at least of academia. The amount of freedom you have depends a lot on the mentality of the PI and how well funded they are. Some will not let you pursue anything other than their own "fantastic" ideas, some don't have the finances to be very flexible, but others will let out some rope and give you room to develop. I have been pretty lucky with my PIs, but I know some people who work for total control freaks.

While I don't have any real industrial experience, I think the "industry = doing what you're told" picture that academics often seem to have is grossly distorted. There are different motivations and priorities in the two sectors, but a lot of overlap.
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Offline Doc Oc

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Re: Postdoctoral Research UK
« Reply #9 on: February 22, 2016, 02:16:27 PM »
My perspective is one of an industrial medicinal chemist:

In your situation, I would not only recommend a postdoc, I would say it's an absolute necessity to further your career.

Having no publications from a med chem PhD is so rare I would probably toss a resume if I saw it. However, your case is one I understand fully. You don't need to explain anything in detail, just say that you're working with a company and that you can't publish anything until the IP/patents have issued. I would be careful to even give project titles without consent, have someone within your company (preferably the lawyer) approve your publications section. Don't worry about your thesis being full of negative results, everbodys is (mine sure was).

I find your circumstance to be a bit more strange than anything. I've known people that did some work with companies during their Ph.D, but they were still affiliated primarily with a university and did research projects for an academic PI that they could publish. It sounds like you were fully under the umbrella of working for this company, which is highly unusual.

Lack of mobility is absolutely a problem, and this type of 2-body problem is well-documented. What you need is for your PI to get the word out to some professors at institutions where you might be a good fit. That would give you the best odds at it. Otherwise, I'd suggest trying to meet with a couple of professors to chat with them about their research. 10 months is enough time that they may have an opening down the road and if you make a good impression they'll consider you for it.

Lastly, I agree with DrCMS. Industry and academia have their good and bad points, and neither is necessarily better than the other. It sounds to me like you may have been working for a large company with a limited scope of projects. You might find a startup to be much more challenging and interesting.

Offline Corribus

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Re: Postdoctoral Research UK
« Reply #10 on: February 22, 2016, 04:01:06 PM »
Regarding the spousal issue:

I did a post-doc at the same university I got my PhD from because my wife was finishing her doctorate at the time. There is a bit of a urban legend that staying and doing post-doc at the same institution from which you received your doctorate can be frowned upon. Maybe there's some truth to that - there are definitely some down sides to it, most notably burnout. I'd certainly try to find another PI. Anyway, it worked OK for me because at the end of the day, productivity is what's most important.

FYI, finding jobs for two working people in the same city can be an onerous task, no matter where you are in your career. Unless you are lucky, it is frequent that one partner will have to make some kind of sacrifice to accommodate the other's career. This can lead to a lot of stress - particularly if a child is involved, and it's better off that you come to some kind of agreement that both people are OK with NOW rather than LATER. My wife (a university professor) and I (a federal government research scientist) currently live in different cities. We also have a little girl. We do the best we can commuting, but it's not easy. We are still trying to figure out how to finesse the situation so we can both pursue careers we love but also have some semblance of a working family life. I think (hope!) it's possible to hit that sweet spot but it's taken a lot of soul searching and trial and error to see what works and what doesn't.
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Offline Guitarmaniac86

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Re: Postdoctoral Research UK
« Reply #11 on: February 23, 2016, 01:07:38 AM »
First and foremost I would like to thank everyone who has posted. All of the different perspectives, advice and experiences have shown me I have biases with regards to academia and industry which stem from lack of experience, so I would like to say thanks for giving me further insight into both worlds.

I will endeavour to reply to each of you individually at the weekend, I am super busy this week but I will respond as and when I can.



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Offline jeffmoonchop

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Re: Postdoctoral Research UK
« Reply #12 on: February 23, 2016, 06:01:11 AM »
there are loads of drugs companies in and around London that pay handsomely. More so than if you were a postdoc. There are 3 large GSK sites just north of London (Stevenage, Harlow and Ware) I worked at ware for a while before I started my PhD and was paid 19 pounds an hour as a graduate analyst (nearly 40k). If you cant move I think youd be better off getting a well paid job. Publications don't matter as much when applying for industry.


Offline Doc Oc

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Re: Postdoctoral Research UK
« Reply #13 on: February 24, 2016, 11:39:17 AM »
there are loads of drugs companies in and around London that pay handsomely. More so than if you were a postdoc. There are 3 large GSK sites just north of London (Stevenage, Harlow and Ware)

GSK Harlow was shuttered 2 years ago. In fact, many of the large companies in the UK have been ravaged over the past several years. My impression (as an American) is that it's a very tough market for UK scientists right now.

Offline DrCMS

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Re: Postdoctoral Research UK
« Reply #14 on: February 24, 2016, 12:12:04 PM »
My impression (as an American) is that it's a very tough market for UK scientists right now.

I'd disagree with that blanket statement but would agree that it's a very tough market for western medicinal scientists right now and for the foreseeable future.  In other areas such as polymers/materials etc I think the situation is a lot better. 

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