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plea for help regarding post doc, stress, and lack of management

3 replies

SaveMeTheWaltz · 05/08/2019 12:37

Is anyone able to offer advice on how to deal with a post doc that is not working out and which is causing me debilitating stress?

I'm a part-time post-doc on a big, sprawling, collaborative project that brings together researchers from multiple disciplines. I've been on the project a year. When I was hired, it wasn't clear exactly what my role on the project was going to involve (the project topic is a long way outside my usual field of expertise, but tbh I was just grateful to have a job!); I assumed that I would do a bit of exploratory work, and then a trajectory for research would crystallise as a result (spoiler: it hasn't).

I'm co-managed by a team of PIs; no one is directly responsible for me, which means that I've had to deal with often contradictory direction (for example, one PI will suggest that I work on a particular topic, then another will tell me that's the wrong approach, usually after I've put in several weeks worth of work). No-one will be explicit about the kinds of outputs or activities they want from me, but everyone is keen to tell me what they don't want once I have done it. I've asked for clarification about my role, and have been told that it's a post-doc, not a PhD, and that I shouldn't expect to be managed.

There's also a lack of boundaries around my part-time status; for example, I've been asked to attend meeting on my days off or whilst on AL ('its only for an hour or so').

It's now got to the point where I can't sit down to work on a paper without experiencing anxiety-related symptoms (shortness of breath and raised heartbeat), and meetings leave me shaking. I can't work out whether the problem lies with me or with the project, but I've lost faith in my ability as a researcher, and am wondering whether I should give it another year or give up now. Quitting a post-doc without another job to go to (other than sessional lecturing) is probably career suicide, but I'm not sure how else to resolve this.

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HotnessUnited · 05/08/2019 13:11


I'm sorry to hear your going through such a difficult time.
I can't help on the academic front as I work in a different field.
What I will say is, it sounds like your stress related symptoms are becoming more of a concern than the seemingly unresolvable work issue

First of all recognise that the excruciating tension youv been under has exausted your mind and nervous system. Hence the shaking and fast heartbeat.

The same way youv become heavily sensitised due to prolonged stress, you can reverse the "damage" with the right care plan and action plan regards to your work.

Im sure youl find some excellent advice here but I would suggest speaking with a good councillor ( or friend, family member etc) as a tired mind benefits greatly from a different point of view.

Iv met so many people from highly paid, highly pressurised jobs in my mental health work. The ones who recover well are those who take time to invest in themselves above everything else.

I'm sorry I can't offer more, but really hope things work out well for you. Just remember to prioritize your well-being.😊

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Nearlyalmost50 · 05/08/2019 13:46

Poor you. Just a couple of things leap out- of course you need management. I'm pretty sure they wrote in the proposal that you would be managed by a PI or more than one! Find the nicest one and go to them and outline your difficulties- ask if you can be line managed by one of them with the others coming into meetings occasionally. Otherwise, as you have found out, this is chaos.

I would also consider leaving. They are not stepping up to the plate, and probably won't. I would go to the drs and think about short-term solutions (medication, meditation, whatever) but also consider jumping ship. It won't be career suicide, you can ask for no references til after you are accepted for another job, just state to them and your new boss that the hours/place of work didn't work for you and so you are looking for a new post-doc that works better for what you need.

Save your sanity and move on, you are unlikely to be productive in this environment as they are not taking charge of writing/papers so best leave them to it. It's not you, it really is them.

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OhtheHillsareAlive · 05/08/2019 13:52

I think you need to think about what you want to do in this project. Why not go to one of the PIs and set out a plan? Do you have/Can you get a copy of the original grant application, which should have listed all the outputs, and the work packages to achieve those. Look at what you can contribute to those outputs etc etc.

Be assertive about this - own it as your part of the research (I'm having to gently train a post-doc at the moment in this - it is not a PhD).

Part of the issue here may be that it's not really your area of research ... So you may need to have a good long hard think about whether you can continue. On the face of it, I'd counsel "Yes," because
it's a job in a difficult market
you can get some good research onto your CV
they appointed you, so must have an idea that you can do it!

But you will need to be pro-active - if my postdoc came to e asking what they should do next, I'd be a bit "Huh?" and we'd go through the grant application, and the plan of work for this year, and I'd then ask them to plan out what they're doing within that - as discussed at the induction day we did as a team, and as discussed in our monthly project meetings.

Are there project/team meetings? Are there other postdocs? Maybe you can initiate those meetings, and network and create collaboration?

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