Months ago I published this post on the slow winding-down of my mentor’s lab. At the time, I had no idea how long it might be before my current mentor would retire. But it’s recently started to look like it might be happening in just 3 years. YIKES…I’m now beginning to feel a little whiplash! The lab has started shrinking at a rapid pace: we just had a grad student graduate and a postdoc move on this past year, one current grad student is writing her dissertation and has already secured a post-doc position, and another grad student is leaving in a couple of months with a masters. By Thanksgiving (and Bun’s due date) the lab will consist of me, one junior grad student, a lab tech, and a part-time research associate. And, dude, it is freaking me out.
As I talked about before, I know this happens in labs. People come and go. But I’ve never seen a lab on its last laps before, and it’s a bit scary to watch. Mainly because it’s raising a lot of unanswered questions:
1) Will I find a faculty position before my mentor leaves? Hopefully this will most definitely not be a problem. I feel I’m prepared as I’ll ever be to begin a faculty position and start my own lab. But the job market sucks right now, and I can’t help freaking out a bit. On the other hand, my mentor won’t likely be looking for new postdocs to hire, so I probably have a bit more time than if he were planning to continue on for 10 years. Additionally, the junior grad student in the lab is working a closely-related project to my own, and I think my boss likes having me around to mentor her. So I’m managing to keep myself somewhat calm, for the moment. I don’t want to not overstay my welcome, though, and I definitely don’t want to “go down with the ship.” The fire under my ass has been lit for a while now, and it’s just heated up a bit.
2) Where will my mentor be when I’m starting my own lab?? I keep up with my PhD mentor quite regularly, but this relationship usually manifests itself in the form of career advice, not nearly as much scientific advice. And what about the scientific protection I get from being the scientific progeny of such a big guy in the field? Can I still reap this benefit if he’s not actively pursuing research? As with the first question, I’m sure this will all be fine. I’ll find a way to keep up with my boss, and he’ll be there on my side if/when I need him. But it just won’t be the same as having someone who is still in the game. Just in case, I’m working to boost my current collaborative relationships, within my current institution and outside, during my time left here. There are several people out there interested in my success, and surely those mentoring relationships will be almost/just as effective as the one with my own mentor.
3) What happens to all my boss’ stuff? Okay, so this isn’t a very scary question…just a fun one to ponder in the midst of all the worry. As with anyone who has been in the field for nearly 30 years, my mentor has accumulated quite the collection of interesting and useful strains. I’m soooo hoping that I’ll be able to benefit from this…it would be quite the coup to start a new lab with anything close to a treasured collection such as his! So, when the time comes for him to clean house, you can bet I’ll be right here waiting with a moving van ready to go.