How to say goodbye to one job and hello to the next

tl;dr: I’m finishing my current post-doc and am preparing for the next. How to wrap up the current work?

Moving between two post-doc jobs is more difficult than I had anticipated. I am switching topics, but staying within the same research field. In a very tiny nutshell: I now work on enzymes that add sugar to things, in my future work I will address the enzymes that perform the reverse reaction. So I thought the overlap would be marginal and no problem.

There are, however, unexpected difficulties. I find it very hard to do useful experiments in the lab here. Why, you may ask? Mentally, it feels like I already stopped working here. The new project is in the foreground. So I thought I’d simply do what my boss asks me to do. My PI is generally interested in a lot of things. Which means that our research isn’t always very focused, and I’ve always been able to decide what I wanted to work on. I learnt a lot about priorities, have been able to really define and thus own my PhD project, which has been great. But now, it doesn’t matter much to me on which project I work, because I won’t be able to finish it anyway. As I described earlier, the financial situation isn’t so rosy. There are no new people yet to take over the project once I leave. That would have made things easier of course, we could have decided together which direction the research would take and I’d have no problems preparing for that.

Instead, my PI drops by every few days with another new idea that I should test. These all land on my plate, because he doesn’t have a lot of other options left. Some suggestions I ignore (he’s usually forgotten them a week later anyway!), some experiments I do. And then I always wonder what will happen with them once I’m gone. To the graveyard of forgotten things??

On the other hand, I cannot wait to start the new job… Ideas creep in about things I could start doing straight away. But that feels like betrayal to my current boss. He’s paying my salary, so I should be performing experiments that are in his benefit, not my future bosses. However, my new boss will of course appreciate it if I kick in well prepared and maybe with some basal things already done.

The solutions I’ve come up with so far:

  • I’ve outlined a few tools that both bosses could use in future research. Specific cell lines for example. Which means I can work on them now, take them with me to the UK but also leave some here. That way, I won’t feel guilty about spending my time on the new project already, as it will also be useful to the old boss.
  • I’m trying to formulate a project that old and new boss might want to team up on because their areas of expertise would complement each other. On such a project, I could start working straight away of course. They agreed that we will at least discuss the possibility during a meeting we are all going to attend in September. That might do to make the last few months worthwhile.
  • Instead of doing a lot of random experiments, I’m doing some more admin tasks. Grading exams. Proof-reading thesis chapters from PhD students. Proof-reading research articles from two young group leaders in the neighboring institute. People appreciate these efforts, making it feel less useless than the experiments fo. However, they of course won’t appear on my track record…
  • I’ve started with generating an overview of all my unpublished data. One sheet = one subproject, with hypothesis, listed achievements so far and the things I think should be done. This is linked to my lab journal, to be able to find the data. Maybe this will help to get rid of the feeling that everything I’m doing is in vain. Perhaps some day someone will open the file, see the awesome projects listed there and pick up one of them.
  • One project is pretty advanced already: I could just start writing up the manuscript and insert some boxes for the few lacking figures. That might help to convince my boss that this is something I should focus on and try to finish before I leave, even though this was not such an interesting project.

Like this, I hope I can keep both my old and new boss happy, as well as myself motivated for the last few meters. It’s only for a few more months so it’s not such a big deal, but still I’d like to make the most out of it.

What do you think, are there any other things I could do to make the transition as smooth as possible, while keeping support from both old and new bosses, without loosing too much productivity in between?

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4 comments

  1. isnt it better to know more about those that would work with you, i mean you wont only work with your boss, you will have some other mates….
    btw when will yu be traveling??

    1. Yeah, I haven’t met my future colleagues yet. Would be good to get to know them, but there’s more new people joining the lab that aren’t there yet. Have to wait a little longer 🙂

      I will move in december.

      1. Mmm, is it a new lab?? Or that they change staff every year ???
        I mean why they have so much new people this year?? Is it something normal in such jobs?? ( if yes i wish to know more about it) or is it just something going on with this lab??

      2. My new boss started his own lab a few years ago, with only 2-3 graduate students and 1-2 postdocs at any given time. Now, he has accepted a position at another university, for which he needs to move. Not all of his current employees will move with him. Additionally, he has successfully written some grant applications and can thus hire more people than he could before. So yeah, this happens every now and then when group leaders relocate, but after moving it should be more stable for a while.

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