I’ve been a PI for all of 5 months now. Just long enough to make some initial observations about how my life has changed. I enjoyed just about every moment of being a postdoc and the PI days have also been great thus far so there won’t be any value judgements made here. On the other hand, boy-oh-boy are things different.
1) Lab time: Back in the postdoc days time demands were always weighed against experiments. The number one priority back then was to get the experiments done and everything else was secondary. Not anymore. I’m still in the lab a lot now, but largely to show people how to do things. My top priority in the lab is to get my people up and running on the bread-and-butter techniques and once that is done I don’t plan to spend much time doing those things anymore (until troubleshooting needs to happen). I do intend to continue to get in the lab though, mostly to get some riskier and more technically demanding projects going. This has nothing to do with a lack of confidence in others, rather, I think it is better to keep them focused on things that we know how to do to be more productive. I’d rather be the one to fail and fail again on the new project until its worked out — then someone else can take over. I’m not sure that everyone will agree with this approach but that’s the plan for now.
2) Meetings: As a postdoc I spent a fair amount of time in meetings — maybe once a week (lab meetings not included). This was largely my choice as I wanted to get an idea of how these things went. Now I have some sort of meeting nearly everyday. Generally these are about plans for collaborations or meetings to put together collaborative grants. At this point in my career the number one priority is to get funding coming in the door. The work in my lab is the primary focus for the grant writing but collaborative efforts are also playing an important role. I have found that the more I meet with people the more interested they become in the research focus of my lab. Rather than collaborating on the projects of others we have been able to establish some connections that will help us test hypotheses that we are interested in pursing but are outside our technical capabilities. To me, this sounds like a GoodThing.
3) Manuscript reviewing: As a postdoc I reviewed a fair number of manuscripts. Now I get an invitation at a rate of about 1 every two weeks. I have yet to turn one down and don’t anticipate turning any down anytime soon. Reviewing is demanding work but it is a vital function. I also get the impression that editors really pay attention to who gives them a carefully thought out review and they reward you with a more important role. Eventually this can lead to an editorial board position. I think we can all agree that this is an important accomplishment in your career. Many of the manuscripts that I have reviewed are now coming into press. I have published several papers that have been vastly improved thanks to the insightful comments of attentive and concerned reviewers (and editors). I hope that authors of the papers I have reviewed feel the same about my efforts.
4) Teaching: I did not teach as a PhD student or postdoc. I teach only a tiny bit now (and I mean tiny). Thus far, my experience has been that if I am enthusiastic the students are excited to be there. Teaching has not been a chore so far and I’m looking forward to taking on a few more lectures. On the other hand, I am happy that my Dept chair has committed to protect most of my time for research activities (more than 75%).
5) Writing: If I’m in my office, I’m writing or thinking about writing (or reading drugmonkey). I’ve got more ideas sketched out in grant format than I care to think about. I did this as a postdoc too but I think about it much differently now. Back then I would sketch out an idea in a preliminary format and file it away. Now I spend much more time getting into the details while it is still fresh in my mind. This has paid off when it comes time to put the grant together. Now it becomes a cut and paste job with transitional-type statements thrown in. This greatly increases my efficiency and allows me to experience less stress.
6) Reading: About the same in terms of time but with a different focus now. Back in the day (6 months ago) I spent more time in the truly basic literature. Now I spend more time on the clinical lit trying to get new angles for the application of my basic science aims to clinical problems. This is completely driven by the current funding situation. I don’t look at it as straining to make connections to call my research “translational”. Rather, there is a wealth of data out there in the clinical lit supporting my position for the significance of my aims. If it helps me get funding then it is a good strategy. After all, I would like to keep my job!
7) Money: As a PhD student I had none. As a postdoc I had some. As a PI I have enough to be nice and comfy. I’m certainly not making a fortune but not stressing about paying bills is liberating.
8) Free time: I’ve always had as much as I want. I work a lot but don’t think about it as work. One big difference is that experiments dictate your life as a postdoc. This doesn’t happen to me now. I think it pleases Mrs. Juniorprof.
9) Administration: We happen to have an incredible administrative staff. This is something I didn’t think about while interviewing and I got lucky, I admit it. If you’re interviewing, its a good thing to think about. A quality administrative staff can save your ass in ways you never even considered. This is truly a GoodThing.
Well, that’s all I can think of for now. What say you?