Input from Cathy on Realities

Aug 30 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

Direct from Cathy: (see here to learn who Cathy is). Some small editing to remove identifications. The rest in quotes are her words, put here with her explicit permission.

First, the good news:

General update: we had our clinical research faculty and lab meetings this morning. After last week’s one-on-one and the blazing success of THE AGENDA, he tasked me to create these magical pieces of paper for these two meetings, as well. I did so and after these were done, he took me aside and told me that producing these documents “showed real leadership”. Gotcha.

Which lasts only so long:

The second thing he wanted to discuss was the direction of my next proposal (the KL2).

Cathy was invited to put in for a spot on a KL2. A KL2 is Mentored Career Development Award, "to support newly trained clinicians appointed by an institution for activities related to the development of a successful clinical and translational research career" and is related to the K12 which is an institutional training award, similar to a T32.  These are very good gigs, if you can get them.  The money is awarded to the institution, which selects trainees to be part of the award. They are internally competitive, but not at the brutal levels of individual F & K awards. It pays some salary, which for clinicians means protected time from clinical duties/income generation. But, from Dr. Ifix:

He [said that he] is going to move his research direction away from me if I do not submit the proposal to be in line with his research. He was that blunt about it. Bunny carrot chewing research it is, then. It’s a year, I’m the PI and will do all the writing, he’s one of two mentors, it’s still good research, and it’ll be FAR easier to get a project funded that doesn’t have actual, purposeful roadblocks.

This is a decision on her part. It's not what we would like from a mentor, but Dr. Ifix does pay her salary. She also had this to say:

There is another way of looking at this, too. I'm not competitive for the types of jobs our older PI thinks I could drop into. When I started at [this MRU- note she started before Dr. Ifix was hired], I got zero start up money and was tasked with mentoring lots of little projects (most that produced no important outcomes) in an environment that was a scientific desert.

She was given a hard money position to do exactly this, help others get research going. She knew this and had her eyes open. We talked at length about it back then. She felt it was the best she could do when she moved back to the place she is now (for family reasons).

Because of that, I don't have a strong history of publications or awarded grant money. Right or wrong, I wasn't hired to do that and it's the reality of the situation. In an job market with a glut of phds, I don't look good on paper and wouldn't rationally expect to be close to the short list.

This is part of her reasoning on why working to make this job go is worthwhile to her.

What I have in this position is an ego [Dr. Ifix] that, while frustrating, is actually a bit manipulable. As I'm not competitive for jobs, I'm equally not competitive for independent NIH funding. A shot that I might have would be to join a larger effort and spin off that. In one sense, if cards are played well, what I have is a name/position I can utilize to get my (and Postdoc's) ideas funded from inside a system that wouldn't normally have provided funding to two under-performing phds who should be mid-career attempting to do translational research without clinical connections from hospital appointments that aren't tenure track.

A bit brutal in assessment, but trying for honesty. Knowing her record, my perception suggests that it is not as bad as she paints it. That's partly my role: reality check on self-assessment. We've talked about this.

Finally another bit from Cathy, her reasoning on why to stay, why to try and make it work, in response to some of the commenters:

There is another aspect of this that may not have been considered by the anonymous poster (because why would they consider something for which they have no knowledge): This place is an incredibly supportive environment for employees. I mean this – it’s like 180 degrees off from the Old MRU where we were together.

She has repeatedly told me this. She feels that outside of Dr. Ifix she gets respect. She feels that the infrastructure makes it easy to do the work she does. And, shockingly:

 Dr. Ifix has been getting TONS of negative feedback from other employees (research and clinical).I know this because HR has approached me (more than once) to ask if I’ve been experiencing any of the same issues reported elsewhere. I’m not *certain* what would happen with my position if he moves on (and it does look like he’s interviewing), but he’s not my first chair (first one retired). The thing that would suffer would be my ability to get funding, but so far external funding isn’t a requirement for my position (it would be for advancement). Obviously, it’s better for me to have it, so I’m working in that direction, and I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket (e.g., I’m also working on a small project with one of the other faculty in a different division that may lead to funding). But from the position of the Division (sans Dr. Ifix), having a phd to help bolster and monitor resident and medical student research projects is a plus (sponsoring these is a charge from the Department and most of the clinical faculty don’t want to invest the time) and I’m working for very cheap.  It’s a lot of “ifs”, but attempting to up-root my kids, potentially dropping their tuition remission, and all the other challenges you mentioned in addition to loss of the interesting research – it’s not worth it to me. Particularly since there isn’t a good place for me to land that I’ve been able to identify.

For my part, I continue to listen, brainstorm on alternatives, and generally remind Cathy just how damn good she is (and she is). I am sure she will survive. and thrive.





2 responses so far

  • Microscientist says:

    The big distinction that everyone needs to get here is that in this situation Dr. I is her BOSS, not necessarily her mentor. So in that regard, if Dr.I says do science of carrot chewing, then that is what you do- even if you don't like it or think it's a waste of time. It's a very different mindset than that of mentor/trainee, where developing independence is the goal.
    The one thing I was going to suggest, Cathy is already doing- which is to build bridges with other members of her department. Faculty come and go, but Cathy wants to be in this location long term. So she needs to have lots of people in the department who know her worth. That way, if Dr.I departs, someone else can gladly pick up her position and benefit from her expertise. My husband ( a career lab manager/tech) refers to this as "becoming indispensable".

  • wally says:

    This whole situation is super interesting to me - particularly with this latest installment, as it could have been my story had I not gotten the postdoc I did. I was working in academic medicine while completing my PhD, and my dept head was working to create a faculty position for me post-PhD. It sounds eerily similar to Cathy's - I would have overseen all resident/fellow/med student research, and would have been a PhD in an MD department. I wouldn't have worked in an MDs lab - as I'm a social scientist - but I think some of the issues still would have been similar, although my larger environs would not have been as supportive. At the time, I felt like my options were hugely constrained by my lack of pubs and felt hopeless I could get any external funding. I'm now in a postdoc at an ivy league with my own NIH funding and a far improved publication record -- and I feel far less hopeless about my future.

    Cathy - I hope that things work out well for you. It sounds like there are some very positive things for you in your current environment - I hope that continues and that things improve significantly.

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