I have two facts to share with you today.
May 17 is my last day as a postdoc.
My postdoc project is imploding. Therefore I have no plans to write a paper from the work I’ve been doing for the last 2.5 years.
How could this happen? In my more desperate moments, that’s the question I ask myself. The short answer is circular: it happens. It happens because discovery science is inherently risky, and sometimes your hypothesis is wrong. It happens because in this line of work, there are no guarantees.
So in addition to not getting my grant funded, I will have no publications to show for my time in the Amrein lab, and that breaks my heart. I’ve been saying for two years that I am not leaving this lab without a paper, and hey, guess what? I’m leaving without a paper. It’s my worst case scenario come true. Trying to wrap my mind around this reality has been really hard. I am running out of emotional energy.
Until recently, I loved my work. Loved it. The project was exciting and novel, the data were mostly encouraging, and I felt good about the work I was doing. I felt like I was on the right path, that I was going somewhere. But then things started going off the rails. I had a serious setback in February, but it felt like the project could be salvaged. Then we found out the grant was not going to be funded, so time was running out on my chances for a publication. Then the data just…quit. I don’t know how else to explain it but to say that the data don’t support the storyline. That’s nobody’s fault, of course, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt. It’s like, Really? Now? I felt like I was thisclose to wrapping up a nice story, and that would have been a very satisfying end to my postdoc. Instead, I feel like I’m leaving with my tail between my legs.
As a postdoc, I am a failure.
More technically, I suppose, it’s my project that is a failure. I had a meltdown last night, with tears and everything. All the feelings that have been bubbling beneath the surface just poured out of me like a blubbery volcano. Anger, sadness, frustration, boredom, hopelessness—I couldn’t contain it any more. I have tried hard to handle my situation with grace and dignity, but my efforts are unraveling. I feel like I can’t do it any more. I can’t be a stoic scientist, shrugging my shoulders and saying, “That’s the way it goes sometimes.” Paul reminded me that I did what postdocs are expected to do: I did science. I gave it my best effort. So how is that failure? Scientists are responsible for producing data and presenting it honestly, not for producing a particular set of results. To do otherwise is to commit scientific fraud.
And that is perhaps where I am redeemed. Honesty has always been a strong point of mine (hence this post!). I took my project as far as it could go. That was my goal with this risky, exciting project, and I think I accomplished that. And now I need to find my way to a place of peace and acceptance that this stage in my career is over.
On my better days, I am proud of myself for taking a big risk with my work. I am a not a risk-taker by nature; I’d rather bake cookies than climb mountains. But I climbed the metaphorical mountain when I moved to Texas and embraced the “big risk/big reward” model that my boss uses in his work. It didn’t work out for me like I hoped it would, but on my better days, I’m excited to see what lies beyond the mountain.