Sunday, April 1, 2018

5 years on the tenure track

Sometimes I wonder what made me think that April 1 was a good start date for my faculty job! But here it is, the April Fool's PI once again. I just completed year 5.

As customary in this occasion I go back to my past lab-birthday posts which reflect on the year that passed and on plans for the new year (Y1, Y2, Y3, Y4). The historical memory of this blog is one of the things I love the most (after my readers) because it give me prospective on my efforts and feelings. I am very glad that everything I put in place last year allowed me to survive this year. It was touch and go there for a minute, but the lab is good and back on its footing again. The new hires are great and after taking the time to get everyone up and going in 2017, things are moving along, papers are getting out and being published or in revision, we have cool new data, and we finally got our much needed R01 funding!

I have reflected a lot about what resilience means in academia during this process. The first month after getting the R01, when people were coming into my office to hug me or high-five me, I was stunned. I felt I had just come back from war. I was injured and psychologically devastated and there was no reason to cheer. A feeling I found so many of my friends who had been in the same boat shared. I don't know if it's true that the NIH throws you a bone at the very last second before drowning, but I have definitely heard of single-digit percentile R01s born out of extreme desperation.

Then a friend who is more senior mentioned that when you get your first R01 is when you realize you will survive, when you know that people trust you. And this is true. I still remember the joy of getting my very first grant as a postdoc, the sense of accomplishment and belonging "I can do this!" The disconnect in the past couple of years was that I knew I could do the job, but study sections didn't believe me, so I had to figure out how to convince them.

I feel like I am still recovering, but the outlook is a lot more optimistic. I made sure I had vacations planned to clear my head in case of both good or bad outcomes, and I'm ready to get back in the ring. This year I want to close this first chapter and really think about the future and what I can do with this lab now that there is some security for the next 5 years. There are still 2 more R01s in the pipeline...and I want to recapture the wonder and excitement I had on Day 1 of my faculty job.
I can also spend more time to focus on my other passion which is professional development for young scientists. After the Project Management series is done there will be more things in the pipeline.


  1. I still remember being congratulated by a big funding at the end of my TT. But it was such a rough ride it took me a while to get out of that and celebrate.
    I explain it as shriveling as a raisin, and when finally the funding comes it takes some time to plump back up to a normal confident person again.

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