For this post I wanted to make a brief comment on something that applies not only to science but also to any job in general: knowing when to move on from a particular position. Change is an inherent part of science. As new ideas come about, it becomes time to build upon them and move forward. Sometimes it’s also good to think about when to move on to the next phase of your career. The most successful scientists that I’ve known are able to adapt to changes. I’ve known people who started out in basic electrochemistry and who are now studying cancer biology. I’m always finding myself reading about new labs and new research and thinking “I wish I was working in this field”. I believe it’s that kind of drive, and that kind of enthusiasm that keeps a scientist alive.
For myself, I know I’ve always had to balance my devoting enough time to a particular project and my search for new projects. As I’ve said before, in getting your science funded even, the old joke is that you write a grant to get money for work you’ve already finished while you’re thinking about the next grant. Like anything there are ebbs and flows in science. Sometimes new data seems to be coming in easily and sometimes a direction I’m moving in just feels static. My advice would be to time the “focusing and dedicating time” in a particular area to the ebbs and to start thinking about new ideas during the flows. If I could possibly do so, let me coin the term “Data Drought” in this particular time. A Data Drought, being a time when you are not producing much, is NOT the time to be thinking about something new. That’s how you lose your focus; that’s the “grass is always greener” mentality. This again is broadly applicable; I’d like to think about why I’m not being productive rather than chalk it up to the field I’m in being dead. Again when times are easy and when you’re really productive: that’s the time to start branching out and to start thinking about moving on.
Personally I’ve always felt that the publication of a paper, the finishing of a dissertation, or the completion of a project is the time to starting thinking about what’s next. For me, I’ve just wrapped up several papers and it’s gotten me thinking about smaller side projects that I could complete while looking towards the next phase of my career. I also know that it’s just the type of person that I am; I can never seem to rest on my laurels. I don’t know if that necessarily makes for a happy life but it makes for a good scientist personality. Right now I’m putting together applications and I’ll be going through the process of looking for faculty positions and/or a second postdoc. I hope to write a post in the near future that compares it to my first experience applying for postdoc positions (and to applying for grad school) to give you some insight into the process. Thanks for reading again!