Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mother fucker! Am I on the chopping block?

So.... I think it's time to come clean and explain why I'm not very consistant with my posts. I'll stop beating around the bush and say what I feel is happening in my new lab.

My boss wants to fire me.

Only they can't because I have a grant (with their help). I have no idea how it came to this so relatively fast (I consider a year after my hire fast), but I have been stripped of most of my lab responsibilities and been given expectations that I haven't seen anyone else (including my boss) live up to at this institution. Sure, I'm awesome, but I'm not sure if even I can achieve this level of greatness. Especially since I completely switched fields less than a year ago....

Yes, I will try to succeed anyway, just so I can shove it up my boss where the sun don't shine. I can kick ass with the best of them, but I ain't gonna sacrifice my family to do it. Maybe the vitriol is because I actually managed to maintain a nuclear family while my boss has been less than successful on this front. Maybe it's because I don't walk around looking totally pissed off at the world, or that people feel they can talk to me, or because I help people out of genuine kindness, rather than selfish political motivations. I don't know. But it sucks. Big time.

I've broken down in tears in traffic on the way to work, had to pull over to gather myself and stop thinking about what I might have to face that day. I've had nightmares about my job. Fantasized about witnessing my boss's downfall. Dreamed of success despite the odds. Hoped I would someday have something resembling stability.

I have to believe I have better options than this. I don't need this stress on top of everything else.

The latest in this week of "fun" (I'm hoping quotation marks indicate sarcasm - it's so hard to tell nowadays) - in addition to being told I should publish ASAP without support because a collaborator wants to poach my project, I was told I was not allowed  to teach a class on "company time." I should take vacation time if I wanted to teach, present at seminars, or give invited talks out of state at other institutions. Essentially, if I wanted to further my career, it had to be on my dime, despite being on a career development grant. Can you say say double-standard? Thankfully, institutional protocol came to my rescue, but the administrative support have started to ask why my boss is doing this to me. What they have against me. All I can do is smile ruefully and say that it doesn't really matter - I have no choice.

Yet all I want is to be able to yell WTF at the top of my lungs, scream my indignity at the wind. I just sat through an external advisory committee meeting where I was told that the institution needed to give me the opportunity to do all those things.

And they asked if I had problems with my mentor. Stupid me, I lied and covered it up. Maybe they saw through it, saw the "oh shit" moment in my eyes, but I'm not convinced.. Maybe they noticed my desperate search for outside guidance, my glowing words for previous mentors, and general lack of attention I gave my current advisor. But, bottom line, I've got a noose around my neck, and the hangman is waiting for the right opportunity to pull..

Yes. I am a postdoc. But I am a fucking good postdoc. And I could do amazing things if I had support.

Instead, I manage the lab like a motherfucker, 'cause there ain't no one else to do that job. Shut your door all you want, the job will still be done, just not by you.. Hide in your office - people will begin to notice who runs the show. Yes, it slows my productivity, but I feel I'm forced to run the lab because I'm terrified the students will fail without me. Because I sure as hell can't see you lifting your ass off your chair to help anyone other than yourself.

Why? Because there is one thing I've learned - you ain't nothing without that piece of paper.

And sometimes even that isn't enough.

But if you hear of a job needing a stem cell perspective and a willingness to kick ass, please let me know. You know where to find me -either in the lab or with my family. I'll be the one trying to hide my shame and achieve greatness despite the odds.....


  1. i'm so sorry to hear this. It's a lot of "hostile environment" going on there. SO draining and not productive for anyone. Do you have anyone you have talked to or can talk to at your work place? (informal HR or other mentor or someone who has your back?) that's important, regardless on what happens in the future since these things might end up "word against word".

    If you want to email and bounce some ideas/suggestions/vent feel free. I've seen some similar things happen earlier in my career and have some suggestions on how to insulate you a little bit better from fallout.

    My advice would be document, document and document. Like you seem to have done already, with checking the policy and then go with that etc.

    As for the helping the others in the lab.... I know myself and would probably do the same thing. However, I am not sure that this is in your best interest since you are in effect helping your PI since that way the lab looks well run. It's complicated though.

    1. The biggest problem right now is that I don't know who (in leadership) I can trust or talk to. A few grad students have caught on to my plight (without me necessarily telling them), but those conversations serve more as a much needed pressure release valve more than providing protection/guidance. I can't go to HR or most upper management because 1) they don't have the best track record at keeping things anonymous/uncontentious and 2) everything here immediately needs to be documented, making every situation far more serious than might be needed.

      Push comes to shove I will discuss things with a few key people, but more in terms of "what is my future here," "what do I need to do to be a more valuable to the organization," and "what is required of me to gain my independence?" I can't be sure of my boss's intentions, and raising flags now will only serve to make me a marked man.

      Bottom line: I've been through worse and need to remind myself that I can persevere. Most importantly, I need keep the environment and my attitude from draining my energy/will to succeed. Easier said than done, but I'll do my best. Family support will be the key for me here, I think.

      While I will try to scale back some of my support for the students, I refuse to make them suffer needlessly. I'm most concerned about our Master's student - the short time frame doesn't lend itself to too many hiccups along the way....

      Thank you for your kindness and wisdom - both are exactly what I need right now (well that and two papers, an R21, and some serious start-up resources)....

  2. WOW! Man, I'm sorry that you are having to go through all of this! I hope that things get straightened out soon. Take care!

    1. It's all good - things always happen for a reason. I'm just too anal and prideful to accept the fact that I might not instantly understand the deeper significance of what happens around me. I'll still give the situation a bit more time to play out, but I put everything in the context of "should I stay or should I go." Probably not the healthiest approach, but i yearn for stability and find myself constantly thinking 5 moves ahead....

      I will try and be more zen-like about everything, but it's somewhat against my nature...