Early Career Blues - Life on a T32 and Thinking of Bailing

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by Medstudent9, Apr 19, 2017 at 1:34 PM.

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  1. Medstudent9

    Medstudent9 7+ Year Member

    Feb 3, 2010
    Hey all,

    I want advice but also maybe just to vent.

    My situation: graduated from a top MSTP program, was kinda a middling PhD student (one first author paper, several other author), did residency in a non-traditional MD/PhD field then fellowship, and am now two years into my post-training career.

    So, like a good little MSTP grad, I touted my interest in research to my department, which in my field is a somewhat novel thing to have, and was maybe hired partially based on that. Did the first year all-clinical (except for not getting any time in my fellowship area) and then got on a T32. I am about 6 months into a lab that was chosen for me by my department chair...

    And, I kinda hate it! I am 5+ years out of research and in a new field so I don't know how to do anything and nothing is working. My "protected" time is frequently pulled and at the last minute. I am not as productive in lab as I want to be/should be, and when I have ideas or early results, my PI gives those aspects of my project to other lab members (postdocs), probably to get results sooner. So it's a poor fit. All I have to show for it so far is one poster presentation.

    And, on the clinical time, my department initially promised me I would get my sub-speciality associated time but now I keep hearing "not yet, maybe later" since I am getting this research time. Meanwhile, my clinical days end up being stuck in the assignments no one else wants to do since after all I am only there 1-2 days per week so I should just suck it up.

    tl;dr: MSTP graduate, 6 months into T32, hate the lab/unproductive, clinical opportunities I was promised not materializing.

    Meanwhile, I have thought about starting to interview for a new job to start after I finish the year. I still have the payback requirement but I am honestly thinking the basic scientist path may not be for me. Possibly I could get a K but I don't know if I have what it takes or the desire to make the R jump. Maybe a clinician educator who does 1 day/week in clinical or translational reseach would be better (though I have not done either before)? I don't think my current academic job would be accommodating to say 20-40% research time plus getting into my subspecialty clinically.

    Thoughts? Is it a d**k move to cut and run after a year on a T32 to a more supportive clinical environment (already had one interview on the DL)? Should I suck it up? Try to switch mentors?

    I feel too old to be as frustrated again as I was sometimes as a grad student, and I do want to have kids/family in the near future.
    amuseddoughnut likes this.
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  3. Fencer

    Fencer MD/PhD Director 7+ Year Member

    Oct 10, 2007
    What kind of PD do you have? Clearly, there is a mismatch between you and their expectations. Talk to your PD, switch labs, discuss expectations quite clearly with your lab mentor and PD. Trying another lab will allow you to know whether you hate this lab/position or you hate doing science. If you go to a more clinical position after doing a 2nd lab, you know that you tried and it wasn't for you anymore. You will walk chin up knowing that it wasn't for you... and that is ok. We need outstanding people who understand science as clinician-educators. Good luck!
  4. Medstudent9

    Medstudent9 7+ Year Member

    Feb 3, 2010
    I don't have a PD because I am a graduate. I am two years into an Instructor position, not in training any longer. My username is from 7 years ago.

    So, I have a PI (at the lab) and I have a department chair (my boss), but that's it.

    I am on a T32 as young faculty which is done in some fields (whereas in medicine I think you are usually still classified as a fellow).
  5. SurfingDoctor

    SurfingDoctor "Hooray, I'm useful" 10+ Year Member

    So why did your Department Chair pick a lab for you? There must be some background to that because that seems atypical to me. Either way, I personally would have an honest discussion with your Chair about your concerns. It doesn't make sense that they would hire you to go down a physician-scientist track then pull you away from it for clinical duties or not support your research time appropriately, unless they don't have the option because your department or whatever is short staffed and they need warm bodies. If they really want to see you succeed, they should try to accommodate you as best as possible.

    Likewise, you must have a mentoring committee for your T32, can you discuss with any of them your issues? Technically, they should be the ones to advocate for you if your not getting protected time or having a PI give away your projects, ie they should help negotiate on your behalf.

    I think its okay to move labs if needed, just realizing that you may burn some bridges in leaving the lab without discussing your issues with the mentor. That being said, a good mentor should want to help you, not hinder you by giving your results to others. At this stage, you can take the advice that a once mediocre mentor once gave me "The person most invested in your career is you". If you feel like you aren't meeting your potential in the current environment, you have the most power to do something about it. But I would discuss your concerns with both your research mentor and Chair (and get a sense of their expectations, especially for the latter because they are the ones to help promote you out of an Instructor position) before you jump ship.
    eteshoe and doinitswell like this.
  6. sluox

    sluox 10+ Year Member

    Jan 4, 2002
    This happens with some frequency. You are not the only one. People on T32 routinely drop out for the greener pasture of private practice. People on Ks routinely drop out. People on R01s frequently drop out.

    IMHO your problem is deeper than a mismatch between your lab and your expertise. Frankly, you don't sound like you care about a career in research all that much. The current climate in research is that barriers are sky high every step of the way, and after the T there's K, after K there is R, after R there is R renewal and second R. The process is excruciating. It's really only worth it if you really want to do it because otherwise it has very few advantageous over a clinical career.

    Life is too short to blindly persist in something you don't feel strongly about and don't like on a day to day basis. If you feel strongly about a research career and just don't like the day to day maybe you can switch mentor or strategize and tweak it logistically some other way; if you enjoy the day to day but don't feel strongly about the career, I'd say hey why the hell not just cruise and have fun. But if you are neither then you should move on.
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2017 at 7:25 PM
    Microglia, eteshoe and fpsychdoc like this.
  7. Spacedman

    Spacedman amateur vibeologist 10+ Year Member

    Dec 2, 2003
    The ivory tower
    This sounds somewhat familiar - non trad residency for mdphd, getting "assigned " to work areas- if you happen to be in anesthesia, pm me... it's a very small world in academic anesthesia and I may be able to give you concrete advice.

    In any event, if your interest in research is truly a novelty in your dept and field, you may best be served by applying to a dept that values research- either you'll find a place that's willing to invest in early career physician scientists (though that will likely involve further investment of time/deferred income from you), or it will give you some leverage to get what you want from your chair, whether that's clinical subspecialty cases or a mentor switch.

    This is, of course, assuming you're not burned out on the whole process. I needed almost 4 years of departmental support to get a K, and very nearly got fed up with the whole process. Then again, working 100% clinical would probly make me crazy too. I just like complaining I guess.

    As some others have said, I think it's very odd that you have a phd yet your chair chose a mentor for you. That's totally back assward. Either you're not advocating strongly enough for your interests or your chair has a very skewed vision for advancing medical science.

    Sent from my iPhone using SDN mobile

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