Original Ideas

7 02 2012

For those of you who have read my blog since the beginning, you know my academic history.  For those of you who are newer readers, let me fill you in on some details that are relevant for this post.  I graduated with my Ph.D. in a subfield of chemistry in May of 2010.  I’ve known that I wanted to teach since early on in graduate school.  I decided (with my bosses approval) to start applying for teaching positions in the Fall of 2009.

I know that many of you are probably thinking, “What! No postdoc?”

My boss and I agreed that since I had no desire to be a big-time PI at an RO1 institution that doing a postdoc wasn’t necessary for me.  He also agreed that if I didn’t find a job during this cycle that he would keep me on a a postdoc until I was able to move on to something else.  This sounded like a great plan to me!  I went ahead and sent out close to 30 applications during that cycle; including applications for a couple of teaching postdocs (which apparently are very very rare in the field of chemistry).  To make a long story short, and to get to the heart of this post, I ended up getting a couple of call backs and ultimately landing my dream job.

The crux of this post is whether or not is was a good idea on my part to forgo a postdoc.  I don’t feel as though doing a postdoc would have helped me any with my teaching ability; I feel that I received plenty of teaching experience during my days in graduate school.  Most chemistry postdocs I know just spend their days slaving away in the lab.  They learn to become more independent researchers and formulate their own research ideas.  This is where I start questioning myself.  In graduate school, I was not responsible for coming up with my own big ideas.  My boss gave me an idea and told me to make some compounds, and I took it from there.  I made different derivatives of my own thinking, but the idea as a whole was his.

Now, as I sit in my nice office typing this post, I wonder, did I do myself a disservice by not going the postdoc route? I am by no means in a high-pressure situation where it is publish or perish, but I was hired under the notion that I could eventually start a small research project much like at a PUI, but this is for a professional program.  Some of our students (primarily those who obtained a B.S. in chemistry as an undergraduate) have already approached me because they know what type of work I want to do, but I have to turn them away because I don’t have a project for them.

I am trying my best to come up with some idea that I can get rolling into a nice little project, but I am not having any luck.  I have some internal collaboration going on right now, but it is in the very early stages that doesn’t require any lab work from me at this time.  I am scouring the literature right now (I really have to make myself read the literature…I hate it!), but anytime I see something that interests me I don’t know how to translate that into an actual project that has legs.

Do any of you have suggestions on how to get the ball rolling on discovering your next research project? How did you discover your first real idea?