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Roman
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01 Aug 2010, 12:25 pm

I was wondering, is there anyone here who is in the field of either mathematics or physics, and is working on a level of a post doctoral research and/or professorship? I am looking for a very practical advice on this level.

Anyway, my situation is this. I completted my ph.d. a year ago and started post doc immediately after that. I was given a contract for two years, with possible extension for the third year, if I do well. This is decided at the review at the end of the FIRST year, so the person has a year to plan ahead. Anyway, my first year is over, and they decided not to give me an extension. So I have one more year to go, and then I have to find another post doc.

Now, while they insist that review was on professional basis, I have a very strong reason to believe social difficulties due to Asperger have a key role. Let me explain. As far as "academic" part is concerned, they reviewed the papers that I posted, and the reviewers said things like "it is a complete nonesense". Now, I don't know who the reviewers were, but I have a very good reason to think that the reason they said it is simply because my communication style is not clear. I know it from my experience of talking to people: it typically takes several weeks to try to explain to someone what am I trying to do on the first place, before they can ever get through the first page of my work.

Now, as far as my position here, I already HAD a whole YEAR to do just that. So, if I had some minimal interaction with people, I am sure some of them would have known what I am doing by now. But what happened is that when I just arrived, I managed to made people around me not like me on a personal level. Then I felt unwelcome, and began to avoid being aroudn them, myself. The consequence of avoiding being aroudn them is that there is no way they can know that the work that I do even exist, let alone discuss it with me. Thus, when evaluation time comes, their only option is to understand my work WITHIN ONE DAY and give a feedback. Well, since my work is not clear enough to be understood "within one day", naturally they say "it is a bunch of nonesense", which is very typical first reaction to my work.

Anyway, right now I would like to apply for new post docs. But the problem is that most places require three letters of recommendation. I can get ONE good letter from my former thesis advisor. I still make occasional visits to him to discuss my work so it makes sense. But I have a problem getting the other two: obviously it would not make sense to ask them from my current institute since I know their attitude from the fact that they have not given me third year. I will probably just desperately look at my former thesis committee members, or some other people from the past. But, of course, that would look weird, let alone the fact that they are not in the field. So that would not be a strong letter.

Now, when I applied for my FIRST postdoc I had much stronger application. Well, I DID manage to ruin my reputation in the place wehre I did my ph.d., too (and I can't compare which is worse -- in both cases I just ruined it completely). But back then I was in good terms with my two chairs of thesis committee, so I had TWO letters that come from my school, and only ONE more letter "on a side". Nevertheless, back then I didn't have much luck either. I applied to a lot of places and the only two places I got into were the ones where one of the co-chairs of my thesis committee (the same person I mentioned who can write me a good letter) had personal connections (and then I failed my interview in one of these two places). All other places turned me down from the outset.

This, of course, naturally leads me to look for personal connections instead of just applying like most people do. But the problem is that this guy who had these two connections doesn't have any more connections, and I already "ruined" the two bridges that he did have (in one case I failed the interview, and in the other case I ruined my reputation after getting a position).

I tried to email some people other than this guy who kenw me in the past, no one responded. So this brings me to asking you: do you guys know any aspie physicists who would be sympathetic to my case and decide to help me out even though they don't konw me? Of course, I can try to introduce myself to them and share my work. The key words for my interests are theoretical physics, mathematical physics, quantum mechanics, quantum gravity, quantum field theory and particle physics. I konw I am grasping at the straws, but I am really despearte at this point.



LabPet
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01 Aug 2010, 2:09 pm

I am in the sciences and even thinking about putative post-doc. As I understand, best to always keep yourself busy and not 'take a break' in your post-doc work schedule, so you're doing the right thing.

A post-doc is a good idea but the goal, of course, is to begin your professorship. Taking a 2nd post-doc is OK but you're right to looking ahead. If you're having difficulties with getting an entry position you could try at another place/university; don't limit yourself too much.

Find your strength. I know some Aspies can be socially awkward (?) or related but oftentimes make really good professor as they work well with their students.

Since you're an Aspie you might consider seeking 'outside counsel' to help look for a position and negotiate on your behalf. Obviously you're very talented! If you're worked as a TA this is a bonus to any upcoming entry position. An outside counsel could help you organize your portfolio/cv and your presentation. Letters of recommendation are important....just don't know what to tell you. Maybe ask around and get to know others - good if you can ask other more experienced physics professors and best if you could find a mentor. Good luck and I bet you'll find a place soon enough.


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sgrannel
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01 Aug 2010, 3:19 pm

Congratulations on getting your first postdoc! It's a bad economy out there, and you were lucky to get your first, let alone a second. I never got a postdoc or anything similar in an academic institution, and budget shortfalls are probably the main reason. If I didn't have my current employers, who are outside of academia, I wouldn't be able to continue my work anywhere. Put away as much money as you can.



Roman
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02 Aug 2010, 12:50 am

LabPet wrote:
A post-doc is a good idea but the goal, of course, is to begin your professorship. .


Professorship is far more competitive than post doc. Thats why at this point in my career i think post doc is the only option. Especially since my concern right now is that I won't be able to get a post doc, obviously professorship option wouldn't be the answer.

LabPet wrote:
Find your strength. I know some Aspies can be socially awkward (?) or related but oftentimes make really good professor as they work well with their students. .


Actually, working with students have been my weakness, not strenth. Basically, back in 2001 and 2002 I was given Freshman students to teach, and I had hard time understanding what they were confused about since the material seemed obvious to me. So I weren't able to help them. But, at the same time, my voice kept going up as I tried to help -- that was not conscious. Eventually I lost my position as a TA. Then later I been a grader for few years. But then eventually that position expired after I been grader long enough.

Anyway, I believe that I wouuld do better job teaching if I were to teach third year students rather than the first year. Also, I can try and improve my skills of teaching first years with practice. I guess the main thing is that people don't give me chances once I screwed up

It is funny you are talking about finding strengths. I am sure I will do well *IF* I am given a position. The only issue is for THEM to give me a position. If other people won't hire me, what good would any of my strengths do? Thats why I am asking for help to pass this stage.

LabPet wrote:
Since you're an Aspie you might consider seeking 'outside counsel' to help look for a position and negotiate on your behalf. .


That is what I am trying to do. Can you think of someone I can talk to? Because, I have tried to approach everyone I know myself, and most of them haven't responded to my email. The two that did said there is nothing they can do to help. Do you know of any profs at your school who might be sympathetic to my situation?

LabPet wrote:
An outside counsel could help you organize your portfolio/cv and your presentation.


I am sure I can organize it myself, but that would do no good because I am short of letters of recommendations. Plus, my area of study was quite obscure so there are only few places who look for these types of jobs. Of course I can apply to broader areas of physics since at this point I am willling to do anything and everythign just to keep working, but most places would probably wonder why I apply there if it doesn't match my prior work. But again, the MAIN concern is letters of recommendation. I really damaged my reputation at the current place, and people here are openly hostile to me.

So, the kind of "councel" I want is NOT the one that would help me organize my portfollio. Rather, I want a professor who can be on my side and go talk to people in person and ask them to hire me, or, better yet., hire me himself. Since you are in academia, can you think of someone who would be willing to do that?



Roman
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02 Aug 2010, 1:03 am

sgrannel wrote:
Congratulations on getting your first postdoc! It's a bad economy out there, and you were lucky to get your first, let alone a second.


I don't limit myself to any country. I look all over the world -- which is why my first post doc is in India, despite the fact that I have no connection to that country otherwise.

Also, as far as my reputation here in India, you can't blame economy for that. Everyone before me got an extension for third year, I am the ONLY person who haven't. And also, people were openly hostile to me long BEFORE I was refused an extension (which is what caused me to isolate myself). So you can't say that because of bad economy they "conspired" to hate me in order to save money on one employer, that would be silly. My problem here is Asperger, not economy.

sgrannel wrote:
Put away as much money as you can.


I ran out of money, and that is another part of a problem. That is another reason why it is important for me to get a postdoc immediately after finishing the first one.



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02 Aug 2010, 1:18 am

About your question, "who would be willing to do that?" That's a toughie, plus I don't know you (except what you wrote). You mentioned you had a former thesis advisor whom you trust; start with him (her?) and state the case concisely. For any given professor time is at a premium and important to be respectful of this fact. Not to be critical, but your writing style is confusing. A career counselor might be a good choice at this point, given your unique circumstances.

Certainly securing a position as a professor is harder than any post-doc. As you know, a post-doc is a 'transitional position' towards a career. Unsure, but maybe another post-doc then is the best option at this point.

I honestly cannot know, but you've mentioned you've 'burned some bridges.' OK, that's not so good.....I guess really important, starting right now, to be positive and accountable. Another option - - you indicated you're not so comfortable with teaching and even lost a TA postion. I'd suggest you pursue a research professorship as a long-term goal. But, maybe consider another career entirely. You have a PhD and there are plenty other careers.

Otherwise, I just do not know. Best if you ask one who is familiar with your style and can advise accordingly.


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Roman
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02 Aug 2010, 5:40 am

LabPet wrote:
About your question, "who would be willing to do that?" That's a toughie, plus I don't know you (except what you wrote).


What I was thinking of is that someone who doesn't know me would be willing enough to take a lot of time to GET to know me with an express purpose of trying to help me (and by "getting to know me" I mean read my papers, etc). Of course, that is not a very realistic option: usually it happens in the reverse order: people help each other because they already know each other. But I guess right now it doesn't seem like an option since I have isolated myself. So I want to somehow get out of the current mess and then later on I won't put myself into any more messes.

LabPet wrote:
You mentioned you had a former thesis advisor whom you trust; start with him (her?) and state the case concisely.


I already did. He said he WOULD hire me if he had means to. But hte reality is that he wasn't given the fundings for students for quite a while, and this probably won't change. In fact, the graduate students who work under him, have to earn money by teaching; this is very unusual since in most other places profs fund their students once they pass certain point.

Instead, he suggested his former ph.d. student, who is now a professor, as a possible person who would hire me. But he just pulled this option out of the air, he didn't actually talk to him. So, now that he did, the guy told him that he doesn't have means to hire anyone.

The other option is his collegue in the same school he is in. His colleague is actually looking for post docs. But his research happens to be in the area other than my field of interest. I told him that it is okay with me: I am willing to do anything and everything as long as it pertains to physics. But he said that, due to competition, this would not be an option -- the professor will rather hire people who already worked in that specific field before.

LabPet wrote:
For any given professor time is at a premium and important to be respectful of this fact.


This is very true regarding the professor who wishes he could help be but has no means to. Basically when I come visit him he can spend lots of time with me. But when I am away it takes him several days to even respond to the emails I send. That is one thing that slows down this process. But anyway, from what he recently wrote, these options that he suggested don't exist anyway, so I guess it doesn't matter, unless I think of some other option that would also probably take him forever to process.

LabPet wrote:
Not to be critical, but your writing style is confusing.


Yes it is. THAT is why when they made annual review the reports came back saying htings like "it is complete nonesense", "his work lacks consistency of thought", "this is just a bunch of jargon". Of course, I haven't talked to the referrees. But, based on my experience I know for a fact that it is my writing style. This prof who tries to help me, he likes what I do; but not during the first year of our mutual work. It took a whole year to get him to get used to my communication style, and NOW he likes my work. But before he got used to the way I communicate, his attitude was frustration and anger. Also, I have made several arxiv papers. ONE of them I co-authored with that prof who is trying to help me. The other ones I wrote on my own. Well, the one that I co-authored got few ppl who cited it -- not many but few; the rest NO ONE cited. Now, the content of the work is similar. So the only reason one got citations and the others didn't is clearly writing style.

LabPet wrote:
A career counselor might be a good choice at this point, given your unique circumstances.


Can you suggest any? I know that they don't have these career councelors at my institute, it is very small place. I have no idea about the rest of India. It is possible they don't -- I mean India doesn't have as much services as USA, that is a common knowledge. But, again, I have no idea. It is possible they do have those and I just never ran onto one. Do you think my seeking career councelor in USA might help, and my communicating to her through email, or do you think I should look for the one in India? By the way, I am USA citizen and I am only in India for a post doc.

LabPet wrote:
Certainly securing a position as a professor is harder than any post-doc. As you know, a post-doc is a 'transitional position' towards a career. Unsure, but maybe another post-doc then is the best option at this point.


And getting another post doc is exactly what I am trying to do but I am worried htat it won't happen, which is why I would like to find some loopholes to get another postdoc despite my situation.

LabPet wrote:
I honestly cannot know, but you've mentioned you've 'burned some bridges.' OK, that's not so good.....I guess really important, starting right now, to be positive and accountable. .


Yeah, but I need some audience to see me "positive and accountable". If everyone has their midn made up, and no one gives me another postiiton, what good will it do? I basically want someone to hand me one more "bridge" and hten I will be sure to NEVER burn that bridge.

LabPet wrote:
Another option - - you indicated you're not so comfortable with teaching and even lost a TA postion.


I can learn to teach in future. Basically *IF* I am given any new bridge, I will make sure to not burn it, EVEN IF it involves teaching or whatever else I have to learn. I just need someone to hand it to me.

LabPet wrote:
I'd suggest you pursue a research professorship as a long-term goal.


It IS my long term goal -- always have been since I was 9 years old. Right now I am just thinking more short-term.

LabPet wrote:
But, maybe consider another career entirely. You have a PhD and there are plenty other careers.


I can't consider another career because physics has always been my life time goal, ever since I was 9. So if physics goes away, it would feel like my whole life is taken away. Well, there is ONE exceptoin to this, which is mathematics. If I leave physics for math that is fine with me. And in fact I look for post docs in both fields. But that doesn't seem to help much since I need letters of recommendation all the same. And like I said I don't wnat to consider any option outside of physics or math, so I feel stuck.

LabPet wrote:
Otherwise, I just do not know. Best if you ask one who is familiar with your style and can advise accordingly.


I already asked the prof I mentioned earlier. Like I said, he is trying to help but there is only limitted number of things he can do.

I also tried to ask my former professors -- I went all the way back to the time I was undergrad and contacted the ones who wrote me letters of recommendation. Most didn't reply. The two that did also said there isn't much they can do.



Logan5
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06 Aug 2010, 3:21 pm

Roman, I do not know anyone in physics, but I hope you will not be offended if I offer some comments and suggestions.

First, a brief bit of background information about myself. I became interested in a certain subject during adolescence, and I ended up pursuing it (in one form or another) through a Ph.D. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, I ended up leaving the field a couple of years later. Without boring you with lots of details, things were not going well, they had not been going well for some time, and eventually I just had to cut my losses and get out. (I should note that these things happened before I knew about AS/HFA.) Now I work a low level job in a completely unrelated field. I mention all of this because I want you to realise that, on some level, I can empathise with what you are going through. Moreover, I do not think I am better than you.

I am afraid that what you are asking for sounds highly unlikely, and hence you may need to seek other options. I have often read that there is high demand, in a variety of fields, for people with good skills in mathematics and the physical sciences (although I do not know how true this really is). Rather than looking for another post-doc or a research faculty position in academia, you might have better luck with research jobs in other physics/ mathematics related areas. Most (if not all) USA government jobs are restricted to USA citizens (especially those jobs that require a security clearance, such as at DoD labs), so you might have a better chance with them.

Around the time I left academia I read a book called " 'So What Are You Going to Do with That?': Finding Careers Outside Academia", written by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius. Unfortunately, although it is an interesting book, I think that it is mostly useful for individuals who are adept at spinning straw into gold. There are some other books about building a career in academia (e.g., "A PhD Is Not Enough: A Guide To Survival In Science", by Peter J. Feibelman), but I am not sure how much help they will be to you at this late stage.

Irrespective of what you end up doing, please keep in mind that most jobs require "good communication and interpersonal skills". I am afraid that in far too many workplaces this takes the form of (social) networking, playing office politics, and outright sycophantic behaviour. Unfortunately, this includes academia. I know that some people like to think that academia is some sort of AS/HFA paradise, but in my experience, it is not. (In academia, as in the rest of life, who you know is more important than what you know.)

Anyway, I was never any good at those sorts of things, and hence I now work a job that requires very little interpersonal interaction. I have learnt to minimise my communication and interpersonal difficulties by generally keeping my mouth shut. Management seems quite happy with me because I show up to work on time and don't screw about. There is still a part of me that would like to get back into research in some capacity, but for a variety of reasons I do not see that ever happening. (It often feels like my AS/HFA is getting worse with age.)

I am sorry if what I have written seems harsh and/or depressing. I sincerely hope that you can find some sort of employment that enables you to pursue your interest in physics.


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06 Aug 2010, 4:53 pm

We can't all have careers in academia. If every graduate student became a professor, then the number of professors would grow by about a factor of 2 per year or every few years, and this would become a pyramid scheme which cannot be supported. All the stuff being taught must have some value besides teaching it to someone else. Success of students who leave academia is a necessary part of proving that what we learned has any value.