Postdoctoral Dilemma… Warning Signs And What (Not) To Do

My postdoctoral story began almost 3 years ago.  I graduated from a graduate school program, where most of the professors know and like me, and because of this, I landed a postdoctoral job at a well-known university.  My graduate advisor was an assistant professor (then untenured), and I thought it might be fine to work with another assistant professor for my postdoctoral position.

Initially the postdoctoral mentor (then a untenured assistant professor, only 2 years into her job, but very well-known already in a research area that is different from mine) was nice, then things started to become weird…  For 2 years, a list of the things happened:

  • My postdoctoral mentor was almost always absent or went away to do something else when it was my turn to present my work during the weekly meeting;
  • My mentor and I are both women, but sometimes I felt that she wants to compete with me or tries to show me that she is the one in power. For example, she told me she met one of my graduate committee members in a meeting, with whom I am very close to, when I acknowledged his quirky way of doing things, and she suddenly said that she has known him for a long time and that she knows him very well (which I don’t think is quite true);
  • My mentor never really thought what I was doing research on had any importance…  Until someone she respects in the field published a similar study, and then she became interested in my work;
  • I felt my mentor did not respect me at times.  For example, she would ask her graduate students to join a private meeting between me and her and start criticizing my work and ask the graduate student to weigh in (on her criticism);
  • My mentor showed little support.  For example, she didn’t think I am of R1-faculty material, and when she asked to see my faculty application she told me some of the proposal ideas were too similar to hers, even though they were topics that I am known for in the field (and she has never worked on those topics before);
  • My mentor constantly asked for data, however even when I spend more than 14 hours in the lab for a 5-day work week, she was not satisfied with the work and the results.
  • My postdoc mentor, being a woman herself, picked on me for the way I dress, while the other postdoc (a guy) usually wears a pair of jeans and polo shirt, she didn’t mind

I desperately looked for other postdoctoral positions to get out of my situation, and I also applied to faculty positions.  However, with the demanding work hours, I had limited time to devote to “getting out”.  I finally have had enough belittling from her and left the job.  I went back to my graduate institution to teach and finish some papers that I have not had the time to finish, and now I am much happier and have time to apply to other positions.

So maybe you can learn from my experience.

  • When you feel that there was something wrong with the postdoctoral position and you are not as productive as you want to be, you should leave the post within a year and find a new one that would suit you better
  • When you feel like your expertise is not valued, and you are being used more like a technician than a postdoc, also consider leaving the post ASAP because it will not get better, it usually gets worse

There are not a lot of people around me who had a postdoctoral position, my graduate advisor was also quite new to this type of things, and there was just too little knowledge that people I know can provide.  So what to do?

First, keep up with the increasing knowledge on the postdoc topic.  The National Academies already felt that there is a need for a more proper postdoctoral mentoring.  Make sure you choose a suitable postdoctoral mentor.  There is a resource on the NAS website about mentoring postdocs, make sure your prospective mentor would help you achieve your goal.  The 2014 report summarizes some important issues on this:

Secondly, there are a few blogs on other people’s experience to help postdocs overcome their difficult situations.  These range from topics of suggested help when one is facing a hard situation (, to decisions of leaving academia (, to different  scenarios depending on one’s position(, to handling difficult mentor-mentee relationship (, to hindsight reflections (, etc.

Lastly, make sure you ask tons of questions, try to ask about the personal struggle people had as a postdoc.

And I hope you will not find yourself in the same situation I was in.  Good luck!

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The Vegan Table: No-Queso Quesadillas

Serve these warm!  This is a very easy recipe that is simple and quick to prepare as finger food!

The Vegan Table: No-Queso Quesadillas

The Vegan Table: No-Queso Quesadillas

Again, I don’t use any onion, so what I did was just preparing the salsa in an Italian way, so just basil, tomatoes, and salt.

Satisfying, quick, and fulfilling!

Most of the people who blogged about making the recipe loved it!

Posted in autumn, basil, chick peas/garbanzo beans, spring, summer, tomato, tortilla | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Vegan Table: Roasted Red Pepper Wraps

Once you have everything, it’s a very easy recipe, but think ahead and prepare ahead!  That was why I made the hummus earlier.

The Vegan Table: Roasted Red Pepper Wraps

I didn’t buy the alfalfa sprouts nor the lettuce and avacado, but I used cabbage, which was not too bad, would have been nice to have those other things though.

I would actually suggest buying the biggest tortillas you can find, and INSPECT!  I bought and exchanged to get tortillas without mold…  Just to find that the ones I bought also had mold.

There was not a lot of blog posts about this:

Posted in autumn, carrot, chick peas/garbanzo beans, spring, summer, tomato, tortilla | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Vegan Table: Homemade Hummus

This is a simple recipe, but it is yumm-y!

When chickpeas were just put into the water to be soaked:

Chickpeas in the beginning

After chickpeas were soaked:

Chickpea after soaking

Boil, cook, and save the water from cooking chickpeas (aquafaba).  After blending with other ingredients:

After blending

I again didn’t put any garlic, I used truffle oil instead, it made the hummus a little savory.

Everyone seemed to like the recipe, here are some of the results around the blogosphere:

Posted in autumn, chick peas/garbanzo beans, lemon, spring, summer, tahini, truffle oil, winter | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Aquafaba Experiment

If you have been following the vegan trend closely, you would know that there is a wave of a new egg substitute taking over the vegan world…  Its name is–Aquafaba.

In my spare time (actually, I was making hummus for a couple of the recipes from The Vegan Table, stay in tune for those), I wanted to try making the vegan meringue.  So I saved the aquafaba and stored it in the refrigerator.  Then I took it out during the weekend and then I started whipping it with a electronic mixer.

Mixing aquafaba

…  But it was not very stiff.  Even well after 15 minutes of mixing.

So, I decided to turn it into…  Brownies ( and genoise (

My brownies were very gooey and I can’t seem to separate them very easily after cutting them up, I like the thin crispy top that I have not seen for a long time since my switch to a vegan diet:





Then here’s the genoise…  A bit on the hard side, I added the vanilla taste to it, its texture is between a lady’s finger and a biscuit, its top is shiny:


My overall impression about this meringue experiment is that:

  1. If this is the first time using aquafaba, make sure you have a backup exit plan, i.e., my brownie and genoise
  2. Before starting making the meringue, make sure you have a very thick aquafaba to start with, and also the right mixer

But I am generally impressed by the way aquafaba:

  1. Mixed with sugar, felt like marshmallow melted even if the mixture will not be stiff
  2. Retained tiny bubbles in the mixture for a long time after mixing in the sugar, and thus made little egg-like bubbles inside the cake and the brownie

So there you have it.  Some useful site that will help you get started are listed below:

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The Vegan Table: Eggless Egg Salad

This is really good.  Take my word.  Really, really good.

I thought it was a very easy recipe.  Well, it really did seem like it would be easy to prepare.  So there I was, chopping the vegetables away, chopping them really fine as the recipe asked.  Well, it was really taking a long time, and all the time I was thinking, “This salad better be really good for me to chop the vegetables for this long…”

And the salad really was worth the wait!

Notes about this, if you don’t eat scallions like I, Chinese mahogany is a very suitable substitute, a tablespoon would suffice.  Second, the recipe called for 3 stalks of celery, 2 carrots, and 2 red bell peppers, but they were double as much as you need!  Your vegetables should be about the same amount as your tofu (which was 1 1/2 cup).  So now I have enough vegetables chopped up for tomorrow again :).  If you don’t want your salad runny like mine, add less Vegenaise (yes, I used Vegenaise, it was wonderful).

Again, people who tried it, loved it!  So here are some others’ reviews:

Posted in autumn, bell pepper, carrot, celery, Chinese mahogany/toona, mustard, pickle, spring, summer, tofu, vegan mayonaise | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Vegan Table: Chocolate Cake with Coffee Ganache

YUMMMMMMM…  This was so good…  Why did I make something containing coffee so close to the time I need to go to bed?!  Now I must get up early to finish this cake!

The Vegan Table: Chocolate Cake with Coffee Ganache

The Vegan Table: Chocolate Cake with Coffee Ganache

If you like chocolate cake, this is the easiest chocolate cake to make.  The apricot glaze was not very much work.  I would suggest you make the coffee ganache before making the apricot glaze because the glaze will harden faster than the ganache would.

The cake is moist and spongy!  I quite like the resulting cake.  Also very delish, which is the most important part!

Raving reviews by others who attempted it (and these are just a few of them!  Note: Variations exist :) !):

Posted in "butter", "milk", autumn, chocolate, coffee, spring, summer, winter | Tagged , | 2 Comments