Year in review: first year as a postdoc

It seems to be a tradition already for me to write my “year in review” posts a year or more after the reviewed year (see the reviews of my first, second, third and fourth years as a PhD student). Today, although 2016 is drawing to a close, I will be reviewing the year 2015, or my first year as a postdoc.

PhD student to postdoc

In January 2015 I started my postdoc at the Biomedical Imaging Group Rotterdam at the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands. I already knew the group a little bit, and the location was close to where I lived, so it did not feel like a major transition. I also was continuing a project related to my PhD, and my PhD defense was still six months away. So at first, being a postdoc was not all that different from being a PhD student.

What was different, is the fact that I was on a two year contract. I was aware I would need to find my own funding. Besides travel grants, I haven’t obtained any funding (in the Netherlands, PhD positions are fully-funded 4-year contracts), so I wanted to learn more about this. Luckily, my supervisor asked me to help out a colleague from a different department, who was applying for an internal 1-year grant. Unfortunately the grant wasn’t funded, but it gave me useful insights into the grant writing process.

Independence?

Although at the start of 2015 things didn’t feel very different, there were two events in 2015 that made me feel more independent (or perhaps, more like a real grown up).

In March, I moved to Rotterdam, into an apartment which I bought all by myself. By that I mean that I was the only owner, I of course needed to get a mortgage. But the fact that I was “allowed to” buy an apartment, and that a financial institution trusted me with a mortgage, felt pretty awesome.

In June, I defended my PhD thesis! The defense day was amazing and I’m thankful to everybody who joined that day. I first gave a short presentation, featuring my cat Buffy:

After this, I was joined by the committee and answered questions for an hour, which is a tradition in the Netherlands. The first question was actually about cats! Answering it helped me find my confidence and the rest of the hour went well too. After a short deliberation of the committee, I got my diploma and became a Dr!

Grants

While 2013 was a year of writing papers and 2014 a year of revising them, 2015 definitely became a year of writing grants.

In August, I applied for the first “big” grant I applied for as the main applicant. The grant was called “Open Mind” and called for original ideas. I spent a lot of time brainstorming, and made it to the finals. I did not get the grant, but the idea really felt mine, and formed the basis for several other proposals I would write later.

After this, I felt that I might really have a shot at getting my own funding eventually. So I applied for the internal 1-year grant, and for a tenure track fellowship at Delft University of Technology. These were both rejected, and Delft even managed to reject me twice.

Now that I think about it, perhaps applying for all these grants, even without getting them, also contributed to me feeling like a “real researcher”.

What about papers?

In the middle of all the grant writing, I did work a bit on the project I was hired for, although not as much as I should have. From the start I wanted to work on two applications. I submitted a paper on the first application only 2 months into my postdoc, but it was rejected at MICCAI, then rejected at a MICCAI workshop, and then finally accepted at ISBI.

The paper on the second application faced a lot of delays, the first being my attempt to implement a part of the method by myself, rather than use an existing implementation. So, in 2015 I didn’t have anything to submit yet.

There were also good news regarding papers. When my thesis was approved, three papers in it were under review, and these were all accepted before my defense. One of these was a MICCAI paper, which I presented (as a poster) in October in Munich, Germany. I also had a workshop paper on a PhD-related topic accepted, and presented it in Copenhagen, Denmark just a week later.

What else?

There are a few other things on my 2015 list that don’t fit into the categories above. I gave talks about my research and about my career, organized a workshop at ICML, joined the board of the Dutch society of pattern recognition and reviewed a lot papers.

I also went on vacation, which I’ve been doing throughout my PhD as well. According to my 2015 overview, I was away from the office for 4 weeks. Of these, I spent 2 weeks working from time to time (but never full days), and 2 weeks 100% in vacation mode.

Take-aways

I did a lot of things, but too little research. I didn’t follow the 20/80 rule. In other words, I didn’t concentrate on the 20% of tasks, that will bring me 80% of the results in the future: writing papers. But the other 80% were useful in other ways, like contributing to my feeling of independence, so I don’t really have regrets. The three pieces of advice I can extract from this year are:

  • Don’t do too many projects at the same time
  • Fail as fast as possible
  • All (even “unproductive”) experiences are useful

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  1. Pingback: Year in review: second year as a postdoc | Veronika Cheplygina

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