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I can program, write papers and research. I'm better at research, but due to the lack of programmers I've been assigned programming tasks in my current institution. Additionally, I have little evidence to support that claim in my CV, I am "good" now (and I have strong personal evidence), but I don't have a long track of publications to prove it (because, to be honest, I wasn't good before).

How can I prosper in research if my CV and the interests of my superiors point me in the opposite direction? Is there any escape?

PD: I was a PhD student in another institution, I'm close to finishing my PhD but I don't get any spare time from my current programming obligations in the new institution, where I am a postdoc.

  • 1
    Please can you include in the question, a statement about whether you're a student, a technical assistant, a contract programmer, a post-doc researcher, or whatever? And please also include what your supervisor / line-manager said about your question above, when you asked them. – EnergyNumbers Jun 5 '14 at 16:49
  • @EnergyNumbers I have added details about what I am. I didn't ask my supervisor and I don't know how to approach this topic, but I can foresee a poker face and a change in the conversation topic by previous questions. They have a lack of programmers and they are not going to assign to program to someone who can't do the job or that they appreciate more (because they are their own PhD students and now postdocs, it's emotionally logical, I'd say) – Trylks Jun 5 '14 at 16:59
  • Thanks for that, it helps. Has your PhD transferred to the new institution? Is your PhD supervisor the same person as your post-doc line-manager? And how long have you been employed as a post-doc programmer? – EnergyNumbers Jun 5 '14 at 19:48
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    It is (sincerely) a mind-expanding experience to be on this site and see how other parts of academia operate. Up until now I would have thought "I am a postdoc" and "I am close to finishing my PhD" were strictly contradictory. I don't disbelieve you, but could you (or someone else, if this is a common thing) perhaps add a few word of explanation? – Pete L. Clark Jun 5 '14 at 22:10
  • @PeteL.Clark I think that, even in mathematics, some institutions are a bit flexible about the meaning of "postdoc". Positions that are called postdoc positions are sometimes offered to people who have not quite finished their Ph.D. There's usually a requirement that they finish it reasonably quickly, say in the first year of the postdoc appointment. – Andreas Blass Jun 6 '14 at 0:57
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It is clear from your recent questions that you feel exploited in your lab, and it is good that you want to do something about it.

However, first things first. What is your agreement with your current mentor / lab head / whoever? Essentially, what is your "job"? If you have been specifically hired to "help out with the programming", or something like that, it will be difficult to convince whoever is paying your salary that you now actually would like to do something different. Not impossible, but maybe also not easy.

On the other hand, if you have actually been hired to do research, but now end up being more of a scientific programmer because that's what the lab currently needs, it is time for a good one-on-one meeting with your lab head. You wrote in a comment that you do not foresee this going well, but I really see no way how you can change your situation without talking about it very explicitly to your lab head. It should be easy to see for most sane persons that not only your lab has needs, but you and your career have needs as well (and working as a scientific programmer can easily be a dead end for an academic career - no first-authored publications, no faculty job). Try to make a plan for a suitable compromise between you helping out the lab with your programming skills, will still being able to progress your own career. Should your lab head really not be willing to compromise at all, it may be time to move on.

Possible compromises could include:

  • Hiring an actual scientific programmer, perhaps with funding that you help acquiring
  • You training some of the junior staff to do their own programming
  • You helping others in their programming problems, but ultimately let them do the majority of it themselves
  • You supervising some undergrad or master students that can help out with programming tasks
  • etc.

that they appreciate more (because they are their own PhD students and now postdocs, it's emotionally logical, I'd say)

That's not logical, that's BS. A lab where people "coming from the outside" are valued less than those that "have always been there" is a terrible, toxic environment.

  • The specific statement was: "Although design and implementation is the main focus of the position, the candidate will have the possibility to conduct research within our research group". I find it not completely true: I can't make design decisions, I'm finding a bit hard to get any actual research done and when I do it (in my spare time), I'm also finding hard to get proper (not very diluted) attribution for the research I get to do. – Trylks Jun 6 '14 at 12:20
  • Two disclaimers: I'm highlighting the conflict in my questions (because that's what worries me) and I'm not sure about how bad the situation is, it could be better, it could be worse. Diagnosis takes time, I'm trying to be prepared. There will be an important meeting next week and I'd like to have a clear picture about what is going on (and what can happen next). BTW: thanks a lot. – Trylks Jun 6 '14 at 12:22

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