Hello there bloggies! Welcome to Trainee Tuesday!
This past week, one of the PIs in our research group announced they were leaving our institution for a new job. Unlike most jobs where the structure of an organization is not entirely dependent on one person, the departure of a PI affects everyone in the lab and on their admin staff (never forget your admin support…they are life savers!). I’ve been fortunate enough not to experience this firsthand, but so many of my friends and peers have. They have been forced to quickly figure out how to deal with such a big shock.
Here are some ways I’ve seen my peers deal with a PI changing institutions:
Follow the PI to the new institution
Many times the PI will have the option to bring staff scientists, postdocs, research assistants, and/or grad students with them to their new institution. A lot of this depends on grant funding and start-up support. This can be convenient and fantastic if your PI stays in the same geographic area. But, the prospect of a big move across the country or to a new country could make this decision difficult, particularly with significant others and children. If you are a grad student, differences in department requirements add further complications, including taking more classes and possibly re-taking parts of qualifying exams.
Stay at current institution with PI still serving as mentor
Moving is not always an option. We all have families or maybe the PI is moving to a place you have no desire to live (be honest, we all have places we don’t want to move to). Some institutions will allow senior grad students and postdocs finish their projects there, even after the PI has left. Their PI still serves as his/her mentor, but will be in a different location than the trainee. This trainee will exercise far more independence, which is why this typically happens with more senior trainees. This isn’t a long-term strategy, but it does allow for grad students and postdocs to finish their work and move on. This can be a great solution for both the PI and trainee, but it does require discipline and good communication skills from both parties.
Change labs at current institution
For trainees who more recently joined the lab, simply finishing up your work doesn’t make sense. They are likely far too early in their projects. But, these trainees may have made some good connection and collaborations within the department and institution. These PIs have seen the trainee work and have interacted with them directly. With adequate funding and resources, the trainee may be able to develop new projects with these individuals to keep them in the home department and institution.
Join a totally new lab at a new institution
After exploring your options and evaluating where you are with your life and projects, you may come to the decision that a complete change is needed: a new lab and a new institution. I would say this typically occurs more with postdocs and staff scientists than with grad students (they still need their degree and it is quite a feat to start from scratch). Fortunately, it takes PIs months to make the move. That will give you a chance to leave your project in a good place and to find an exciting new job.
Hearing the news that your PI is leaving your institution can be quite a shock. It is incredibly how one person’s decision can affect so many other people so dramatically. There are remarkably few structural support systems installed within many academic institutions to provide official support for the trainee and other staff.
But, trainees do have options and usually have some time to explore them. Talk to people in your lab, your PI, and people in your department/institution. Remember, this is your career. You need to choose what is best for your career and for your family. Take a breath and embrace the situation. It could be the kick in the pants you needed to take your next step professionally and personally.
Thank you all for stopping by Trainee Tuesday! Has your PI moved during your PhD or postdoc? What did you do? How did you handle the resulting situation? Let me know below or on twitter @DrFsThoughts.
See you tomorrow for Wishful Wednesday!