The group – my group – was back to its initial constellation for a couple of days this week, with Anna visiting us together with her now 6 month old son. It did us all good to be like “in the good old times” (meaning, 6 months ago…). But it also made me sad. These six months have opened my eyes on something I refused to see before: that being part of a junior research group cuts them off of an institutional comfort they would deserve and do need. The comfort you have when your PhD advisor is a professor – a real one, not someone without the title who incidentally happens to be allowed to accompany PhD candidates in their research.
I have sensed the limits of junior research group leadership from the beginning and had hoped things would get better as time would go by. God knows that I invested time and energy in building solid scientific partnerships over the past three years. But instead of reaching a point where mutual confidence is dominant, there is not a meeting that goes by now without someone asking when I will have reached professorship or at least have finished my second book. I am now stuck, and will stay so as long as I will not have made the next career step. As it is, with my contract ending in June 2015, I can’t be PI in any small to middle-sized funding application. I have two options: let a professor put his name on the application and me do the work – but I have never done it and would rather not begin now as it is very much against my work ethics – or apply in a funding program that would be rich enough for me to include my own position and income in the application. Applying to this category of funding with some chance of success is definitely incompatible with writing a book as good and as fast as possible.
I would not mind so much about there being a desert to be crossed for me personally, if I had not suddenly gotten the feeling this week that my team will have to cross it with me. I am not the only one who has chosen a risky disciplinary career path, I have taken them with me. And as much as I want to help them move on with their careers when the junior research group time is over, it became obvious that the best way for me to help them is to push them away from me and in the arms of any professor who would bring them the necessary “stables smell” that would allow them to be valued. Although they say they don’t not aspire to an ambitious academic career, I still consider it my legitimate duty to do my best for them to have a job they like after their time under my supervision. On the paper, things look rather good. They published papers, organized conferences, directed volumes, went to conferences. We’ll have to see about the dissertations, of course. But that is a part which I can only marginally influence. What I can give them is scientific method, faith in what they do, contacts – and a visit card including the scholarly achievements named above. I am afraid I might fail at that in the end, or more precisely that they might have everything on the paper, but the most important thing will be missing: the recognition factor. I am still looking for the Magic for it.