The genesis of Future PI Slack

A few months ago, I happened upon this interview with Prachee Avasthi. I was inspired by her exuberance and began to follow her on Twitter. A few months later, in a Twitter break inspired by grant writing, I read more about her efforts to create the New PI Slack group and turn it into a useful community to support new assistant professors. As I read about the group, I kept thinking that I wanted to join a group like this. At the end of her post on the creation of New PI Slack she wrote that the New PI group was getting multiple requests to join from postdocs - there were other postdocs out there who wanted a group like this too! Without thinking much more deeply about it, I created the Future PI Slack group and grabbed the @FuturePI_Slack Twitter handle. We’ve grown quite rapidly in the weeks since then, and I thought it was high time to write about my vision for the group.

My hope is that the Future PI Slack group grows into a community where science postdocs from around the world can support each other in navigating the transition from graduate student to confident and prepared assistant professor. Inspired by New PI Slack, I created the following channels for the group:

  1. General
  2. Conferences-Courses
  3. Faculty-Job-Search
  4. Grants
  5. Hacks-Tools
  6. People-Problems
  7. Resuscitation (for those bad days)
  8. Silly-Nonwork-Fun
  9. Teaching-Related
  10. Work-Life

Our Grants and Conferences-Courses channels have seen the most action thus far, although I do hope that the Faculty-Job-Search channel picks up this summer as another round of faculty searches begins. Of course, Silly-Nonwork-Fun is good for Friday afternoon pick-me-ups.

At the heart of it, I created Future PI Slack because I wanted there to be a positive community for postdocs who want to stay in academia to come together. As a postdoc in a relatively new lab, my daily interactions are with only a few other postdocs. We support each other, but our experiences are naturally limited to our experiences within a few institutions. There are also times when a quick question or pick-me-up is needed but no one else happens to be around. Slack allows us to quickly message with each other in a relatively unobtrusive way so that the science can continue and we get the benefit of many people’s experiences.

In this era of extremely tight NIH funding with battles over the distribution of funds, there’s a lot of Twitter angst about the future of academic science (and not for naught). On a personal level, in this climate I sometimes feel a little foolish for wanting to stay in academics and go out hunting for NIH grants. There’s a lot of negativity on Twitter about the future of academic science. And, by its nature, doing science requires resilience to persevere despite multiple failures on multiple levels (experiments, grants, paper submissions). But I also love my job as it is now and am inspired by the potential to lead a group with my ideas. Of course, academia is not the only way to achieve this goal, but the intellectual freedom and flexibility are an incredible opportunity. So I created Future PI Slack as a way to have a group of like-minded postdocs come together and say “we know that academic science isn’t a perfect system, but we still want to be a part of it - and make it better.”

With all that said, I do hope that you will share this post with your favorite postdoc who wants to stay the academic system. Our group will benefit from leveraging a large network.

As a final note, being a member of this group does not require a time machine to go to the future and find out if you will in fact become a PI. I am certain many people in our group (perhaps even myself) will ultimately find their way into a non-academic job and the group will support everyone no matter where their path leads. The only requirement to join is enthusiasm about staying in the academic system right now.