Uncertainty of the postdoc

It is said that living in the moment is the key to happiness. While I try to appreciate the moment, I am also always one step ahead of myself.  In college, I lived in the dorms and I couldn’t wait to “grow up” and have my own apartment.  When I was nearly two years out from defending my PhD, I was interviewing for post-doc positions.  Now that I’ve decided not to pursue a faculty position (more on that in a future post), I want to have a new plan in place.  I want to know what I am doing next. Living one step ahead may not be the key to happiness, but is it all bad?  I am struggling to balance this future-leaning with patience, trying to allow the positive side of the impatience, the planning, continue, while curbing the negative side, the anxiousness and the potential for moving on too soon.

Even having decided this, the balance remains a struggle.  For one thing, it’s just not in my personality to not worry about the future.  I just don’t like for the future to be uncertain. In undergrad and grad school, even though my situation was temporary, at least I knew approximately how long I’d be in the same place.  But now I don’t even know that. Having decided that I do not want to go the tenure track route, I no longer have a set path in front of me. Another problem is that to get a job I need relevant experience.  How can I gain relevant experience without picking a future?

I know that I can have the career that I choose if I am diligent and put in the time to network, research, and volunteer to get the experience I need. That takes time, but luckily (or because I have planned well), I have the time. I have a position that, at least for now, is secure for and with which I am happy enough. I know that I should appreciate this, but it is still hard to be patient.  When I see someone else get a job, even if it is not a job I want, the fact of their perceived success makes me anxious. There is an element of ego – I want to be successful now. I have many years of education and training and I am ready for that to count for something.  There is also an element of nesting.  I want stability, to settle down, buy a house and know where my kids will go to school when they’re old enough. At the same time I recognize that rushing for the sake of rushing will not help my life or my career.

By its nature, a postdoc is temporary, so perhaps it is no surprise that I feel somewhat unsettled in this trainee position. I hope that my next position feels more stable. Given the way careers work in this century, I can’t imagine that I will stay at my next job or company/institution forever.  It may be enough, however, for it to not be defined as a temporary position.

And so I am trying to be zen, and grateful, and enjoy what I have now while still planning rationally for my next step. As I slowly gather the information and experience I need to advance my career, I also work on my state of mind.  Things like writing this post and meditating on the many great things in my life help, allowing me to take a mental step back from the on-rush of life to say, yes, this is where I want to be.  How do you deal with impatience?

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6 Responses to Uncertainty of the postdoc

  1. Pingback: Where I want to be right now: JayZ vs. Martina McBride | A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman

  2. saraswatiphd says:

    I could’ve written this post myself. However, in your post the theme is, “I am impatient, but I am also zen, and trying to take the time to enjoy things this life has to offer…” My post would’ve been like “I am impatient and AAAAAAAAAH!” I think I may have reached a point that when I know I need to move on. Kind of like, during labor, you know the stage when you’re pushing your baby (in my case babies) out, and you can’t take breaks any more, you just gotta get them out? Well, I’ve arrived. I need to read more posts like yours, because they are tremendously helpful–1) I realize that I am not alone in my desire to know when/where my family can settle down; the transient nature of my position is giving me anxiety. 2) I need to chill the f*** out. In other words, I need to surround myself with “Zen” friends. Kind of selfish on my part. But oh well, I have pretty awesome friends.


  3. peírama says:

    Thank you sraswatdiphd! It is very helpful for me to know that I’m not alone too!


  4. Pingback: Need to know | A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman

  5. Torschlusspanik says:

    “How can I gain relevant experience without picking a future?” I am right there with on that one!


  6. Pingback: Last Day of School. | A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman

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