The struggle is real

Since I have been a postdoc I have struggled with my career identity. This is not my first post on the subject.

In grad school I was very happy. I had an incredibly supportive mentor. I had success in lab. I had the time to work as hard as I needed. Obviously a career as a professor at a research focused university was for me!

Toward the end of grad school I started to have some doubts. The number of experiments I had done that weren’t going to see the light of day was depressing. The balance between scientific rigor and competing against splashy publications seemed challenging. But things still seemed manageable and I forged ahead toward a postdoc anyways.

Many things were different when I started my postdoc. I had a kid! My mentor was much less supportive. I didn’t have the community I had had in grad school. My commute length, now including childcare drop-off, had more than quadrupled. On top of all that I didn’t have great success in lab and I switched projects three times in the first year.

So basically from the start of my postdoc I had a million reasons to question the tenure track life. To question whether I could do it. Whether I wanted to do it. The dream of a faculty position persisted in fits and starts but I spent long hours daydreaming of other careers or being a stay home mom.

There are many difficulties of being a PI but most of them I see as challenges to be overcome, not things that would prevent my career progression. The one that always holds me back is time. I work 40 hours a week and can’t imagine working more. I am — with children, commuting, working out, doing chores — busy until 9 pm every day. When am I supposed to work more? I’m afraid if I work on the weekends I’ll feel out of touch with my family and myself and lose my sanity. I feel strongly that my quality of life is important and I don’t want to give it up for anything.

I just attended a large conference in my field. There are so many inspiring people doing such neat research. People with children. People who seem happy! Busy, yes, but happy. Am I being too quick to shy away from something because it will be hard? Maybe if I paid for more help around the house (an investment in my career!) I would see the extra career work as manageable.

It is hard for me when people ask why I don’t want to be a PI. It is hard because part of me really loves the idea at being a professor. I love research (on good days anyway). I love mentoring. I don’t mind writing and I like the idea of laying out experiments in a grant. I’m really just scared that I won’t have the energy for all of it and I’ll end up unhappy. I’m scared that if I’m unhappy I won’t feel able to step back and reclaim my time.

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