Over the life of this blog, our careers and lives have taken us in many different directions. Here’s a snapshot of where we are now, and how we got there.
I am currently (still) a postdoc in academia. Sigh. My career has followed a pretty traditional route so far, although that route is certainly no longer typical. I got my undergraduate degree, worked for about 3 years as a tech, and then spent 7 years earning my PhD in Neuroscience. I’ve been a postdoc for about 5 years so far. All in all, it’s been a long journey in academia and it’s depressing to think about the financial implications of that, or the fact that I haven’t had full benefits since I was an entry-level tech all those years ago, or the frustrating lack of career progression– so I try not to think about it too much. Apart from the financial downsides of academia, the academic culture also discourages any sort of work/life balance. I’ve been told many times by my mentors that 80-hour workweeks are expected of postdocs, and I’ve had to actively push back against that, especially since I’ve got the most adorable two-year-old son! We also moved from New York City to Philadelphia– there’s no way I’d have been able to afford to stay in academia this long if we still lived in that high cost-of-living area, as I wrote about a few years ago. So, with the nontrivial financial, psychological, and lifestyle implications of staying in academia, why am I still here? The reason is the science itself– I’m absolutely riveted by the field of induced pluripotent stem cell research, especially as it relates to neuroscience. I’m so excited to see where this field is heading, and I want to be a part of it.
I am (still) teaching high school biology. I began teaching at a single gender private high school in the same city that I went to graduate school in immediately after finishing my Ph.D. and having my daughter. For three years, I taught part time, but felt like I was working full time any way (checking emails, dashing into school for one reason or another); as a result, I transitioned to full time this last fall, about 6 months after my son was born. I love my job and the work is stimulating and feels important, but feel like my children are growing quickly and I’m missing more moments in their lives than I’d like to. I feel like my work is full time plus, and my home life is equally demanding. I’m actively looking for a new, part time position, hopefully still teaching, that would offer me more flexibility.
I am currently a postdoc in academia. I have a BA in a self-designed Neuroscience major from a liberal arts college. I spent 3 years as a research assistant before starting a PhD program in Neurobiology & Behavior. Five years later, I graduated feeling like I had done something to be proud of that would usher me down a sustainable career path. That was 2 years ago, and I was so excited to use my swanky new postdoc to launch into a K99 application… but also explore career options beyond the tunnel vision pilgrimage toward academic PI. Then, smack dab in the middle of my first pregnancy, my not-so-great mentor decided to leave. I spent said pregnancy frantically interviewing within my current city. I was offered both academic and industry positions, and chose academia because the health care was better (which has turned out to be pivotal). I am 6 months into my second postdoc with another not-so-great mentor. What sustains my soul is my pedagogical fellowship, and the professional training and peer/mentor support that it provides. Becoming a PI (at any type of institution) has never appeared less achievable. Currently, I am contemplating the implications of failure, bad luck, communication, and how I can make the most of my present circumstances.
I am a full-time lecturer for undergraduate courses at a large public university. After 2 postdoc positions in 5 years, I was certain I no longer wanted to be directly involved in research and wanted a job with an emphasis on teaching and mentoring. This full-time teaching position came up at an institution/location I was interested in for personal reasons, and things moved very quickly from there – so quickly that now, a year later, my partner has still not quite solidified his tenure-track position in the same place, which he was pursuing even before my job was advertised! But things are looking good for this to be our long-term spot, and I couldn’t be happier. I love every aspect of my job and am excited to improve my teaching and courses every term. This busy first year aside (involving tons of preparations for new courses), this job is very nice for my family life, with a young kid and another on the way – I always have evenings and weekends off – and summers too!!!
I am a senior research scientist at a diagnostic laboratory. Three years ago, after 28+ years in school, I transitioned (gleefully ran away) away from academia to industry. I work with technicians to develop new tests or improve the methods of existing ones. I also spend a lot of time on pubmed to see what sorts of new and exciting biomarkers are being talked about in the clinical chemistry community. I travel to national conferences frequently (occasionally I even get to lecture). And still to this day marvel that I get to have my own hotel room (in grad school there were 6 of us crammed into a standard room with 2 full-sized beds, yikes). Traveling can be hard on my family when all partnering responsibilities fall on my husband, but I find it exciting and keeps me from feeling stale. But on the flip side, I get to spend evenings and weekends with my children and husband. Although that never feels enough. I am surprised at where I am in my career. I would’ve never imagined something like this. But some of the best things in life are completely unexpected.
I am a medical policy research analyst. After 5 years in grad school and 5 years in postdoc, 3 of which were spent trying to decide on an alternate career path, I left academia. I spent those last three years soul searching and networking until something worked out. I now do a lot of reading and writing. I talk to other people at my company and doctors currently practicing medicine. My work is challenging and, for the most part, stimulating. I always knew I enjoyed reading and writing and thinking, and this job is a good fit for all of that. I wish I had more interpersonal interaction built into my daily routine, but I may be able to find a way to make that happen in my current position. I am able to have the work-life balance that I want (though who couldn’t use a few extra hours in every day!?), with the flexibility to attend events at my children’s school and evenings and weekends for my family (and writing blog posts and volunteering).
I am a forensic scientist. Whoa! Didn’t see that one coming! After an undergrad bio degree with all those required chem, genetics, statistics and bio classes, I pursued a PhD in Neuroscience because that was my most interesting elective class and the professor was awesome. Also, I got involved in an undergraduate research lab that happened to be doing neurobiology. Grad school for me had big ups and downs, but ended on an up and launched me into another neuroscience postdoc that I moved states for. Awesome everything (city, lab, mentor, research project)….except I absolutely hated being a postdoc. Gave it my all for a year, and decided that it was one of the most horrible (for me) jobs ever. Postdocs are taken advantage of in many ways and told that if they put in the time, they will be rewarded for it later. I didn’t see that panning out very well for me. In my second year as a postdoc where I put a lot of effort reaching out for teaching positions, a notification from a friend surfaced that her lab was hiring an entry level forensic scientist position for local government. I thought it was crazy. Turns out, I was already using the molecular techniques applied in that field, and those required chem, genetics, statistics and bio classes were what I needed to be qualified for the job. Four years in, I could not have made a better move. I am satisfied with my job on a daily basis applying that science that always felt so slippery to me as an academic researcher. My day-to-day is very different: moving through evidence requests and planning a sampling approach for each item (asking does this make sense given the crime scenario), labcoat on DNA testing, computer interpretation and writing reports and then court testimony (so much like teaching!). Not to mention the frequent validation projects I get to stick my hands in and present about at conferences. And, since overtime is not always allowed, 8 hours later I get to play with my toddler in the evening and have a decent amount of time to pursue lots of fun activities for myself and with the fam. There is so much out there. You will never know where a cup of coffee and a conversation with a friend, colleague, person in an only slightly related field might lead you!
I am a research scientist at a pharmaceutical company. During my first post doc I realized that I didn’t want to be a PI in academia and used my second post doc to help me get industry experience. I landed a great (underpaid) job at a small startup working on a cool project in my field of interest. 3 years ago when things got a little iffy for the company I decided to move on to the local branch of a small pharmaceutical company. There is a lot I love about the job (great people, great benefits, good salary, good work-life balance, and work that feels important) but of course there are some thing I would change if I could (ie my lack of promotion). Overall I feel very lucky.
What about you? Where has your PhD or love of science taken you? Are you working where you envisioned or has your path branched in a way you never imagined? We’d love to hear….