27 and a PhD

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Crazy things to do after finishing your PhD

Welcome to my blog!

Hello there, awesome reader. My name is Dr. 27. I'm older than that now, but I'm staying faithful to the origins of the blog.

This blog started 2 months before completing my PhD in a pretty southern university back in 2009. It was a way to practice my writing and take a break from all things thesis. My PhD is in a branch of structural biology where I studied some rather impressive stuff.

After completing the degree, I packed my life of 6 years in 3 days and moved to Canada to do a postdoc in a completely different field. Two years later, and after attending a lot of seminars, workshops and doing some much-needed soul-searching, I ended up getting out and looking for an alternative path to academia and industry.

The blog chronicles my mishaps, ideas, musings and tips on entering, staying and finishing grad school. It also talks about some (or a lot) of personal stuff. For a while, the blog became a place to talk about the frustrations of not knowing what to do after PhD. I wanted to explore alternatives to the traditional paths of research (academia, industry and goverment) whilst going back to my field of training (if at all possible). Eventually a job materialized. Follow my quest as I navigate the waters of being a staff scientist at a core facility.


October 2009
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Since I get a laugh or two when I find out how people have landed in my blog …. I’ve decided to write a few posts inspired by such search terms. The first of such posts was on my salary, which I have no trouble talking about as you can see.

The newest search term that caused me to laugh (in a funny ha-ha, that’s cool kinda way) is the one that serves as title for this post. Thus, let me indulge the random, the curious, the ever funny peeps of the Internetz that visit my site, be it via Nature Blogs, or random search terms. Ha!

Ok, I will start by telling you about what I did after finishing my defense. I went with my mom and the BF to the school’s cafeteria and got myself a slice of pizza. My defense was at 10am, and right after I met with my thesis committee who grilled tested me about my thesis, on both the written and oral parts. I was so hungry! My mom and the BF had all my belongings, thus I couldn’t get a coke or something sugary to get my glucose back to normal after so much stress. I don’t even remember if I had something for breakfast.

After the reception to celebrate moi, my mom, BF and I headed home to rest. I think I slept better than any other time because I was done, there were corrections to add, but I was DONE! No more experiments, nothing.

I have to recognize that I did a couple of “crazy” things while in grad school. I dated a postdoc, had a one night stand, got a tattoo, survived a horrific crash, got a piercing, got into debt, got drunk in 30 minutes, drove at more than 100 mph after a nasty breakup, got into a long distance relationship (that worked) even though I swore I’d never do it again. All those things and more I did while in grad school. Some I regret, others made my life a lot more fun.

If I could got back maybe I’d get the tattoo after finishing the whole thing, but it’s ok. My point is, sometimes we want to wait up for something big to say “hey, once I achieve this goal or point, I’ll do it.” Other than the part of getting in debt, I’d probably do all those things again, some of them sooner. But I don’t think you should wait to get off the beaten path and do something that you’ve always wanted to do, just because you want to have your degree and postpone whatever that goal is.

Even if you decide to do your “crazy” thing or things after, just take a moment to reflect, to breathe the fresh air that comes with adventure. Always be cautious, you don’t want to get yourself in trouble. So, here are a couple of things I would have done after finishing my degree:

  1. If you’re nerd like me, you’ve probably had the same haircut for a long, loooong time (try 10 years in my case). Go get a different haircut. I think it’s a liberating experience if you can let go of your hair. I remember that a few months after my break up, I got bangs. I hated them at first because I looked even nerdier, but I decided to go with it because my ex hated them. Well, not hated, hated, but he said he couldn’t imagine me having bangs. With a big smile and a HUGE desire to say “f*ck YOU” I got them. Once they started growing and getting longer I looked so cool. I love them … and still have them.
  2. Get a tattoo. If you’ve always dreamed of getting one, finishing your PhD is a great reason to go for it. I got it as sort of a survival thing 3 years after my accident. I love it. I may regret it when I’m 60, old and saggy, but for now, I’m enjoying being a nerdy badass.
  3. Go backpacking. Gosh, I wish I’d done this one. I have traveled … a LOT, especially with the BF. But I would have loved to just go with the flow, pack a few things, get a couple of bucks and lose myself in Spain or Italy. I guess I got inspired by a movie (and a college classmate who did it). Top me it’s more of a follow your heart kinda thing, so if you feel like taking some “risk”, bungee jumping, walking butt naked somewhere (or going to a nude beach). Whatever it it, go for it.
  4. Get out of debt, or at least build a plan to help you get out. It may seem a bit crazy for some, but getting out of debt (if you into it) should be at the top of your list. Trust me, now that I’m a postdoc and have no worries, like kids, I’d love to travel more, especially within Canada. It would be possible to do it, if I didn’t have almost 1/3 of my income going into recovering from debt.
  5. Move somewhere exotic. Nuff said.
  6. Leave science or whatever your field is. I don’t know much about you, but sometimes I dream I’m doing something completely opposite of what I currently do. Like being a singer, or an artist. I sort of feel a bit tied down by the routine, but if you ever second guess your choice, and you know you’re awesome at something other than your field of study, go for it.

Well, I could probably add many more things to the list. This is just meant to give you some sort of inspiration. Let you know that you’re not alone.

Now that you’re done, feel free to do whatever you want. Your years of being tied down to tubes and buffers are over (if only for a few weeks), so give yourself the freedom to do as you feel. And most of all, enjoy it 😀


  1. […] October 26, 2009 Continuing with series of entries inspired by the search themes that lead people to this blog, this entry deals with a couple of things you would probably like to consider prior to the start of you PhD (may possibly apply to doing any kind of degree after your university degree/diploma). My previous entry dealt with “crazy thing to do AFTER completing your PhD“. […]

  2. Cloniadeali says:

    Thanks for this info. Additional discussions similar to this topic can be found at the World’s Largest Forum.

  3. Dr. Yogi says:

    Hooray to no more buffers! I did keep my pipetmen and my calculator though. 🙂

    • Dr. 28 says:

      Thanks for visiting Dr. Yogi. Yes, I wish I didn’t have to prepare a single buffer for a long, long time. But no. I prepare 5-10 buffers per week, whether for dialysis or FPLC/HPLC. Oh well. I cannot believe you got to keep your micro-pipettes … how awesome is that. How did you manage? One of my concerns in the new lab is that for 15 people, there aren’t pipettes for every single person, so I go on and “steal”, I mean, borrow them as needed. But it has garnered me more than one ugly look. Oh well. I’m not the PI and I don’t have a say on whether or not we need to get more equipment. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. polz says:

    lovely ideas about feeling liberted! I was waiting too to finish my PhD before getting a tatoo but I don’t want to wait! I feel I deserve it from graduating from undergrad! I totally agree about the several other things.. they need to be done to sometimes feel “normal”!

    • Dr. 29 says:

      Thanks for visiting Polz! I hope all is going well. Yes, I did get my tattoo before hitting my target weight (which is what I was suppossed to get it to celebrate being skinny once again) … but I just couldn’t wait. For me, I feel like it’s worth to take the time, do something crazy, or unique, or out of the ordinary to celebrate such a time. Cheers!

  5. Katy says:

    What a great blog! I am 27, in the final year of my (chemistry) PhD, and seriously doubting my future in the science field… This particular entry touches on so many things I’ve been feeling, and I’m glad I’m not alone! When people ask what I’m going to do once I finish the PhD, my current reply is ‘travelling/getting the hell out of the country’, of course depending on paying back the inevitable debts of being an eternal student. You’re right, I have had the same haircut since I was 17, and only last week got bangs cut in- I love them! I also have this horrible feeling that I want to be doing something/anything else; I’ve always wanted to be a singer, but gave up singing when I went to University, as an organic chemist doesn’t have *time* to keep up many hobbies… Thank you for sharing your advice, you have just provided enlightenment for a jaded girl who just wants to pack a bag and see the world. Best of luck, and I’ll be keeping up with the blog 🙂

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Awww, how sweet of you Katy! I have a huge smile on my face thanks to your comment. And yes, I agree that doing something bold may be a good choice to celebrate freedom from grad school and the labwork. Hope you can do something fun! Congrats and thank you so much for visiting and commenting 🙂

  6. robinwikoff says:

    Just turned in my dissertation two months ago…and I’m trying to remember what I like to do with my free time! Mostly I had lots of great life adventures during grad school and don’t feel like I was “waiting” to graduate to seize life. Although certainly in the last few months of writing hell I made an extensive list of things I would do, some new some old. After I filed I got pink and purple streaks in my hair, that was fun! And I went to a Korean Women’s Spa, and bought myself a digital camera, an unrealized hobby. A lot of my energy has been spent so far getting things balanced again: exercising consistently, cooking good food, gardening, reading more fiction. (Basically being boring, but in a low-stress way)

    • Dr. 27 says:

      True! It is hard to kind of, unwind and just enjoy doing nothing, or finding something to do or like outside of thesis research! Hope your photography turns out beautifully. I’m hoping to jump in th DSLR wagon soon!

  7. Hey, I PhDeed at 27 as well :-). Great post, thanks! And great blog!

    I didn’t ever get a tattoo, although I changed my hair style, left science and moved somewhere exotic (in my case, London). 🙂

    I really-really want to go backpacking, and there is a famous route in Spain that I want to take (and would have made it if not have moved to London for a job). Also, I really-really want to get back to DJing. And I probably will. 🙂

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Thank you so much Lyolya!!! That is just awesome! Yay for new hairstyles. I think I know which route you’re talking about … I’d love to do it too! Congrats on your defense 🙂

  8. Seda says:

    I finished my chemistry PhD in Netherlands when I was 28. I had always been enthusiastic about doing science and being a part of the free and dynamic atmosphere of the university rather than working at a company but after I was finished I was totally burnt out. First time in my life I had no enthusiasm, energy and motivation to continue further for something new. Neither a post-doc or an industry job…And one day I realized this is really the time to follow my dreams and to travel in Latin America. The happiest moment in my life as I realized that is what I really wanted to do at that time…I moved out from my place, stored all my stuff at a friend’s storage room, packed a backpack and left with a one way ticket to Cuba. A trip which was roughly planned for 3-4 months at the beginning ended up being for one full year. Definitely the best time of my life…It was fantastic, like a dream…I have been to amazing places, met fantastic people, had great connections with people that I would hardly meet in my normal life, felt totally out of stress, competition… Just enjoyed the moment, relaxed and did things that I had never done before…Well, what I actually wanted to mention is that doing a PhD doesn’t mean we have to follow that path all the time. We don’t have to fit into the portrait of a scientist thought by the society who commits himself to this crazy world for a lifetime, as if he was born to be scientist. We are all human and we all have different interests and hobbies rather than only making science. I felt the pressure on me that my colleagues, friends, bosses ad family will think that I am crazy or not passionate enough for my job and that I will have a difficulty afterwards to go back to science life which is actually the case now. I am back from my trip since 6 months and still looking for a job. But I knew it was going to be hard. You lose your network and connections, it is not easy being away from your field for a long time. Life is cruel, especially when there are so many people graduating and looking for jobs…But I know I will find something in the end. The only thing I wonder is that if anything will be satisfying enough after having such an amazing adventure. But I have to try…Just because I want to be useful and contribute to society with my education and knowledge. I would just advice anyone to be courageous enough to take risks and try things that they dream of. The world is full of opportunities!

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Wow … what an amazing story Seda! And I’m so envious! I’d love to go to Cuba (but because the embargo I legally can’t … though I’ve heard my share of stories as to how I can go around that, hehe). I’m so very happy you got to do such an awesome, once in a lifetime trip. It sounds truly amazing! I really identified with this part “First time in my life I had no enthusiasm, energy and motivation to continue further for something new.” That’s exactly how I felt after my defense.

      • Thanks to you for writing this blog! It is a lot of work and I really appreciate it. I will keep on checking it for other articles of yours. I think I can try doing a post-doc now and I guess it will the time for me to see what I really want to do in my life. It has been one and a half years that I have been away from research so I am just curious if I still have my lab skills and enthusiasm for doing research. All the best!

      • Dr. 27 says:

        Thank you for your kind words! Best of success on your new path. Please let me know how things work out 🙂

  9. Naga says:

    Hi Dr.27,

    I happened to land in your blog with a google search “travel after phd” and your blog was on the top of google hits. I just set out my PhD journey and am planning to mix it with travels abroad for volunteer work in Africa/South America that also allows me to tour new places. After my 3rd year Bachelors I spent 2 months of my summer vacation in an Italian lab at Novara between Milan and Turin. During my Masters research project I spent 3 months in a lab at Brisbane, Australia. Sometimes we need a break from the routine at our workplace and getting out to a new place abroad helps to free ourselves. Guess being single helps to jet out anytime to anyplace. I have been thinking of somethings to do as you listed in your blog. Hope it happens. Good luck with your life ahead. 🙂

  10. Hi;
    Great Article. I will travel definitely after my Ph.d. I am in final year of my Phd (age 29). I didn’t attended my bachelors / masters convocation but I will not miss it this time lol. I will throw a big party. Excited to think that I will be done with my Ph.d next year.

  11. daodonnell77 says:

    Thanks for this piece, very nice. I had googled “just finished phd” while having one of those spacey meta moments about what to do next, and am glad that I stumbled upon your blog and this comment forum 🙂 I’m 28, finished my PhD in genetics this past March and have been doing an internship abroad, which will conclude in the next few months. I’m still trying to figure out where the crap I should go in life, haha (both geographically and for my career path). It’s nice to know that others have the same thoughts. Also glad to see that you are active in your blogging, I’ll be following your journey. Best regards 🙂

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