27 and a PhD

Home » Grad school » Grad student/Postdoc relates search terms part 1

Grad student/Postdoc relates search terms part 1

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.

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I know, I have not posted in a while. I’ve been so busy with work and life and sometimes I find it hard to sit down for a few minutes and write a little. As usual, a search terms entry is about to unfold. I’m not happy with how slow this is going, so this one is going to be a long one, but not as long as previous ones.

Today, the following are the search terms of the day:

  1. Grad student depression inadequacy – I think I’ve discussed something similar before, but just to reiterate .. this is a very normal feeling, especially when you compare yourself against your classmates, or even labmates. I can tell you I still feel inadequate, almost 8 months after my defense, I still feel inadequate. Don’t let these feelings get the best of you. Talk to your counsellor, or a psychologist who can maybe help in showing you strategies to cope. You’re not alone, and it will get better as you learn more, become more independent and get a good hold of your project. But above all, don’t be discouraged, it’s normal.
  2. I’m tired of being a postdoc – well, hello there. You are not alone either. I think that by nature postdoc’ing is a tiring position. You’ve gotten out of school without having a few months to breathe and take it all in because bills had to be paid. Or maybe you thought that job interview at Big Name University (or even community college X) was nailed and you’d become a prof soon, just to realize the stupid institution decided to freeze all hirings and you had to renew your contract as a postdoc for yet some unknown amount of time. I feel you, you’re not alone. Add to that the fact that the pay may not be astronomically different from that of the rest of the grad minions in your lab and you may want to sit a cry a little. I feel you. I’m trying not to focus on that and give thanks for having a job. The other day my BF and I were talking about how much I complain … I and do so a LOT! And it wears me down (and him), so I’m trying (but not being über successful) and being content, happy and thankful for what I had. I was given a chance that given the skills I don’t have is a long shot. And the lab is big, which in my opinion is not the ultimate best environment to work in, but nonetheless is something I need to adapt and learn to live with given my current situation. So yeah, it can be tiring. But I’ve mentioned in countless occasions that postdoc’ing is a temporary thing, and that while one is in it there are many skills to be learned and expanded, so that when the next chance to do something awesome comes, you’ll be ready to do it. So hang in there, there are many of us feeling the same.
  3. Can you leave your postdoc after a year? I believe so, but don’t quote me. The way postdocs work at my current institution is that you get a contract for a year, and upon good reviews it gets renewed. So after a year you could stay or go. At my previous school you usually got a contract for about 2 years, or if you had a fellowship you would more than likely stay for the length of the fellowship. I think it’s easier to leave a postdoc within a year if you’re not tied down by a lengthy contract and/or fellowship, but if things aren’t just working out, or if family or academic situations come up, you can leave without further trouble. As always, keep the lines of communication open and keep your current boss posted if you think that your career is going to go through a major shift that involves quitting or leaving your position.
  4. Regret getting a PhD – wow, this one hit me hard, given that I’ve been going through a (HUGE) mental rollercoaster trying to find out what to do after my postdoc is done (in theory I have about a year and half more of work to do, but you never know if a boss won’t renew your contract, and I’ve been feeling down due to some conversations I’ve had with people in my lab … more on this at a later time). The BF and I had a lengthy lunch convo about this a few weeks ago about my career path. I’ve mentioned that sometimes I miss my old school, particularly the “spoiling” I got while I was a grad student (the only female grad student in the lab), or the perks of working for who I worked for. My current boss is also very well-known in our sub-field of study, he’s very respected and a great boss overall, but I get this nagging feeling sometimes that in taking this position I alienated myself from a side of science I loved. I still love it, and potentially some of my skills could be put to good use, but while this happens I just keep growing thousands of cells, tons of media and purifying protein. I regret getting my PhD in the sense that people will feel (and to some extent I will too) that by having those 3 letters following your name will make you covet tons of money, and in turn you’ll demand more than what’s being offered. Now, I understand this, but if I were to take a job for which I’m less prepared I would hate to think that a prospective boss will have reservations to give me job solely based on the pre-conception that I will demand money because the letters PhD are there (but the world does not work like that). I won’t demand anything I’m not prepared for. On the other hand this doesn’t mean I want to be a floor mat. But in a way, getting a terminal degree (like a PhD or MD, but more so a PhD) makes you less likely to get a “lower” ranked position just for the fact that those 3 letters are there. I also don’t have a clue as to what to do next because on one side, I like being at the cutting edge of science (bench science anyways, we know that Big Pharma or Biotech science is light years ahead, or so I’ve been told), but then I hate grant writing. I just don’t like babbling on about how important my project is, and I hate how saturated the field is and how cut-throat it can get. On the other hand, teaching on its own may alienate me too from doing the science I love, and in my target geographical area, small liberal arts colleges are unheard of. So, it’s a huge mess, one which I hope to find answers to by visiting a career counsellor and seeing what they have to say and do. I also would like to try to get a teaching certificate, or maybe even give a lecture in my department or in a micro and immuno one, but who knows. All in all, I like my degree, I’m just not sure if I would have gotten it knowing what I know now back in 2002-03 when I was applying to grad school. I would have gone to a talented counselor to get my stuff together, and I would have taken the MBTI and career interest tests sooner, rather than while I was halfway through grad school.
  5. What would be my salary after my PhD – I honestly don’t know. As a postdoc in academia I can tell you that if you don’t get or qualify for a fellowship you’re looking at something around 30 to 40K (in USD). In big pharma the salary may be twice or thrice that. As you climb up the hill of success your salary as a PI may well exceed the 100,000$ (In CAD or USD) … BUT it may take a while, especially when you’re establishing your lab. Now these figures are from what I’ve seen and/or heard while in Canada, but if there’s a more knowledgeable or trusty source or expert, comments are always welcomed.

So, this is it for today. I’m hoping to tackle more search terms which are my current passion as I get more and more hits with all sorts of questions about grad school, life as a postdoc and what to do’s in every stage of the journey. If you can’t find an answer to your questions, please leave a comment and I’ll try to answer as honestly and informed as I can. Thank!!

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1 Comment

  1. […] May I LOVE doing the “search terms” entries. As evidenced here, here, and here. I truly enjoy swifting through the terms that users have used and land them on my little corner of […]

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