27 and a PhD

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Last search terms for a little while

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 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 the blog-o-sphere. But it takes a bit too much energy at times, and given the fact that somehow, someone tried the term “gary sinise naked pictures” and landed on my blog, I’ll go into a hiatus.

Nahhh, that’s not the real reason. I love this blog. I do. I enjoy interacting with others, however few you are. I love checking my WP stats and dishing on details about all things grad school. But I’ve been off my medication (see here), and the stress is getting to me. I’m totally pissed off most of the time, I feel like I hate my job, and sometimes I can’t even stand to interact with the people that I love the most. So, for the next 2-3 weeks I’ll be off, getting back on my meds and suffering through yet another menstrual cycle (ain’t biology a bitch!?).

But for now I want to finish off the last few search terms for this cycle. Here they are:

  1. How to become independent postdoc – I frankly don’t have a clue. Why? Because I’m still trying to figure it out myself. I was extremely dependent on my PhD boss for everything. The person was a GREAT micromanager, and I got used to it (who wouldn’t after almost 6 years in their presence). BUT my new boss is very laid back and loves when people pitch ideas and show him experiments to try. Trouble is I can’t do that! I don’t know how to do it, I never truly learned it. Plus I get all stressed that he’ll think I’m a total idiot. Therefore I abstain from bein g adventurous. I’m also not excited about the part of work I’m doing right now (I hate growing things), and seeing as I’m a few days away from getting my monthly gift, I feel bad, I feel worthless, pissed and not motivated at all. I guess that once you’ve defined you want to do a postdoc, start working on the traits or characteristics future (and maybe even present) PI’s would look for. Motivation, excitement, passion, drive and respect are among the few you should cultivate. Also, try to mold yourself into the kind of person others like to work around, be careful, considerate and trustworthy. Those are my 2 cents.
  2. Changing postdoc when to tell your boss – My best bet would be to review departmental policies and procedures as far as what’s the expected time you’ll be gone, or want/need to be finished. It may say it in your contract. Mine states that a period of no less than 3 weeks should be considered the bare minimum of when to give notice. You should also check for any specifics as far as procedures go (like a letter or meeting(s)). If you do not (or cannot afford) want to burn bridges, then be open with the PI. I was very open with mine. I told him I’d be here until BF finishes, then I’m off, not a single day extra. Lay the rules of the game so you won’t be unpleasantly surprised on exit day.
  3. New PhD grads, no jobs – This one is great. I recently read an article published by University Affairs. It says that grad students should know how the job market is performing and really be informed. While it is true that many hands are needed, not much money is available, or great bosses, or desirable locations. Add to this mix that it is almost always said that several profs will retire soon (though it hardly ever materializes) and there’s a recipe for disaster in the way of many well prepared students with few desirable  (public) options to put their skills to test. How do I know this? I wrote and/or contacted approximately 50 PIs before joining my current lab. Out of those 50, probably 15 replied, and only 3 offered jobs, but one was WAY to far, and the second one retracted, which left me with 1 job, or none. So, I swallowed my pride, accepted the offer, even though I knew it was in a area totally foreign to me, and here I am. Glad that I have a job, but not too passionate about it. So reader, yes, check out your options, diversify your expertise (by learning as many skills as you can) and network. Two good places to start are this and this. I also wrote a longer entry here.
  4. What did you most enjoy doing PhD – Besides graduation? Pretty much all, from learning a new and super specialized set of techniques (and having several papers to back it up), to learning more about several computers, and even more programs, networking, and above all, friends.
  5. How is to work as postdoc in Canada? There are advantages and disadvantages, but I think it relates more to the individual and his/her circumstances. For me it’s a LOT more relaxed and chill than in the US, but it could also be because I’m in an extremely successful group that publishes several papers a year. Also, healthcare is good, and in general I feel more at ease. For more details about how things have been for me, check back to my entries starting in August 2009. The salary might be tighter than in the US, depending on where you are, and if you land a fellowship it may add more money to your pocket. I haven’t been a postdoc in the US (though that’s where I did my degree), so I really don’t have all the variables I’d like in order to give a really fabulous and thorough answer, but I like it, it’s good. I’m just in a rut right now.
  6. I suck at PhD research – Guess what reader? You are not alone. I do too. In fact, I’m so frustrated with how things are going for my project that I think it’s all my fault (though it might be a crappy construct). But I think the key here is to try and find an are or technique that you like, and become super proficient at it. Or ask for assistance. Sit down with the boss. Explain your fears or worries and let him/her see that you truly like the job, but something is not working properly and you feel as if once this situation is sorted out you can move ahead. Be honest, and respectful. And know that not all of us are stars of research. Some of us, even after the degree, still suck in some areas.
  7. Quit PhD program to become lab tech – This is an option if you like the research but decide that a PhD is not the right way to go for you, or if you want to take a break or change settings. I’d say go for it, but only for the right reasons, not just to run away from a challenge or situation. Talk to lab techs and find out how hard or easy it is to land the job, if you plan to stay within the same institution, ask for their advice on who to avoid and who’s fair and friendly (trust me, lab techs have the dirt on anything and everything lab related, and department related too).
  8. Boss says you’re only half done with PhD or degree – this one has been popping every day for like a month. At first I though, “mehh, why answer” … but I’m a very persistent person, thus I decided to tackle this one as best as I can. This is a hard term to answer, mainly because there are so many factors to consider as to why the boss is saying this. It might be a scare tactic to get you to produce more. It could be a cheap labour maneuver, to keep you in for as long as he/she wants/needs, get the most out of you while paying less (I have a friend who was “kept” in his lab for more than a year, because his boss was too cheap to get a postdoc or pay him as such). One very, very important thing to keep in mind is that if you’re on time research wise (meaning, you’ve held your committee meetings regularly, have finished your classes, are right on the spot in terms of research goals and achievements), IF (and this is a very big IF) your boss is adding more stuff and you’ve already completed what you committed to do for your graduate work, THEN there might be a huge problem. Like I said before, maybe you’re super productive, deliver steady results and are a total ace, then your boss may want to take advantage of that and keep you in for the long run. This is problematic in many ways, it prevents you from defending and looking for other opportunities, moving forward, it may tell future employers that you took way too long to finish, which in turn can reflect bad on you. The boss may also be paying you substantially less money (and less or no benefits) for a job that’s fit so say, a postdoc or a research instructor. If you find yourself in this situation, and if you’ve tried to ask politely and drop subtle (and not to subtle hints) and dear boss is turning into a “mommy/daddy dearest), then you might need to bring in the big guns and try to convince others (like your committee, the dean of education or any graduate-education manager in your department) that you are supposed to get out but you’re not thanks to the boss. Only bring in the big guns when you’ve exhausted your own resources and the boss still seems clueless or reluctant. Good luck!
  9. Can’t agree with my PhD PI – Very common, especially towards then end when you might be crazy about finishing experiments but it seems as if dear boss is trying to keep you there forever. Or the direction your writing or PhD lecture is taking. Or even before, when you may want to try something different to process or interpret your data, and your PI is way too settled and stiff regarding your project. I’m sorry. I think that most of us deal with this situation more often than not. So get ready, maybe try a few things behind the boss’s back (and preferably not during “work” hours) and if things look promising, then share. But if, say, your boss is not supportive and is threatening your career, then I would get the right people involved, if direct talk does not do the job.
  10. Postdoc totally unrelated to PhD – I empathize with you, seeing as this is exactly my situation. In the very broad sense of the discipline, I’m still part of it, but technique and topic wise, I’m light-years away from the area in which I did my PhD. It’s good in the sense of learning new techniques, approaches and ways to tackle a project. But it’s “bad” because I miss my old lab, and my success in it. In my new lab I feel like an alien, like a high sch0ol student better suited than me to do the job. Sometimes it gets frustrating, and I feel like quitting. But I just remind myself that a) I need to take my medication so I stop feeling like crap, and b) I’m still learning. My only piece of advice is that you should be aware that changing topics or techniques might prove even more challenging than the PhD, so get ready for some long hours, tons of reading and way too much frustration. On the other hand, you might get your hands on some research goodies or instruments that you wouldn’t do other way.
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