27 and a PhD

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Getting “high” on research

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.


June 2010
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I don’t know what’s going on, but for whatever reason I’ve been “high” for a couple of days. Ever since the boss OK’d my going on vacay in a few weeks (2 weeks, 2 whole weeks, end of June, here I come!!) I’ve been on cloud 9. I can barely contain my happiness. But I guess it stems from the fact that the boss is also “high.” A few students have defended recently, plus we’re getting new students for the summer (and maybe 1 new grad student), and I know he’s going to a conference in Eastern Europe later this year … but that’s pretty far out, thus I really don’t know the reason for why the boss is SO happy. But regardless of the cause, he’s happy, he’s excited and consequently people in the lab have a better attitude.

I’m blessed to have really cool lab mates who are quick to offer a helping hand and sound advice when things aren’t working. And we all get along. There’s not a single person in my lab (now) that I don’t like. My office-mates are cool. In general, life in the lab is really good. I have to say that pretty much every single lab I’ve worked in has had a good dynamic. Sure, we all have our days, and sometimes we get along better with some people. But overall, I have to give thanks to the high heavens that things have been very positive everywhere I’ve conducted research.

I think having a good lab environment, having strong and good-willed labmates and a nice boss can greatly help in establishing a nice work environment, and making it a desirable place to work. My previous lab was awesome. I spent a great amount of time alone, given that different people worked on different projects and it required a lot of computer work which could be done from home. But even when we were all present, it was still good.

Before I started my postdoc I was a bit worried I’d end up trapped in a nasty environment with mean people and lots of drama. I haven’t seen a single incident (though apparently it has happened in the past).

All this to say that the environment in which you conduct research is really important in not only establishing quality relationships with the people around you, but also in keeping you hooked on your project. Science, at times, can be draining, boring (while waiting for experiments or reagents) and can drive you nuts. But if you find yourself in a place that helps you stay grounded and firm, and provides support, it truly makes a difference in keeping you alive and working throughout the hurdles. I can bear witness that when you meet with the boss and show results and are given a smile and encouragement, it can truly work wonders to put you on a “high” that will help you deliver the results you desire.

As a last note, I always tell incoming students that they should ask other people in the group they might be joining how much the like (or dislike) working for the boss and the people in the group. This is extremely important because you could be working for a Nobel-worthy prof, and if he/she does not have people skills or his/her lab is full of nut jobs, not matter how much effort an energy you put in you WILL be miserable. And though there’s and end date to it (say 3-6 years for TODAY) … is it really worth it to stay put in a place that does not offer the mental stability and structure needed to do productive research? Would you do that to yourself?

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