Continuing with my posts about things that drive me crazy about grad school, or make me question why the heck did I do a PhD, etc, today I’m writing about a conversation one of the grad students in the lab and I had a few weeks ago.
This girl is brilliant. She can think things through, come up with a very clever experiment, go for it from DNA to fully-functional protein and everything in between. This girl is super savvy and can get you out of a pickle in no-time. But at the same time, she’s has her doubts about academia and what to do after she finishes her PhD. She’s aiming for a defense in early December, is planning to start a family soon, has some money and has a good list of publications.
For simplicity’s sake I’ll call her Grad-friend. Grad-friend and I share a lot of the same views on almost all things science. She’s naturally curious and constantly asks questions about my background (science-wise) and about how I see myself in a few months once this post-doc stint is over.
I was mentioning some of the recent articles about the overpopulation of PhDs and she is in complete agreement over the amount of grad students, work, and especially job prospects that aren’t out there (unless you’re a stats wiz or a computer geek, or a neuro-awesome-freak (don’t mean to disrespect any discipline here)).
Grad-friend started college barely knowing English a little over 10-years ago and excelled in math and science. Originally a stats major, she took a bunch of electives in natural sciences, eventually switching majors. One of her profs at her previous university (one of the top 100 World Universities in the World, and one of Canada’s most prominent institutions) asked her why she did it. She said she thought science was cool, and she was thirsty for knowledge and thrilled to help find a cure for cancer or something just as awesome. Though she liked math, statistics bored her to death. She didn’t feel as passionate towards math, as she did for science. Her prof mentioned then that she would/could make an insane amount of money as a statistician and that she may regret the switch later rather than sooner.
Apparently his words are coming true. Grad-friend is ready to settle after studying for over 10 years (she did an undergrad (5yrs), a 2yr MS and has been in the PhD program for a little over 3 years). She’s tired of science, and though she finds it interesting, she’s been looking at obs and nothing within her geographical area looks promising. There are though over 20 statistician positions available in her target area, and even more in an area close to her sister and brother-in-law, the only family she’s got in Canada. She’s really thinking hard about it, and in a way, she’s regretting going into the biological sciences. She reminds me a lot of myself and my musing, and for that same reason we got our heads together and started a really interesting conversation about our future, our past and what brought us to the lab we are in.
What troubles us is that we were in a way, lured, towards the academic side of science. We were pampered and groomed to become PIs. Yet we do not feel the strong committment or energy to become carbon copies of our boss. We are women who’d like to start a family sometime soon, and though we love to do science, we were not trained in anything else, and we feel limited, as in a prison, because it seems as if no one out there is looking for the qualities we developed and the techniques we learned while in school. Add to that the fact that there aren’t too many TT positions close to us, and it makes up for a depressing future.
We love science, we enjoy it. We talk about experiments, critique each other’s writing and like to learn. But when we check jobs in science in ON, and see that we do not have a single quality that each of those jobs is calling for, not only do our jaws drop, so does our self-esteem, and in a way, our self-worth.
My boyfriend mentions that I have half a dozen papers out. Yes, but they are in a completely different discipline than what I’m doing. And having only 1 lab in Ontario that does what I know, yet didn’t want me there makes me feel like a failure. I also don’t see myself taking over the administrative side of a lab. I want tenure, somewhere, just not as a PI. I enjoy training people, talking to them, doing presentations. Heck! I love writing here, and love to explain things in writing to others. Yet, no matter how many job searches I do, I cannot seem to find anything that aligns with those skills I feel, and know, I have.
My friend is considering getting a law degree or even an MBA. And though she has money, she does not have the 50K a year to plunk down at either of those schools and push her husband and dreams of a family further down the toilet.
A few nights ago I had a really breakdown. I cried, sobbed like a child and couldn’t think straight. My BF and I sat down and talked about my career prospects. And how I feel like a failure. How I have yet to fully adjust to life in a new place. I used to think of myself as a quick-adjusting person. But as he pointed out, I have yet to take advantage of say, courses or workshops that are offered, and all I do is complain. Complain about how the world, the scientific world is not being kind enough to me, how it is not valuing what I do and know. And how unhappy I am every.single.morning when I open my eyes and think about going to my prison, my current job, which though pays the bills, is not fulfilling. I’m not moving. I’m stuck. And I don’t know if I can move forward. And I hate feeling like I feel now (though I’m calmed compared to a few nights ago).
BF said that he loves to see me happy, and he hates how I feel. He loves where he’s studying. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either. And most days I don’t like it. I’m pretty sure my boss can see this, and there’s some head scratching when it comes to think of my “achievements”. I’m sure boss is thinking about why and what the hell am I doing here, when everybody else is moving forward and I am stuck.A paycheck is being written every month for me, for a blob, a good for nothing who’s as useful as an untrained labradoodle.
Interwebz, every day, for the last month I’ve been spending insane amounts of time looking at any and all possible jobs within my geographical area. And it sucks to realise that I could fit some of those jobs, if only I didn’t have a PhD (who knew that to be a production manager or something similar in a food company you only needed a diploma? Hmmm, makes me wonder how good are their products).
Basically I feel like I spent 6 years training to be a kick ass scientist, and I have something to show, but out there, within my geographical area, there’s very little to do. BF said he would be OK for me to look outside the area, because all he wants me to be is happy. I don’t know what to do, but I do know that I need a change. Whether it stems from a technique working, a protein showing up not degraded or a job elsewhere … I need something to get me out of this rut. It may be all me, 100% me that’s wrong, and I need an attitude adjustment. And I need to be thankful for what I have, a job that pays the bills, being close to my honey, living ridiculously close to school so that I can wake up at 8:30am and be in the lab at 9. I feel like I’m still carrying the attitude of being at big name U back then and there, and not being here, at big name U here. Enjoying the damn moment.
Anyways, to end the tale, my friend was saying how she had a conversation with her honey, and how she mentioned that she thinks the happiest day of her life will be when this PhD thing is over (the last 3 people who’ve graduated from our lab have said the same …. heck! I said it when I was done at Big Name U in the South …. does that mean that I’m not unique and we all feel like crap at the end of out stint in a lab?). She doesn’t care if she doesn’t have a job, better yet, have none waiting for her outside, she just wants to be over with science, and not see a lab for a good long time.
Which makes me ask: is it better to be unemployed and “happy”, or stay in science and feel miserable for what I’ve mentioned above? Will I be able to feel happy and fulfilled at some point? Was I ever? Is there something wrong with me? If so, do I just need lithium and to be tied down to a chair?
My answer is I don’t know. And since I can’t afford to lose my job, I need to push myself somehow, and find some energy, while keeping an eye for anything promising out there.
What’s your take on this? Have you ever felt like my friend and I?