27 and a PhD

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This weekend

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 2010

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I barely had a wink of sleep. On Saturday the BF woke me up at 6am because he was not feeling right. After taking a walk (in freezing cold weather) he seemed to be doing better. Then, after lunch we had to go to the ER. He had a series of panic attacks, mainly due to grad school. After checking that everything was well we were sent off with a prescription for a tranquilizer, and an appointment to see a psychiatrist about these anxiety issues.

Since I get VERY protective of the people I love, I went into a mothering mode, and much like my own mom did when I was sick, I spent every second worrying that he’s wake up in the middle of the night with yet another panic attack. Luckily is hasn’t happened again, and he’s been taking the tranquilizer every night, and yesterday we finally had a more or less full night of sleep.

In addition to that I’ve had a series of dreams regarding what to do with this postdoc. On Friday I came to the realization that part of the reason I hate my current job is because I spend way too much time bored. Why you may ask. Well, because I am not good with the techniques I’m using, and I honestly don’t really care for them. I am as far away from doing structural biology as one could get, and it is/was wearing me down. On Thursday we had a long overdue talk. I didn’t mention my current plans of looking for a job elsewhere. And we did address the issue of me getting the heck out in less than 8 months. So, he finally realized that the project I was originally put in requires a grad student with 5 years-worth of time to do and that it would have been better all along to assign a quick project to get me going and  then see how I did. Needless to say he asked me to a)work more, b) give up on that pesky project with I’ve been working half-heartedly on for well over a year and c) we’ll get my hand dirty with structure determination by 2 methods, which are quick to do and generate a boat-load of data. Now, I should be excited about this, but somehow I’m not. It may be because my heart is far gone from this type of work, or because apparently, everything I touch in this lab turns into shit. Hence my hesitation.

But there’s a bigger issue, which I do not know how to solve. Last week I contacted a person I met through a friend back in grad school. Said contact just started his lab and is looking for a postdoc in my previous area of expertise, ie. the technique I loved and did well in grad school. I was inquiring about his need for a postdoc, and he replied, very graciously that my CV and the names of 3 referees would be greatly appreciated. Here’s where things go …. well, I don’t know, iffy. I know that in less than 8 months the BF will be out of school and looking for a job. The state of this new lab is far away from our target area … by almost an entire continent (kidding, but I’m just illustrating my point). I don’t know whether is it worth abandoning everything, if I know I’ll be in need of a job in a different geographical area sooner rather than later. Do I just suck it up and hope I don’t get fired even if things continue to go downhill here? After having lunch with the BF today he seemed So excited about me learning this new struct. bio technique. And if I do learn it well, it will make my resume stellar. But what if I again, fail in this? Do I hope for the best, dust off the failures and try to ace this? I don’t know. I guess, part of me wants to keep on going. And I know that this current situation has an expiration date. Do I venture into the unknown, go deeper in debt to try to get back to my roots?

So, I promised this contact that I’d have my CV and referees ready early this week. I don’t know what to write back. I’d hate to turn down a possible good opportunity, but at the same time, I don’t want to go through all the trouble knowing that in a few months I’ll be off. I do not want to burn bridges. I guess that having all these unknowns means I have to dig deep and really ask myself what do I see or how do I see myself in 3, 5 or 10 years down the road. At this point I am ready to forget all about academia, and try something new. This is solely based on my current postdoc situation. I do not want to do 2,3 or 4 postdocs and then still not have a clue about what I want for my future.

So, these are the things that are currently the subject of countless hours of thought and search, and questions, and lack of sleep.

On a good note, I am going back to the gym today. So hopefully all these things will not affect my tiny drive to take care of my physical health and start losing weight. At this point in my life all I ask is for one small victory, just one.


  1. DF says:

    Structural biology huh, well, we are more closely aligned then I previously thought. I too took that plunge into an unknown away from the technique (NMR, Crystallography) I loved, and well, you know the rest.

    A new lab could be the change you need. Try to think about your decision logically, leave out the emotions for the moment. It is easy for someone like myself and probably you to get really down on their skills. This rut has drug you down, depression, anxiety, keep you there. How you think of yourself now may not be how others perceive you or how you should be perceiving yourself. Depression and anxiety will also amplify your negative perceptions.

    It seems as if your current boss is sympathetic to your plight, as much as he is aware of, and is willing to put you in a more favorable direction. If this is really only another few months work, less than a year, you should consider sticking it out. Learning another marketable technique will be useful as well. You may end up with a good reference and a new skill set.

    On the contrary, I understand the need for change. But be aware that most new PIs need to work around the clock and often require their employees to do as well. It could be an exciting change, but also may be risky for your work/life balance. Also, I have found that trying to gets jobs in different geographical areas is difficult and, at least in industry, some companies discriminate. Though you are not likely to experience that in academics.

    I am almost resigned to the fact that I have a (hate^3)/love relationship with science. If I suck at a technique, I just repeat repeat repeat until after 100 tries, I get one that may be pub quality. Scientific research can be such a pain in the ass sometimes.

    I also sympathize with your BF as I too developed anxiety in the final year of my graduate life and I strongly feel that it changed me even to this day. Seeking help is the best way to overcome this, though I should take that advice myself. I think my wife has been my counselor of sanity.

    Closing remarks, turn in those references and your CV, travel down that road a little further and get more information to base your decision off of. Give the thought more time to sink in and hopefully the right decision will become clearer. Also, exercise is also a great way to reduce stress and anxiety, another thing I should also do but have no time.

    • Dr. 29 says:

      We’re closer than you think … you’d be amazed. I had a phone interview a few days ago with a company. Everyone in my family (and to a certain extent my BF) are happy for it and they think I’m going to get the job. I am not so sure for various reasons, but that’s besides the point now. Basically I’m still looking, while trying to keep my current project going and dropping side projects, until I get this thing off the ground. What kills me is that the boss is a GREAT guy, agood person but his management skills aren’t what I like/need in my life/career. He’s too free-flow and I need structure, I thrive in a structured environment.

      My poor BF and I … we carry each others’ stress and I feel so guilty for that. I know I need to be supportive and happy to be here, but every day I feel like I made a mistake joining a group that from the get-go was not doing what my scientific heart and mind wanted. I told him so, even before I stepped in this new lab, and maybe it was “wishful thinking”, but all my fears of failure, of not getting things started, have come true.

      If nothing major comes out of the applications I’ve made, and the boss doesn’t *hate* me for having little passion for what I’m doing and lets me keep my job, I’ll probably just finish the contract and then look at something closer to where my sci heart and mind are. Thank you for commenting, and for your kind words. Hope things get better for you soon 🙂

  2. Alexandra says:

    I hope your BF is okay. I certainly know what sleep deprivation can do to you…
    About your job conundrum – if you think it would help your future career, I think it would be a good idea to try it. The world is smaller than you think, and in this time and age you just have to me a bit malleable. That’s what I keep telling my sister – if we don’t make bold decisions now when we’re young, we never will…

    • Dr. 29 says:

      Thank you Alexandra!!! He seems to be doing better, but I get worried when he has a sad face, or gets palpitations. He’s getting a check-up with a consellor and later a psych doctor to see what route to take. He’s also going to use the student’s centre for careers and career advancement and start putting together a nice, meaty and juicy resume for future use. He’s worried about what he’ll do once he gets his PhD. I can ABSOLUTELY relate to that. I know the feeling.

      I am looking for other job prospects while keeping my attention on my project, and like I said before, if I don’t get fired for being perceived as a lazy-ass postdoc (when in reality all I am is frozen!), then I’ll finish my stint in the lab and move on to something (hopefully) closer to my original field of study. Thank you for your kind words. I greatly appreciate them 🙂

  3. DF says:

    Now you got me curious….Do we know each other? Probably not, but what a coincidence our current circumstances. Lately, I have entered a more even keel mood and for now I am going with it. I had applied for a job as well, but they have not made any decisions for the last 7 seven weeks. I hope something comes of it soon, but either way, I will survive. Are you applying in the States or, if I remember right, Canada? It seems like Europe has a ton of structure-related jobs. I try to keep posted on our type of jobs, so if you are interested in me forwarding you info, just shoot me an email.

    Also, I was thinking some of your stress might be rubbing off on BF, when he sees you correct your situation, hopefully he will see his situation in a better light.

    Well, good luck with the application. Hope you get it.

  4. joshuca says:

    I agree with DF. Turn in your CV and references to this guy and see where this road takes you. I find myself like you in some ways, I got really attached to the places that I applied for jobs, and sometimes I would feel bad if I applied, but knew I would never take the job (unless it was my absolute last option). It was even worse when I got a couple of offers and had to turn one down, a place that I really liked. It sucks, but rejection is part of the game (on both sides of the fence).

  5. Dr. 29 says:

    Thanks for you comment. I don’t think we’ve met each other. But I will take your word and write to ask for input for my experiments. I just found out I hot another wall. It’s almost like everything I touch in this lab turns to shit, or stops working, then I have to back-track, do a fresh transformation, do a test of this and of that. And this is way too depressing. It’s happening almost everytime I need to purify something. Just too damn frustrating.

  6. DF says:

    Welcome to my world. If 99% is shit and 1% is great, then you are doing good in protein research. Progress is only rewarding if you have to work for it, or so I keep telling myself. I know that doesn’t help, but misery loves company. I am always available for help, you know how to reach me.

    • Dr. 29 says:

      Many thanks DF! I’m planning to have a meeting with my boss tomorrow to discuss what’s happening. If it’s not as productive as I’d like it to be you will find me asking questions. Thanks for your support and encouragement, and help!

  7. […] to the details on how this position came about. As far back as October and November of last year I was very pissed off and tired of the situation in my postdoc lab. I had […]

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