27 and a PhD

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Letter to my young self

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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Thanks to biochembelle I learned about this. Go check it out. I’ll be waiting for you. GO!!! Now take a moment and write a letter to your younger self and, if you can, submit it for this year, if not, keep it safe until next year. Ready to read my letter? Good.

Since I am in the middle of a very intense job search I won’t give too many specifics of my current life, but I’ll do my best to give you a general sense of who I am, who I was at 13 and where I’ve come.

Dear 13 and not a PhD:

This year many changes will happen. You will lose some amazing people in your life. You’ll make it. You’ll be OK. It will be hard not to have their physical support, but they will be a guiding light and a constant presence in your life and studies.

You have just watched a movie about doctors and surgeons and you’ll want to become one for a number of years, up until you do some research and listen to a very wise biology professor. Listen to her … one day you’ll be thankful. Also, even though you didn’t become a surgeon your favourite system is still the cardiovascular. You’ll become a scientist … a SCIENTIST. Like those smart people mentioned in your biology books.

So, onto the goodies. In 1999 you will be one of the first students selected to attend the same school as your grandpa did back in the firty years before you. Mom will cry (as usual) when this amazing thing happens. You will think about grandpa on your first day of school. You will remember granny too on your graduation day. You will miss them, but somehow you’ll be extremely happy for their support. You will have tons of people remind you that said school is not easy, and that even though your GPA is good it will be no match for the school. They’ll say not to get discouraged if you fail precalc or calc or chemistry, it’s normal for them and others. Don’t be cocky … these courses will make you sweat and fight tooth and nail, but you WILL make it. And you will pass most of your classes on the first try. You will graduate in 4 years and will go on to a very pretty university in the southern US where you’ll spend some of the most challenging and trying times. You will come out an expert in one of the disciplines of structural biology. It is beautiful. You’ll see.

Some of your friends will move on, move away and carve a niche for themselves and their passion. So will you. Don’t judge them too hard. Don’t be too shy when you try to contact them. They will remember you fondly.

Pay attention to your chemistry, calculus and physics courses. They are extremely important for your career. You’ll wish you could go back and pay attention to everything your profs taught you. But it’s OK, you’ll develop the capacity to teach yourself well. You will serve as an inspiration to a friend you once had jealousy feelings towards. These emotions are normal, but you’ll overcome them and when you learn you were an inspiration you will cry a little. She will be a rock and an inspiration to you. A bit of a competitive spirit is good … but don’t let it get to your head.

Even though it may not seem that way, your humanities and social sciences courses will be amazing. Sure, the names of the classes sound boring, but remember the meaning and root of the word university, you are there to become a well-rounded student, to challenge views and form an opinion. And you know what? Remember that passion for Greek mythology you had in high school, when you’d absorb yourself in those books to lands far, far away? That’s how your humanities class will start! It will be amazing. You still haven’t visited Greece …. but I’m sure you will someday.

Attend every public lecture on all topics related to your passions. Learn to take out time for yourself, and it will help you get rid of some of the stress associated with excelling at everything. It is OK to fail, it is OK to fall down. You just need to stand up tall and give it your best. Independent films are good, auditing classes is great. Explore your resources and take advantage of them.

You will develop a passion for editing and helping people craft beautiful stories, papers and even resumes. It is a talent of yours to share. Update your resume often, and you will be amazed at everything you’ve accomplished when you’re applying for that fellowship. You will not get it, but the experience will be great. You will look back at everyone who’s been a source of inspiration and encouragement. You have done wonderful things, but it’s also been a team effort. Acknowledge that and be thankful. Always be thankful.

You will fail your qualifying exam in grad school. It is perfectly fine. You will take it again and the committee won’t need to deliberate long to decide that you shall pass. They will hug you. It will be amazing. You will write about it, and inspire people to take a second chance and excel.

One day you’ll do a report in college which will have deal with a parasite you find fascinating. Less than a year later, during a summer internship, you’ll learn about a technique that is instrumental for studying that parasite. A year after that you will join a group, which you had no idea even existed, that studies said parasite with said technique. You will learn how to control exquisite techniques and equipment to study it. You will be amazed and ever grateful for joining that group. Did you know that your work will be on covers of scientific magazines? YES! It will be amazing, and humbling. Soak it up like a sponge, like every piece of knowledge that passes your way.

You’ll face a lot of challenges, you will be judged hard by peers and unknowns alike. But you will make it. It’s OK to cry.You will help, in a small way, to give science a more human face. And people will be thankful for that.

Finally, you will travel and enjoy life. But don’t take yourself so seriously all the time. Life is a balance of work and play. Don’t judge yourself too harsh and don’t always take no for the final answer.You will still love Super Mario Bros 16 years after, enjoy ;-).

 

***********************

Dr 29 is proud of her hispanic heritage and her love for science currently living in Canada. She completed a bachelor’s of science in general biology in 2003 and a PhD in structural biology in 2009. She’s learned to love and respect supporting roles in science and non-academic careers for PhDs, and is currently exploring staff positions in her former field of study. She’s a proud daughter, new auntie, sister, girlfriend and scientist.

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1 Comment

  1. […] Blogger 29-and-a-PhD’s Letter to her Young Self March 11, 2011 Posted by Science Club for Girls in Letter to Young Self. Tags: Letter to Young Self, STEM, women in science trackback Dr 29 is proud of her hispanic heritage and her love for science. She’s learned to love and respect supporting roles in science and non-academic careers for PhDs, and is currently exploring staff positions in her former field of study.  See the original post and her thoughts on being a grad student and beyond on her blog. […]

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