27 and a PhD

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My friend needs help

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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Because my lovely readers and tweeps are super awesome, I wanted to ask a favour. I have a friend who’s in structural biology. He/she is looking for a way to go back to his/her home state. My friend works in a good/high-profile lab, has had some unhappy times as a postdoc and was offered a lower paying position in his/her home state. My friend has a family and is worried about the pay cut and repercussions to his/her family’s life, and whether this is the right time and right decision.

I’m posting part of my friend’s email and would love to hear/read your thoughts on this. I know for a fact that my friend would appreciate your perspective. Thanks in advance.

Friend of Dr 27 writes:

Dear Science Friend:

” I need you opinion.  I am doing quite well as a post-doc and I am enjoying the science, but the overall life as a scientist is not jiving with my family life.  We want to move back to where we’re originally from (in the US) and I am now pursuing a job outside of research, although still science-related.  Everyone around me says that I would be a good PI, but I just don’t have the motivation to follow that path and wonder if there is something wrong with me in not wanting to be a PI.  Now I am thinking about taking a job in an editorial role for a big institute that deals with grants. I’m hoping that this will be a good move, but it is a major departure and one which I will not be able to return from if it fails.  Pay is also about 20% less than what I would make at a company.  Do you have any opinion or know of someone with personal experiences that you can share where they have left research, are being paid less, and now are happy?”

I’ll spare you the details of my answer, but it went along the lines of asking my friend to consider all the possible scenarios, and checking on his/her finances to see if the 20% pay cut could somehow be covered in some other way. At the time of my answer I was looking very deep into finding another job and getting the heck out of my postdoc lab, which may have clouded my judgement. Through Twitter I’ve met all sorts of tweeps, doing all sorts of academic, industry, entrepreneurial and many other types of jobs/disciplines, which is why I’m asking for your help. Extra points if you’ve faced a similar situation and can offer some input, but as always, all POVs are more than welcomed. THANKS!!

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10 Comments

  1. nothing wrong with not wanting to be a PI. I don’t really desire it either. i like being in the trenches. if the stress of your current job is translating to problems at home with the family i think a 20% pay cut is a small price for the sake of everyone’s happiness. and i would think of it as an initial hit, eventually working back to the pay you had before (probably much faster than a lab job would!).

    and as far as it failing, that’s a risk you take with every new job, right? i quit a 12.5 year great paying non-science job with benefits to go to grad school. it was a huge monetary and location change for me, but i did it and look at it as one of the best decisions i ever made.

  2. scientistmother says:

    There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be a PI. However before you decide to become an editor, really critically think about you do on a day to day basis. Is there anything you LOVE about your post-doc and what can you do without. Every job is going to have crappy aspects, but if what you avoid most is reading and writing about your result, an editorial job may not be for you. However, if you love getting the data together, putting the story and figuring out where to go next, but dont like actually doing the grunt benchwork, then the job you mention would be for you. Either way there are lots of opportunities outside the traditional PI route. Google the “alternative scientist blogspot” and you’ll find a blog with lots and lots of useful info.

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Thank you so much for your comment. Indeed, one of the things that is critical to consider is whether the prospective job(s) will take advantage of the strengths/likes and keep the “bad” parts away, or at least to a minimum. Great perspective SM 🙂

  3. murfomurf says:

    I’d say to make yourself and the family happy first because happiness is the hardest thing to find. However, in taking on the different editing job, be aware of two things: 1) These days you are expected to change jobs frequently, so you need to see a way ahead after 3 or 4 years in the new job, before you take the plunge. Try to figure out a few places (career/job goals) beforehand, so at least you’ll FEEL secure. 2) Do your financial planning very carefully as your pay rate may never catch up to the sort of scale you’re on now. Can you live OK “slipping behind” your peers a little?
    Let me say that I took a lower paid job in research after doing academic teaching (33% cut), but stayed too long and couldn’t move out or forward once I tried to change careers again. However, the work was really interesting, I was able to share in many grants, got heaps of publications and overseas conference trips, for many years before the position just collapsed. To my way of thinking it would be good to maintain a friendly interest in your research field while being an editor, at least getting yourself into research planning and budgeting groups, so that you can put your reputation on the line later and maybe get back in to a related job. I offered myself for some part-time casual teaching, which was enjoyable, but in my field it just didn’t pay off in my home town. You could try that too- guest lectures, talks to community/industry groups, sitting on committees, etc can keep your name alive in your favourite field.

  4. Anthea says:

    I think that scientistmother has hit the nail on the head with her answer to your question. Yes, there’s nothing wrong about not wanting to be a PI. But it is important to remember that if she/he is considering being an editor then she might also consider upgrading her/his editorial skill set so that they are qualified as an editor and can earn a salary. I wrote a post about the possiblity of using one’s skills gained as a graduate student as an editor a few months ago and I provided a list of the organizations that she/he might consider looking at to get a good idea of what editors do/are paid etc.

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Thanks for commenting and visiting Anthea. I’ll check the link, but in the meantime, would you mind posting it here? I’m sure other readers would love to check out your advice. Thank you SO much.

  5. I can’t say who it is because they don’t know that I am even speaking of them, but I had a friend that had to get the fuck out of science and fast like their life depended on it. Because it did, they were so stressed out from their project and work environment that it gave them gastric ulcers and would routinely throw up blood in addition to severe bouts of anxiety. They moved into a lab/business manager role for a department where they have been thriving for over 5 years and to supplement the income they lost, they started adjuncting one evening a week at community college. The person I see today is not the same person I saw 5 years ago, they are happy, healthy, and seemed to have a sense of fulfillment. Now that they don’t need the money anymore, they still keep up the teaching because they say its even more rewarding than their job.

    These are difficult waters to navigate, but they are your waters, don’t worry about what everyone else does. We’ve got a limited amount of time to spend on the little rock that is hurtling through outerfuckingspace, you might as well make it as pleasurable as possible.

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Thanks for stopping by GRM. Definitely great food for thought. I think the last 2 sentences summarize what inspired me to start looking for a way out of postdoc-dom. Thanks for commenting.

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