27 and a PhD

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On not being a student

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.


November 2011
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Even though I’ve been away from school for over 2 years now (it feels like it’s been longer, somehow), I sometimes catch myself thinking and doing things as if I was still in school. Even as a postdoc I did things like a student would do. It’s starting to bother me, especially now that I have a “real” job.

I’ve (mostly) always followed the rules. If a set of rules at school said that I was not supposed to touch something, I wouldn’t do it, for fear of enraging the principal or teachers, but especially because I didn’t want to have my mom and dad on top of me lecturing me about not doing stuff. Or when I was younger, avoiding my dad’s wrath and the ensuing physical punishment. Hence why I’ve never been arrested. But, I have many issues.

Anyways, that behaviour has kept me out of trouble for the most part and has kept me from ruining pieces of equipment or setting the lab on fire (because I’ve forgotten most of my chemistry). When I was in school, I would ask for permission to do everything. That also went on as an undergrad, a grad student, and later, a postdoc. I would ask for permission from the lab tech (and drive her crazy), from the boss (boss, can I run the fancy pants, uber-expensive, piece of awesome science equipment? for the third time woman, YES). I read the student (and grad student) handbook a gazillion times. I read the thesis instructions (for writing and submission) a million others, and I complied with everything, making the thesis-reviewing lady happy. I have a very boring life, always following the rules. I honestly fear upsetting people, and becoming “that” person dreaded by all the office staff.

Now that I’m starting to finally feel like a grown up, I still keep asking for permission, and in the process, drive some of the labmates, and office people a bit nuts. Take for instance this situation: when I was in grad school I’d never even dream of touching the school letterhead fancy paper or envelopes, even though they were there for all to see and take. I’d ask the secretaries and they gladly gave me some sheets and envelopes. Now, at work, I walk into the office and sheepishly ask the secretaries if I can take the fancy envelopes and pens, and they give me this look of “girl, get your act together, you’re a coworker, get them yourself, don’t bother me with such nonsense!”

Again, I want to avoid being trouble and upsetting people, but it seems that my student-like attitude is hurting people’s perception of me, and their willingness to help, more than helping.

I ask you, have you ever felt like this? Were you pretty independent and didn’t have a care about bothering office personnel or coworkers asking permission or did you find some sort of balance between asking and simply doing?


  1. Seamonkey says:

    It’s kind of a cliche, but in my experience it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. (Ask once, maybe twice). Still in school, but it’s gotten me through a bunch of labs and a few screw-ups.

  2. Café Moka says:

    Hey, I’m a new reader!
    I’m finishing my master degree (in French Canadian Literature) and I’m so afraid of not being a student anymore! I think I don’t want to deal with “real” life!

    • Dr. 27 says:

      I know that fear …. the moment I realised I wasn’t going to be a student anymore (a few months before the defense … when it became super real) I almost choked up. On one side I was happy I wasn’t going to “study” (formally) anymore, on the other one I was worried about what my next step would be. It is pretty scary. I think I had a similar feeling when I decided to finish my postdoc and look for a “real” job. Real life felt (and sometimes feels) scary …. but so far, it’s been treating me OK. Thanks for visiting!

  3. Being in school for so many years as an elementary, middle and high school, college, and now as PhD student, I too have this tendency of being too sheepish…So I totally agree with your feeling of wanting to be more independent and careless of others’ thoughts, opinions, and sometimes emotions. Coming from an Asian country, I often thought this was just of me being Asian and having lived in Asia for 17 years of my life that I am always in need of permission and guidelines (educational system in Asia is a lot more inflexible than the one in US). But I guess it also often depends on an individual..(I presume you are either American or lived in US for long years). After many years of feeling dumb about myself that I’m too used to getting permissions from others to do stuff, I realized that being too obedient or polite sometimes makes things complicated. Just going with the flow and being more casual or having some degree of freedom or creativity in doing things makes you and others more comfortable. I AM still trying to break the rules that have been built for me by the society or maybe myself for many years. i.e. last weekend, I attended a conference where my advisor advised me to wear full suit and I did, but it turned out that I was the only student who dressed up in suits. It was a really cold day and I felt really cold in and out…..:(

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Thanks for your comment Vanilla! Phewww, it is somewhat comforting to know that I’m not alone. I do want to work on this not asking, just doing kinda mentality. But if feels so scary. I hope to take it bit by bit until I gain some confidence (and the respect that comes with it). Let’s see how it goes from now on. Hang in there, we can do it!

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