27 and a PhD

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The day I became ‘previous studies in our lab …’

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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I knew it would happen, I knew my name wouldn’t be first on papers and posters, or referenced fully at some point. The day came, it is here, upon me. I’ve officially become the ‘previous studies in our lab/by our group/previously we showed’ line. I’m still processing it, but I knew it was coming.

It is no secret that I’ve had a difficult time moving on from my PhD lab./experience I felt like a bit of a star under the direction of my watchful mentor. I flourished under her care and guidance and gave birth, or completion, to a few projects. I started helping someone else, eventually became the senior graduate student, then moved on, and now I’m a staff scientist. I don’t regret any of it, but I’m now facing the reality that I’m not a star anymore, that whatever little memory of me was in my PhD lab is gone, that new blood has come in, and that much like I did, they’re giving birth, continuing or even closing chapters of my previous research life.

This week I got some sad news from my lab. My PhD mentor is going through some rough patches, and the lab as a whole has gone through even more changes in the last year. The last person that was part of my original group moved on to bigger things and my PhD mentor made some changes which surprised many. A student I met while on my last year has inherited my projects and he’s doing a fabulous job, but he’s had to face many challenges that I didn’t and sometimes gets discouraged. I feel sad about it because he’s super talented and much like me, depends on the upbeat attitude of the boss. He’ll do alright, but I feel a bit of known growing pains that I wish he didn’t have to face. I guess I’m thinking like a mother, because those are the words I’ve heard my mom use too (she’d say one day I’d understand).

This student is about to get a publication out the door, from one of the projects I gave birth to and did some of the ground work on. I can’t wait to read it, and I’m so excited for him. But with that I know that the words ‘previously, our group found …’  are coming. And I can’t help but feel a bit of pain, or whatever it is. I feel  as if a memory I was holding tight is being yanked out with much force, and I can only see how it goes away and become someone else’s dream (or in this case, project).

I know it’s silly of me to feel this way … but sometimes I think that I got out of my PhD lab without saying my goodbyes properly, I didn’t mentor enough people (OK, just two, one just a tiny bit and he’s the one that’s in charge of two projects I started), that I didn’t do things I wish I’d done. I kept working until the very last afternoon I had and then left. I was relieved that the defense, the thesis and everything was handed in. I was ready for a new life. And what a life it was! But I keep going back, and thinking and feeling as if something was/is incomplete. It’s probably that I haven’t cut the chord completely. My PI and former labbies have moved on and are happy elsewhere, even during the current rough times. I guess I’m just more emotional and attached.

It pleases me to see though, that the projects I started are being cared for and nurtured, and one of them is in the process of being published. I am happy that my results weren’t just a fluke and that they’re being built upon. I know I’m not the star anymore, and that I’m now buried in the list of references, probably not remembered much. I wonder if anyone else has ever felt that way after leaving their labs (whether as an MS, PhD or postdoc). I wonder ….

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8 Comments

  1. sciencegeeka says:

    I think that there’s a certain amount of academic Stockholm syndrome that goes around.

    I can’t talk about the forever-post-doc with Jackass because she still annoys the hell out of me. But as for papers and such, I don’t even pay attention. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I read any of the literature associated with the field. (I’m not doing anything that’s similar now).

    In the grand scheme of things, I’m happy that my stuff is being built on, but I am so done with that stuff, that I just really don’t care that much.

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Wow, the forever postdoc with Jackass, is she the one that was super eager (and super annoying?)? I think I remember reading something about her in your blog. Indeed it is a bit of Stockholm syndrome. I was just talking to my BFF who reminded me to wean out of that lab mode and be thankful for where I am. I think I had great labmates in school, but my labmates now are all awesome. I get along with them, they like me, I like them, we crack jokes while doing science side by side. I’m amazed and thankful for that. I just feel sad for the hard things my former boss has had to endure lately. I know it’s tough, but she’s so secretive that she’d feel “invaded” if I made a move. So, I sit back, let things happen, she’s an adult and if she wants to approach me good. But I do feel sorry for some recent events and losses in her life. Oh well. Thanks for stopping by! LOVE your new blog.

  2. ruckerz says:

    27,

    Love the post, I know I’ll be having the same issues when I leave here soon. Fortunately, the lab is moving in a completely different direction and while there’s a student here who’s working on the system I did my thesis work on, I think he’s going to move onto bigger and better things.

    | I am happy that my results weren’t just a fluke

    Such is our life as scientists.. Our hypotheses live until they are disproven by others.

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Love those two last sentences. I’m sure glad someone talented and good continued some of the projects I started. I guess I also had a bit of separation anxiety. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. stefo says:

    You’ve got to chill out and get on with life. All this ‘star’ talk… Look up in the sky, look around you.

  4. Jessica says:

    Wow, your experience is quite foreign to me. Actually MISSING graduate school or your advisor? I’m happy to hear that you had such a fulfilling PhD experience, be thankful that you have something to look back on with pride.

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Maybe is the “wisdom” of time, but after my postdoc (and a fight with my current boss) I can see (or maybe I’m kidding myself) how my PhD PI was way better. Like you very well say, I can look back at it with pride.

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