27 and a PhD

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Remembering my staff-versary

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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6 years ago today I made the move from Canada back to the US. I landed in NYC, the greatest, most amazing city I’ve ever lived. It just dawned on me that today was my staff-versary.

A bit of the backstory: I finished my PhD in the US in 2009, moved to another country (Canada), started a postdoc, became severely depressed, figured out that my depression was tied to my identity as a scientist in a particular field which wasn’t the one I’d been trained in, and decided to leave the “traditional” tenure-track way and go into staff-dom. I didn’t know if I’d like it, if I’d even survive it, but I had to try. I was lucky enough that a group of brave women, included (but not limited to): Jeanne Garbarino, Geeka, and Biochem Belle. And made the jump I did. It’s been 6 years since all that and I’ve got a lot of things to be thankful.

  • I got a super great first review back in 2012 for my work in 2011. I made lots of progress, and even though my boss drove me bonkers sometimes, he was smart and engaged. I got to meet tons of new people, make great friends, go to local get togethers in the city and do awesome science.
  • Mr 27 and a PhD became Dr 27 and a PhD and we got married.
  • I read tons of books, like a maniac, given my long commute, but even though it was a chore at time, I looked forward to the quiet time on the subway and/or bus.
  • I met some of the most amazing minds in my field of training and got to help their labs.
  • Learned some new techniques and approaches which made life in the lab way more comfortable.

Eventually I:

  • Was approached by my old (PhD) school to help run what had been my PhD lab, operating now as a core facility.
  • Because of some serious debt I was saddle with thanks to lending my signature on a $50K loan, I had to leave NYC.
  • My husband was diagnosed and treated for a serious heath issue by a world expert at my PhD uni.
  • I created protocols and SOPs to run the lab, organized stuff, trained students.
  • But I also struggled with a couple of supervisors who were of the idea that if you weren’t in the lab 7 days a week for at least 10hrs, you really weren’t committed to science.
  • One of the bosses in particular appeared to have a PhD in gaslighting. This wore me down, to the point that I thought I was losing my sanity.
  • I went into an outpatient program for a couple of weeks and got the jump start I needed. My meds were adjusted, I did a lot of talk therapy and it actually helped! Just because I have a PhD doesn’t mean I’m smart at everything and I honestly thought that talk therapy was just BS.
  • Being in a setting where there were others who had gone through severe losses and trauma, people with bipolar disorder, severe depression, OCD, etc, helped me gain some empathy, especially towards those in our society who suffer because they don’t have the resources to get the help and support to treat and thrive even when mentally ill.
  • Once I returned from my stay at the psych hospital I decided on concrete changes: I talked to my boss and asked to have the gaslighting person removed from his supervisory roles, I changed bosses and things became better, I actually enjoyed my job. I finished training some of the grad students I’d started training earlier and they were masters at troubleshooting the equipment I ran.
  • I went on the job hunt, even though I was seriously discouraged.
  • I got a few phone interviews, and eventually was flown to a fancy pants place (not NYC) and got to meet even more amazing people in my field. That job didn’t pan out, but it was a fantastic opportunity.
  • I interviewed at a fancy pants university close to where my husband got his first full-time faculty position, but I was still recovering from my depression, so I wasn’t sure whether I was making the right decision.
  • I got an offer and asked about terms of the position, support, culture, I got all questions answered in a manner that gave me the strength to take a leap of faith and jump into the unknown.
  • I suffered a miscarriage, lost my BFF to cancer, lost other dear friends and coworkers to illnesses.

… and just last week I got my performance review for the past year and it went very well. It wasn’t perfect, but the goals set for next year are within reach, and that experience has helped me fuel my system and get really pumped about doing science.

I don’t know what awaits me in the future, but I seriously hope that I get to work at this place for a long time. It has provided hope and stability that both my husband and I needed. It has taught me that I have more to offer, and that negative people can be cut off for good, one can move on and thrive.

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2 Comments

  1. Jesse B says:

    Nice article. I hope things got a lot better for you. I am sorry to hear for your loss.

  2. Liz says:

    Dear 27,
    I’ve been reading your blog here and there for the past 5 years now. Thanks for posting your story! As a disgruntled postdoc myself your blog has been a great reminder that things can get better, though there are always challenges. Wish you the best.

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