A little bit bitch and a little bit buddhist always at the intersection of biology, gender, race, and culture. This blog documents my experience as a Canadian postdoc living and working in the United States. I can't promise to be PG13. In fact I promise not to be PG13.
My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.
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These past few days, I've had a chance to hang out with my sisters Fortune and Wisdom. Fortune recently got a new job and Wisdom had just returned from travels of her own in far far away lands. We had an amazing home-cooked Indian dinner, cooked by Wisdom, and then the three of us just sat around in her family room talking over tea, just being family. Our relationship has evolved over the years in ways that I could not have imagined. There were times when Fortune and I didn't talk for what seemed like years,now our relationship is like Summertime, a Mary Cassatt painting, the women don't always look directly at each other, but their shared experience brings a sweetness into the moment. Wisdom and I on the other hand, are very close. With her, there is an ease to the relationship. I feel like Wisdom is a warm blanket, a cup of cocoa, and an engaging book on a cold night. But its the combination of both of them that is calming and invigorating, like it reminds you of the things that are important. You know, priorities. On that note, here is a post from May 11 2010.
Those of you who have been following this blog, know of the troubles that HippieHusband and I have experienced. And that the blogs I write carry a tone that oscillates between a little bit of bitch and a little bit of buddhist. I'm guessing that the more fun posts to read are the bitchy ones. I imagine, however, that all of us oscillate between these two personalities and the trick is finding the balance.
Lately, HippieHusband and I have started the process of looking for jobs elsewhere. But not just academia, we're opening ourselves up to everything. The process I started of finding out about post-academic careers was largely motivated by the distaste that SmallUniversity left in my mouth. It has since become less intransigent and more progressive or forward looking, more about the potential of a career in industry science and how cool it would be to work there. This has largely come from two things:
a.) the 5-6 informational interviews (some by telephone some via email) I have conducted and the 4-5 that HippieHusband has done over the last month and a half.
b.) This book I read, called "So what are you going to do with that?" by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius. A brilliant book, a must read for everyone, even if you're not considering a post-academic career. They provide strategies that help you decide if academia is for you and if it isn't how to market yourself to a variety of employers if you choose to leave. In addition, they share stories from people who transitioned into a multitude of careers outside academia. It is insightful, funny, inspiring and practical.
The scientists that HippieHusband and I talked with personally worked in vastly different areas including: drug discovery, biofuel research, agricultural biotech, and consulting. I talked with two women who were at very different levels - one a VP of Research and Development of a drug discovery company and the other a Lead Research Scientist at an Agbiotech company. Before talking with these women, I started reading about the science done at some of these places and frankly, I was stunned. The research was innovative, brilliant and fucking cool. A lot of science was basic research not just applications research.
In all cases, these scientists said that they were way less stressed out, felt truly valued, had time on the weekends and evenings, participated in a more team oriented science (because you are working toward a common goal as opposed, I suppose to self-aggrandizement), had sufficient freedom to design and lead research that was interesting, and that they were never bored. Many explained that the most challenging thing about transitioning from academia into industry was the reaction they got from their academic peers and supervisor. The second biggest obstacle was what lay in their own heads. As one scientist is quoted as saying in So what are you,
"Graduate students experience path failure when they assume that the same things that made them succesful up to this point will continue to do so when the time finally comes to find an academic position. Discovering that there are no tenure-track job openings in their field or that employers outside academia do not value their academic credential comes as a painful shock."
"Almost all the people in a given Ph.D. program have passed up other opportunities outside academia. It is transparently clear that their friends and acquaintances who have not made the choice to enter a Ph.D. program are reaping more material and, in many cases, psychological rewards than those who have chosen the Ivory Tower path. It is one thing to have delayed gratification if one ends up in the desired position in academia, but to have to go back out into the same job market that most graduate students shunned five or even ten years ago is likely to be a psychologically wrenching moment."
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Your timing couldn't be more impeccable. I am a senior PhD student. I worked in industry before coming back to graduate school because the PhD was on my bucket list. I was asked by my advisor this week whether I had started looking for a postdoc, but after four years of being beaten over the head on a daily basis there is a part of me that wants nothing to do with the Ivory Tower and wants to go back to the good life I had with my spouse before the PhD. There is also a part of me that can't bear to leave, because I feel like all the women leave in our field. Less than 15% TT faculty in my field is embarassing.
While I know that there is no magic answer that is right for everyone, I am glad to know I am not wading through this thought process alone.
You are most definitely not alone. I have three female postdocs friends, who have decided to leave academia - they too feel terrible - but really is their/our job to sacrifice a work-life balance just to increase female representation?
Exactly, I plan on my PhD then out of acedemia and my colleagues really look down on me for it, but I think thats where I can make more difference in the world and still have some life... but thats just me
Dear Canadian Girl Postdoc,
thanks for this post. After doing an internship in academia this summer, I was beginning to despair about choosing to go into the sciences instead of some more professionally oriented career. Everywhere the only talk I heard was publicaton this, journal that, authorship, getting higher in the ranks etc. And where had all the joy and fun of expanding one's knowledge and doing science for the fun of it gone?
I had my doubts about working in industry labs, but this post has certainly dispelled them. I am not looking to make myself famous with gazillion publication if it means that I have to publish work that is not truly meaningful. I want to collaborate and make cool stuff that will become meaningful either to the field or to people.
Love your blog, by the way.
@Alchemytress Good for you!
Thanks! Good to hear that what I write is helpful. One of the best ways to learn about industry science is to talk to the scientists directly. Often because data and methodology is proprietary talks by industry scientists can seem uninteresting, sparse and superficial. I think because of that it hasn't had the same type of PR that academic science has had.