What an interesting road that I have taken from graduate school to now. This entry will be a few of my thoughts (most of them pretty random) about my career path, since I have completed my first month as the director of a post bac program.
Quick summary, if you do not want to read any further. So far, I am loving my job for the following reasons:
- I think that I am making a direct impact in my “students” lives.
- It is great learning about vastly different STEM fields; I’m going to have to bone up on my Astrophysics.
- At the end of the day, I know that I have done something (hopefully positive) that will be recognized in the near future.
- I always had a feeling that I would end up back in an academic setting.
- The hours are great. I’ve never had a 9-5/6 job before. In the past, I have posted about working 70-80 hours/week and 6-7 days for crap pay. I would not mind working those hours IF I made a decent chunk of change.
- I can be home and in my PJs by 7pm.
The alternative career path:
As a graduate student living in a fantasy world, I always thought I would be the principal investigator (PI) in a laboratory that was conducting cutting edge research in oncology. We know that I have deviated from that path … drastically. One “easy” thing about my life was the idea the all of my next steps were planned out, until I finished graduate school. Towards the end of graduate school, I became really unsatisfied with the day-to-day challenges/annoyances of biomedical research. For example, you work on an experiment for 7 days, only to have it fail. However, I continued down this path (because it was the thing to do) and went on to do a five-year postdoctoral fellowship, followed by a brief stint in “Industry”.
I always have been so-so about the research, but I really found a passion for teaching. Even in graduate school, I did not have the INTENSITY for research that so many of my classmates had. So the logical step for me was to find a faculty position that focused more on teaching than on research. Omg, it was damn pretty impossible to find a faculty position, even at the smallest of colleges. I mean I thought that I was top sh*t:
- I had a decent publication record from my postdoctoral fellowship. For every year that I was in my fellowship, I published a first-author manuscript, which is no easy feat. Hell, one of my manuscripts was one of the top ten most downloaded manuscripts for the journal, Stem Cells.
- As an adjunct assistant professor, I had plenty of collegiate teaching experiences.
- Proofreaders of my application packets said that I had well thought-out teaching and research statements.
All of that and I did not receive any invitations to interview. NOT . . . ONE . . . SINGLE . . . INVITE!!!! It was annoying, because I think about all of the time wasted, which could have been allocated for something more productive, like drinking gin. At least when you drink booze, you know that you will be drunk (and randomly sing karaoke) eventually.
With those defeats, I regrouped and landed a job (my most recent one) in “Industry”. I honestly did not gain anything from this job, except developing this blog and extra hits on my LinkedIn profile. Intellectually, I was drained. Constant learning was one of the main reasons why I went into biomedical research. In Academia, I loved being able to attend seminars given by prominent scientists and applying novel findings to my line of work. In my Industry role, I basically did the EXACT experiment everyday. I would go weeks without reading anything in the literature, because I simply did not care. Why think of potential experiments, when you will be told no or the company can afford simple reagents? My previous boss told me that it would be difficult for me in Industry, because it is really hard to have intellectual freedom. I guess this is something that many scientist have to learn from experience.
Also, I worked my butt off at this company and did not receive really much of anything. I did not really learn any new techniques or technologies in this role; however, I did learn how to deal with BS and daily annoyances. *I wonder if dealing with BS and daily annoyances fall under “transferable skills”?* Even upon requesting my vacation payout, it was implied that I was committing wage fraud to accrue extra vacation days. I worked like a slave only to be treated like a thief. As of yesterday, my old boss is going to pay me for my unused vacation days. I guess my time sheets matched the security reports regarding entering and leaving the building
At this company, I became somewhat depressed, which resulted in some weight gain (about 10 or so pounds). It was at this point, when I finally realized that I did not want to do science any longer. I had it! Aside from my postdoctoral fellowship, essentially 1/3rd of my scientific career, I had not gained anything professionally from science. Yes, I earned a doctorate from a decent graduate program, but it seemed like having a Ph.D. was a bit of a detriment for many of the jobs to which I was applying (outside of science). Ok maybe it was not a complete detriment but it may have hurt me a little bit. *I used the word “detriment”, because the time spent in graduate school could have been used transitioning into another field and working my way up. Quite a few of my classmates and friends dropped out of graduate school BEFORE receiving their master’s degree. These friends worked their way up and are doing WAY better and I am, even though I have a damn Ph.D.*
I hated doing science but I loved talking about it (I have a talent for breaking down difficult scientific topics for general audiences). It was at this point, that I wanted to be involved in project management – a jump that I knew was going to be tricky. Yes, on paper, I qualified for many jobs but getting your foot in the door is a whole other story. What did I do? I randomly started to make connections and reaching out to people in similar roles on LinkedIn. Many of the informational interviews were a waste of time. “Waste of time” may be too strong of a sentiment. I am grateful that people took time out of their busy schedules to chat or email with me. It was frustrating that people who were hired with less experience than myself had jobs that I wanted. After contacting a colleague of a colleague (and agreeing to facilitate a workshop for her students), she sent me a random job posting for what would be my current job. The deadline for the job was in three days, and I kind of thought it would be a waste of time because I had been rejected so many times previously.
It worked out (I don’t know how), so I have transitioned from a scientist to an administrator. Oh the funny thing. Within a week of accepting this position, I got invited to THREE interviews for medical writing positions.
Now, a few questions:
- Will I miss “doing” science?
- What is the career path for an administrator? One thing that I have learned over the past year is that one always has to think about the next steps. For far too long, I have be too laid back about my professional/career trajectory.
- Am I good enough for this position?
With all of that said (or written), it does feel a little weird to say “program director” rather than “scientist” or “biomedical researcher” whenever someone asks me about my job. However, it is easier to explain my current job than my various biomedical research endeavors/fiascoes.