Hi. I realize it’s been a little quiet around here, mostly because I’ve been needing to figure a lot of things out.
I’ve decided not to apply to postdoctoral fellowships for next year, in spite of having a really good interaction with a potential mentor in June. I liked him and the people from his lab that I met. The project opportunities were interesting to me and he’s at a university in a place I would love to live. All really good things, and I was so ready to go down that path. Then I had a committee meeting at the beginning of July and while it was a good kick in the pants in terms of finishing this pesky PhD, it also felt like an eye opener about the next few years.
Based on the timeline that my committee and I discussed, I am in for a very work-focused six months. I need to put in eight-ten hours a day for five days a week and three or four hours on the weekends in order to make the timing work (which it MUST based on funding in the lab). I think many people are able to be focused for less time in order to be productive in lab, but I do not think that I am one of them. I KNEW this about myself when I quit coaching Ultimate (last year!) to focus on science, but the committee meeting really brought things home. For whatever reason, the less time I spend, the less focused I am during that time, and therefore the less productive I am. I am prepared to do this type of work for six or eight months, but I am NOT ready to commit so much of myself for even another two or three years. I am so much more than someone who spends 60 hours a week doing something that I don’t love. Wouldn’t it instead be better for everyone if I try to cultivate passions that are already developing (science communication, science literacy, science illustration, science education) and make my work about those?
Further, while I have enjoyed doing science more lately than I did at the beginning of graduate school (people, that is not saying much!), I think it has been easy for me to get sucked into how people who are in academic science define success, rather than how I want success to look in my own life. It is so SO hard to be surrounded by people who are PIs, who define success as becoming a PI, who may or may not judge you if you don’t become a PI, and then make a choice to not pursue a traditional academic career. Over the past six weeks, while struggling to get things done in lab, I have absolutely agonized over the decision not to apply to postdocs and cried on the phone to numerous friends for hours. A dear friend from college helped me see things best: “It’s your life. You can’t live your life in a way that makes everyone else happy.”
So the path I am trying to walk now is twofold: 1) Finish the PhD. I have put in the work and I am proud of what I have done so far. I believe that I am a good scientist and that I can write an important, impactful story with six-eight more months of focused lab time. 2) Continue to figure out where my passion lies, how I define success, and how I will live my life so that I feel validated within myself.
P.S. If you’re out there and are feeling unsupported in your desire to leave academic science, check out why we leave, this article from Development, or Alternative Careers in Science: Leaving the Ivory Tower.