I would like to start this post with a wonderfully calming photo.
There. That’s better!
I’ve been struggling with how exactly I’m going to write this post. We’re going to talk about my career today, like I said we would, because this is a blog about life. Science is a big part of my life—it’s my intellectual passion, my livelihood, part of my identity. Being able to say now that I’m a scientist is so fun. Working as a scientist is very challenging, but I like to think that I’ve done the best I could with what I had. And right now, I’m in a good place, science-wise. Over the past year, I’ve been able to take an observation and expand it into a full-blown project with publishable data and a working storyline. I’m immensely proud of this accomplishment, and until about a week ago, I was feeling very happy with my job—I was convinced that I was well on my way to a publication. I hadn’t put a deadline on this project, but maybe I’d guess that with another six months to a year I’d have a manuscript ready to be sent out for review.
On Friday, November 18, I met with my boss for an unexpected meeting, during which he told me that in about six months, there would be no more funding for my project. I’ll spare you the details of that conversation, but suffice to say that it was an alarming piece of news. I sat through the meeting the same way I sit through breakups: calmly stone-faced. Afterward, I struggled with tears on and off for the rest of the day. I tried to call Matt after lunch, and when I got his voicemail, I got so choked up that I couldn’t speak, so I hung up. Later that day, I called back and left a proper message.
When we finally talked that evening, the feeling that left me most unhappy was the complete surprise of this news. I felt like a fool, assuming that all was well with my project and my position in the lab. I worked really hard to establish my project, and I just felt so stunned that my hard work had led me to this point. I burned with disappointment and anger.
I can’t go into any depth here about my boss’s decision because I don’t wish to make things worse by making accusations on this public site. You only have my story here; he can’t defend himself. And most importantly, I have no desire to burn any bridges. What goes around comes around, right? One never knows what the future holds, and while I’m not religious, I think that it’s not a bad idea to cultivate good karma. So I won’t say any more about why I’m angry, other than that I have now invested two years of time in this lab, and I’d like to see a return on my investment. I may be angry, but I am not bat-shit crazy!
In my line of work, there are two major items that signify success: publications and funded grants. Publications, arguably, are more important than grants because they are the record of your accomplishments: what you have done that deserves notice, praise, discussion. Grants are important for continuing your science, and they indicate that you have good writing and project development skills. At this point in time, my number one priority is to publish my work. I have decided that I don’t care how flashy the journal is in which my paper is published; the important thing is that it is published, preferably within the next 6-8 months. So that is my immediate goal—so immediate, in fact, that I’d like to start writing the paper next month. It won’t hurt to get a good jump-start on it, even if it isn’t submitted until February or March. (In my dreams, it will be submitted by the end of February.)
As for long-term goals, I am in serious thinking mode. I always thought that I wanted to be a professor at a small liberal arts college like the one I attended, but now I’m thinking more deeply about science industry. I am still interested in teaching, training, and pedagogy, but I find it hard to believe that those skills would go to waste in industry.
What I really want from my career is to feel like I am part of a team of equals. Being a postdoc is pretty lonely, and in my lab, I’m doing work that is quite different from what other people are doing. I’m the only one reading the papers in this field, which makes me feel isolated. I don’t like it. In academia, people become stars. I don’t want to be a star—I want to be part of a team. I want to contribute to something bigger than any of us could achieve on our own. I’m wondering if science industry might fulfill that desire of mine.
I also want to spend more of my time working with people, rather than toiling away on my own experiments. I suspect I could be quite good at project management, in part because I’m good at setting realistic goals and keeping an eye on all the moving parts. I’m actually pretty good at multi-tasking on a large scale: planning my time so that today’s experiments get done and so that I’m ready for tomorrow’s experiments. As Matt loves to point out, I am an excellent planner, which I think might make me good at organizing multiple people on a project. And importantly, I tend to get along well with my colleagues; in fact, the best part of both the labs in which I’ve worked has been the people. So I see no reason why I couldn’t teach, train, and supervise other people’s work while contributing to the development of the company’s projects.
To be honest, I never thought I would consider science industry as an option for me. I loved my college experience, and I do love the idea of being on a college campus as a professor. But I have to say, I’m pretty curious about what it’s like to work in industry, and the good pay isn’t too shabby either...
Stay tuned for Part Two of this story…(yes, I know—it’s another multi-part story on this blog!)