Apologies to my small group of readers (small in number, NOT spirit!) for a very, very long hiatus. While it can’t take all the blame, I must say, the long interminable years of grad school can sometimes… er, interfere with things (I was going to say “sap the will out of us” but I think that is going a bit too far). Friends of mine have dubbed this the “quarter-life crisis”, an affliction though not unique to PhD students, perhaps more prevalent than in groups of our peers from college who went on to start “careers” right out of college. I think it is hardest for those of us who look at our PI’s (principal investigators – bosses basically) and realize we are not made of the same stuff as them – we do not love studying __(fill in arcane thesis project here)__ so much that we are willing to go through all this effort again as postdocs, and then again as tenure track junior faculty. Don’t get me wrong, I truly respect and admire my PI. She is, and tries hard to be, a wonderful mentor. And she is hard-working and brilliant, and I think focuses her work on very important, relevant biological questions.
So now I am at a crossroads where many a senior grad student before me has stood. I hope to be finishing up by the end of the year, but I have no idea what I want to do with my life. I think I am very much interested in medical writing – kind of a catch-all for technical, non-journalistic science writing – but I’m really really scared to leave this lifestyle to which I’ve devoted much of my life. I do love working for myself, deciding how to schedule my time, what I want to do next (with guidance and blessings from my PI of course). But I also do like the idea of a job with regular hours, no tedious benchwork, and no guilt for taking a WHOLE weekend off! Although perhaps the grind is the grind no matter where or what. I do still have a insane passion for science and would probably be pretty happy with whatever I do as long as I get to think science. But what if I make the wrong choice! (I must admit I also feel like a bit of a jerk for sitting here whingeing about all of this when I am in the very privileged position of having numerous, fantastic career options practically laid at my feet, and in this ecomony).
One thing I do wish PhD programs would do is to provide more support for those of us seeking non-academic positions. While yes, there are tons of career panels about being a consultant or working at biotech or patent law, let’s think outside the box already! How about offering some training for skills we don’t pick up in grad school, like writing for a lay audience, or management training, etc. It’s time for university’s to recognize that the reality is there just aren’t enough positions for all of us grad students in academia – and there is an increasing number of 8 year postdocs and second postdocs. Either admit less of us in the first place or try to provide some more creative, flexible training. I myself have taken classes in journalism, blogged, joined the NASW and AMWA, networked a bit with people with other jobs I’m interested in, but I think many grad students find themselves a bit paralyzed when they realize they’re dreams coming into school do not match their current ones.
Well, that’s enough for now. I plan to blog a bit more regularly (not that it would be hard to beat a year plus no blogging :). So keep checking back!