The present is theirs; the future, for which I really worked, is mine

Back in 2008, when I first mentioned to my tutor that I wanted to do a PhD he asked me a simple question; “What do you want to do when you grow up?” (or thereabouts…) I can’t remember what I said, but the correct answer was “run my own lab, and be a PI.” (PI being principal investigator, not private investigator as someone keeps telling me.) He told me this was the best answer to give, as it would encourage someone to take me on, knowing how keen I was.

Bear in mind I was 21 years old, having never done research, and only just learning how to properly read papers.

But it turns out it’s true. I’d love to run my own lab, and be a PI. So much so, that I’ve only recently starting looking at other jobs, when I didn’t get my Fellowship. As I was so sure of myself stumbling into it, as I pretty much have done the whole of my life.

So, when I saw this the other day, I thought it was fun. Apparently it’s what your PI really thinks about you leaving academia, and they are not happy about it!

After attending a three day conference held by the Graduate Career Consortium, Stacey Patton wrote about the difficulty facing graduate students and postdocs in today’s job market, particularly with respect to non-academic careers. But is it due to the “reluctant” students, or because faculty members aren’t providing helpful information?

To clarify, Craig Schmidt meant reluctant in that students are loathe to find out about other job prospects. I agree this is a problem, but from my experience people who know they don’t want to stay in academia look for other jobs. From my friends carrying out PhDs, I think all of them are employed now. Some stayed in research, taking on postdocs, others went to industry, a couple now work for the NHS, one became a scientific writer, and another now takes undergraduate practical classes. I know anecdotal evidence is nonsense, but it’ll have to do for now.

I want to stay in research and academia, so have only really looked at this. I admit students need more information. I have a fairly low opinion of working in industry, as my year out wasn’t great. I got to work in a lab every day, meet some awesome people whom I’m still friends with, and get a great reference for my PhD and postdoc, but I realised I didn’t want to stay there.

(Although I’m fully aware that the company I worked for is now much bigger, and I could probably try and work in a different department.)

The other thing she talks about is Bill Lindstaedt’s talk, featuring some quotes from scholars in the biomedical and biological sciences. After asking them how they feel about students undertaking non-academic jobs.

“If a rotation student comes in saying they want to be a science writer, they’re not staying [in my research group].”


“It’s my job to create more people like me.”

Meaning academics?

“I’m very supportive of students in my lab who decide they want to leave academia. But they’re smart. They’ll figure out how to get there (alternative career) on their own.”

Or nothing else?

To be honest I find it hard to believe that everyone feels like that. Back in Manchester my supervisor told me how difficult academia was, and was willing to help me find work in other areas (like the two PhD students I worked alongside). Here at San Diego, my supervisor has had conversations with me about what I want to do. Furthermore, I’ve attended a mandatory workshop about career planning.

But the one I think is the worst!

“I made it and nobody helped me. Plus, I was the only woman in my graduate program. The best students will always succeed.”

I’ve already mentioned how stupidly sexist science is, and as a proud supporter of being a pleasant person I think it’s awful someone with direct experience wouldn’t bother trying to help. I don’t have experience, and how good is AWIS?!

Also, I’m almost definitely not “the best” so that raises problems all of its own. Luckily there was silver lining.

“The problem isn’t that there are too few faculty positions. The problem is that more students and postdocs are choosing not to become faculty.”

So, keep it up postdocs! Just keep moving into non-academic jobs, and leave it all to me. If enough of you drop out I will be the best!

In other news, I’ve changed my title to Dr on my driver’s licence so that’ll be fun.


Today’s quote is from Nikola Tesla, to celebrate his Birthday.


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