Up until quite recently I wasn’t sold on the idea of a post-doc. It seemed like it was further exploitation of highly skilled, highly motivated people, and that if I searched I would find a job where my time would be better spent. My PhD supervisor only pressured me insofar as telling me I need at least one post-doc. He never held anything over my head. And I haven’t really had any new breakthroughs in the lab that would be necessary to give someone so against a post-doc a jolt to stay in research. I’ve been mostly writing my thesis and training a new student, so I haven’t had much wet-lab time lately.
I was looking for post-docs in industry but they are few and far between, and the people who actually get those post-docs typically collaborated with industry during their PhDs. What made me change my mind is the realization that while we may be highly qualified people, as freshly minted PhDs we have absolutely zero work experience. Everyone I’ve spoken to in industry, non-profits, and the government have all told me that since I decided to do a PhD (and this applies to MSc people to an extent as well) I need to get some kind of work experience before they’ll consider me for employment. This sounds ridiculous considering all the work we do in the lab performing research, managing your own project (if you take that initiative), training new students, and the committee work you do if you happen to volunteer for that. This is the reality of the employer landscape. Sadly, it’s not getting any better either.
For employers to take us seriously we need to prove we can manage ourselves and others, but not on company dime, and outside the framework of a university degree program. So to get this work experience I’ve decided to do a post-doc. My future post-doc supervisor is a fantastic guy, has a really well organized research program with clear goals, and is willing to assist my professional development. He’s well aware of my former attitudes towards taking a post-doc. I expressed all my opinions during the interview process. I’m sure he understood my perspective because he’s around the same age as me, and it’s his first appointment since his post-doc.
I also read a book titled Career Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug Development, by Toby Freedman. This helped me understand qualifications, and experience one needs to successfully compete for jobs in industry. It also explains the lifestyles one can expect from each of those career options. It’s well worth the 50 dollars. Head over to Amazon if you’re interested.
I’m looking at this decision to do a post-doc for all the opportunities it offers. It’s a bonus that the environment at Mt. A is so positive. This was the best available option to me right now, and the pay isn’t terrible either, especially when you consider the alternative. I’m quite fortunate to even be able to find a post-doc/job at all.
In addition to the typical professional development elements that post-docs are supposed to provide, this direction will buy me time to establish contact networks. That way in a few years I can easily transition from the post-doc to something more permanent. I’m hopeful that this transition will be in my home town.
During the post-doc I’ll do some interesting research, learn new techniques, train unbelievably motivated undergrads, see a new part of the country, and have the opportunity to teach classes at the top undergrad school in Canada (according to McLeans). During this time I’m also planning on engaging in extracurricular activities that will yield demonstrable achievements. You can believe I’m going to cite them in job applications/interviews. That’s what employers want. They don’t want you to show them your transcript, or your degree. They want to see demonstrated, real-life achievements, and unfortunately as students we don’t have those yet. Our publications, and awards kind-of count, but not really.
If I hadn’t been offered this position at Mount Allison I would have volunteered at a consulting firm or pharma to get my foot in the door.
Up until recently I was quite far along in my Canadian Forces military application when I decided this path wasn’t for me. I had passed the aptitude test, and the medical. It was on my interview day that I decided I’d take the job at Mt. A. Right now I just can’t imagine spending the next 30+ years of my life in the military. As another alternative I would have applied to teachers college if the job outlook wasn’t so bleak.
I’m still not set on a career in academia, but I think my negative outlook on academia stems from what I saw on the Senate Student Appeals Board at Brock. That’s not to say Brock is a terrible university. I’ve worked with amazing people here, and some of my best friends are from Brock. You just get to see some really ridiculous stuff on the SSAB, and its hard for those experiences not to jade you towards academia.
I’m considering the possibility that Mt. A’s atmosphere will show me that academia isn’t so bad. The truth is I’ve stopped approaching my career by trying to identify where I am going to be, or where I’m not going to be. Rather I’ve started accepting where I am and I approach my job by being the best at what I have to do right now to get somewhere better tomorrow. I’d be lying if I told you that I don’t have any desire to go to medical school still. The truth is it’s probably my highly competitive side being unsatisfied with the fact that I was so close to being accepted, and at the very least I need that satisfaction of being accepted even if I end up rejecting the offer. Twisted? Yes. But it’s that kind of competitive fire that drives me. Why else would I take up being a hockey goalie at 29? Vulcanized rubber being launched at your face at high speeds? YES PLEASE!
Who knows, maybe after 2 years of a post-doc I’ll have epiphany, or some experience, that proves to me that research isn’t my bag, that a career in industry isn’t what I want, and even though I’m 10 years behind my friends a career in healthcare is really what I need. I’m fine with that possibility. Our generation is going to be the generation that works until 65-70 (although I still hope to retire at a reasonable age). Might as well enjoy every second of it. Or maybe I’ll accept that research is the coolest thing ever, the ability to set your own hours rocks, and playing in our scientific sandbox day-in day-out is the best career for me. Yes, even if that means I’m always thinking about work.
Some of the best advice my supervisor has given me in our recent discussions has been that “people tend to percolate to where they belong.” You can try all you want to advance, but at a certain point your willingness to contribute more effort towards work, your intelligence, and your ability to see problems limit you. That’s not to say you’ve failed by any means, but just that you’ve found where you belong. And while you should be aware of employment trends (eg. industrial research going to developing countries) don’t let these trends interfere with your motivation to excel at what you’re doing today.
I hope this explains the 180 degree shift I’ve taken recently.