Breathe and reboot

Breathe and reboot

Not long ago, I was having lunch with a group of my fellow postdocs. I had recently become acquainted with this group, and the conversation turned to our current positions and our future career plans and aspirations. I was really surprised by a remark made by one of my new friends. The sentiment (which several others echoed) was the sheer variety of career possibilities that she felt unqualified for. My colleagues felt pigeonholed as science researchers and, though aware of other options, didn’t believe they could break into them. Conveniently, I had accepted a role coordinating career development workshops for postdocs at my site, and I now knew my mission: to do my part to open my fellow postdocs’ eyes to all their options and everything they bring to the table.

Around this time, I was also pondering my own post-postdoc moves. My aha moment came when I read Cynthia Robbins-Roth’s book Alternative Careers In Science: Leaving the Ivory Tower. This is a compilation of profiles of (mostly) PhDs who each started off in science, then took their careers in vastly different directions. I completely identified with the contributors and their stories of feeling out of place in the world of bench research – I thought I was the only one!

I appreciated how honest the contributors were in describing their career paths and how they assessed their choices. The book is a few years old and heavily skewed toward biotech and the life sciences. Understandable, considering most of the contributors took advantage of the biotech boom of the day. Still, it’s possible to extrapolate to one’s own experience as well as to current and emerging technology hotspots, e.g. web app development, social media, etc. I won’t digress with more details; see this review of the first edition.

I already had aspirations outside of research, but reading this book jump-started my transition. I continue to be inspired and encouraged by the stories of people who started off in a similar position to me and have forged thriving careers in any number of non-research endeavors. Books like this have also given me ideas for the wide range of possibilities open to people with a scientific background.

Which brings me to what this blog is all about. This blog is by, for, and about scientists who are proud to bring lots of other things to the table: advocating for science, commercializing technology, project-managing, connecting the right people, matching problems to solutions, and all-around kicking butt outside the lab.

Who am I? Currently wrapping up a postdoc in materials science and engineering. I’m kind of an oddball in that I pursued a PhD not intending to use it for it intended purpose (i.e. academia).

I did have a job outside academia before grad school. I cut my teeth as a materials and processes engineer and doing failure analysis, and I really enjoyed my job. After a couple of years working, my husband talked me into quitting my job with him and returning to grad school before we got too accustomed to earning a reasonable salary. We moved from the US to London, to his home country and alma mater, to do our PhDs together. He always believed in me and believed I could succeed at it, even when I doubted it. In the end, it was a valuable experience to live abroad, to get to know his culture a bit better, and to travel. Seriously, I don’t anticipate having that much vacation time ever again.

After graduating again, I took on a postdoc in applied science because I didn’t feel I was finished getting my hands dirty in the lab, and because I wanted to get more experience in precisely this technical area. I love learning new things all the time and figuring out how things work, but I’ve discovered a talent for communicating science and a greater interest in the big picture.

So, in this blog, my aims are to:

  1. Explore issues of transitioning from a traditional scientific or research career path to any number of non-traditional, alternative, or (dare I say it) AWESOME directions in which science PhDs can take their careers
  2. Think aloud as I navigate the same transition
  3. Share tidbits of wisdom I come across that might help others in the same boat.

Yes, there are lots of non-academic possibilities that can be even more fun than academic science. The options are limited only by your imagination, your interests, and your awareness of where exactly science and technology fit into the economy and in society.

Any by the way, I’ll be damned, but there are a lot of scientist blogs out there. Thank you for checking out this one.

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