How did you end up in your career?

Aug 17 2010 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Life Trajectories]

Interesting new post on benchfly sure to start some discussion with coming posts on the glut of PhDs in academia, and the scarcity of jobs. Before all that comes, though, Alan says:

It’s very possible that only a small fraction of us actually start out with ambitions of a career in academics. If this is the case, then perhaps the scarcity of available academic jobs is not a troubling as it may seem. So dust off the cobwebs and try to remember the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed days of your early research experience in lab – what were you thinking in those days?

For me, it starts way back before the lab. I'd always loved science, but come from a tiny place where I never even realized people *were* academics as a "job." I didn't know any researchers or professors. I don't think my parents had any friends with these careers either--certainly none I've ever met, or that they have ever mentioned to me. However, my mother and grandmother were both teachers. Having younger siblings, I also was the family "teacher" throughout my childhood. I thought perhaps this would be my future as well. As

I fell more in love with science during high school, I was pushed toward medicine, as if there was no other alternative. Truthfully, I stumbled into research during college, since a year-long research project was required as part of my degree. When I found out that I thoroughly enjoyed research, I still hadn't quite made the jump to the possibility of research-as-career. That didn't really occur until my boss asked me what my plans were after graduation. By then, I was already mulling grad school, but still didn't quite understand what it really meant to be an academic.

Long story short, as an undergrad getting into research, I certainly wasn't thinking about how to get an academic job, or what a game of chance that may end up being. Even in grad school, I honestly hadn't thought much further than "I'll do a post-doc afterward" since I knew that was a necessity for an academic job in my field. I think it really wasn't until my first meeting with the professor who eventually became my post-doc advisor that I had any real clue about what I needed to do to end up with a tenure-track research job, and the realities of that happening (or, not happening).

The more I read blogs in this area, the more I cringe and realize just how naive and uninformed I was for way too long, and yet I managed to stumble into my current position nevertheless.

No responses yet

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I had more of an upbringing around academics but this didn't really translate to understanding what a research career was all about. I was mostly thinking about being a teaching college professor. And yeah, I was naive and uninformed into my first few years of faculty the least.

    we all muddle through in various ways.

  • zuska says:

    I planned on getting my B.S. in engineering, getting a nice high-paying job in "the city" and an apartment that would look somewhat like Mary Tyler Moore's independent woman in the city place. Perhaps I might occasionally toss my cap in the air, but for sure my good friend, who might or might not be named Rhoda, would be living in the same building. I would not be getting married for ages. Grad school? Professors? Academia? I had no idea whatsoever what any of those were, or what they might have to do with me.

    Until I met a dude, and he was going to grad school, and talked me into going. His family had generations of college-going behind them, and so I learned a whole new class of aspirations. Pun intended.

  • Jonathan says:

    I remember being quite unsure about what to do wih my PhD, and the dot com crash happened, so a postdoc looked like a safe idea. I got involved with our postdoc association and this was around the same time that postdocs were figuring out that there were too many of us for too few faculty jobs, but that was all we were being trained to do. The last figure I heard was that only 20% of postdocs go on to tenure track positions, and the only way of being one of those 20% was by putting your research ahead of everything else in your life. The thought of focusing more and more on a smaller and smaller area of biology was unappealing to start with, whereas the interface between science and policy was something I found a lot more fun.

    So I started working on skills that would make me employable in that field in my spare time in the lab (lots of in vivo studies, sitting around waiting for mice to get fat), and now I'm a very happy wonk and not a very unhappy postdoc.

  • Kevin Z says:

    I never cared for science in high school and never once gave college much a thought. I graduated high school with a cumulative GPA of 1.7 (on a scale of 4). I was in a band only had eyes for rockstardom. After years of trying and working in kitchens and recording studios, I decided that I needed a college degree in something. I have no idea how I got into science since I essentially failed out of basic science and chemistry (my C and F averaged to D so I passed LOL).

    I knew early on, while working in a marine evolutionary ecology lab as an undergrad, that I enjoyed research and was fairly good at it. Perhaps because I was a slightly older student and had some life experience I naturally asked lots of research questions and was encouraged to go to grad school by my professors. I entered grad school as a masters student, transferred my degree to a PhD... then quit over differences with my advisor and got a great job as a research technician.

    Now a couple years later, I'm starting a new PhD program in a field much closer to my real interests and a mentor amenable to my personal life situations (mostly having a family), with a renewed focus on obtaining positions where I can teach and carry out a research at a small to mid-size institution.

  • rebecca says:

    Zuska, as a HS senior I filled out my little "what I'll be doing in 5-10-15 years" diary. I figured on getting married around 35, after establishing myself in my career and basically spending my 20s as a fabulous single. Instead I had Progeny early in my 20s and was divorced at 30. Never any Mary Tyler Moore aspirations, though...

  • Left_Wing_Fox says:

    Well, my plan out of High School was to go for my PhD in Biochemistry. My uncle, a successful chemistry major/businessman, persuaded me to instead go to a technical college first for practical lab experience, then go on to University to pursue my degree.

    By the second year of Tech school, I dropped out and went into animation. ;P

  • Dean says:

    I had the idea as a grad student that I would work for a corporate R&D lab. I then got the idea that I wanted to do research contracting. I then ended up in government R&D and finally landed in the research contractor position I wanted.

    My mom was a professor, and I realized that this wasn't what I wanted to do, but I did like research a lot. Fighting for tenure, the involvement in paying postdocs with PhDs 20-30k/yr to work brutal hours, and the mediocre pay of what was considered "success" in academia dissuaded me. I'm happy with what I'm doing now-- pretty much doing what I set out to.

  • rebecca says:

    LWF, how funny. Is that still your career?