So, What’s Next…#PhDChat
I feel like I am on the precipice of a life altering event…I am considering leaving the lab bench for good. Yet, I am staring out at that precipice from inside the cozy confines of the lab. Every time I think about getting closer to the edge, aka a decision, I end up burying myself deeper into this warm and familiar space.
This fear of leaving the lab is understandable. After seven years as a graduate student, five years as a postdoc and one year as a Research Associate, it’s really the only job I have known during my adult life. There is a rhythm to working in the lab and its one that suits me and that I enjoy. Plus, my current situation is one that is hard to beat. I have been given the independence to take my project where I want, and achieve the type of work-life balance that I fiercely protect. Yet with all of this, if we dig a bit deeper, I am not completely happy with what I am doing. Part of it stems from my current project, which is finally concluding after six frustrating years; however, as I pass the time on my morning train commute into Toronto from the ‘burbs, I wonder whether getting a new project or a new situation, would really help with this underlying unhappiness.
There is a lack of job security that permeates research labs these days, which worries me. Grant funding is scarce, so it’s not unusual to hear of amazingly talented staff being let go. In my own situation, I am one of three full-time lab members, with the other two having worked 20+ years in the lab. If the funding situation for the lab were to change, I don’t like my odds of being the one who gets to stay. I could try to find a new position, but if you have done a job search for Research Associate lately, you will know that most of the postings are actually Postdoc positions with deceiving titles.
So, if I am not completely happy and the lack of job security concerns me, why do I get uncomfortable when the brand-new PhD graduate in the lab tries to get me to network with the outside world. Truthfully, I still can’t imagine myself working anywhere else. The office 9-5 job has never appealed to me and I am not sure I could handle the structure. Part of that rhythm to the lab that I enjoy is setting my own work priorities, working on different things every day and the chance for discovery. I find that the lab provides everything in moderation. I usually have a writing project on the go, but I don’t work on it all day, every day. I have several different projects, all at different stages, so I get a little bit of planning, experimentation, and analysis on a weekly basis. I don’t see what other type of job is going to provide that type of variety or stimulation (spend my days keeping bias out of my work, and then firmly dump it all on my career musings).
It is now the summer of 2017, exactly one year since I first began contemplating leaving the lab bench for good. As the train zips by Lake Ontario, I stare out and remark to myself (not aloud…can’t violate the Quiet Zone rules of the train), how little progress I have made in coming to this decision. I have epically failed the new PhD graduates mandate to me to do informational interviews every month in 2017 (almost seven months in and I have done zero), and my work happiness level remains unchanged. Do I bet on the science world being a place to enjoy a stable career? Do I leave my pipettes behind and search out greener pastures where I keep my vast knowledge on rodent breeding to myself?
The skyscrapers of the city are now visible out my window, today will not be the day for my career epiphany. All I can hope is that this back and forth in my brain will soon translate into a solid decision for my future.
Jenn obtained her PhD in Cardiovascular Physiology at York University and is currently a Research Associate at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Canada. Though her academic studies have all taken place within Toronto, or less than an hour outside of it, she has a passion for travel that is routinely at odds with her lab work and salary. Luckily her Lab puppies Harley & Quinn are always there at the end of a long day to remind her that the best part of not travelling is getting to spend hours rubbing their tummies or playing fetch!