Saturday, January 28, 2006

Everyone is telling me to quit

Had an interesting chat with my neighbor, who got a PhD and then went to industry and is now doing something that is neither here nor there. She has always been a big proponent of industry. But I think even she knows that's not the right direction for me. She thinks I should quit all of it.

The consensus this week: all of science is going to shit.

Extreme, I know. But when all the animals are running away, you have to look and see what they're running from. It's just instinct.


At 6:42 PM, Blogger GrrlScientist said...

everyone tells me the same thing, but i won't do it. i am either stubborn or really really stupid. actually, knowing myself as well as i do, i'd say probably both.


At 9:49 PM, Anonymous BWJones said...

The lovely thing about the PhD is it's flexibility. One can do an amazing number of things. Have you ever thought about federal employment? There are a number of applications for bioscientists in departments as diverse as the State Dept., the FBI and others.

I'm actually trying to stay in science despite the assault on basic science research by going hybrid and running in both academic and private venture capital funded arenas. Hopefully that will provide more flexibility? We'll see.

At 10:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you make a good point about the instinct. but there really was something that drew you into science in the first place. does industry feel like an organic place to be? I know that I could never do it. that's why i'm in science and not in, say, the business world.

hang in there. maybe something totally out of left field will present itself. considered any artistic careers lately?

At 10:19 AM, Anonymous chemgrad said...

well....PhD kinda takes a toll...let me put it in this way, advisors are never satisfied with the amount of work u do.
I am in my 4rth year of grad school..and this point comes up.Is it worth the stay in grad school?

At 12:42 PM, Blogger NeuroChick said...

Do you mean quit the search for an academic job, or quit science altogether? I can sort of understand deciding to stop looking for an academic job, but quitting science research seems pretty drastic when it sounds like deep down you really do enjoy it.

I only have your blog posts to go on in forming this opinion, of course, but it sounds like a lot of your postdoc "angst" is due to the particular lab you're in, and the one you worked in before. You also seem to be quite set on an academic job (nothing wrong with that, I plan on staying on that track too). But perhaps you'd do well to change to another lab that has a really good track record of having postdocs attain academic jobs afterwards. I know, easier said than done and hindsight is 20/20, but maybe it all boils down to an unfortunate choice of postdoc labs?

I remember someone commenting on one of your earlier posts that maybe the problem is that you're not "good enough" for an academic job. Since I have no idea who you are or what your abilities are, I can't really say if that might be the case. But maybe you need to rethink the postdoc choices you've made so far? I hope things start looking up for you soon.

At 12:58 PM, Blogger ArticulateDad said...

Look, what other people say is really beside the point (except, as you say, look for the storm clouds, or the herd of elephants). What really matters is what your heart and mind tell you.

But, whatever you choose... don't think of it as quiting (or resisting). Steer your own vessel. You are the captain. The sails may luff, but you can always change course. The winds are certainly not controlled by us, but don't let go the tiller. It's your ship. Sail it.

At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

having you applied to any college professor positions? seems to me that you are good at helping and teaching others, and you are really dedicated to helping students get through their thesis (even if they don't deserve it).

I think college professor would be perfect for you, and perhaps slightly (emphasize the slightly) less competitive as well.

At 1:14 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Wow, so many interesting and thoughtful comments here. I'll just start at the top and go down:

No, Hedwig, You Shouldn't Quit. You love science more than anyone I've ever met! So if anybody should quit, IT'S NOT YOU.

Re: Federal Jobs, yes, I've considered applying to NIH or some kind of criminal justice department. I'm kind of scared of the government though. I suck at paperwork and I'm terrible with rules, authority in general is a problem for me. I'm a problem child. But I have thought if I can't get a faculty position I should apply to NIH or something like that. It's just not my first choice.

I also think forensics, etc. is getting to be really popular now, but I don't know anyone who is actually doing it. And I'm not sure that my skills would translate to something they'd find useful.

Re: Yes, artistic career would be good. Music.

re: grad school... ugh, I don't know what to tell you. I guess I'd say if you're already 4 years in, you might as well finish. In general I think if you're hating it after 2 years, you can still cut your losses and get out.

I've kind of dragged myself this far knowing all along that I'd be much happier running my own show than having anybody tell me what to do. So I suffered through the grad school and postdoc issues with authority with the aim of being the authority myself someday. Maybe that's a dumb way to do it, but it got me through public school and college classes so I just kept applying the formula: suck it up in the classes you hate so you can take the ones you like. Or, do the experiments you hate so you can do the fun ones.

re: bad postdoc labs, I have to admit I'm pretty cynical here. I'm not sure I believe I could ever work in a 'good one'. For a variety of reasons. 1, they're extremely rare, from what I can tell. 2, I don't know of any in my fields of interest. 3, there's no easy way to find out what the good ones are, since it's so subjective. 4, I'm a problem child, so that makes #3 especially hard. That's actually one of my favorite things about my current lab- my advisor likes that I'm outspoken and opinionated. My previous advisor hated that. 5, I already might not be good enough to get into one of the 'good labs'. I guess I've always had the impression there are the Haves and the Have Nots. The Have a Howard Hughes/Damon Runyan pedigree, and the Have Nots. I think for some of the 'good labs', you have to be Good Their Way.

re: I am my Own Captain: Oh captain, my captain. Thanks.

re: college professor, I really don't know. I don't have ANY formal teaching experience, just mentoring students in the lab and having them work with me one-on-one at the bench. I think I'd have to do more teaching to be even considered for that kind of position.

At 10:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the most pathetic thing I have ever seen. You are fucking lame, just like most science graduate students. Obviously you do not like what you do anymore, but are "stuck" in your current situation because it's all you know (academics). Maybe you have also come to the realization that most, but certainly not all, PhD scientists are labor and nothing more in this system. And they deserve to be nothing more than labor because they have such narrow intellects. Most of them avoid thinking about anything that can't be proved with a laboratory experiment. And you seem to romanticize this pathetic life thru a website or blog or whatever it's called. Try to think of something entreprenorial to do, do it, and quit bitching.

- I'm a PhD Organic Chemist who should have stopped at a Master's and went to law school because the last 3 years of grad school were 90% labor and 10% learning. And furthermore, it seems like the PhD with a 110 IQ will always be hired before the M.S. with a 145 IQ because of the weird science culture, so we end up staying in school to long . Science is almost like as cult to some of these weirdos, and they shun those who do not conform.

At 11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

re: the last comment

There is some truth to what you say regarding science being somewhat of a cult and that the PhD degree is glorified. However, you have a lot of misplaced hostility here. A bit of navel gazing during a PhD (I finished mine ~ 5 yrs ago so I know what I'm talking about) is perfectly reasonable. The fact is that making it in research science is hard and getting to the end of a PhD is more mentally, physically and emotionally taxing than most things. A lot of this is that there are so few jobs for PhD scientists - the ratio of available scientists to positions is not favorable. Part of this is also the nature of the enterprise - if you're any good you're not just doing someone else's bidding - you're doing things that 1) no one has ever done before 2) may well not work even if your career and livelihood depend on their working.

Law school and a law career is hardly an "enterprising" path. In the end, as either a corporate or a patent attorney, you produce very little that is original. You're a glorified clerk. The pay is great, the pressure is far lower than it is in academia and job portability is much, much much better... but some people are just not satisfied by this kind of career despite all these advantages.

At 1:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, so I agree that science is a more noble profession than law... but there are serious problems in science employment these days. It's one thing when you're a 23 year-old searching for truth on your own time... it's quite another when you have a family depending on you. Many people who start out bright-eyed, enthusiastic and optimistic young phd students end up disillusion, impoverished and embittered 30 something post-docs. Some scientists aren't even really part of the middle class any more.

here's a blog that addresses this issue:

I'm kind of interested by the question of what it all means about our society. Why do we pay scientists (including applied scientists working on technological innovations that garner industrial types a lot of money) so much less than other professionals with similar levels of education and training? Is it just because access to cheap foreign labor in science allows us to get away with it?

Interested to hear your thoughts, science lady :)

At 10:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

all that debate aside, I'm quitting my PhD this week.
It was not a quick decision - it took 2 years to get to the "happily quitting" spot I'm in now.

All that stigma about quitting.. that's what we should be talking about.

If I start to blog about life after the Quit, I'll let you know. Is the grass greener??

At 9:47 AM, Blogger virious said...

I just started my PhD studies last week. I did it, even though, I'm full of doubts about it. After getting my Masters degree I was full of ideas but after holidays my confidence just went away. I decided to give my PhD a shot. But for now, I just can't find my place in this whole PhD world...

At 11:46 AM, Anonymous clay said...

might as well comment... was wait-listed at the grad program i felt "sure" i was gettin into. Now i'm reconsidering my life up to this point. Considering my last 4-5 years in undergrad a waste of time now, basically, since i am considering not continuing that path. Have 5 years research experience in a non-profit organization... was told by one admissions "person" that those years don't really mean jack (paraphrase obviously)...

Now every day i come to work all i can think about is quitting and starting a "new life" or something...
living in mom's house b/c this job pays so little, and is a part time position....

depressed about my situation but sounds like it could be worse

At 7:11 PM, Anonymous RG said...

I don't know what's best for you, but just my 2c: In my case, if I had known what it was going to be like, I would never had done it, certainly not my PhD. Im doing my postdoc as a stop-gap while I find a way of quitting science - I've come to the point where I'd rather flip burgers than do another postdoc. In my particular case, though, it's not just the employment situation, it's also that I've simply lost interest in science - my interest died at some point during my PhD.
Frankly, I think the only reason why there are some PhDs is to get science done 'cheaply' (cheaply for grant agencies and PIs, I'm not convinced it's any cheaper in the end for the taxpayer, who is largely who truly foots the bill, than hiring more technicians and permanent assistants and funding fewer students would be). Just about every country in the world is graduating easily ten times as many science majors and science PhDs as it actually needs.


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