Monday, March 23, 2009

Nevermind, I don't really want a career.

It's that time of year- the time when everyone seems to be running Career Workshops.

The women are doing them, the postdocs are doing them, my professional societies are doing them.

I don't want to attend any of them.

I've been there, heard that, and it doesn't really help.

I mean, if you're totally naive and think it's as simple as A + B --> Career, then by all means, go.

But you can't make me go. No.

And I would really appreciate it if I could get fewer emails about them. Maybe I can set up a filter on my email (-Career)?

Lately I am thinking about grants and whether to apply for industry and/or academia, and I have to be honest with myself. I don't want to do any of it.

I'm tired of the whole Sisyphus thing, and I'm tired of being miserable.

I'm tired of working my butt off and having nothing to show for it.

I'm tired of never having a vacation and every year wondering if I will have insurance next year or how much I should pay in estimated taxes, since there's a significant chance that I'll have no job at all?

I'm tired of deciding every day what to do next, or having my plans all in shambles because the shared equipment is always broken (I'm tired of getting those emails about what's broken now).

No really, what's broken now? Because I so wanted to use that thing last week when my samples were ready!

I'm especially tired of people giving me Career Advice I Didn't Ask for.

What I could use is a little, I don't know. Painkiller?

I am tired of recovering from the delusion that it would be possible to get a job doing what I was "trained" for. Little did I know that recovering from it would be worse than realizing it.

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At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Lurker said...

Big fat possibility that I am naïve but how about doing an MBA? this is a serious question.

most (all?) of them have internships which would allow you to get a foothold in industry.

I could add more but I'll leave it at that since I have a pretty good idea about how you feel (I've been there too).

Best wishes for a thorough recovery.

At 5:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally understand you. I see the same kind of thing going on over here. I have bitten the bullet and sent out some industry resumes, but, as well all know, unless you have a friend over in one of them, your resume will just fly into the dark abyss.

I am tired of 'career' stuff. I don't think that our mentors had that. No, they just were able to go to a meeting, get introduced to some people and then find a position. I don't want any of it either. I am not sure that I can convince myself that I want a faculty position, especially after seeing all the garbage that goes on from the misdirected overhead funds to the stealing of reagents. To me, there must be more civil places that offer better benefits than academia.

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

I know what you mean about being tired of it all. I think living with uncertainty is tremendously difficult, and generally underestimated by those who have not had to do it. It is possibly the most difficult thing I have had to do, and I have had quite a few challenges.
Acceptance and support without advice can go a long way.

At 12:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm tired too. It wouldn't be so bad if the people who 'succeeded' were in fact better than me. I can accept not being good enough to get the job. But when I see the positions going to people who are obviously NOT better than me by any means (and in some cases are obviously not as good as me), and then finding out that they had "connections", that is where the delusion and bitterness comes in. I feel like there is no point even trying anymore because it is so obviously not about your qualifications or abilities.

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Phagenista said...

As I'm still a pretty recent hire, I run into acquaintances (like faculty from my grad school) that haven't yet heard that I'm an assistant professor. An unnerving comment I recently heard from one such person was "you always know which ones will make it." He meant it in a nice, we always knew you had it in you sort of way... but the flip side is that the professors are casually judging which of their grad student crop is going to make it to being in their league and which ones they'll let get a PhD but think they won't become faculty. While I'm sure this happens on all educational levels (high school teachers talking about who will or won't make it through college, etc), it's more disturbing when it's coming from the professors we're apprenticing with, because they give off the vibe that we all need to become research professors, just like them.

If we had an academic environment where it was okay to want something other than a high-powered research faculty position, this wouldn't be *so* bad -- the faculty could be frank about the reasons why, or why not, they thought a student would be a good candidate for a faculty position, an industry position, a government or policy position, a job as a science writer or illustrator, whether the student would be well-suited for an NGO, etc. But if the goal is that we all should be research professors... why are they not guiding us to either become better candidates for such positions (talk to us, help us address potential weaknesses!), or why do they let candidates they think won't make it graduate and get research-track postdocs? It is because they figure they might be wrong, and we'll redeem ourselves after a postdoc or two? Is it because they think, like some kind of therapist, that we have to decide that academic science isn't right for us on our own schedule? I figure it's just another failure of mentoring... few PIs take career development (other than publishing lots of papers and perhaps, giving talks at important meetings) of junior scientists seriously.

As for your own personal downward spiral scientific journal, Ms PhD... you appear to have the chops, but not being an (academic) scientist is a completely legitimate option. Hopefully this post won't be seen as more unsolicited career advice...

At 9:42 PM, Blogger GrrlScientist said...

sorry to read this, Ms PhD, but i totally empathize! i wish i could say something to make things easier or better for you, but i am barely hanging on myself. but i have learned that listening without providing unsolicited advice is often the only useful thing i can do -- it's so easy that you'd think anyone would do this, but it's a rare occurrence, i've found. anyway, you know where to find me if you need a a sympathetic ear.


At 3:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

did you say painkiller? i have a "painkiller" for you sexy. (i can't resist a chance to be childish)

i am entertained by your state of permanent lack of satisfaction.

why don't you just get a new career?

do you feel enslaved by all of the "education" you have accumulated such that you can't imagine yourself doing anything else.

you seem like the ordinary modern day specialist. we have too many of those. what we need is more generalists. if we did, i guarantee we would not have the kind of idiots in washington that we have had for the last 50 years.

At 11:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Been there, and am still sort of there. Sending virtual chocolate.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Joseph Delaney said...

I've remarked before about the pyramid scheme of the modern educational establishment. So far, the only thing that keeps me in the academy (as a post-doc) is that I really like the science.

Careers, on the other hand, seem to be for an older generation! :-)

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


My understanding is that an MBA is also kind of risky, in the sense that having one doesn't guarantee you a job, and you have to go into debt (at least, I would) to get one. Also I'm not really interested in doing that kind of work, but maybe that's just my attitude problem talking.

Interesting, so far all the comments were pretty supportive!

Got a couple of nasty ones on a previous post today, but I guess they'll show up there instead of here. Don't mind them as much when I get several like these.

Thanks, readers, and glad to see I'm not as alone as I feel most days.

At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grad school and post docs are a racket, and none of that is your fault MsPhD.

Graduate students are like so many spent cartridges professors use to shoot at a target.

I don't know why they think being an academic is absolutely the highest calling, but they all seem to, regardless of field. Perhaps it's a way of achieving academic immortality...sending the seeds of your teaching out in the world, hoping one will germinate in some fertile school.

F that. If you seek another degree, MsPHD, I recommend law, which is what I ended up doing (assuming you have some interest in patent law). The reason for this is that it is possible to get a law firm to fund your entire legal education. There's almost no way to get an MBA fully funded.

At 2:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The other day my PI told me that I should probably quit academia after this postdoc (my first one). I guess I'm one of the "not going to make it" types!?..

At 7:51 AM, Anonymous Lurker said...

Yes I agree that an MBA is risky if you need to go into a debt.

I must also say that I am biased because most of my friends are into management or engineering (I am pretty much the only science guy in the group).

I still offer my best wishes and if you have any questions about managements in particular, I'd be glad to help.

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

I am totally there as well. I am a graduate student in the sciences, and I am finding it extremely difficult to motivate myself to complete my degree. I know the economy is bad, but I can't even get a job as a gate attendent at a park part-time!! They said I "wasn't among the most highly qualified for the position". What does it take to sit at a booth and take admission??? This has happened to me for several simple, high-school-level jobs, with all of my education!!! Like one of you said, it is impossible to find research or academic jobs without some kind of connections. It is maddening that after all of that time spent in school, all of the debt I have incurred, and all the personal sacrifices I have made, that I can't find even a crappy job. Staying in school this long has cost me what REALLY matters: work experience. I feel like my parents' generation deluded me into thinking that working my ass off academically would reward me with a wonderful career in a field I enjoy. I think they fail to realize that the world has drastically changed since they were starting out in life. Anyway, just know you are not alone. It really sucks...but on a positive note: no matter what, education and better understanding of the world is something that no one can take away from us. The challenge will be to cope with working a job where no one least until things get better, or until enough "work experience" and "connections" are made to actually get what we are aiming for. It may also be important to come to terms with the idea that the latter may never maybe focus on other aspects of life that can be rewarding, such as relationships, personal hobbies, little everyday discoveries, and family. I don't know about you, but most of my professors have given up marriage and family life for their career. None of them seem happy most of the time....And the ones who do have families are unhappy because they don't get to see them much. I've been told several times it just isn't worth it. In the end, it's still a job you have to go to every day....and at all times of the night to check on your experiments....


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