The fork in the road

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Sorry everyone! There has been a gap between posts due to the fact that I had a big decision to make……

It continues on from my earlier post on grieving for your career, and the article in Nature Blogs. I finally found a job, not as a researcher but as a medical writer. A good job utilising my hard-wrought skills from my time as a researcher and PhD.

But even though I was ready for a change and I was excited to start on a new path, I still felt guilt, and shame. Why, you ask? I felt that I was giving up on trying to maintain a research career, that I had failed as a post doc or as a career researcher. This is despite the fact that I have been at the bench for more than 15 years! I felt that people who were still in research, successful researchers and academics, would look down upon me and judge me, or view my change in career as selling out…

To make matters worse, after I had started my new job, I got offered a senior researcher position at a good institute, in a good lab…Now what was I going to do?

I spent more than two weeks agonising over the decision. Do I move back to my country of birth, but to another city? Do I start all over again, setting myself up, making new friends? The project was so appealing, and it would my project, one that I could grow with.

What was the catch, you ask? It came down to the insecurity of funding in research, and the length of the contracts. Faced with the permanent position that I had just accepted, in an industry that also has a lot of potential for growth, a short-term contract paled in comparison. Oh, but it was a tough decision! I love being at the bench, and I love Australia, but I love writing and communication, and I love Paris…Finally, I ended up talking to a therapist to help me work through the decision.

This was actually more beneficial than I thought. The therapist identified patterns in what I said and thought about myself, regarding my identity and where I fit in the world. I have always seen myself as a scientist, and getting the PhD made me feel like I was part of an elite group. Deciding to change careers made me feel like I was losing a part of myself, and that maybe I wasn’t ‘special’ anymore. But, I am and will always be a scientist. The therapist pointed out that the way I think, and the way that I approach problems is because of my time as a scientist. He commented that my identity won’t change just because I am not at the bench…!

My new job is very science-heavy. I do just as much writing and literature searches as before, except I am not at the bench.

It seems to me that researchers and scientists often forget that there are alternate careers that utilise our skills. Junior researchers, PhD students and post docs are more than aware of it, but moving into an alternate career requires mentoring. something that often, albeit not always, is lacking. This is why when we are unemployed, we have no idea how to find these other careers. Leaving research is often not considered, and sometimes feels like it is not encouraged unless it is because a lab head thinks you ‘won’t make it‘.

There is that toxic phrase again!

Final Thought

So what is the moral of this rambling prose? Buried deep in the writing, somewhere, is the thought that we scientists should not feel ashamed or guilty for leaving research to pursue other careers! whether we realise it or not, we have been shaped by our time in research, and this is what makes us desirable candidates for many jobs.

I’m not saying these jobs are easy to find. It took me 6 months, a lot stress and internet searches to find my job, but there are other options. It is about time that there was more support for helping people leave research without making them feel embarrassed or like failures.

End of rambling prose.

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