Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What's next? The Question

For those of you keeping score at home, I am approaching the 18 month mark to my expected graduation date.  In an ideal world this would mean about a year of new experiments, followed by five months of frantic writing leading up to my defense, and then several weeks of tying up loose ends.  I've never actually seen that happen but grad school legend says it's the best way to do it.  

After the fiasco of the year leading up to my candidacy, I'm beginning to feel the heat already.  I would really like to get a couple quality papers out before those 18 months pass which means I need a lot of high quality data before then.  The challenge of putting together a comprehensive thesis out of a list of experiments is intimidating and stressful.  However, as scary as writing a 100+ pages document is, I'm far more anxious about the idea of finding a job.

Normally after graduation you go from grad life to postdoc life.  I am bound and determined to take my 6 month vacation immediately post-graduation.  Twenty years of school including the last several summers and winter breaks means Julie needs some time to recharge.  I will likely be graduating in May and looking for a January start date for the next working chapter in my life. Unfortunately when I'd like all of this to happen is the easy part.  The less predictable part is where: academic or industry?, April 2, 2007
For years industrial research has been viewed as sub-par to academic research.  The Office of Graduate Education did a half-day workshop earlier this month to help disprove the stereotype.  They brought in 8 PhDs who work in industry to tell us about their experiences.  I enjoyed the panel discussion and the Q&A session afterward.  The panelists were eager to answer questions and give advise when they could.  When I compared notes with some friends afterwards we all agreed that we hadn't heard anything especially new but it was good just to hear it from people who had actually gone that route. My one complaint was they only had one woman on the panel who had already retired from industry.  She was very easy to talk to and I had a great conversation with her about the pros and cons of changing your last name as a scientist. Just the same, it would have been nice to have another woman there with a smaller age gap.  While hearing the quality science can happen in industry was reassuring, I don't feel any closer to deciding what path I want to go down.  Both directions are littered with laboratory and funding politics.  I have been told that some research questions are inherently suited for academia or industry.  I haven't figured out the difference yet but I'm willing to believe it.

I recently read a story about 5 things that can trip up your standard overachiever.  Number 4 was too many options.  Going through university I never bought that argument.  How could having choices be a bad thing?  In the last month, many of the older students in my lab have been looking at employment options.  Now we're all starting to see how have a lot of possible directions can be a hang up.  I think it's hard to focus your efforts when you have many equally good and different possibilities to go after. 

How do you choose a proverbial crossroad when they all appear equally sunny?

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