Mar 212017
time for a career change

If you’ve come across this post because your last set of experiments went to shit and your supervisor is currently being a massive paper-demanding douche, now is absolutely not the time for you to leave research. I know that it would feel awesome to march into your supervisor’s office, flip the bird, expose yourself and leave a shit in the corner of the room, but this need’s a little more thought than your last break up.

On the other hand, if you can’t get to sleep at night for thinking about ripping off your lab coat and fingering it, unceremoniously, into the vice chancellor’s bum, and you’re desperate to try something else, perhaps it is time to for an exit strategy.

This is assuming that you’ve got the time to figure something out. More than ever, post-docs are relying on short-term contracts to feed and clothe themselves. If this is you, do what you can to live – don’t make any rash decisions.

Before you start planning your exit, you have to remember that short-term disappointment, feelings of anxiety and self-negativity are normal in the research arena. They shouldn’t be, but they are. Addressing them, and seeking help if they persist, will ensure that you start your new career path in the right frame of mind and not as a way of running away from problems. Mental health issues have a way of following you wherever you go.

The start part:

You have got to where you are because there’s something you like about science. Perhaps there are things that you prefer over everything else. Maybe it’s the fact you’re teaching, writing, doing new experiments, presenting your research, learning new skills, operating fancy equipment. Whatever it is, find it and write it down. Don’t rush this part – it’ll be the foundations for your new career.


There are certain professions that will absorb science graduates in all their forms. Some even love Ph.D. graduates. Patent Attorneys, IP examiners, and R&D companies are examples of places that employ PhD graduates. If you want to use all of your skills in a new forum then this is a great option for you. If you are not sure if you’d enjoy these jobs speak to someone who’s doing one.

You could be in the “I fucking hate science in all its forms and wish I could do *insert hobby here* as a job” box. That is OK too. All we need to do at this point is identify what you enjoy doing.

The hard part:

Once you have identified what you like doing (besides wanking and injecting marijuana) you need to start doing more of those things. Simply build skills in the things you like doing.

For skills like writing, consider starting a blog (not like this one, you fucking copy cat), you could write alongside your day job for a publication in order to produce a portfolio of work. Many publications offer internships and opportunities, all you have to do is ask.

Get actual qualifications, if you can. Real paper qualifications that your mum hangs on the wall. There are plenty of masters courses, diplomas and vocational courses that you can take alongside your job, in the evenings for example. Like I said, it won’t be easy, but it is completely doable. And, if you like what you are doing, you’ll make time for it.

If you want to turn your hobby into a job, start small. One day/evening a week and see how you go. The important question when turning a hobby into a job is: Do you actually like it as a job or do you prefer it as a hobby? It’s fine that it’s the latter, now you know.


Start making contacts in jobs you may want to do. Sneak your way into their office by asking for a discussion about their profession. Everyone I’ve asked is more than happy to help. Once they’ve seen that you aren’t a psycho, and you don’t have sticky hands, you’ve made a new professional friend that may help you in the future.

The scary part:

After a while, apply for those dream jobs with the new skills you’ve gained. If the answer is no, ask why. Put that academic thick skin to work and think of it as professional peer-review. You may not like what you hear but it’ll make sure you are focused on the skills that your dream job needs.


It’s rare that as one job finishes your next begins. You may find yourself having to take a leap into the unknown. If you’ve done the hard part, it’ll be way less scary. Leverage your networks, let them know about your new availability, get a mentor and be open to new opportunities. These things, along with some good old fashioned hard work, will eventually pay off and you’ll be on your way to a brand new career.

What’s your story? Do you have any advice for leaving research?

Further reading:

Young researchers thrive in life after academia

Is academia a happier life than a life in industry?

Why So Many Academics Quit and Tell

The ‘system’ failed me. It should have failed me sooner.


Nov 012016

Occupational health and safety (OH&S) essentially provides science and research with unsolicited parental advice. That is, something you hate hearing, never really listen to but know you should’ve when things go wrong and you end up with gravel rash, bloody knees and snot running into your mouth. Every university has a dedicated OH&S Nazi who’s just itching for their phone to ring so they can rush to the lab, clipboard in hand, and explain in intimate detail all the things you have done, and will do wrong.

My opinion of OH&S has softened over the years. Of course, people should expect to go to work and return home with all of their important bits unchanged or improved (limbs, face, and reproductive organs). It seems the easiest way to ensure scientists remain safe is to keep them occupied with 2 days worth of paperwork so they’re not in the lab, which is where most of the accidents happen. Instead, they can sit at their desks and fill out forms which, never have enough space for the chemical you want to use (this one takes 3.5 hours to say out loud and someone has actually read the whole thing). Oh…and to sit at their desks and fill out forms, researchers need to fill out a form so they can sit at their desks and fill out forms safely.

Every field of research has the standard lab safety requirements. In chemistry, we have rules that every swimming pool attendee would know such as, no running, no splashing, no heavy petting and no bombs. A science lab is full of really fun and potentially dangerous tools and equipment. There are, however, some other rules that take all of your effort not to break. And if you’re a scientist and haven’t thought about breaking them, you’ve actually broken them. (I take no responsibility for injuries caused by this post).

Don’t spray stuff on people

Lab solvent bottles

If I had to design a water fight side arm or handgun, I’d design it exactly like a solvent bottle that you’d find in nearly every lab in the world. There’s nothing more tempting than to have a solvent bottle full of water and a friend/colleague who needs to look like they’ve wet themselves. The danger is that you’ll pick up the wrong squirt bottle and dissolve their pubes.


No sitting in the lab

Now, imagine this: You have been in the lab for 6 hours, your lab partner has just screwed up a part of the experiment and no-one has noticed your awesome new shoes. Go on, take a seat:


NOPE, fuck you and your squished buttocks – no sitting in the lab. Well, at the very least you’re not allowed to sit while someone important is looking. The risk being that you may spill something on your pant area and dissolve your pubes.

Do not get naked and use the safety showers

If you do spill something, labs also contain safety showers to wash away any chemicals. Although there’s no specific rule stopping you from doing this, don’t pretend that you haven’t wanted to sneak into the lab at night and have a proper soapy shampoo shower while the creepy, racist security guard watches. You sick bastard.

To overcome these inappropriate urges, fill out a standard operating procedure and watch as your will to live slowly fades…

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Oct 182016
Poop pillow shapes like an emoji

Just like every job in life, science relies on people talking to each other while struggling to uphold the unwritten code of professional etiquette. This means you’re not allowed to openly call the other person a “self-serving fucktard”, but you are allowed to think it and smile whilst imagining what it would look like if you set their hair alight and put it out with vomit.

In no other part of science is this unwritten code tested to its limits than between a supervisor and “their” student/postdoc/lab monkey. At the beginning of a science career, supervisors appear to be all-knowing, Qantas Club frequenting, vessels of facts and knowledge. After a couple of years of working under their guidance it becomes apparent that, for the most part, they are just better practiced at sounding like they know what they are talking about while having no real understanding of where the lab is and how long it takes to do that “quick experiment”. Looking deep into their eyes will reveal self-doubt and panic also found just before trusting a fart during a bout of food poisoning.

Just below the surface of every demanding supervisor is an overworked and love-poor shell of a person who can’t remember what it is like to have someone say “well done”. Here are some excellent ways to ensure that your non-sexual (hopefully) relationship with different types of supervisors is in tip top shape.

The control freak

This supervisor is fucking insane. It’ll get to the point where you start to suspect that if they hadn’t done science they’d be a serial killer. You’ll receive emails about work stuff at 2 am and they’ll expect you to do the same – don’t. They’ll want to know the intimate details of everything you have done, will do and are thinking about doing. Remind this supervisor that you are not them by wearing a mask of their face and removing it in front of them. This way they’ll see that you are a completely different person (NOTE: Do not attempt if you look like your supervisor).

Mr/Ms hands off

You have to be the psycho ex-partner in this relationship. Hassle them every day, night and afternoon. Don’t expect that paper draft you’ve given them to be taken home or even leave their desk. If you want something done, conduct a quiet but firm protest in their office until it is done – they will lie about having plans to complete the task. This supervisor doesn’t want anything to do with you or your project but gets a kick from telling their friends they have students.

Tired international traveler

Be prepared to conduct your student-supervisor relationship over email. The good thing is, just like an intimate internet relationship, you can lie about how much you care about your own personal hygiene. A mix with one of the previous two types can be a disaster waiting to happen. To ensure smooth sailing with this type of supervisor, email regularly and make the most of their time in the department. Having a second supervisor that is scared of air travel will also help.

The one who is as surprised as you that they are a supervisor

This supervisor is one of the lucky ones. They are the product of right-place, right-time career success and know it. This person will be the very best of what a supervisor can be as they genuinely sense the looming University restructure and need you on their side. Sometimes this supervisor can be a little too friendly, the result of a recent divorce and youth spent doing science. They’re not harmful, but politely remind them that they are not invited to your party on the weekend and no-one remembers who Duran Duran is.


Navigating around interpersonal storms will become a well practiced and valuable skill should you decide to submit to a career in science. If everything else fails and the relationship falls apart you can always poo in their office when they’re on an international trip.


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