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.

NETWORK YOUR FUCKING ARSE OFF.

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.

 

Jul 052016
 
full time part time road sign

Have you ever sat in work, looked out the window and thought “I wish I didn’t have basic human desires, like eating, mating and bitching about Ken in accounts, so I could just do my jobs 24 hours a day”? we’ve all been there. If the answer is no that’s mental, read on…

The typical scientific working week comprises at least 5 days (or 40 hours) worth of work. Although, many academics and scientists work as if their success depends on not seeing or interacting with another human being – unless it’s through email. That work can consist of hands-on research, writing for angry reviewers or the physical pantomime of productivity whilst not actually getting anything done. For those that aren’t strict with their time, the pressures of an academic appointment can start eating its way into weekends, holidays and time sat watching Netflix, drinking wine, multi-screen Facebook stalking and taking pictures of your dog or cat in adorable positions.

For the past 2 years, I have been a part-time scientist and this is why you should consider it too:

  • People get jealous of your “every weekend is a long weekend” lifestyle.
  • I have been using Fridays to do the things I really enjoy, which includes being in my underwear for large parts of the day, pretending I’m a pirate and also editing for the best podcast on earth (yet to be recognised as such) Publish, Perish or Podcast.
  • I am learning new things (video editing, a new language and how to convince my partner I did NOT eat most of the chocolate), although not directly related to my day job, they’ve all been used in my job at some point…

The strange thing is, despite my extra underwear time I feel just as good at my job, more creative while I’m in work and Mondays now feel like a Tuesday, Tuesdays feel like a Wednesday, Wednesdays feel like a Wednesday and Thursday feels like a Wednesday. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are rolled into an orgy of cafes, beer and writing shit for the internet and invited contributions to things (yes, despite this blog people still invite me to write stuff – I don’t understand either).

When I first asked to go part-time in my previous job my boss looked worried. Supportive, but worried. That is, until I said that the day would be used to follow my science communication desires. So, if you are going to ask your boss if you can go part-time, make up something that sounds productive. That way they feel good about the decision even if you are planning to stay at home and see how many clothes pegs you can cram onto your genitalia before passing out.


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Apr 112016
 

Ask any scientist how their research is going and, after they have stopped day dreaming about what it would be like to have a stable job, you’ll normally get an answer which alludes to “I’m dead inside and there aren’t enough drugs in my body for me to be able to lie to you” or put another way “fine thanks”.

Scientific progress is slow, painful (at least for those at the lab bench) and sometimes soul destroying.  Scientists will spend days/months/years repeating failed experiments or conducting iterations of the same experiment just so they can publish that next paper. Just like a slot machine, with enough persistence and luck, science will occasionally reward you with a payout. The payout takes the form of a piece of data that you can take to your supervisor and shout in their face “THERE IT IS, IS THIS WHAT YOU WANTED?” to which they will respond “why are you in my house so late and who let you in?”

Why then, if failure is one of the main themes of science, do we not build resilience into our budding scientists? Even undergraduate experiments are set up to always succeed. This does nothing to actually prepare young people for a career as a scientist. All this teaches prospective scientists is that science is fun and always works – ask any PhD student what they think of science and I am certain that the word fun will not feature. Science is rewarding, sure, but most of the time it is definitely not fun in the same way liquid nitrogen ice cream is. So, can we not change the message from science is fun to science is rewarding? We have done it with sport; we tell kids all the time that sportsmanship is about being a gracious loser and not chucking a tantrum or referring to the other team as stinky poo faces.

It is therefore very important that science outreach teams and undergraduate experiments feature failure in their activities. However, the failures shouldn’t be highlighted as something bad, but rather as a way of getting students to problem solve. That way, if they decide to take the red pill and enter the lab as a research scientist they’ll be ready for some of the harsh realities of scientific research and beat all those over stinky poo face scientists.

 

Mar 292016
 

My nameRita-Colon-Urban-Old Westbury-Biology-Professor is Dr Nettles. I have a PhD in Biomolecular Science and an undergraduate degree in Biology and Literature. My mum said that I needed to do a “real degree” so I choose biology even though my true passions are roller derbies and Cornetto™ ice cream. I chose literature as a double degree since it distracted me enough to avoid impure thoughts about boys. That is a rule that I impose on myself and doesn’t originate from a position of religious indoctrination. As I always tell my students: “one cannot become a professor whilst constantly thinking about thick muscular fingers”.

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