Monday, June 24, 2013

Tell Me What to Do With My Life

Sup Internet.  I need your help.  I'm a grad student, which means, in the words of Marge Simpson, that I've "made a terrible life choice".  Ha ha! Ha. Ha....

Anyway, I promise I don't really spend all that much time angsting about The Future because being stressed annoys me.  Still, The Future cometh and I've decided to do one thing every Monday about it.  And what could be more productive than online ranting?

So here's the roster of supposed career options for folks in my boat:

If PhD not completed either for reasons of sucking or quitting,
  1. Leave with a Masters I guess?
  2. Do... something.
If PhD completed,

Postdoc.  Noooooooooo... maybe?  So, academia.  I've found a lot to dislike about going into Research Academia.  Mainly the usual gripe about the horrible odds of getting a job in a reasonable time frame in a place you want to live and having to negotiate moving all around the country during the postdoc years with your SO and potentially making young children move all over as well and yeah.  And grantwriting booo.  The way I see it, you have to really REALLY love doing science to put up with all that.  I like learning science, but I definitely don't love DOING it enough to put myself through all that.  On the other hand, maybe if an opportunity opened up to work on the right project I might consider a postdoc...

Teaching Academia.  I think I could be a decent teaching professor.  No real basis for that other than my own gut feeling, the fact that I have some family history of teachers, and that I prefected a class in undergrad once and more or less enjoyed it and got good reviews.  On my super-confident days, I like the idea.  Most days though it's pretty meh.  Like research, I don't think I particularly care enough about teaching to go through the exact same rigamarole of postdoc-ing and traveling all over the place and the tenure games and whatnot.

Science Writing.  Ha! I once toyed with this idea, then quickly saw that this is not something one pursues as a career.  It pays super-crappy, and has even fewer spots open at the top.  Again, I'd have to be WAY more passionate about writing to go into this.  Also I'd have to learn to write good.

Industry.  Stereotypically, I have very little clue about what "industry" is like.  I'm in neuroscience, for which there are two basic forms: pharma and computational.  I am neither computationally-inclined nor interested in molecular biology so...  Also I hear these jobs are dried up as well?  Can anyone confirm/deny?  And is it as soul-sucking as people say or does everyone in it find a way to reach happiness equilibrium anyway?

Consulting.  I guess you go around fixing people's problems or something?  I don't mind the short project-oriented nature of it, but I'm not really in a mood to have a job that requires traveling away from home all the time.

Government.  I dunno what this is either.  I guess you can write/review grants for a living?  Yay!  No.


Okay folks, that's the list.  As you can see, I'm very good at finding problems with my options and shooting them down (are there careers that reward pessimistic rationalization?).  Unfortunately, this has resulted in the elimination of all the career paths I know about that actually "require" the degree which I'm working towards.  This is where you help:

What can I do that's not on this list?

If you could just figure that out for me, that would be great. Right now, I'm leaning towards Winning the Lottery or Just Sort of Floating Along and Getting Lucky as I Go as the most optimal career paths. 

Also, you should know that I have taken those career aptitude tests and whatnot and found that I'm supposed to either be a farmer or go into forestry.  So I suppose there's always that.


  1. Feel your pain.

    I interviewed for a great neuro industry job... not pouring thing after thing on fake cells, but actually doing imaging/phys. So those are out there, but maybe more in the startup realm than big pharma? Who knows. It's the only job like that I ever saw.

    Consulting is just pretending to give a shit about what your client gives a shit about and then telling them what their decisions should be about shit they are too scared to decide or don't want accountability for themselves. I did a bit of this pre-PhD. It can be fun.

    I like being a postdoc, but if you aren't going for an academic career there is no point.

  2. In the most general sense possible, consider the question: what do you like to do?

    1. Yeah I've done that... It just doesn't come that easy to me. If it did, I wouldn't be whining on the internet. Well. I know in a general sense what mix of tasks I like to do, but it's not like I've known since I was a little kid that I wanted to be X and X alone.

    2. "yeah I've done that..." LOL
      indeed. indeed.

  3. What about teaching community college? You wouldn't need to post doc, etc.

    1. It's something to look into I s'pose, but I hear scary things about what they're doing with tenured positions at cc's (i.e., getting rid of them.) But that's only rumors I guess, I should do more actual research.

  4. i'm currently an ABD PhD canidate and I can recommend myIDP enough! go to (, it's hosted thru science mag. it's the of science careers. basically it has you rank your skills from bench science to theoretical including writing etc... AND rank things you value in a job (team work? writing? solitary confinement?) then it matches you and gives options to learn about careers other than the big 3 we all have heard about. i think there are ~60+ careers you can do with a PhD in science.

    it's not a solution, but it might be helpful. cheers and good luck

  5. You may be shortchanging "government." You have a lot of different agencies with many different missions. Quite often, you find openings in agencies you would not expect.

    We had one biology master's student get hired by the state Department of Transportation. What does Department of Transportation need biologists for? If the agency is going to build a road, they need to do environmental assessment to ensure they're not building in the middle of critical habitat for endangered species, say.

    I've talked to some in government positions who enjoy the service aspect of their job, because they believe they are doing work that makes a difference and solves real problemsn

  6. Great post. Reminds me of me eight years ago while doing a phd in neuro. Took the float along and get lucky option. Still waiting for the lucky bit.