There is life after academia! – part 1

I know I have been absent lately. My last blogpost was 7 months ago! And also I have not been very active on twitter as well… But those months were very stressful ones, and I usually tend to shut down and hide from discussing my problems. I believe everybody knows that our grant was not renewed and I was unemployed for 4 months…

I don’t know exactly when I started to change my mind about leaving academia. Actually I think it was a mix of things that lead me out of it. There was a lot of frustration after tons of academic job applications (that require a lot of work!) and interviews that didn’t turned into a job offer. On twitter I could see how almost everybody seems to be struggling to succeed. Writing several grants every grant cycle (!) with little success rate. Along with that, our grant money actually ended, and I could not afford to be unemployed. Luckily I moved into a friend’s house and had limited expenses. But still, I send money to my parents back in home country every month. And although I had some savings, they wouldn’t last forever.

As a green card holder, I could apply for unemployment benefits in my state. However, in order to receive the benefits, you need to apply to several jobs per week. As I had been applying for academic jobs for a while, there wasn’t many out there that I could apply. That’s when I started to look out of the box. What else was I qualified to do and also would bring me some personal and monetary compensation? Google was my friend, and also twitter. Networking is really the key for success. You would be amazed how people are willing to help!

The first step when applying for non-academic jobs is transforming your CV into a resume. People outside academia don’t have time to go through those several pages of abstracts, publications and teaching experience. That being said, your resume should have 1 or 2 pages top. And most of your value should be in the first page. Man, that was tough! I should write another blogpost only describing my experience with that. Also, you need to tailor your resume for the job you’re applying, in a similar way you do with their cover letter. After a couple of months, I had several resumes: resume_industry, resume_MSL, resume_state labs, resume_sales… But you cannot forget LinkedIn! It’s the easier way to have your resume in the internet, and people outside academia use it a lot! (I probably should write another blogpost about LinkedIn as well)

Months went by and I kept applying for jobs and networking. Talking to people in other careers helped me a lot to separate what I could do from what I absolutely wouldn’t enjoy doing. Also, made me think about my strengths and what I’m good at. I realized I didn’t want to be tied to a desk. As a very social person, I love dealing with people! But I also love research, and SCIENCE! Talking to a sales rep that is a great friend, he asked me if I was applying for sales job positions and I said no. As a scientist, a sales job didn’t seem “academic” enough. And I am terrible at pushing people to do anything, even worse if I need to push them to buy something that it’s unnecessary or expensive! But he did not give up, and set me informal interviews with several of his sales rep friends. Some of them had a master, even a PhD. I started to accept the idea and to apply for sales jobs.

That’s when I’ve got a message in LinkedIn asking for an interview. It was for a sales job, and although it seemed interesting, I didn’t put a lot of faith on it. They wanted someone to sell analytical instruments for a big company and they asked for experience. I seriously never thought I’d get the job, as I’m not a chemist and have no experience in sales! But my first phone interview was somewhat magical. I was very sincere in my limited experience and in being uncomfortable doing empty sales. But as the conversation went by and the details of the job were described, I started to enjoy the idea of doing it! The second interview with the other partner was much easier. I had done my homework and was able to ask all the questions I had and to speak my mind. They really liked me and in little time I’ve got an offer! They offered me a hybrid salary, a base salary (that’s almost the same amount I was doing as a PD) plus commission on sales. So in my mind, if I’m terrible at this job, at least I can pay my bills and live comfortably!

Now I’m working with this group for almost 2 months. We are a third party-seller for a couple of companies. I feel I finally found something that seemed to combine all my requirements for happiness in a new job outside academia. Yes, I am still seated in a desk during most of the day, but I have to travel and meet new people from time to time. I love to talk about science and now I spend most of my time in the phone with researchers, trying to understand their work and helping them to find the right equipment for them. It’s really easier when you don’t have to do empty calls and they actually need your product! This past weekend I finally emptied my office at the University. Although it did hurt to wipe everything off and leave almost 20 years of academia behind, I am happy with my job and the path my life has taken. Indeed, there’s life after academia, and I’m enjoying it a lot 🙂

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Visiting Professor Opportunity in a SLAC. Worth taking it?

Today was one of those days that I’m really glad to be on twitter and have awesome followers! All started when I had my weekly skype meeting with my collaborator and we talked about a possible 1-year visiting professor position at the SLAC where she teaches. Then I posted this tweet, and you can follow all the input that I’ve got from there all day long:

After talking (and thinking) about it during this whole day I believe I can write down my thoughts so far. Most of the people said “Apply anyways, you can always decide later if you take the job or not”. This would be true, if this was not a position in a place where I have a strong collaborator (and friend), where I’ve taught the last two springs, and personally know the chair. If I eventually apply and get this job, I can’t turn it down, unless I get a permanent offer. If our grant is not renewed, the decision becomes much easier – a job is much better than no job. Period. However, our grant is very close to the payline and there’s still hope it will be funded.

But even if the grant is funded, should I stay here? I’ve been in this lab for 7 years, clearly doing research that’s not competitive enough for getting grants. I’ve been doing much of the same and not being able to grow (research-wise) at all. My R03 was not discussed because I’m a senior PD with no strings attached to the University. My PI said that if our grant is renewed, I would be promoted to research staff and then I could re-apply for my R03 grant. But there’re no guarantees that it will get funded and even if it does, I don’t think it would make my CV improve that much in order to be realistically competitive for a TT position in a R01 Institution.

I really don’t want to give up academia and research. And I really enjoy teaching, so a position in a SLAC looks appealing to me. However, despite having some experience teaching here and then, I was never fully responsible for a course and that’s a big gap in my CV when applying for SLACs. So staying here in the same lab will not improve this, unless I find some teaching side-job in a community college around here. Most of the comments on twitter were positive about applying to the temporary position to get teaching experience and improve my CV, if ultimate goal is to apply for SLACs positions.

Of course, I don’t even know if I’ll get the job to begin with. But it’s good to be forced to think about it, because in the end of the day it’s not about this job in particular, but where I want to go with my life! So far, the pro’s of applying are that I’ll get more experience teaching and will have a more competitive CV after that year. I could use this year to doing another PD somewhere else, but I believe the research hole in my CV (no grants or glam pubs to get a regular TT position) is much harder to fill than the teaching deficiency (needed for a SLAC position).

On the other hand, there are several things that terrifies me. First, the SLAC is in a tiny town (7000 ppl). I am really a city person, and for me, the bigger, the better. I’m currently single and usually I stay home 2-3 nights per week. Simply cannot stay one whole day at home and crave for social interaction all the time. I know getting this job would mean a LOT of work and this will probably slow me down for a while. But I know how miserable I get when I don’t go out and have social interactions. I know small town doesn’t mean that I won’t have social opportunities, but the idea of living in such a tiny place scares me. A lot. And I’m not talking about being not confortable about it, I’m worried about getting depressed and not able to make it. I had 2 experiences when I tried to spend a weekend out of civilization and had panic attacks. Literally, I cannot take silence, green and peaceful environment. It sounds weird, but that’s exactly how I am.

Then you may say, it’s only for 1 year, it will pass so fast you won’t even notice it! True. But then comes my second point. Regardless my professional life, I still have dreams of finding a partner and having kids. I’m almost 40 yo now, and in my mind, spending this year in a temporary position means to literally give up any dream that I still have of having a family. And last, as I said, it’s a temporary position. What are the real chances of getting a real TT position in a SLAC after that year is done? I’d be applying for new jobs after being there for 3-4 months, and interview process would be in the middle of that crazy year.

I believe I covered everything I wanted to say. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it!

2nd #DiversityJC recap

For those who don’t know, the idea to create a #DiversityJC (a twitter journal club discussion around #diversity in #STEM) was born of twitter interactions between Emily Klein (@DrEmilySKlein), Jonathan Goaya (@jkgoya), and myself (@Doctor_PMS). You can read more about it here. For our first #DiversityJC we discussed the paper that started the conversation and it was a great discussion (recap)! For this second #DiversityJC we chose a more general article by Kenneth Gibbs (@KennyGibbsPhD), describing what is diversity more broadly and why it matters in science and STEM fields. I was gladly surprised by the number of people that joined our discussion, I barely could keep up with my feed! There was a lot going on, so I’m going to try to focus on the main points in this recap.

As a heterogeneous group, many issues were brought up in the beginning of the discussion. Beth Hellen (@PhdGeek) stated the importance of having people who make determined efforts to promote diversity, Dr. Wrasse (@labroides) pointed out the loss of smart people from the academy when only traditional groups are supported, with big implications in conservation because we are closing doors to people from biodiverse countries. Emily Klein (@DrEmilySKlein) commented on the serious issue of meritocracy in academia (that is, the idea that diversity can be ignored because those that are best at science will still rise like cream to the top). Importantly, @PhdGeek pointed out the comments of the article, where it seems many people don’t recognize the issue as a problem “we need deportation programs”.

Exactly. “So if the answer is increasing diversity, can we do that through recruiting more diverse applicants into programs?” (@labroides). This is one option. Other alternatives suggested were diversity training at work (@MicroWavesSci), mentoring programs for minorities (@Doctor_PMS), target grant-writing seminars, fellowships for diverse peoples aim to prepare women and POC (@AlyciaPhD), on-paper diversity (@jkgoya), and more formal hiring criteria (@PhdGeek). Perhaps formalized diversity committees in Institutions. Of course, hiring is one end of the pipeline. “Problem has to be tackled at an earlier stage than job search” (@CoralReefFish).

Another point was  the importance of a good mentor. “Potential mentors should be approaching minorities, not wait to be approached” (@mccullermi). The importance of having a role model, teaching not only skills but also demonstrating passion for research. To this end, we also needmentoring training, as well as diversity training.

Our second Diversity Journal Club made clear we all cared about this issue, and had a lot to say. The take home message I believe it’s that “Diversity needs to be seen as mission-critical, not as an add-on” (@AlyciaPhD).

Please feel free to contact me to be added to the #DiversityJC twitter list. And here is the article for our next #DiversityJC on October 17th, 11EST: Diversity at 100: women and underrepresented minorities in the ESA. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 434–436 from Kate Boersma (@kateboersma). All are welcome to join!

Thanks to all participants: Emily Klein (@DrEmilySKlein), Jonathan Goaya (@jkgoya), Beth Hellen (@PhdGeek), Dr. Wrasse (@labroides), Cheng H. Lee (@chenghlee), Rhiannon Jeans (@PositronicNet), Laura Williams (@MicroWavesSci), Alycia Mosley Austin (@AlyciaPhD), Rebecca Weinberg (@sciliz), albatrossphd (@albatrossphd), Luiz Rocha (@CoralReefFish), Megan McCuller (@mccullermi), Wes Wilson (@WesleyWilson), Cara Fiore (@clfiore1).

Existential Crisis

I don’t know exactly how it started, but suddenly I started to feel very unmotivated. Twitter is awesome because you meet so many friends willing to help, but also can bring your mood down when you have access to so much information… Talking to a friend on Skype I learned about the RU/VH type of University and went to check my 10 applications. 9 out of 10 are in RU/VH institutions. Then I saw this on twitter:

@AntiLabUCF From our latest search: top candidates ave: ~4 yrs post doc, 17.5 pubs, 1-2 PNAS/Sci/Nat, 5-10+ 1st author, $, fit job descript

Then I felt like... Fuck. I’m nowhere near this description, I have 8 years of PD, 15 publications and none of them in glam journals. No funding yet (although I submitted my very first R03 – low expectations). From the 10 applications I’m submitting only one is a perfect fit. Meh. It’s going to be hard to get a job this season… So I was talking to @IHStreet on Twitter and he told me he was giving up the idea of getting a TT position because he was choosing LIFE! And although our conversation put a bug in his head (see his blog post here), he also put a big big bug into my head! Is this really what I want for my life? This craziness of writing grants no stop, of having to adapt your research to something more appealing, the paranoid of becoming tenure…

I realized I spent too much time of my PD years just focused on personal life and not caring about what I wanted professionally. It’s not that I didn’t know where I wanted to go, but I was just waiting to see what was going to happen. When I finally woke up it was already kind of too late. Now I am trying to fill the holes of my CV, but as Jack Bauer would say “I’m running out of time”! And to put the cherry on the top, in our last lab meeting our PI told me and the other PDs to start looking for jobs because he thinks that our R01 has little chance to be renewed. The alternative would be to bring new things to our grant. New techniques! But for that we need preliminary data but we don’t have a lot of time or money. So it feels like we have no way out.

And now I start to freak out because I’ll probably be jobless in an year from now. And although I really think I want my own lab, where I can have my students and do my research, I feel like it’s a fairy tale that it’s not going to happen. IHStreet also mentioned that 80% of PDs will not end up in tenure track jobs. And now I regret that I didn’t apply to all those tiny teaching positions of my list. Time to look for alternatives? I believe in the end I know that I still want a TT position. I just wished that it was easier to get one and to have a life along with it!