Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A PhD outside academia

You've probably noticed I haven't Blogged much lately. That's partly due to my over analyzing what I should blog about and partly due to just being busy/lazy. I've decided I'm just going to blog about whatever strikes my fancy, be it science or not. One idea I've had, though, is to discuss my reasons for getting a PhD but not going into academia. The reasons are varied and long and lengthy, which will probably require a number of blog posts but a recent post on ScienceWoman's blog brought up some issues relevant to why I'm a PhD outside academia.

For one, I never really had a desire to be an academic. Writing grants and doing paperwork all day is not my idea of fun. So why did I do a PhD then? Well, one was pressure from my supervisor and another was solely selfishness. I wanted more from my research project I was working on than simply what I would have achieved with a Master's degree. In the end I was pleased with what I achieved and don't regret doing a PhD.

Secondly, was the desire to balance family and career. I know it's doable in academia but honestly, I want to enjoy my life and not be consumed by my work. I can be a workaholic if left to my own devices and I didn't want that kind of life and end up missing important moments with any future children I'll have.

Another reason I didn't go into academia was due to lack of mentorship/advising. Past posts point out my problems with my supervisor and being that we weren't even at the same university at the end of my degree made it difficult to get any sort of advice or mentoring from him with respect to post-docs and academic positions. Plus, although my experiences with academia were probably not the norm, it did give me a bad taste of that career option.

Lastly was location. My spouse has a job he likes and that he has been at for a while now. To ask him to move so I could do a two year or so post-doc and then move again for a job or possibly another post-doc just didn't make logical sense since I wasn't keen on being an academic anyways.

In the end we ended up staying in the same city and I now have a job I love, free time in the evenings and weekends, and a much happier life with less stress. There is, however, the internal struggle of having a PhD but not being an academic. This is mostly due to the expectation that a PhD will follow that well laid out route of PhD, post-doc, academic faculty and that anything less is consider somewhat of a failure. This is a post for another day though.


Angry Lab Rat said...

I sympathize. I left my doctoral program after one year. I took the rare route of getting my Masters at a different school first, just to broaden my options. Good thing. My PI was also horrible. I was starving, and I could see myself in the doctoral route for many more years, then postdoc-ing who knows where and how long, then asst. prof who knows where with all the requisite requirements and responsibilities. But if I left when I did, I could earn more than I would years down the line in my current track. So that's what I did, and it paid off.

Now I work at an evil global biotech company (which I blog about, in part). I don't earn as much as the Ph.D's who do the same job, and I'm hitting a glass ceiling, but I wouldn't have the house/family/lifestyle I do without having made my choice.

At least having a doctorate opens more doors for you in government, public, or private biotech.

(visit my blot, at

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