After almost two year since leaving my postdoc for a job in a government lab doing forensic science, I met up with my postdoc mentor. I desperately wanted him to know how well I was doing since leaving because I had the distinct feeling that he was disappointed that I left. And, ever since I was little, I have had a desire to perform well and please people. I shouldn’t matter what he thinks of me, but that feeling never went away. And, also, I was kinda mad at our last paper-publishing interaction because of his choice to move me in the author order without consulting me. Yes, I can also be a bit prideful.
Meeting with him went surprisingly well. After getting to hear about all the new grants that he is writing, and the struggles that he has (publishing, personnel and getting funding), he finally asked about what I have been up to. I got to brag a bit about things that are valued in academia, even if they are not such a big deal in my new environment. Like how I got to be involved in some very interesting projects, and because I was in the right place at the right time, I got invited to speak at several conferences around the country – something that would have been much harder to do had I stayed in his lab. I also got to mention some crossover with teaching – like the lecture I will be giving at my alumni university about my current job.
Although it would have been nice to have maintained more contact over the last year and a half, I think that it was good to have a nice robust period of separation from my old environment and mentor. It gave me time to get on my feet in my new career, and gain some credibility at what I am doing now.
I could tell how he felt about me when he bumped me from being the first author listed on this latest publication. He has always been a bit vocal about his past trainees, while in his lab, you always knew his opinion of people. I don’t know how much talking about me that he did after I left, but I walked away from this lunch feeling a bit of triumph in that I was able to shed some reality on whatever his opinion of me was.
What I am more interested in, however, is spreading the perspective that graduate student and postdoc trainees are given more opportunity and support to explore careers other than faculty positions. There is so much need for highly trained scientists in all aspects of society, and I think that there is still a negative stigma with leaving the ivory tower. One thing that I think all of us who have branched away from the traditional academic career could do would be to keep in touch with our old mentors and let them know about the successes in our current roles – whatever those may be – from SAHM to CEO of a company. Another would be to get involved in mentoring the future generation of scientists.
What are some other ways that we can create change in graduate education, and preparing scientists for a wider range of careers?