Archive for: January, 2017

Your boss can’t always be your mentor

“You shouldn’t be afraid to tell your boss exactly what you want to do for your next step – it’s their job to mentor you,” is the advice I have given many people, particularly grad students and postdocs who decide they want to pursue careers other than strictly academic research but are afraid to tell their bosses. And now under similar circumstances myself, I have become very hesitant about what information to give my boss about my career plans. I see all the reasons that people would not want to be upfront with their bosses.

  1. I don’t want to get fired. If my boss thinks that I’m no longer right for this job, or the kind of person they want to train, they could just let me go.
  2. As far as I can tell, my boss is not interested in mentoring me for a career outside of academic research.
  3. I don’t want to appear flaky or uncertain. Mostly for reason #1, but also because I still want to be able to count on good letters of recommendation if needed.

At the same time though, there are reasons I should talk to my boss about this.

  1. I could use some advice, mentoring, and maybe even connections or referrals, and I still believe it is part of a boss’ job to provide those things.
  2. I don’t want to waste any more of our time or energy applying for research and training grants, if that is not a direction that will help my career.
  3. Doing so may actually push me to move out into the career I want – even if it was because I got fired.

Plus, I just prefer to be open and honest and I’m sure my boss would prefer that as well. So I will try to first get some mentoring outside of my boss, come up with a game plan for my next career steps, ideally a plan that includes a clear reason why my current position is valuable for my future, and then open up to my boss about it.

With this new perspective, I completely understand why people would not want to be completely open with their bosses, and I apologize for acting like it was so clear cut. That said, as many before me have noted, I do think that most PIs need to be more aware that the majority of trainees are not going to end up as PIs like them, and be open to the many career possibilities that appeal to PhDs. And let’s be honest, your PI probably can’t be a great mentor to you when you’re pursuing a career outside of academia, the only path they’ve traveled, an you’ll want to find another more helpful mentor anyway.

2 responses so far

Resolutions 2017

Jan 03 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

Happy New Year! 2016 was a little rocky, but just like any year it had its ups and downs and we have all learned something about ourselves. Here are some of our goals for the upcoming year. Please share yours in the comments!

peírama: My goals for this year are 3-fold – professional, personal, and civic.

Professional: Like last year I want to make progress in gaining confidence. I think this confidence will help me understand what I want to do professionally going forward and give me the courage to try out career options.

Personal: With some recent stresses I’ve lapsed into a routine of eating a lot of sweets and only doing a minimal exercise routine. I think I will feel better if I get myself a little healthier. So my specific goal is to reduce my dessert intake and increase my cross-training.

Civic: Everyone says that 2017 has to be better than 2016, but I find it hard to imagine given our incoming president. In light of that, my goal is to make a consistent effort to have a positive impact in my community and in my country. I’m meeting with someone this week about volunteering for Planned Parenthood and I’d like to get better about following through with the weekly call to action.

SweetScience: My only big goal for work is to transition to a new job, but there are a lot of elements of that I want to work on to the best of my ability

  • Learn and negotiate the best path to making my dream job materialize
  • Improve my interview skills
  • Decide with my partner what jobs we can each accept, and how to make the transition timing work in a way that will be the best for our family as a whole
  • Gracefully transition out of my current position without shirking my duties

And yet again, I need to make taking care of my health and sleep a top priority. My personal goal is to improve my relationships with my extended family, since feel like I dropped the ball in 2016 when I was stuck focusing on my own issues. My first step toward this will be to plan at the beginning of the year how to schedule birthday gifts for my nieces and nephews and others. After I survive the transition to a new job, I want to start doing meaningful service in my new community and connecting with people there. Until then, I don’t see myself being able to spend time in service, so I will plan to donate money to local and national organizations, and continue to support charities when asked for donations.


  • Even though I have been at my job for a few years, there is still a lot that I don’t know. I need to keep gathering more information and perspective.
  • Contribute to the positive atmosphere and professional interactions in the lab, and don’t let myself get worked up about the negative things.
  • Keep up with scientific literature.
  • Read my baby a book every night.
  • Notice racism and sexism and be vocal about it.  
  • Go on at least one hike every month
  • Camping trips!
  • Don’t eat french fries.


For 2017 my big goal is to have this baby (due in April) and learn how to be a mom!  I’m so excited but I also know that we have a TON to learn.  Tips and tricks would be much appreciated.

At work, I need to try to become more ok with accepting help.  I’ve been setting up a huge 7 month experiment that will start tomorrow… so obviously I’m not going to be able to finish it up before the baby arrives.  Luckily, I have a great team and my boss is being great (and has had kids so he is making sure that I don’t try to do too much too late in my pregnancy).  I also don’t want to let work slide.  I want to make sure that I’m still on track with my career and pushing myself to keep growing academically.  We’ll see if I can do it all.


This year, I was pregnant most of the year, had a new baby and was on leave for the remainder of the year. Because of that, my classroom teaching has entailed mostly reusing what I did the year before. My goal this year is to change my curriculum and infuse it with more research based labs (maybe adding a zebrafish research project??!). Lastly, I’d like to start to establish a long term career trajectory. I want to figure out what I’m working towards. Is my goal to be the best classroom teacher I can be? Or am I headed in a different eventual direction? I also want to settle into this chaotic life as a family of 4!

5 responses so far