We recently received an email asking the following: “I just wondered if you had any words of advice on how to manage the love/hate relationship with the current state of science career paths?”
peirama answered in a previous post. Here are a few more answers:
Danielle: I became very jaded during my PhD, it seemed like I was trapped in a low paying job that I couldn’t quit. All I could see were the problems with the field. The toxic advisors, the low pay, the uncertainty, the lack of benefits and stability. With some distance from that experience, I know that for me that was a necessary part of identifying what kind of a scientist I want to be. Being a PI and running a research group is not a realistic career option for me. I love research, but I also love my family, making a better income, and weekends. I could not commit to the protracted low-pay of the postdoc training period or the geographic uncertainty of the faculty job search. I love working with scientists on infrastructure issues and systemic issues that impact research and scholarly communication. So, I am taking my wet-lab neuroscience training and using it to work to work on systemic issues, infrastructure, and policy. When you see the flaws in a community, a system, a company, or other organization perhaps it might mean you’re in the position to do what needs to be done and improve it.*
I’m focusing on improving access scientific research and data, as well as opening access to the profession of science in the hopes of making research reproducible and making the field a realistic career option for others. Want to get inspired by all the people working for science to be an awesome, inclusive, career? I encourage you to check out VangaurdSTEM, Mozilla Science, Software and Data Carpentry, OpenCon, Rescuing Biomedical Research, Bullied into Bad Science, Future of Research, and ASAPBio. People are working for a better future for science – and you can get involved!
* I do not advise this person to continue their graduate training if it will lead to debt and stress, and if they’re not enjoying the day to day research environment (which can be quite miserable depending on the research group!). As a non-traditional student myself (started the PhD at 31), I know that I was in part proving something to myself. You can do amazing work without a PhD. You can have enormous impact on the world without a PhD. Many of the smartest and most successful people I know do not have PhDs – heck, some of them didn’t finish high school and others never went to college. This person already has a master’s degree. A Master’s degree is an awesome accomplishment. I’d encourage them to question why they feel like they need to get a PhD, why they want to continue in academia, and where they want to be in 5 years.
SweetScience: It makes me so sad to think of all the amazing talent lost due to discriminatory or even harassing work environments. As one of the rare women in science who doesn’t feel like these pervasive issues have actually affected me or my career directly, I won’t say much on this topic, but I can tell you what I do to stay on the love side of the love/hate relationship the reader mentioned. When I see writing, especially editorials in scientific journals, or hear speakers at scientific conferences calling out discriminatory practices or discussing them in any light, it makes me so happy that people are talking, labeling this as unequivocally unacceptable, and bringing it to the attention of those who need to hear it most. I try to make sure this feeling outweighs the sadness that comes along with reading the distressing stories, and to do that, I consciously remind myself that this is the beginning of the change! I also try to do everything I can (now mostly as a mentor) to support individual young women in science, again with the idea that this is the only way we can move forward from a toxic history.