Adventures of a Postdoc

December 14, 2007

Too far in?

I started watching Dirty, Sexy Money on ABC because I grew up with one of the actors on the show.  Turns out, it’s a pretty good show and it’s one of only 2 shows I watch regularly (the other being The Office).

Incidently, my favorite character on the show isn’t the person I grew up with.  It’s Brian, the reverend in the family.  I like him the best because he’s not fake, which is unfortunately how I view most religious people.  He doesn’t act like he’s better than anyone, and he doesn’t act righteous only to do things behind closed doors that are not only immoral but downright illegal.  He swears, he has sex with his ex-wife, and he once told a little girl she’d go to hell if she pissed God off.  If more reverends were like him, I’d be a regular at church.

Recently, Brian had thoughts of leaving the churchhood after a series of misfortunes.  When asked why he was a minister in the first place, he replied he wasn’t sure.  He was interested in it, studied it, and what else could he do now that he had chosen that path?

If that sounds familiar, it should.  That’s how most people, including myself, end up where they are.  They choose something that interests them (i.e. a major) and that becomes their career.  Most people are unhappy with their jobs, but feel they’ve committed too much time and effort to start something else.  The saying that you’re never too old to start a new career…that’s bullshit.  There comes a point where you have a spouse, kids, car payments, a mortgage, college loans, and you wake up one day realizing you’ve completed a third of your life, if you even live to the average age.

So when do you throw in the towel and continue what you’re doing and give up on any other dreams?

I know someone who was a principal of a school, went back to school to become a dentist at 50 years of age, and is now contemplating going to Law School.  I used to think that he was crazy, but then I realized that doing something you hate for the next 40 years is even more crazy.

After a year and a half at my postdoc, I realized I can’t spend the rest of my life focusing on just research.  I miss teaching too much, but since I still want to perform research, I want to teach at a liberal arts college.  It isn’t a complete change of direction, but it’s slightly different from my original plan to go into industry and get back into teaching later in life.

Life’s too short and being unhappy at work was taking its toll on every aspect of my life.  I didn’t want to wait to teach at a liberal arts school just because industry pays more.  Some things you just can’t put a price on.  We’ll see how the job apps turn out, but in the meantime, I’ll be teaching full-time at a community college.  For the first time since I started my postdoc, I don’t dread waking up each morning.

I can already see myself in the next Mastercard commercial:

Gas for weekly commute:  $50

New teaching outfits:  $350

Reduction in monthly salary:  $2000

Waking up each morning and loving your job:  Priceless


June 4, 2007

Science writing

Filed under: non-research-related — mxc305 @ 4:42 pm

I know a number of people who are ex-scientists and are now science writers.  It’s a fascinating field and following their adventures is something I think others would enjoy.


May 28, 2007

The chaos of not being a student

One thing I’ve realized since finishing graduate school is that there’s a comfort to being a student that I never realized, at least until I wasn’t one anymore.  For the first time in 15 years, I can’t check the box that says I’m a student and with it comes a few realizations.

Being a student (whether undergrad or grad) is very comfortable.  Yes, you have classes, organizations, exams, dating, etc to worry about.  But, you have a few years of your life planned out for you.  The same can not be said for when you’re not a student.

In addition to my research, I have to worry about what happens next – looking for jobs, where to live, when to start a family, and so on.  Your life is no longer a clear “chapter” of your life, which has an end that seems too far away to worry about.  Your life now has many more, smaller chapters without a discrete start/end, often overlapping, that require constant thought and action.

I write this as I’m looking for jobs – there is a sense of chaos in looking for specific jobs, writing cover letters, revising resumes, and preparing for interviews, all while keeping an eye on my contract that determines when I must find another job.  While it’s just a natural progression in life, it’s something that I took for granted while I was a student.  The end seemed so far away and everything was nicely planned out.

Maybe our lives would be simpler if we lived in 4-year time blocks, with advisors that guided us through those years.

May 5, 2007


Filed under: non-research-related — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — mxc305 @ 12:45 am

They say money isn’t everything, but it’s difficult to remember that when you have student loans, a car loan, vet bills, etc, and your credit card debt grows on a regular basis.  I make under $40k, at least for the 2006-07 fiscal year.  There are secretaries in the dept who make more.  Education doesn’t mean everything, but how can a PhD make less than someone without a bachelor’s degree?  I’m not saying they should make less, I’m saying we’re worth a lot more.  After all, doesn’t spending more than a decade to earn a BS, MS, and PhD account for something?  Think about that – 10 additional years after high school, which is when these secretaries stopped their education.

Being in my 30s and owing almost $100k in student loans, not to mention the 5-figure credit card debt, it’s difficult to be happy with the way things are.  What’s wrong with our society when a scientist, who has worked so hard to earn that degree, can’t make enough to start a family?

May 2, 2007

Microsoft or Apple

One of the first things you learn is that diplomacy is everything.  I’m tested almost everyday by people who think they know more and are more important, and I’m forced to smile and acknowledge their greatness.  It doesn’t matter if their position is the president of the university all the way down to the janitor of my building.

Today I was tested by a secretary in the accounting department of my funding source.  In order to order software, you’re required to beg them to place an order for you.  It takes about 2 minutes (literally), it’s an online form and you simply click on the program you want and enter the fund number.  But you must still beg and praise them for taking time out of their incredibly busy schedules.

As an example of how busy they are – when I first went to her office, she was using Photoshop to alter some pictures of animals.  When I asked about the software yesterday, she said she would do it when she had time (maybe after her Photoshopping task perhaps?)  Today, this woman decided to test me in numerous ways.  One, she insisted that I didn’t specify that I wanted the physical disk in addition to the license, although I printed out an order form with both of them specified.  The disk had a price of $0, which is why she probably didn’t see it.  Regardless, she was condescending and told me it was my fault for forgetting to tell her.  Next, she said I didn’t specify if I wanted “a Microsoft version” or not.  Confused, I said the company’s name, which wasn’t Microsoft.  She then yelled “Microsoft or Apple?” to which I realized the confusion – she thinks there are only two types of computers, Macs and Microsofts.  I tried explaining it to her but as mentioned above, she feels she knows more and is more important.

It’s incredibly difficult to talk to someone so ignorant, yet at the same time so arrogant in their knowledge (or lack thereof), without wanting to yell back.  I could have stood my ground and pointed out that Microsoft doesn’t make a type of computer that competes with Macs, but it wouldn’t have mattered.  So, I humbly acknowledged her superior knowledge and let her believe that this person with a PhD is a moron while she was the far superior person who had to teach me the difference between the types of computers.


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