I've been dreading writing this post. Today marks 1 year since I defended my Ph.D., 1 year since I started introducing myself as "Dr. Sandlin" (I'm kidding, I never do that). It's been a year since the idea of finishing grad school stopped being abstract. A year ago today, I gathered all my favorite people around and enjoyed a fantastic party to celebrate all the hard work and good friends that got me to the magnificent point of potential that is graduation day. I remember thinking that nothing could ever be as hard as graduate school was.
Confession: I did not love my dissertation project with my whole heart and soul. It was a good project, and it was important work, and it gave me some great training opportunities, but I had not always dreamed of being a polyomavirus researcher. As a result of my work, the world has not responded with a greater need for polyomavirologists. So I always knew that what I was doing would be confined to my graduate school experience and that I needed to find some other way to make something of my career. I wanted to be able to transition away smoothly, and look back confidently and say "I was right, I didn't need a post-doc to do what I wanted to do."
This marks a big day for me. I don't have a real job yet. I don't know what I want to do with my career, and I don't know if it will be possible to do in Seattle, even though I knew I would have this problem. That sucks.
On the one hand, it's been a good year. I've done a lot of things I couldn't have done if I hadn't gone to graduate school (Scientist in Residence at the Carnegie Science Center, STEM panelist, instructional design, and I get to meet people all the time). Sometimes I hate living in the shadow of this degree, but it has helped me open doors for myself. And I get to live in Washington, where my family and friends are (not the ones I went to grad school with-but they'll all be moved in another year or so anyway).
On the other hand, this isn't what I wanted for myself. I freelance because it's a kind of work I can do that helps pay the bills, not because it's what I aspire to do. After a year of looking for my dream job, it's about time to get real, and just get a real job. To me, this doesn't mean finding a post-doc, it means settling into some non-dream career path with full-time work and waiting for the economy to turn around. I guess it's time to admit that my aspirations are getting in the way of having any form of success. I met someone at the UW who is looking for a virologist to help their drug discovery project. It's not a post-doc position, it's a scientist job and I applied.
So what else have I learned? I've tried lots of things- that's what the blog was meant to cover. Not all these experiments have panned out. Blogging has not made me some important voice for my peers, but it has given me a nice outlet for some of these ideas. The same for Twitter. I'm generally too embarrassed to tell people I meet in person about either, so it's hard to connect these to my real life. Volunteering and interning have felt useful, but neither has led to job offers. I didn't want to become the blogger for the struggles of the underemployed PhD. It's time to think a bit more about how some of these activities fit into my ultimate goal of being employed, and how to best use my energy to get there.