Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Happy Birthday to my Ph.D.

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.


  1. Sandlin, I myself am at some point along the journey that you've documented so eloquently is this post! And I admire you for being different and not going the traditional post-doc route! I really hope you find a place where you're happy - even if it isn't yet the dream job. And who knows, one year from now you could be living the dream!

  2. Thanks for the encouragement, Amrita. It's nice to know I am not the only one feeling lost, but I wish for both of our sakes we could find a good home. Have you had much luck in Chicago? I think of you often, please keep in touch!