Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Option Two: High RIsk, High Reward

In my last blog post, I laid out 4 realistic directions for my career that popped up last week that will take my career and my life in completely different directions.  I addressed why I wouldn't be post-docing, and I want to address the conundrum of the other science job, which is perhaps non-traditional.  I've been interning with a small start-up that is developing a surface coating technology for the past 6 weeks.  The details of the job aren't important, but the company is run by chemical engineers who have some great technology, are reasonably well grant-funded (SBIR) and hoping to expand.  These are very good signs when looking at a start up.  However, grant funds tie your hand a little: NSF doesn't pay anyone more than half time, so everyone at this company is there half time. They have a technician they love who is leaving to go to grad school, and they offered me her position with the opportunity to help write some additional grants/seek investors (I am the business development intern).

Yes, you read that right.  Get a part-time wage to take on a monumental (and full time) task. If/when money comes in, I've earned my first promotion.  High risk, high reward.

Let's look at the risk first.  In principle, I don't have to give up contracting to take this job, but I probably would so that I could do the job well. Taking a job as a tech wouldn't be bad if I were promoted quickly/moved on to another position quickly, but it will be hard to find a job to follow-up that one if I have used my PhD as a tech for any period of time.  As I explained to my Dad, would you trust a Physician who worked as a CNA after med school?  In particular with the job market here being so tight, I don't need any question marks on my resume. But I am not being paid in equity (lesson learned), and the grant should last at least a year, so there is some stability.  I'm unlikely to just abruptly lose my job if the company goes under (which they seem unlikely to do).  Oh, and I am not a chemist.  For some reason, they aren't really considering the possibility that I might be terrible at this job, and there is no evidence to suggest I won't be.  Failing at this job (either as a tech or a grant writer) would be bad for the company and bad for my prospects moving forward. 

How about the Reward?  Well, getting a chance to write myself as a PI on a grant is not something I thought I would be able to do at this stage of my career.  That's a big one- if we get funded, that's awesome, but for many reasons I want experience grant writing. I will also get to learn some cool chemistry techniques (however, given the dismal career prospects for chemists, I'm not sure that's more than an intellectual bonus). Looking for investors could help me expand my network (I'm not sure this is a talent I posses or will develop though- so add that back to risk), should I ever decide I am done being a Chemist. And I can create for myself a position in this company that is young and growing that could really take me places.

There are other perks as well.  It would be gratifying to tell my old boss I am working at a start-up, it would make sense to him.  I would be working in a cool neighborhood, with cool people, which is something I miss about grad school.  I've actually been offered this job.  It was all I could do not to say "YES, I'll take it!" when offered the position. Wasn't this what I've been working so hard for?? 

The two questions I am struggling to answer though, are do I have this kind of appetite for risk, and where does this position take me?

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