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Not quite Science Tuesday: Life after the lab

Written on June 11, 2008

Regular readers may remember about a month of whinging and hand wringing about my lack of employment, demoralization and general shittiness. Funny, that. Just a week or so after taking on one job I’ve now been offered, and am likely to accept, a second. The writing gig is only part time, so I’ve been looking around for little bits to fill in the gap. Well, the little bits turned out to be fairly big bits when I got a phone call today offering me a full-time teaching position at one of Adelaide’s universities. So, in a couple of weeks I’ve gone from a state of panic about my potentially permanent unemployment to having one and a half jobs. I am a hugely relieved underwhelming correspondent today, folks. There was a fairly loud voice in the back of my head seeking to convince me that once I walked out of the lab that I was doomed to a life of McJobs.One of the things that I learned during my somewhat less than successful post-doc was that the traditional academic career path wasn’t for me. It wasn’t just the creeping feeling of dissatisfaction that greeted me every day I walked into the lab. One day, I was looking through our departmental website and realized that there were nearly four times as many post-docs as there were lecturers. I’m no mathematician, but it doesn’t take one to figure out that there are not a lot of jobs out there for your average Ph.D. In fact you’re pretty much waiting for the rare new faculty position or for an emeritus professor to wake up dead one morning. Even when a position opens up you’re competing with scores of other desperate Ph.D.’s, most of whom want it worse than you. From that moment on I pretty much new that I would never hold a faculty position and I started thinking about alternative careers in science.That’s scary business. One of the many problems with getting a Ph.D. is that you get institutionalized. You spend so much time in academic institutions, dealing with academics that you may as well tattoo on the leather elbow patches. You’re not really prepared to work outside of the university environment and in many cases are discouraged from doing so. When I told one of my Ph.D. supervisors about my decision to abandon the tenure track toil, there was a definite air of disapproval. It’s hard to even know where to start. Apparently, a good place to begin is to move continents with a family to feed and house and no job prospects.* Necessity is the mother of invention, or is it Frank Zappa?As I write this post, I can say with some relief that I might have nailed it. I’m in a position right now to explore two of the aspects of science that I’m passionate about – communication and education. I’m going to be able to make some decisions about my career path and hopefully, in the long run, tailor a position for myself. I’m going to get a taste of the “real world” while still being able to relax in the cozy arms of a university. Best of all, I’m going to be able to support my family at the same time. May not see them much for a while, though.Nonetheless, right now, for this moment in time, it’s pretty damn good to be me.*A good suit doesn’t hurt.

Filed in: Science, work.

27 Comments

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  1. Comment by Angel:

    I’m extremely happy for you. Slightly pissed off for selfish reasons, but that selfishness is far outweighed by the happiness. It’s a scary dark place not knowing how you’re going to provide for your family, but you’ve not only broken through that but done so with great new opportunities.

    I’m guessing your slack time for blogging will suffer, but we’ll try not to whine too loudly because we’re all very glad you’re not asking, “Do you want fries with that?”

    June 11, 2008 @ 9:02 pm
  2. Comment by Ryan:

    I love those mile-wide-grin days – good on you, Chris.

    June 11, 2008 @ 11:18 pm
  3. Comment by Nathan B.:

    Congrats, man! It is nice to know that you can think about science in a career outside of academics, isn’t it?

    June 11, 2008 @ 11:31 pm
  4. Comment by Jessica K:

    That’s awesome, Chris! You get to do all the things you love AND get paid for them! Yay for you! :) I get to do all the things I love too, only I just get paid for one of them. tee hee
    P.S. The only way I could see you in leather elbow patches is if they ARE tattooed. :P

    Jessica K’s last blog post..Kung Fu Panda

    June 11, 2008 @ 11:38 pm
  5. Comment by Maggie, dammit:

    DUDE! NICE!

    Congrats again!

    Maggie, dammit’s last blog post..storms and sunsets

    June 11, 2008 @ 11:43 pm
  6. Comment by Not Afraid To Use It:

    That just freaking ROCKS!!!! Hell to the fuck yeah! I am SO happy for you! I miss teaching so much, but I know that is on the backburner for a few more year. How kickass for you to get out there and bring a fresh face and ton of ideas to these students. They are lucky fuckers, the lot of them.

    Not Afraid To Use It’s last blog post..Knock, Knock. Who’s There?

    June 11, 2008 @ 11:52 pm
  7. Comment by Matthew:

    Congrats! I’m excited to hear all of this. Actually, teaching is one of the things I kind of miss. I have an undergrad working for me, but its not the same really. Good luck.

    Oh, and I love oxymoronic phrases like “wake up dead.”

    June 12, 2008 @ 1:00 am
  8. Comment by courtney:

    Congratulations! I’m happy for you!

    When I was in grad school, I knew several Ph.D. candidates who didn’t want to teach with their doctorate. But they literally had to keep that a secret from the professors, because they would have been treated differently if they’d expressed their aspirations to work (gasp!) outside the university environment. It was sad.

    courtney’s last blog post..Me In Photos

    June 12, 2008 @ 1:58 am
  9. Comment by Chris in Saskatoon:

    Congrats! I was really surprised how much I enjoyed the teaching aspect of my work. The satisfaction I gained from it probably kept me sane through the bullsh!t and red tape with trying to get my lab up going. Turns out the students responded, which has been a major source of job satisfaction. Go for it!

    June 12, 2008 @ 2:51 am
  10. Comment by Gypsy:

    Way to go, prof. Way to go. :)

    Gypsy’s last blog post..Hodge Podge

    June 12, 2008 @ 5:36 am
  11. Comment by Chris in Happy Valley:

    Thanks all for your kind words! Don’t worry too much, Angel, this blog is largely therapeutic so it should still get a fair bit of time. My music blog may have to suck it though.

    Chris in Happy Valley’s last blog post..Not quite Science Tuesday: Life after the lab

    June 12, 2008 @ 10:57 am
  12. Comment by SSG:

    dude, you kick ARSE!!!! or ASS!! what do they say in Oz?

    June 12, 2008 @ 4:37 pm
  13. Comment by SSG:

    are you still going to look up ure students on facebook?

    SSG’s last blog post..Isolated tribe spotted in Brazil

    June 12, 2008 @ 4:39 pm
  14. Comment by headbang8:

    It’s time for you to stare down the jinx. Which university? Doing what? And what was/is the mysterious writing job?

    headbang8’s last blog post..Geek Antiques

    June 12, 2008 @ 7:31 pm
  15. Comment by Nick:

    Chris,

    Great post and one that resonated completely with me. Especially “the creeping feeling of dissatisfaction that greeted me every day I walked into the lab”.

    As one who has also realised that my future doesn’t lie down the research track I am having a similarly frustrating time trying to make the switch away from the lab.

    I don’t have the terror-inducing (or is it mind focusing) predicament of being out of a job, but it is a demoralising task trying to sell your skills in the real world!

    But as you mentioned on our site, transferable skills and a good helping of BS seem like a good approach so I am going to go with that.

    and I will even wear a nice suit!

    June 12, 2008 @ 9:26 pm
  16. Comment by SSG:

    why are all my comments getting spammed and not showing up?

    SSG’s last blog post..Isolated tribe spotted in Brazil

    June 12, 2008 @ 9:43 pm
  17. Comment by CDV:

    headbang8, you are just full of questions, aren’t you?

    The thing is, I’m being coy about specifics because I need to suss out my new employers before I start spewing their names all over the internet. We have a mutual acquaintance that had some trouble with blogging and work, eh?

    The writing job is still in place (it’s technical) but I’m going to do both for a while. All the better to get a place on the beach with!

    June 12, 2008 @ 9:51 pm
  18. Comment by Vixen:

    That is splendid Chris! How wonderful. A suit will often do that…oh and a good education, ha ha.

    Sounds like things are really turning around.

    Vixen’s last blog post..Hanging Out In The Amniotic Pool

    June 13, 2008 @ 4:02 am
  19. Comment by Sherrie:

    Whheeeeeeeee Hooooo!!! Congrats!

    I am jealous you found a way to balance university without that crazed tenure track rat race. I was so scarred by my Masters experience that I swore off my PhD, and then proceeded to write an article on the experience that exploded that bridge should I be tempted to go back.

    But teaching and writing, while living within walking distance of the beach. Gaaaaaaaaaaa

    Time to reassess Germany I think. :-P

    June 13, 2008 @ 6:17 am
  20. Comment by formerly fun:

    Congrats on the job, amazing how a fwe things can totally alter your mindset. Just keep writing here because I enjoy it, selfish no?

    June 13, 2008 @ 6:55 am
  21. Comment by CDV:

    SSG, no idea why you’re getting spammed – will try and sort it out. Apparently my filter finds you…suspicious. Clever filter, eh?

    June 13, 2008 @ 8:58 am
  22. Pingback from Around the Blogs | Bitesize Bio:

    [...] …and career paths out of biotechnology. Dan has been talking about the difficulties in moving out of the biotech/science career path this week, and so has Chris at chrisdellavedova.com. [...]

    June 13, 2008 @ 8:26 pm
  23. Comment by Jason:

    Congrats on the new job(s)!

    June 14, 2008 @ 2:24 am
  24. Comment by alice:

    Whew! :-D

    alice’s last blog post..Tim Russert

    June 14, 2008 @ 6:50 am
  25. Comment by KathyF:

    That does sound like the best of both worlds. Congrats to you.

    My husband, I know, would love to teach, and secretly envies his little brother for being able to do so.

    Now, can I sign up for your class?

    KathyF’s last blog post..Friday Chicken Blogging

    June 14, 2008 @ 6:08 pm
  26. Comment by Busy Dad Mumbles:

    Thumbs up on the new employment venture. I’m glad to learn you will not become the most overeducated member of the drive thru dream team. You had me worried.

    Congrats on the new posting. Looking forward to learning more about the new job. The yound Bull Dawg will now have consistent dawgie treats. That is what the stuff is all about.

    June 15, 2008 @ 2:10 pm
  27. Comment by The Right Blue:

    Ah, that’s really great news — all of it. And speaking as someone who long ago took her PhD and then high-tailed it away from academia forever, I really identified with a lot of what you said in this post (and several previous ones). It’s a curious combination of angst and liberation, i’n't it?

    Bobbie

    The Right Blue’s last blog post..WW #38 – The Survivor

    June 18, 2008 @ 5:04 pm
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