Greetings dear reader. My name is Stephanie (not my real name). I’m a 30 year old scientist in NYC. Originally I started my blog (twentysevenandaphd.wordpress.com) two months prior to my thesis defense. I was 27 at the time, hoping that I’d defend before turning 28. My defense happened that summer, after turning 28. For a while, I tried changing my name (and Twitter handle: 27andaphd) to go along with my age, but it turned out to be too confusing, thus I went back to the original age of 27.
I have a PhD in structural biology from a southern university in the US. I started my PhD being aware of the field, but not really knowing what to do to break in. Eventually I found my mentor and I spent 5 great years in her lab. With a few publications in hand, I started looking for a postdoctoral appointment, not completely sure of whether that was the right step.
I started grad school, partly, to delay dealing with the “real world.” After completing a B.S. in general biology, and lacking direction and purpose, grad school felt like a safety blanket, the logical next step for someone that was always excelling in school. More school, more structured learning? Bring it on!
Doing a master’s first didn’t even occur to me. I thought at 21 I knew better and had all the training I needed. The fact that there could be a glut in the market, a bleak economy or that I’d lack certain lab skills to make me competitive in something other than my small area of expertise, were definitely not on my mind. Instead, I wanted to learn more science (a noble interest, in my view), work in the lab, and I thought that throughout the course of my time in grad school, I’d figure out what to do and what I wanted to devote my life to when I finally felt like an adult.
During my time in school, I made great friends and contacts, not only with professors, but with fellow students and staff. I have fond memories of my time at the university. I was lucky enough to have a boss that wasn’t always harping on wanting her students to become professors only. She was happy with her path to academia, but she knew that there were other options out there. That was very reassuring, especially when, after my postdoc, I decided to leave academia somewhat and focus on becoming a staff member in my grad school field of expertise.
After my defense, I became a postdoc in another structural biology lab. I switched disciplines and moved to Canada. As a postdoc, I faced many hurdles, especially when the reality that I did not want to become a professor finally sunk in. I liked working with the instrumentation, and training people, much more than writing grants and dealing with other situations and responsibilities professors face. I dealt with imposter syndrome, lots of frustration and decided to apply for jobs in my former field of training. A job eventually materialized after much heartbreak, and I’m finally back where I feel like I belong. I’m happy career-wise.
In the future, I’ll talk about all things grad school, postdoc and staff scientist related. Since I lacked mentorship as an undergrad and later on, as a postdoc, I want this blog to be a way to offer some insight, and perhaps mentoring of sorts, to anyone out there who’s interested in moving on from the traditional academic path, or who may be curious about the journey. I’ll offer some tips on what worked during my job search in a bleak market, networking and using social media to connect with more scientists and created meaningful relationships. Hope you enjoy!