the life of science

I have been talking to friends and others about careers in science. This started me wondering about a science career. The vast majority of people I have spoken to have had to move for postdocs and jobs. Do you have to be a nomad for a few years before you can 'settle' (and even then you might be required to uproot yourself and move at the drop of a hat) to have a career in science? Is the only way to get a 'good' career to be prepared to go wherever the wind takes you? And how many other careers require that kind of flexibility? Is it unusual? To have a good career in anything do you need to be prepared do down tools and move on (but is it 'unusual' in other careers, whereas in science it is more the norm)? I am not talking about 6/8 months away at a time. I am talking years. If it is, this sounds like a perfect career for me. I love change. I thrive off it. I love meeting new people and seeing different places (no matter where it is). But can I do it?

I am in Indiana for 5 weeks visiting a lab to try something new as part of my PhD project. I find myself stuck, wide awake at 21.30 (in the USA) with a lot of thoughts but no one to talk to. The vast majority of people I know and speak to regularly.. are asleep. That leaves me with twitter, Facebook (where no one is responding), blogging and some paper. I wanted to do this, I wanted to experience life in another lab and try something new and learn from someone else. I am somewhat blessed that my supervisor is incredibly supportive and used her contacts to set this up. I am loving it. That said, moving somewhere new, on your own, is hard. It is lonely (despite being surrounded by incredibly friendly people). It isn't home. I am enjoying it, but it isn't a walk in the park (nor did I expect it to be). A few weeks is not a long period of time, not long enough to properly immerse yourself in another place and build friendships, but it is an insight into what life might be like if I moved.

When I head back to the U.K. I will be going into the final year of my PhD, so I need to think about and be able to answer the horrid question, 'what next?' I would like to stay in science. I would also like to stay with my boyfriend. He works in the oil industry. There lies another problem. How do we coordinate if I am required to spend 5 years here there and everywhere? His career also requires flexibility. How long can long distance survive? In the end are we ever going to end up in the same place? What is the point of perusing a particular career for a number of years, if in the end one person has to give it all up to start from scratch? One reason I did this PhD was because I wanted to move closer to him. It was a good move (for many a reason other than being closer to him!) but it wasn't an easy move (made easier by the great opportunity). I am not scared of moving, but it does prevent you from settling.  I haven't lived in the same house/room for longer than 18 months since I was 18 (the PhD move being by far the longest 'settled' period). I don't long for home. I don't think I have ever experienced homesickness. How do you start to think about 'long term' if you have absolutely no idea where you are going to end up? Part of me likes this uncertainty but there is another part of me that doesn't.

I know no one can answer any of these questions and you have to do what is right for you at the time. Just thought I would stick my ramblings out there...  I think it ultimately comes down to that horrid career vs 'life' decision lots of people have to make at some point!! Is this one of the reasons so many people leave a research career?

(I do not usually blog about myself and I do not usually read more 'personal' blogs. I am being extremely self indulgent here and this is a bit of a ramble about myself and what I am thinking at this moment in time!)


  1. All I can say, is that all this sounds really familiar to me... I spend many hours thinking about what I want to do next, and how to work it out in such a way that I can build up a life with my transatlantic boyfriend

  2. Ahh yes, I have had this discussion with myself many times. But perhaps I'm not the best example. I have always just picked up and gone wherever I've felt like I wanted to. My 20s have been a wonderful decade thanks to that. I wouldn't have changed it for the world.

    It does come down to career vs life decisions but also happiness and sanity I think.

    Personally I'd much rather give it a shot than not do it and always wonder 'what if?'

    I'm not sure I've helped to clear any of that up for you at all! In the end, I think good life experience plays well when it comes to career anyway - people see you've lived a little, explored, been adventurous, I think it makes you a more interesting candidate for jobs.

  3. I think that with any career you have to contemplate moving. I'm in science (as you know) but I have friends who have graduated from other subjects and had to up root to start their career.
    I'm personally very unsure about what I want to do after my stint of academia. I'll have done 8 years in Manchester (and all at uni) after my PhD (which doesn't finish until 2015). I spend a lot of time wondering if I'll be able to find a career I want and stick with my man. Who knows what'll happen.
    I know I haven't added anything of use to your ramblings, but I'm pretty sure there are a lot of us that feel the same way as you. Be it PhD students or people in careers already. I would say though, if you get an amazing opportunity 20 mins down the road, half way around the world, wherever, take it, don't squander it. And I totally agree with Bangs travelling and stuff adds to the old CV. These days you need to stick out and have done something different as there are so many PhD students and others looking for and competing for jobs post-uni.

  4. "How do you start to think about 'long term' if you have absolutely no idea where you are going to end up?"

    Quite ironical, eh. Life indeed, could be ironical at times. Hope you have already a goal in yourself or a purpose why you are doing things that you are doing today. For having a purpose in our life, will always lead us to a specific direction, either it could be reach on a long term basis or short term. Anyway, hope you are OK now, eh.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Mizpahlouise@medical products

  5. Just coming back to this post a year and a half later..

    At the end of my PhD in September 2012(I'm still waiting for my viva, but I have handed in). I was offered a post-doc in Canada, continuing my PhD project at the University of Toronto. I was also offered a job at the University of Aberdeen in public engagement. I took the option of staying in Aberdeen.

    I am loving the job I am doing in Aberdeen, but I am not a researcher. I think, if the option to do science was extended in Aberdeen - I might have taken that. I was in a very privileged position between two jobs that I would have enjoyed either way.

    I'm now also engaged.. and will be getting married in 2014. The back end of 2013 was very difficult and I do not regret my decisions at all. I also think long term that this move (or rather not moving) will serve me well.

    Thanks for all of the advice. The feeling of not knowing what was going to happen lasted for about 12 months and it was difficult. Blogging it helped :-)


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Getting Women into Science, EU Directive

How many papers should academics publish per year?

How to help someone that is writing up their thesis