Let’s not give up just yet. Change might be ahead.

After last month’s rough patch, things have -fortunately- improved a bit. Just at the time I was jaded about the wonderful world of academia, a few little things happened. And they have the merit to put me back  in a more combative and optimistic state of mind.

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Everyone I’ve been talking about the worst sides of academia actually agreed with me on the system’s unsustainability. It’s bad, because it reflects how weary people are this days. It was also irritating, because most people would just say things like “It’s the system, it won’t change, you have to play the game …”. I deeply think my french education clashes with this. I simply can’t understand this attitude. Not doing anything against this consumes my energy bits by bits. Petitions, strikes, but more importantly, constructive changes and improvements are incredibly important to me.

A few events  -small or more consequent-, the past week proved me, once more, that I’m not the only one to think like that.  And it seems things could change for the best in the future.

First, let’s start with the smallest thing. Lego is starting to commercialize women scientist toys. It’s a very small step, but it deserves to be highlighted. And probably does a better promotion of women in science then that awful spot EU had managed to come up with a few years ago.

Second, I made a pact. With a friend of mine, a senior post-doc, and aspiring future PI. If we ever get in these positions, we will take action to improve the system. Not that we cannot start now. For example, I decided that my thesis committee will be approx. 50/50 men and woman. Because sometimes you have to force things before they seem normal. And I don’t want to defend in from of a committee with only 55+ men; even tough it’s almost a tradition at my university.

Third, the cherry on the cake. We received an email from our department’s administration, asking for a report on the research output from each PI. A report they want every 3 MONTHS. MONTHS. I will not even take the pain to explain how crazy that is. Anyway, one of the PI’s  send an email back (cc-ing everyone) saying that this was simply demotivating, un-inspired, and useless. I was so happy someone actually stood up and dared to say no. No to this non-sens. No to administrators who have no idea that a good research paper necessitates years of work. No to evaluating research on a simple count of papers. Whatever they contain. I, and a few more PhD’s were so happy about this that we decided to buy a bottle of excellent scotch as a sign of support to that PI.

So yes, I think it will be possible to change things, as long as enough people are willing to simply say no to non-sense. And I hope our generation will have that strength.

Thinking about post-PhD life

There is no week, literally no week, since the beginning of the year, without discussions about what life will be after obtaining the PhD degree. Most of my friends started their PhD around the same time then me, and we are all reaching this phase of starting to think about what’s next. So here are some of the options:

The obvious (and easiest ?): Do a post-doc.

It’s an attractive option for many reasons: staying in academia (and enjoying it’s perks), starting a fresh and exciting new project, getting more experienced, gaining and sharing knowledge, teaching, travelling, meeting new people, and so on …But: 1 out of 10 post-docs (at the best) will make it in academia. So, why not make an exit earlier, and not risk being disappointed, discouraged, frustrated, jaded, and rejected by a ruthless academic world.

Plan B’s 

First, I guess they should be called plan A’s, since they concern most of PhD students. There are lots of things to do: Research and development in industry, science communication, teaching, project management. Science policy, global health. But also, owning a bar, a restaurant, a bakery, a bed and breakfast, a travel agency, a book store. Raising goats and making your own cheese.

I have plan B’s and plan A’s. And no idea what will happen (I mean, who does, really ?)

I enjoy research right now, which is easy to say when things go well, and when hard work is decently appreciated. So why not continue with a post-doc and go for it. Academia. I’d love to have my own fly lab some day. With an awesome fly room, full of flies, books, drawings, discussions, crossing schemes, and laughs. I have a picture of this in my head. But sometimes, luck can fail you. Life might get in the way. So, you can only hope for the best. Especially do your best, and never regret not giving it your best shot.

Closed doors generally open new ones. A this stage, i think it’s important to at least think about those things. Develop other skills. Writing this blog, developing the lab’s website, tweeting,  made me realize I like that kind of stuff. I love making my powerpoint slides and telling people what I do. All these skills I develop “on the side” might become truly useful someday.

Well, that was a short summary of things that go trough our minds these days. Nothing deep or insightful, but I guess i needed to write it down.

Science Stereotypes -2- Celebrities

Hi,

Episode 2 of science stereotypes for this lazy saturday : It’s all about celebrities !

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Celebrities are one of the easiest species to spot at a meeting:

  •  They are generally surrounded by hords of people, mainly admirative PI’s, ambitious post-docs, and hysteric PhD’s. They never seems to have a minute alone.
  • They might be requested to autograph their most famous research papers and books, to pose for pictures, and give keynote lectures.
  • They generally join the conference later, depart earlier, and fly 1st class.

How to deal with them ? 

My advice is to tell yourself that they are just people like us. If you want to talk with them, be strategic: spy on them, even if it means meeting them outside of the bathroom, accidentally on purpose. Then, establish contact by mentioning your read all their papers (I never said you should be honest), and try to switch to your own subject with great delicatesse. Most of the “celebrities” are actually nice and accessible people, and will enjoy the discussion. They will probably not remember talking to you 2 days after, but hey …