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.

And you, could you give up your bench work ?

There are so many different kinds of scientists out there. And lately, I’ve been talking to post-docs. The kind of post-docs stuck at the bottleneck of the academic world. They are good scientists, enjoy doing science, and have been doing it very well for quite some time already. But they would not like to become PI’s.

Why ?

They like the work in the wet lab, at the bench. Doing experiments, smelling, tasting ?, troubleshooting, optimizing, supervising, etc …Occasionally they write grants or teach, but most of the time they work in the lab like us, PhD students.  They do not want to give that up, but there is very little space for these experienced and qualified people in academia. At some point, they know they have to get their own group or get “a real job”. (I don’t like how that sounds either, but that’s what they said.)

I’m always a bit surprised to hear people who like so much working at the bench. For me, working on the bench compares to driving a car. It is absolutely necessary, and I have no problem doing it, but I don’t love it. If I had to, I could give it up.

I like reading literature, doing computer work (getting started in bioinformatics), doodling stuff, listening to podcasts, writing, tweeting, etc … I do not necessarily need to work with smelly bacteria, under noisy hoods, sweating under plastic gloves, or having crappy 12-hour time points. (OK, exaggerating a bit, when things work, I really like it of course)

One big exception tough, I would not like to give up my flies.  I like the fly work to much I guess. There, you got me.

So, I’m asking you readers ? Could you give up working on the bench ?