After I defended my PhD in 2011, it took more than a year before I had my first Real Job.
It still makes me squirm to think about the gap, especially knowing what I know now: my first job was a job I had never heard of while in graduate school.
Earning my PhD was formative. I learned how to think, how to solve problems, how to break down complex ideas and communicate them effectively. Earning my PhD made me a scientist, a badge I will wear for the rest of my life. I also learned that I would never get so good at bench work that I didn’t always doubt myself a bit. And I learned that just having my PhD wasn’t going to be enough to guarantee my career success. These are some of the reasons I was determined not to do a postdoc. I didn’t need a training opportunity to prepare me for a job I wasn’t convinced I wanted.
Instead of landing a postdoc and doing my soul searching there, I spent a year looking for a job, trying to make sense of my education and experience, and trying anything I could get my hands on. This was terrible, and terrifying, and easily the best possible thing for me in the long run.
While it took more than a year before I got my first real job, but it took me less than a week to pick up my first editing contract. I had this awful vision of my CV wilting from disuse while I was looking for a job, so I was compelled to find new experiences to add to my CV. I started out editing scientific manuscripts for foreign scientists. I parlayed this and some volunteer work into small contracts as a curriculum writer for a large publishing house. And after many months of this, I realized that my editor might make a better letter of recommendation than another member of my dissertation committee.
When I realized that I wanted to ask my editor to be a professional reference, I also realized that I liked what I was doing so much I wanted to do more curriculum writing. This was quite a breakthrough. At that time, I was working part time as a bank teller, an intern at the university’s tech transfer office, and taking
manuscript editing contracts in addition to writing curriculum. My career was in desperate need of direction.
On the first anniversary of my defense date, I started a new contract with a new client which was my first as a full-time curriculum writer. My editors were great. They made a real effort to help me make my writing as effective as possible. I enjoyed writing before, but I always dreaded the criticism. Instead, I found myself working (virtually) with a team of incredibly supportive, thoughtful writers and editors whose primary concern was engaging and teaching students. Every week, I made a point to tell my editor and the project manager how much I loved the project, the team, and the opportunity. And I told them I wanted to keep working with them. My contract got extended and, five months later, I was offered a staff position as a curriculum writer for the next project cycle. I have been at that position for 6 months.
My job hunt was scary, demoralizing, and it frequently felt eternal. Those terrible feelings propelled me to volunteer, to take 3 different internships, to meet with dozens of strangers for informational interviews, and to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what my career was supposed to provide me with. It’s a surprise to me to be in a position to share my experiences in the Bio Careers Blogs, but I learned so much about career transition that might be valuable to others. In the future, I’m looking forward to sharing more about my internships (in medical writing, in technology transfer and in business development), and the volunteer work that proved to be invaluable to