Decisions, Decisions…Path after PhD

What do I do with my life after my PhD?

This is the question that keeps me up at night. I don’t know what the right path is.

Of course, it also means that I have options. I should be grateful. Keith didn’t have options when he joined his law firm at the peak of the recession in 2008 as a paralegal in a boutique law firm that specialised in intellectual property.

I could go the traditional route: become a post-doc for 2-3 years and keep my nose to the grindstone doing research, publishing papers and competing against tremendous odds for that tenure-track assistant professorship that will guarantee 7 more years (at the very least) of 17 hour days with few holidays in an attempt to get tenure.

I could join a big law firm as a technical specialist in their intellectual property department and eventually pass the patent bar to do the same job Keith does (and the same horrible hours) at a higher starting salary than what Keith makes 3.5 years in.

I could use Keith’s contacts to get money from venture capitalists and set up a start-up and design bacteria that could sequester methane from gas leak sites and convert it into something innocuous. The intellectual property would be valuable to big companies. Of course, success is not guaranteed and the hours are brutal, but I could make millions doing this.

I could go into university administration and slowly work myself up the ranks so that one day I have a real shot at becoming a dean or provost with a cushy salary and maybe even a house on campus.

I could become a science writer, try to get a job at the non-profit genetic engineering competition organization, iGEM, apply to go to Antarctica as a microbiologist to work on the bacteria that are in that lake buried beneath a 2 mile-tall block of ice.

I could become a high school teacher and work from 8 AM – 2:30 PM with summers off for whatever else I’d like to do. I’d get looked down on for doing this. It isn’t ambitious, or exciting – not the type of job you’d expect someone with a PhD would take. But it would give me the opportunity for developing a tutoring and college prep business. I may even have time leftover to develop a business around my cooking, which is my real passion anyway.

So, what do I do?

Keith says there is no wrong choice…that, within reason, I should pick the option that makes me happy and gives me a reasonable salary.

I am unhappy when my work gets in the way of my kitchen; that much I have established in the past few years. My cooking is my passion. No, I do not want to become a restaurant chef. The life of a chef is not what celebrity chef shows and the Food Network crack it up to be. No, I have other idea…a food delivery for Indian professionals or students away from family and home-style cooking, perhaps a food truck. That’s more my type of thing.

It’s hard to turn away from a six-figure power job. Just the thought of people sniggering behind my back, saying, “She didn’t make it. She got a PhD and teaches high school now. She must just not have been good enough.” That bothers me.

What also bothers me is anyone – anyone – saying that I chose the more “woman-appropriate” career.

People are so impressed at cocktail parties when I tell them I redesign bacteria to do cool things that I can turn on and off at will. Nobody is impressed at the high school chemistry teacher.

But should I live to turn heads or to do what makes sense for me…what makes me happy?


Decisions, Decisions…Path after PhD


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