Potassium’s search for what’s next

Potassium ponders her next career move while on a train in Germany

As many of you know, I received my PhD in Biochemistry last fall. Since then I have been continuing to work in my PhD laboratory getting a paper submitted and exploring my next step as a scientist. Now that I am not struggling to get my degree, I decided it was a great time to explore other areas I am interested in – science education and making science/education accessible to everyone. In no apparent order I have:

  • joined a committee (the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Race and Ethnicity) where I work to inform the Chancellor about what is happening on our campus with regards to race,
  • attended a science education class where I learned how to design science education curriculum using the principles of active learning and backwards design (such fancy words!),
  • taught high school students over the summer of 2015 and will be co-teaching a Science and Society class this semester,
  • co-founded a new seminar series at CU that brings diverse scholars to this campus so that we can expand our network of scholars as well as show that broader community of CU and Boulder that scientists (and professors in general) can be of any race, gender, etc.

As I got involved in all of these activities, I realized that I have a much stronger passion for all of these things compared to working on actual science at the bench. Yes there is a part of me who loves to sit in the dark and look at those pretty cellys on the microscope. And there is a part of me who loves to play with microscopes because they are soooooo cool (I also took a 2 week microscopy course in New York this year). But I really like people and helping to make a difference in people’s lives. I feel more and more that my future career may lie away from the bench and away from those cozy towers of academia.

So then what will I do with myself?

Thus began the epic year of existential crises. It’s still not over yet so if you get stressed out by unfinished stories, maybe skip the rest of this post and tune in next week instead! Basically, it’s been a bit frustrating for me to search for jobs because I’m worried that I’ve worked myself into the corner with this PhD thing. For me, there were two main reasons for getting a PhD:

  1. I wanted to learn how to think critically about a subject (any subject really) and to have the tools be able to answer any question/problem thrown at me. This is really the point of any PhD program. Granted, it would be easier for me to answer questions regarding stuff that I directly work on but really it applies to anything – getting a PhD means that you have solved a problem/answered a question that no one else has answered/solved ever in the history of the universe, which in theory should mean that you now have the tools to look up/learn new skills very quickly.
  2. I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself but I thought that getting a PhD would give me leverage that would allow me to waltz into a room somewhere and be like “Hello. I have a PhD. I know about this stuff and I am super creative! Give me a job!”

Now I worry that instead, my PhD says to everyone “Hello. I like labwork and scientists. I want more of that!” I can’t really find jobs that ask for people with PhDs and do not include benchwork, teaching, or working at a tech company either as a research scientist or technical/medical writer. Maybe I don’t know the right places to look? (Note: if you know of the correct search terms/websites/etc, please please please let me know). Maybe I need to solidify what I’d like to do? I am actually not sure because I don’t know what’s out there in terms of alternative careers!

Right now I have been looking into interesting fellowships and certificate programs. Today I am visiting UC Santa Cruz to look into their Science Communications program. I have also looked a little into some science policy fellowships in DC. All of these sound neat but I’m still not sure if they are right for me. More searching will commence for now!

Next week – more about science research opportunities for high school and college students!

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2 thoughts on “Potassium’s search for what’s next

  1. If we get funding for another staff position here, I’ll let you know! I really enjoy working in the core, for some of the same reasons you stated above. It’s been nice to be a part of academia without being mired in experiments that never seem to work or worry about the next grant or publication. I think you might enjoy a job like this as well! (I heard UC Santa Barbara is hiring, btw)

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