Not a scientist anymore

It’s been a year since my last post.

On July 9, 2013, I learned that a grant was not funded.
On July 11, 2013, I learned that my contract was contingent on that grant.

My contract had a year left on it. My husband hadn’t found a job in Kirksville during the 3 years we’d been there, so he applied for jobs in Columbia and immediately got 2 offers. We moved to Columbia and I finished out my contract working from home.

My contract ended June 30, 2014. I’m not a scientist anymore!

(I say this tongue-in-cheek. Of course, I am trained as a scientist, and I spent many years actively being a scientist. I will always think like a scientist whether I’m actively engaged in scientific research or not.)

Since I started bicycling for transportation 10 years ago, I’ve been tempted to change careers. As my dissatisfaction with academic research failed to decrease, and my interest in traffic and transportation increased, this made more and more sense. But with my husband in school and then unemployed in Kirksville, we were dependent on my paycheck. There wasn’t a good time to jump ship.

When I got the news that my contract wasn’t going to be renewed, I was almost relieved. And when my husband got a job, I was ecstatic. Finally, I have the opportunity to switch careers. I enrolled in an online Master’s Program in Sustainable Transportation through the University of Washington.

My career in academia was a disappointment. Through my involvement in the National Postdoctoral Association, I wanted to help drive change, but I was teeny tiny ineffectual cog in a huge broken machine. I thought my position at a private osteopathic medical college would be different. It’s a private institution and so not constrained by tax funding. It’s an osteopathic medical college and so has to think outside the box. And it was different. But in the end, it was still unsuccessful.

Some might argue that it was me. A better person would have succeeded. I disagree. I’m a smart cookie, an educated and competent cookie. I lacked the resources I needed to succeed in the time frame I was given: I was expected to have external funding in 3 years. In the current funding climate, that is an unrealistic expectation and it was not made clear to me up front. I knew I was expected to seek external funding. I did not know I was expected to have it in 3 years.

However, I don’t mind that it turned out the way it did. I felt an obligation to try to make a go of it, to try not to waste the PhD and the long miserable years of postdoc servitude. I realize now that that attitude is one of throwing good money after bad, only it was the good years of my life I was throwing after bad years.

There were some parts I loved. I don’t miss those parts, because I can keep those elements in my post-science life, just not in the same way. For example, I won’t be reviewing NIH grants, I’ll be reviewing plans for a bicycle path. I admit I do get a certain amount of satisfaction in saying, “I was a biomedical research professor,” instead of saying, “I was in biomedical research,” as I would have said if I had left during my postdoc years.

I’m tempted to end this journal with the excitement and optimism I feel about my new career, but I will refrain because it is not part of this story. Let’s just say that Research Eyes is in a better place.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.