Thursday, June 21, 2012

No regrets?

Recently I wrote about when you think it’s been enough and you decide to leave academia. Yesterday I learned that someone I know had decided just that and is trying to find a job outside academic science. Part of me is highly surprised because she was someone who was driven, hard-working and critical and I thought she would be able to find a position. It frightens me a bit that people that I look up to are not able to stay in science. And it makes me realize that the transition from being a post-doc to becoming independent is the big bottle neck.

It also made me wonder whether if I would ever make the decision to look for a job outside science, and if so, if I would regret all the time and effort put into trying to get data, write papers and get grants? If I would look at it from a distance, would all of this seem ridiculous? Is it worth all those hours and stress and time in the lab to know one tiny detail about one sub-aspect of neuroscience? I guess if you look at it like that it’s not. So I try to do things that I like and I do them in an amount of time that is reasonable. Because as much as I’m passionate about being a scientist and trying to become a professor someday, I don’t want to look back and realize that I’ve spent all of my time working like a headless chicken.

So what about you? Do you think you will regret your investment of time and energy when you decide to quit science? And if you have left academia do you regret your time as a grad student or a postdoc?


  1. At this point, I'm planning to leave academia when I complete my degree. There are things I will regret about particular degree-related choices, but I don't expect I'll regret having done it at all. I miss working with people, and working with specific goals and deadlines. If I could find a more teaching oriented position, maybe I would stay, but in my field, I don't think such jobs exist. However, I know that if I go into industry, I will likely end up in management, because I'm an engineer with people skills.

    Of course, I'm likely only about halfway done, so we'll see if I change my mind in the next 2-4 years.

  2. After doing a post-doc, I realized that I didn't want to move up and spend all my time writing grants (which is what my PIs seemed to do).
    I love my job, it's a mix of everything, and I couldn't be happier.
    The things that I find the best is that I don't work on the same thing all the time, one month I could be on a hardware project, the next a cell culture project, the next an assay dev project, or I could be helping customers. Also: I feel like I actually FINISH projects, which was a big annoyance for me in academia.

    I don't regret grad school or my post-docs, I find that they prepared me for this job (basically, it's my job to get things to work).

  3. Here's the way I look at it. I've mostly enjoyed my time in academia so far. It's a very good job for me. I'm gotten to participate in science, which is what I've always wanted to do. If it ends soon because I can't find a PI position, that'll be too bad, but I'll get over it. There are plenty of other interesting things to do than be a Scientist (in academia). If I am able to find something, anything interesting to do then I don't see why I would regret my time in academia. It's been hard and fun.

  4. I left my PhD program partway through, largely because I realized that the academic track after I got my degree looked extremely unattractive. Most of the postdocs I knew were extremely stressed out all the time, and all of the early-stage professors I knew were deeply miserable. I had some alternate interests which didn't require the PhD, and I was no longer interested in the career which did... so I abandoned ship without embarrassment.

    Regrets? Maybe a few. I don't regret any of the time that I spent in lab doing cool work, but I do regret a big chunk of time I spent on a project which, in retrospect, was entirely academic politics. And to be honest, I wish I had jumped sooner, just because I did spend so much time miserable.

    On the other hand, there's a tiny bit of regret that I'll never get that "PhD" after my name... but given my current life situation (married, making good money, having fun, and mostly happy) I don't think I get to complain much.

  5. I'm a 2nd year grad student and I've already decided that I don't want to enter the tenure track race though I would still like to be a researcher. I don't want to deal with the headaches, red tape and bureaucracy that PIs have to deal with. Last years stalemate in congress which affected professors I knew solidified my decision. I also can't deal with having others' lives/careers on my shoulders. I want to teach eventually (maybe high school but later on in life-near retirement).

  6. I've been thinking about this question a lot, and it's nice to read other's answers. I graduated a year ago pretty sure I wouldn't stay an academic, but I thought I might have to post-doc or something until that other opportunity came along. Like Adam says, my life is mostly happy (although I don't make good money, but I make what I made before by working a fraction as much). I'm tired of being in this limbo of wanting a 'real' job, but contracting and interning have been interesting. I thought that I was having a hard time letting go of the dream to do research, and find cures and save the world and stuff... and then I got the reviews from my last manuscript back. And they want more experiments. And I need to dig out old data. And it just isn't as romantic as I made it out to be. It was hard work- and the particular type of hard work that grates on me (Like Anonymous said, I like to FINISH work).

    I haven't found a job in or out of academia yet. I am ok with the fact that I won't be a professor. I don't like the idea that I might not be a scientist. But as the blobologist says, you can't "stop being a scientist."

  7. Anon at 12:26: can you give a hint about your job? It sounds like the type of thing that is just up my street (I also like variety and getting things to work) but I haven't seen any openings for anything like what you describe - or maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places?