When is it enough?

Yesterday over at DrugMonkey, who congratulated everyone who got their NIH grants out, the discussion turned into a disgruntlement of postdocs talking about whether or not you could call being a postdoc slavery. I let the pessimist disgruntled postdoc in me come out again and commented this:
“Sure, being a postdoc is not literally slavery, and it was also my free choice to do this. But if I think about the fact that a large proportion of my paycheck goes to daycare and we had to move to a cheaper place to be able to pay for daycare, and I compare myself to friends who work in industry jobs, I sometimes feel a little sorry for myself. I love what I do, but it would just be nice if that paid slightly more.”
To which DrugMonkey responded:
“Yet interestingly none of us chose those other industries where we’d be appropriately valued.
Well, that is not entirely true: this study shows that (at least in the UK but I don’t think this is an exception) only 12% of third year PhD students want to stay in academia. Maybe that’s because in that year they are all suffering from their PhD dip LINK, but it shows that not everyone WANTS to stay in academia. I don’t know what the numbers are for post-docs or even young faculty but from listening to friends and colleagues a lot of us are thinking about leaving academia. (you would think that this would make it easier for the rest of us to get enough grant money to stay in academia but I’m not sure that’s the case either).
To speak for myself: I would love to stay in academia and become a professor. I love to do research, think of new ideas and see how they turn into experiments and data. But I don’t love the idea that if I want a second child, I don’t know how we are going to pay for daycare. I don’t love that the past three grants that I’ve written have been rejected (all of them had funding percentages of less than 10%). And I don’t love that if I go to the home country lab that I’ve been talking to for after my postdoc, they can only offer me a year contract if I don’t have my own money by then (and with a year contract it will be impossible to buy a house and renting prices in the home country are insane). The fact that both Dr. BrownEyes and I are in the same position doesn’t help either. If one of us had a little more and/or steadier income that would make things easier (but then again; where in the world do you find that steady income nowadays). 
I don’t want to be such a pessimist and I generally have faith that things will turn out okay, but especially now that I have a baby I sometimes wonder: when is it enough? And when am I going to look for a steady job with more security? And are those even around?

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9 Comments

Filed under academia, life in the lab, science, working mom

9 responses to “When is it enough?

  1. I don't know what the hell to call myself; I'm not in academia for my primary appointment, but grants and papers are my job. And my academic appointment is basically a consulting gig. It's weird.

    I get paid a little better than most of the assistant professors I know, but I have less job security, because I'm on soft money. It's a bizarre world.

    I'd gladly trade 20% of my salary for a permanent position on hard money.

  2. Thanks for your reply! I certainly don't think having an insecure job is limited to academia.

  3. DrugMonkey

    The claim, and my observation, is usually about never having gone down the PhD track in the first place.

  4. We've been at it for nearly two years now, and probably ask this question at least once a week. With tenure track and even tenured profs still working like crazy, even the non parent postdocs I know question their commitment to science on a daily basis.

  5. Anonymous

    I'm increasingly wondering when its enough too. For me, I stay on as a postdoc in the physical sciences because I love science, and in my field the 'industry' jobs aren't related to the research that I'm doing in terms of being in the same area. In my field it seems like most ex-academics go into finance, defence or consulting due to our ability to program and solve complex problems. None of those really appeal. I compare myself to my bestie who did med (6 year degree out of high-school), and feel that I've been educated longer (4years undergrad+3/4 years phd), to live in a country far away from the people who I love, to feel pretty isolated professionally, for less job security and to have what I perceive as a minimal change at getting a tenure position, which I'm not even sure I want now because I can't see myself as being like those who do have tenure positions. If I'd known it would be like this at the outset, I'd have thought long and hard about following the same career path in the first place. In hindsight, I would have been better to also do med, and not go down this physical sciences path, despite my interest in it.

  6. Okay I see what you mean. In that case it's indeed too late for all of us with PhDs.

  7. I think that in general it's quite healthy to every now and then stop and assess whether you're still happy with the way things are (as opposed to just keep going and when you're 65 realize that you didn't like your job all along). I agree that it doesn't matter if you have kids or not, deciding if you can commit to science is tough regardless. But I have to say that before I had a baby I cared a lot less about having enough money.

  8. Thanks for your comment. I think this is true for a lot of people, that getting into your PhD you may not realize that such a small percentage of PhDs will end up as faculty. It would be nice if you got more exposure to 'alternative' careers during grad school (or even before).

  9. While I am looking for a a real job (ie- one that would give me the confidence to stop job hunting), I am doing an internship at our local tech transfer office. It's given me some interesting exposure to how start-ups work.

    It's also put me in contact with a new league of very bright, talented and motivated post-docs who know they want 'something more' from their career, but can't get there yet. Everyone has a different reason they can't find The Job (took time off for kids, too long as a post-doc, don't have the Right skills yet, haven't found the Right job yet), but we've all got the same story. Now I've got this PhD and I'm not sure how to use it. But I'm tired of being broke and working so hard to barely keep up. I think most of these people have decided to leave academia, and can't find the way.

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