The state of the nation

This post see a change of pace. It deals with my other passion, science. I have been studying science in a professional capacity for 9 years now and the times we live in are making that career choice more and more dissatisfying.

I completed my undergrad degree in Biochemistry and followed it up with a PhD in Neuroscience. I went straight to a PhD from my degree because of the recession and the lack of jobs in the market. I had considered taking a year in industry before committing to the doctorate  but this was not possible and I moved forward with what I believed to be the continued career goal.

As anyone who completes a PhD in any discipline can tell you, its not easy, its not always enjoyable, you will feel like a lunatic on a weekly basis and you will be called a student by anyone and everyone. It takes a huge amount to devotion and critical, independent thinking and yet you will feel like a child. Of course lab working is enjoyable. I love benchwork (even if it more often than not doesn’t work) and generally the lab group present such a mixture of nationalities and personalities that it is always an enjoyable environment.

Inevitably towards the end of the PhD one must decide whether to stick with the prestige of academia or to move to more modern pastures. I deliberated long and hard on this, taking 6 months off while I scoured the internet for jobs I wanted. I wrote grants with interested PIs and interviewed all over the world. The world of academia pulled me back and since funding is abysmal in Ireland I found myself stateside in New York. My new job and situation comes with all the prestige and honor I feel my career at this stage should merit and I am throwing myself into the experience wholeheartedly (even when extremely daunted).

Now here comes the tricky part: science is becoming increasingly difficult for women (and somewhat men) to continue to prevail in. Funding is short worldwide so career tracks are being replaced by long research work periods that are not geared towards an end goal. Postdoc research is meant to act as a stepping stone position and instead is becoming a lifetime career. It lacks stability and the respect of a career position and I am finding it difficult to get some real prospective on my options and how to tailor my work to my future plans.

I am enjoying this adventure but I really feel that young career people today are being corralled by the older generations, and this is not just in science. The increasing age of retirement means that there is less and less room in eminent positions for new young minds. While this may be less obvious in technology based jobs (the refuge of our generation), it is especially worrying as a women who would also encounter glass ceilings, maternity discrimination and gender bias.

I don’t have an answer. Im not sure anyone does. I just hope that in two or three years the opportunity to become a fully fledged academic in my own right is afforded to me.

I’d love to hear anyones opinions or experience in similar situations.



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