PhD Transparency

person holding laboratory flask

Natalie Sandlin graduate student at Boston College and coordinator of the Beyond the PhD Ambassador Program shares her thoughts on approaching career exploration

At this point in my PhD journey, half way through my 4th year, I am starting to think more in depth about what the other side of getting my PhD looks like. To be honest, I’m still not fully confident in my answer… 

When I entered my graduate program, I didn’t have much thought about career prospects. I was finishing up my undergraduate degree, a little lost on career options, but knowing I loved microbiology. I looked to grad school as a way to further my knowledge in a field I was passionate about while giving myself some time to research jobs that might interest me. While my reasoning to get my PhD might not have been the best, I am grateful for the time I’ve spent in my program and all the knowledge I have gained along the way. So far, grad school has given me insight into various career paths that I can pursue post-PhD. 

My two favorite aspects of research are being hands-on in the lab and overseeing my undergraduates’ projects. Something graduate school made me realize about myself is that I get excited to run a new experiment or troubleshoot a problem in the lab. Also, discussing science, planning the next steps of an experiment, and analyzing data with undergraduate researchers is very engaging for me. On the other hand, I also have learned that classroom teaching is not for me. Being a TA, while bearable, was one of the things I least looked forward to each week. Through this experience, I decided staying in academia is probably not the best option.

So where does that leave me in terms of future jobs? Still not confident, and that’s okay. I think a good fit for me is to go into industry. That likely means starting as a bench scientist and then moving into a more managerial role. However, without any real experience in anything besides academia, I don’t feel truly confident in that answer either. I’d like to feel more comfortable when answering the dreaded, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and therefore, I plan on taking more concrete measures to figure it out. My current short-term goal is holding informational interviews with professionals in roles I might be interested in. Ideally, this will help me gain insight into whether I’d enjoy pursuing a similar career path. 

While I may not have it all figured out, what I’m really trying to say is that it’s okay to not fully know what your dream job is and to learn as you go.

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