My (non)Postdoc Story: Marketing at Scientific Publisher

My (non)Postdoc StoryWhile nearly all of us face challenges during our postdoctoral years, we often feel alone in our struggles. In this series, we hope to share encouraging and uplifting stories of how other scientists were able to turn their situation around and move forward, despite a non-ideal situation. Like snowflakes, fingerprints, and nightmares, every postdoctoral experience is unique, so today we share the (non)Postdoc Story of another successful scientist.

I. The Story

In grad school I was a behavioral neuroscientist. Now, I’m working for Papers at Springer Science+Business Media as their “Papers Genius”. I started working for Papers during my graduate degree, but only part time, and wanted to join full time after completing my PhD in December 2012. After eight years in research (combined undergraduate and graduate experience) I wanted to expand on my experiences in business and by joining Springer I felt we, as a team, could accomplish a lot of what we had envisioned for Papers. When I started my graduate training I already had quite a bit of experience from the private sector, but only as a freelancer. At that point I was certainly not someone who only had one interest, and would ever only pursue an academic path. However, the final decision which path to choose was made a lot easier by already knowing the team I would be working with, and being really passionate about Papers myself. On top of this, I see this as a great learning opportunity where I get to further expand on my skillset while still being in touch with academia and research.

On the road to pursuing these goals, I didn’t expect to meet one of my old professors from my time as an undergraduate student, and have him still recognize me. It was fun to interact with my former professors in a professional capacity and turn the tables where now I was the expert helping them with citation management.

II. The Situation

During my time in graduate school, my interests shifted back and forth quite a bit between industry and academia. I loved research, and I was a good scientist, but I also had other interests. I also loved teaching and public speaking opportunities that often come with an academic track. Previously, I thought most of my interests could be met within an academic setting, but ultimately I started to enjoy the process of doing research less. The time it took to see results, the delays, and particularly some of the politics within my institution. All things considered, I was incredibly fortunate with my advisor and lab colleagues, and even with my institute. However, I felt more and more that I needed a change of pace, and that in the long run I just wasn’t sure pure research would make me happy. I fell into the all-too-familiar slump towards the middle and again towards the final part of my studies. Experiments were stalled, results were pending, and my motivation was lowering. There was no way I was going to leave without finishing my degree, but it prompted me to start thinking about my next steps even more seriously. I recognized that I would always love research and teaching, and perhaps one day return to it in some way, but that for the time being I needed to try something a little different.

III. The Emotions

Towards the last year of my PhD I was feeling like I might never finish. Although my PI was an excellent advisor, he left it up to me to indicate when I would have sufficient material to write my thesis and defend, and I understood rather late how self directed he really wanted me to be. This made me feel stalled and frustrated with myself, not having a clear path or a clear timeline for finishing up. I still really liked my project and I was proud of my accomplishments, but I had heard myself tell the same story so many times, that every time I gave a presentation I felt I needed to accomplish something new. It was time to leave and move on to the next stage of my life.

IV. The Solution

When it became clear I was not going to be starting any new research projects, I spoke with people from my department to get a better feel for how much work is needed to justify a PhD thesis. I felt like I was clueless to what the requirements really were, and if what I had produced was sufficient. After having published three first author articles, I wrote another three chapters and spoke with my advisor about the timeline for finishing. Those final 5-6 months were the most nerve wracking of my entire time in graduate school. Due to various factors, I really did have to defend by the end of 2012, and I opened up to my advisor about this, which gave him a better understanding of my situation. He was on board with my plan to finish up, and helped me to meet the tight timeline. In the end, I defended on 12-12-12, and was so excited to have completed everything by my self-imposed deadline. Because I had been so high strung and stressed for five straight months leading up to this day, and for a long time thought I would not be able to make all the deadlines, the post defense feeling was rather anticlimactic. I really had to get used to the idea of having finished. Imagine running a marathon, and the finish line is just a split second experience of all your efforts. It felt much like that; as if I wanted to stretch the experience of the defense further to have something that felt more like closure.

V. The Lesson

When going to career development seminars during my undergraduate and graduate years, I always received the advice not to worry too much, that things would fall into place. While I was never a believer in passive acceptance, I find myself now giving others similar advice. It is true that nothing just happens while you sit on your couch waiting for it, but you also cannot over micro-manage your entire career. In my experience there are two main things you can and should do:

1)    Plant as many ‘seeds’ as you can, as early as you can. These could consist of networking and making connections in your field and outside of your direct field. They could consist of having extracurricular interests that could later on lead to job opportunities or transferable skills.

2)    Find out what you really like to do. This is easier said than done. I still love research, but I discovered that there were many things surrounding the research process that contributed to not feeling an academic career was the right choice for me, at least not right now. Sometime we think we like one thing, and by keeping an open mind and exploring different things we carve out a path for ourselves we never even knew was possible.

 

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Do you have a Postdoc Story you’d like to share? Email us to let us know.

 

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1 comment so far. Join The Discussion

  1. Giana Cognato

    wrote on March 27, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Your story is certainly an inspiration for many students, Chris! I wish more success in your career and we all miss you here in Brazil! ;)

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