Time in graduate school can seem like it stretches on forever: all those never-ending classes, exams, long experiments, time courses, lab meetings, conferences, departmental talks, etc… And yet, I’ve noticed that graduate students are scared, nay terrified, of their thesis defense! What should be the happy, proud culmination of years of research, hard work, and effort ends up as a miserable month or two of writing, preparing, and defending the thesis.
As a postdoctoral fellow at the NIH, in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), I have been strongly encouraged from the outset of my five-year appointment to start making serious decisions about my career path. Although I have always loved basic research and the thrill that comes from making a novel discovery, I also feel a strong pull to have a job that allows for more interaction with people and less with cultured cells and pipettors. Being at the NIH, I did not have to look far to learn about scientific jobs away from the lab bench.
The average age for an academic researcher to receive his or her first NIH R grant is 42.
Like many of you, I am concerned about this for a few reasons. First, it reflects an ever-increasing “training” period, with investigators not truly achieving independence until they have their own dedicated source of funding. Second, it suggests that as scientists we are not getting the benefits of a “real” job until our early 40s, including getting established in a stable location, retirement benefits, and the like.
Climate change is real, and the recent UN Climate Summit highlighted the fact that more must be done to mitigate this problem. On an individual level, there are several ways to be eco-friendly. Perhaps you do your part by recycling or composting. Maybe you bike to work, carpool, or use public transportation. Some of us make sure to use reusable grocery bags. Whatever the method, simple sustainability measures in our personal lives can make a difference in reducing pollution and preventing further climate change.