Drip guilt trip

I think I’ve said before that I don’t want to do a post-doc, don’t want to do research at all once I finish my PhD.

I guess this makes me a drip (from the leaky pipeline of women in science).

Thing is, sometimes I get the feeling that research isn’t so bad and things are bound to get better after grad school. Everyone says that the end of grad school is a miserable experience. So, then I start thinking that maybe I could handle a job at a small liberal arts place with a small research program. But part of what makes me think I should try this is guilt.

I feel guilty for being a drip.

This is ridiculous, I know, but I feel like I’m letting down womankind by leaving research. How are we supposed to get more women in the upper echelons of science if we all just keep leaving? It makes me feel like I’m part of the problem. I should suck it up and stay.

But, I get the feeling that I would be miserable.

First, because I hate the failure associated with research. A large portion of what I do fails on a daily basis with no real explanation for why. That used to depress the hell out of me, but I think I’ve developed a thicker skin over the years and now it’s just frustrating.

Second, because I want to have children. Now. I just don’t think that being pregnant and giving birth would be conducive to getting a lot of research done as a post-doc. And, I’m 34 years old; I can’t afford to wait until I finish my post-doc, get a faculty position, and get tenure in order to have children. I know that doing all of those things is hard work, requiring long hours, and I don’t want to miss half of my children’s childhoods because I am always at work. And then, there’s childcare to think of. It’s damn expensive. Could we afford it? I mean, being a post-doc doesn’t pay all that much.

Third, because I see how hard it is to get a faculty position in the first place. Do I really want to go through a post-doc or two only to become a drip out of the pipeline because I can’t find a faculty position? And, let’s say I do find a faculty position. Would it be at a place where my husband could get a job? He’s an astrophysicist and has no interest in becoming faculty. That means he needs to be at a place with a large enough program that they hire staff scientists or at a NASA research facility. Those are few and far between.

Fourth, because I have lots of interests outside of science and I want time to pursue them. These days, I get up in the morning, eat breakfast and go to lab, come home late at night, eat a small supper and go to bed. I’ve been trying to leave weekends partially free so I can do things like laundry. This leaves little time to do simple things like read a book or knit a sweater or, well, just about anything (including spending time with my future children). I want free time, I guess I’m saying. I want a couple hours in the evening that I can do whatever the hell I want. I grew up seeing my parents work ridiculous hours just so we could survive and I thought if I got an education I would not have to do that. But, I guess I overshot on the education front because it seems that now I have so much education I’m expected to work a ridiculous number of hours, not so that I can make enough money to feed and clothe my family but for the fun of it.

So, when I look at all of those reasons, logically I know that I am making the right choice for me.

But, I still feel guilty.

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18 thoughts on “Drip guilt trip

  1. I’ve thought a lot about this issue, and I don’t know where I stand. I mean, I think each person should do what’s best for them, right? But at the same time, nothing gets changed if people don’t fight for it, you know. But yeah, I think you’re right on the mark with your concerns, and I don’t think it’s good for a person to try and “fight through” a lifetime of misery (or unhappiness or whatever) just for a cause.

    I don’t know that I’ve really said anything here. Just that, yeah, it’s tough.

  2. I’m with you (although not really). I was unexpectedly pregnant early in graduate school. Got to the point where I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and wham, pregnant again. Both times on the pill and both times NOT planned.

    Now I’m defending this semester, looking for my job and it turns out I don’t want to leave my grad school city. And it turns out that you can’t be a part time academic. I mean seriously, if I could research + teach 30 hours a week and have some success, then I’m there. But I don’t see that panning out. Instead, I see myself transitioning into industry on a part time basis.

  3. *sigh* I’ve felt the same way and had all these same thoughts. Turns out my husband and I decided we wanted to live in a certain city so now we are here and looking for jobs and industry is more available than research or academic jobs but part of me still wants a post doc but then part of me wants a full time job so I can get settled and have a baby. What is a gal to do?!

  4. I think research is sort of a miserable existence. There is a type of person who does well with it, but even though I’m just starting my doctoral program, I feel like I know I won’t stay in research. Hell, I may not even stay in my FIELD. I may get my degree and use that knowledge to get a job until my writing career takes off. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with following your own goals. We all know the lack of women in the upper echelons of the science community isn’t because we can’t, it’s because many of us don’t want to, and why do something you don’t want to just to prove you can?

  5. I’ve felt the same way too – still do, sometimes.

    It makes me feel both better and worse to realize that whatever I do with my career, I will still have many opportunities to face down sexism – it’s not like industry is free of glass ceilings! If I’m not struggling just to stay sane I might have a better chance at fighting it.

  6. your post totally resonates with me … it did about a year ago (when i was finishing up) and it does today. i feel guilty for being a drip too. not only do i feel guilty for letting down women in science, i feel like i’m letting down my PI and all the other PIs i looked up to. maybe part of the problem is that this system grooms us to want to become PIs (and/or perhaps i myself was just deluded into thinking there were that many PI positions available), and if we’re anything less than a PI, then we are a total and utter failure. is it cause most people in science are perfectionist types and can’t handle anything but the idealized life of being a prof?

    of the reasons you listed regarding why you would be miserable – they are all so valid. i hear you and i totally sympathize.

    on the topic of money: i understand that becoming a PI is supposed to be a vocation but being well renumerated for what one does is nice. therefore i think i’ve been leaning towards industry, especially since there are more jobs available in that sector. perhaps one could get experience in industry and hop back into academia to teach… that would be nice.

    one prof got me to think about things this way … do you live to work? or do you work to live? what about you?? i’d like to think there can be a happy medium, and i think a lot of you would want that too. to be able to enjoy your professions, but to also have time for personal development / just plain old fun.

    i’ve been reading YFS’s blog and now yours for a several weeks now and i’m so glad that i’m not the only one that’s been feeling this way. thank you for blogging and sharing your thoughts, and for letting me just dump a stream of consciousness here. i wish you all the best in making your decision. awesome blog !

  7. I so so so understand what you’re saying here… sometimes I wonder if I even made it this far because I felt guilty for “settling for less”…. in the end though, it’s YOUR life and only you can know what will and won’t make you happy. And you owe it to yourself to do whatever it takes to be happy. You deserve that! Try to give yourself permission to make the best decision for you and don’t worry about the “others”. Just be sure your decision isn’t because you’re in a crappy situation at the moment (I just defended my thesis and am so worn out that I would quit tomorrow if I could…) and you want to escape it. If you used to love science and you think, in a different environment, with working hours you set yourself that you could love it again, then maybe consider a postdoc and re-evaluate after a year or so, giving yourself permission to leave if it’s not making you happy. Good luck in whatever path you choose, and keep writing about it!

  8. What you do after graduation is up to you, and if you have doubts of being happy, you really need to think of what you want in a career as well as in life in general. I interned at Johnson Space Center in Houston after my Master’s degree to determine I really did want to switch careers.

    There are plenty of ways to make both of your career goals mesh if you really want to. I worked in building 37, which is predominantly biochem research and other bench type labs (though I’m not sure what your focus is, it is basic science and they have LOTS of different labs/departments you could be involved in).

    While there I met astrophysicists, engineers, physiologist, molecular biologists… you name it they have it. The only problem now, at least in Houston, is their is a hiring freeze so you may or may not be able to have the job you want (since they are not adding new positions, only refilling ones that are vacated. There will also be no university like schedule and lots of travel involved, depending on the department you end up in. You will also probably not be a civil servant (that is what they call an actual NASA employee), you will be employed by one of the many contract companies and which one you apply through makes a big difference in your placement within the organization (one is nicknamed the PhD mill).

    Feel free to mail me if you have any questions or this seems like something you are considering. I had a very good time while working there and still keep in contact with the department head I worked for and a few other select employees. (I can discuss the negatives and positives of the experience and what PhDs who are currently employed there through a private mail only).

    Sorry for writing a book, but I came to a realization I might want to change the path I was on a few years ago, and did, so I’d like to help as much as a fellow blogger who has never met you can.

  9. Y’know, I looked up the NSF tracking stats once, and something less than 20% of all PhDs end up in TT faculty jobs… because there just aren’t enough jobs. And yet the universities persist in pretending we’ll all end up exactly like our bosses, and it’s not even possible. Think of it as a failure of their hold on reality, not a failure of your will.

  10. Hi Mrs. WhatsIt! I’m a fellow nth year grad student who is in the same boat as you 🙂 I can’t wait to graduate, but at the same time, I’m at a quandary as to what career path to take that would allow me to actually have a life, ie. children, knitting, photography and other pursuits. I went to an “alternative career” talk with an invited patent lawyer guest speaker. He got his PhD in biology and ended up doing IP law, eventually getting his JD from night law school. He liked his job because it is still very much science-related and he only reads about the experiments that work! I was a little tempted by this career path, but I’m not sure I can take another few years of (night) school! Haha!

  11. I really appreciate your post on this topic. I am also in my last year and dealing with these very issues. I want to teach at a university but not worry about a big research program. I would LOVE to work part-time when my ‘someday children’ are young. I really think academia could retain some amazing people if the job opportunities and tenure track had so flexible options. I too fear that shuts doors for future women but don’t want to sacrifice my life to it anymore. I am still hopeful that I can have my cake and eat it too. Good luck!

  12. I’m agreeing with Maria (#6). There are plenty of glass ceilings – enough to go around to all of us – and you’ll do a far better job breaking one in a job you like.

    If it makes it any better: this woman PhD can’t wait to start her first post doc in two months’ time, and I will certainly not be the only woman in my research group.

  13. I have been in industry for a long time, and would like to reiterate what Maria of GreenGabbro said above – there are plenty of glass ceilings to break in industry. Some have been broken a bit, some have hardly been scratched. So do what is best for you and your family, and do – as much as humanly possible – what you prefer and enjoy and like the best.

    In some parts of industry, there can still be long hours, but I think there are firms where you can find the right half to three-quarter-time job – if that’s what you need.

    Also, if you take a break, you can get back in later. It has definitely been done.

  14. I hover between academia and industry. I work for a federal contractor but I do the labwork at a large research school. I also teach college courses part-time for extra $$.

    My PhD was fairly easy to me… I picked a project that I loved. If I had to do it all again, I would do my PhD the same. However, postdocing SUCKED. I hate doing other people’s crap. And I interviewed at plenty of places for tenure-track jobs but I just kept thinking I didn’t want any of the jobs…. the politics and the nonsense was just too much. And I’m not crazy about teaching – 1 class/sem, sure. More than that.. no way in hell, I’d go nuts. And while I realize there are super-women out there who balance research, teaching, service, and family life miraculously, I just don’t have the energy anymore for keeping lots of balls in the air. I’m tired.

    I also think that with the hiring freezes and lack of deadwoods retiring because of IRAs dropping, the pressures put on current faculty to teach more (and to bigger classes) and get more money to fund their research from national sources (state and local sources are dry-er) is really making academia a much-more-stressed place to work. I do think that getting out now is a good idea and I think it will be much more possible later to “get back in” under the “excuse” of a bad economy and bad hiring times… it’s a good time to explore non-academia and take a break mentally if you can just ride out the awful economy and crunch.

  15. I’m sorry to hear that you feel so defeated, and ultimately we all know what is best for us at the end of the day. I can’t help but to think that the experience you are having in research right now is not what it’s going to be like in the long term. You are undoubtedly burnt out. It sucks.

    I don’t know how much interest you have in doing research in industry, but there often seems to be a much more 8-5 culture in these types of positions, which really frees you up to pursue hobbies and spend time with children. Also, the pay tends to be excellent, and so you should be able to afford childcare.

    You know what’s best for you, and I hope that you wind up somewhere that you feel productive and happy.

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