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From PhD to Life

The PhD is a passport

Jennifer Polk looks at how Nadia Jaber took her disdain for the academic lifestyle and turned it into a solution for other PhDs.


This wonderful phrase and metaphor for understanding what a doctoral degree is — a passport to many different career and life paths — comes from this wonderful TEDx talk by Nadia Jaber. She’s a PhD candidate in molecular and cellular biology at Stony Brook University in New York State. Nadia’s talk is entitled “Reimagining the PhD”:

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In her talk, Nadia describes her love for science but her dislike of the academic lifestyle, something she realized mid-way through her doctorate. She describes the feelings of failure and loss of identity so many of us experienced ourselves, and then how she and a friend helped each other identify what energized them and which careers might be better fits for them than the tenure track.

The pair soon realized that they’d stumbled upon a process that could help other students figure out their own paths. Nadia launched the PhD Career Ladder Program. She piloted this peer-directed career exploration and job readiness program on a group of fellow students in her department, with the support of her chair. That experience lead her to give her talk and share details about her program online. She’ll run a second group in her department in 2015.

In the meantime, you can follow Nadia’s advice. Gather a group of friends or colleagues, set time aside for monthly meetings, and commit to the process. The PhD Career Ladder Program’s website includes all the instructions you need to get started and guide your group through the process.

As Nadia completes her own PhD, I’m excited to see where her “passport” will take her. She may work in science communication and public outreach, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she’ll soon be facilitating big projects or even launching her own business.

Jennifer Polk
Jennifer Polk is a career coach and entrepreneur. She earned her PhD in history from the University of Toronto in 2012. For more information and resources, check out her website:
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  1. Terry Smyth / January 11, 2015 at 10:34

    Maybe, like me, you should get some life first … do the PhD later (in my case at 67 years of age) … and see it more as an opportunity to draw together many aspects of your life, once you have some material to go on!

  2. Guru Deo / July 7, 2015 at 05:03

    Well done ! Her passion to go ahead and come up with PhD always gave ebergy to her. Now she knows what is what in research ..Wherever she will work it will matter a lot.. She may work in diffeerent field but the her approach will be very unique and scientific.