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The Black Hole

What should you do with your science PhD? Learn from others


Last week, I attended a lecture by Jorge Cham, creator of PhD Comics who preached about the “power of procrastination.” For those who have seen this lecture before, you may have left wondering whether his statements about what you do while procrastinating are true. He maintains that such oft-demonized activities are the process of discovering what you really want to do with your life, but not everyone has the same career potential associated with their procrastinating. However, I was also reminded what CIHR founding director Alan Bernstein once quipped about clever people – if their dream job doesn’t exist, they will create it. Such stories are difficult to find any precedent for, but a good step in that direction came last month with the release of a simple and fun website.

Eva Amsen of “The Node” fame (now at F1000) and Lou Woodley, creator of Cambridge’s BlueSci magazine, launched a new website called “My Sci Career” with the intention of gathering stories from scientists across the world about what careers they’ve pursued with a science degree. Several efforts have been previously made by individuals, graduate school committees, or universities to collate such stories, but none have really succeeded in building a one-stop shop for those wondering what they could do with an advanced degree in the sciences. The unique thing about this site is that it doesn’t have a defined stop point but rather it holds the potential to grow into a highly interactive and career-inspiring space for science trainees across the world.

Typically a series of articles are sponsored by an organization (such as the Node or even our age-old So you want to be a … series) or are confined to a careers booklet about the types of “non-academic” careers one could pursue. These resources are often hard to find and often get pursued only when someone sits down and says “I really need to find a new career.” The personal anecdotes that Eva and Lou are collating have the benefit of telling stories that may simply be a pleasant coffee break read rather than a mission to discover something.

The organization of the site is simple and seems effective in its current form. The stories are sorted by level of training and career type and even offers readers a stream of quotations to randomly click upon in a bid to find out what inspired individuals to make their bold career moves. Time will tell whether increased posts will burden the navigation, but hopefully Eva and Lou have big plans for how to keep stories easy to find and relevant for their readers. A couple of quick suggestions I would have are to build a more magazine feel (e.g., get some pictures, create a style, think New Yorker) and to regularly publicize popular posts so they do not get lost in the Internet ether. Great start so far though – I’m looking forward to seeing more!

Finally, if you’re a science graduate of any ilk and feel that you’ve undertaken a career path that might be interesting for others to hear about, why not consider writing up a post for Eva and Lou? Personal stories are pretty easy to write about, do not require extensive research and sometimes, they are all it takes to help guide a lonely soul into a fruitful and rewarding career.

David Kent
Dr. David Kent is a principal investigator at the York Biomedical Research Institute at the University of York, York, UK. He trained at Western University and the University of British Columbia before spending 10 years at the University of Cambridge, UK where he ran his research group until 2019. His laboratory's research focuses on the fundamental biology of blood stem cells and how changes in their regulation lead to cancers. David has a long history of public engagement and outreach including the creation of The Black Hole in 2009.
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