Grad School! But then what? (Part 1)

Photo by @christinekts, Instagram @gradlifemcgill

Photo by @christinekts, Instagram @gradlifemcgill

Do you ever think about what you’ll do next after grad school? Does that thought ever scare you? Over the last few months I’ve been thinking more and more about this. I have about a year and a half left and thinking about what comes next has left me with more than a few sleepless nights. It’s a big decision to come to grad school but there are also big decisions to make when you’re about to leave.

It doesn’t help when you’ve heard the stories about how hard it is becoming in academia, especially when you look at the statistics. In 2012, ASCB published a graphical representation of current biology PhD career paths that suggests less than 10% of current graduate students will get a tenure-track academic position. A NIH working group found that while PhDs awarded in biomedical sciences has doubled in the last 20 years faculty positions certainly haven’t and they found over 1/3 of biomedical PhDs are working in non-research related careers.

Now it’s not all doom and gloom, don’t get me wrong. But it is a reality we all need to be aware of and something we need to prepare for while we are doing our degrees. (more…)

Graduate studies: A decision between adventure and chaos – Part 1

Did you ever want a donut at 3 am? Or maybe some all dressed pizza? Why not a double bacon hamburger? In this case, the answer is easy, you just wait for the next day to grant yourself that wish. In the worst case scenario, you get out of bed and walk/drive to the closest 24 hours fast food restaurant to fulfill your desire. However, what if your desire involves something a lot more complex that you cannot even define? Maybe you will spend the rest of the night trying to understand it without success, but you can surely perceive it. You want to change something, go somewhere or meet someone. How, when and why are questions just out of reach. That was my story. I had these three questions in my mind often during the night. The phone from the company I used to work for would ring exactly at 3:01. I had to wake up quickly, answer, understand the situation in the factory and try to give some indications before falling asleep again.

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Sometimes I had to get out of bed and drive in the middle of the night in order to fix the situation onsite. But do not misunderstand me, I loved my job. It was the realization of many of my big dreams when I was an undergrad student: a well-paid job in an international company where the everyday challenges teach interesting things. But for some reason, these feelings about doing “something else” assaulted me in the middle of the night, and I could not understand them at all. I started to feel empty, without direction and very discouraged. I really needed to change my life. But why? There was no logical reason behind these thoughts. At the beginning, I believed that maybe the lack of physical activity, the stress at work or even the food at the factory kitchen were making me feel that way. I decided to exercise again, prepare my own food before going to work and other rituals that could improve my situation. These things improved significantly my mood, but I was still thinking that something was not right. Then the first clue came to me. I heard that a local private university was offering Master degrees for engineers from our factory and I was very excited about it. I wanted to learn more, to know something new and some of that could be right there. Unfortunately, the subjects (mainly focused in administration) were totally different from what I expected and I decided to leave that idea alone. But the idea refused to leave and later I found myself talking with the coordinator of the Metallurgy and Materials master program of my previous University. The investigation branches were exciting, as I could see some of my work problems explained from a very different perspective, making it an excellent opportunity to improve my skills and fulfill that hungry for something new.

Unfortunately, when I was about to say yes to begin the applying process, they gave me a single condition: even when I was not receiving scholarship from the Institute, I had to quit my job to be accepted, as they considered that I would not be able to have a good performance if I was fighting on two fronts. I had a lot to process then. On one side there was an excellent and secure job; in the other the opportunity of change completely not only my professional development but my whole life. The master degree did not have to stop there, I could continue with further adventures in science with a Ph.D. and who knows what after that. Even there was the Canadian dream and beyond… but that
belongs to another story. I was between my own past dreams and the present ones. Years before that job represented everything I was fighting for: stability, certainty and material wealth for me and my loved ones. But at some point, I changed without noticing and that dream alone was not
fulfilling anymore. This new horizon seemed so exciting, full of new possibilities and experiences. There was a single problem. Fear. Not only to fail but to fail after having a good work, which I left following something that seemed to be a whim. Fortunately one day I realized something thanks to a good friend. You have the right to decide anything in your life, but make sure that the reasons behind those decisions are good enough. The fear is the worse reason to do or not something. Is good to be afraid sometimes, as the fear keeps us safe from falling from the last floor of a building or enter to a nightclub of doubtful reputation. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is to do whatever makes you happy, as long as you accept the problem that comes with that decision, which will be easier to overcome if your drive is strong enough.

I guess you can imagine what I decided considering that I am writing this during my free time from my PhD. But that is only the beginning of an adventure that would take me to more places, situations and problems than I could ever imagine. And in the end, the life is that, an adventure where you should go to sleep only with the desire of having a donut at 3:00 am, but knowing you are doing the best for yourself.

Devoir concilier études graduées et maternité


Le 11 février 2013, vers 7h du matin, j’ai découvert avec surprise que j’étais enceinte. Vers 13h le même jour, je recevais un courriel de McGill disant que j’étais acceptée au doctorat en histoire avec une bourse d’entrée. Il y a des jours comme ça où une grosse nouvelle n’attend pas l’autre. Après avoir paniqué, je me suis dit que l’Univers m’envoyait un signe: « go, ma grande, fais les deux.»

Marion a écrit à propos de la conciliation études et travail à temps plein. Personnellement, je dois conjuguer avec la maternité qui prend – littéralement – tout mon temps. J’ai maintenant deux enfants. F-A qui vient de terminer (heureusement) sa phase de terrible two et M-A qui nous gazouille ses sourires du haut de ses 5 mois.

Et je fais un doctorat.

Ces deux aspects de ma vie ont vraiment beaucoup en commun.

D’abord, c’est du temps plein, tout le temps, en tout lieu. Quand je suis à l’école, j’ai toujours mon cellulaire pas loin au cas où fièvre-bobo-autre frappe l’un ou l’autre de mes héritiers. Matins, soirs et fins de semaine sont dédiés à la vie familiale, soit amuser, nourrir et laver l’immense tas de linge sale des petits.

Le doctorat est aussi un plus que temps plein: je travaille dessus la semaine, le soir après le dodo des enfants, pendant les siestes et j’y pense quand mon cerveau n’est pas occupé à gérer des crises de jalousie ou des fous rires. J’y pense quand je pousse la poussette, quand je me couche, quand je range (encore) les jouets qui trainent.

@gradlifemcgill / Instagram

@gradlifemcgill / Instagram

Faire une recherche prenante, c’est comme un bébé: l’immense fierté des progrès, l’incertitude, la remise en question de mes compétences, l’exaspération quand rien ne va comme je veux. Et des fois j’ai envie de tout balancer par la fenêtre.

À intervalle régulier, j’ai juste envie de démissionner de ma thèse ou de ma vie de mère et d’aller vivre sur une île déserte un petit moment ou, de manière plus réaliste, d’aller dans un spa et un bar (ben oui). Mais inévitablement, quand ENFIN j’y arrive, je pense… aux enfants ou la recherche. Surtout s’il y a quelqu’un avec moi. En effet, je passe 100% de mon temps à être mère ou étudiante: les sujets de small talk ne sont pas si nombreux en dehors de ça!

Bref, être mère aux études graduées c’est prenant, épuisant, énervant et… je n’ai envie de faire rien d’autre.

Comment conciliez-vous études graduées à temps plein avec le reste de votre vie?


“Where do I go for my PhD?” How to make that important decision.

While many of you blog-followers might already be enrolled in your doctoral studies, some of you may be contemplating a PhD in the near future (and have been reading our posts to evaluate whether it’s a good idea or whether you should totally rethink this option!). Choosing a PhD position is a really big decision; not only would you be dedicating a number of years to yet another degree, but you are also making a series of choices — a program, a university, a city and a supervisor – in one shot. Some of us are careful planners, while others are more impulsive, so it’s fairly certain that we won’t all approach this decision in a similar way. However, I thought I’d share my own thought process and the criteria I carefully considered back when I was deciding which PhD program to join.

I should mention, first, that I am a pretty analytical person, and I do things systematically and methodically. Paradoxically, however, I am also just as impulsive and emotionally-driven as I am analytical! So, you will sometimes find me devising carefully planned pro/con lists and taking 16 days to make a decision, and other times you’ll find me “going with my gut” and arriving at a decision in less than 3.2 seconds. My PhD decision was the fruit of a systematic, rational pro/con list, many conversations with well-informed people, and a few days spent on my own, so that I could honestly listen to the voice inside my head – and, yes, also my gut.

You can create your own pro/con lists or buy a pack of these ones made by Knock Knock.


My PhD, the Epic Failure

I’d like to think that all grad students stumble at some point or another in their career. I’d like to think that making mistakes and correcting them are all part of the process of science. And I’d like to think that this happens to make us better scientists. But mostly, I know I’d like to think these things because my PhD just totally kicked my ass. (more…)

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