We have come to the end of the post-PhD career profile series where we’ve heard from my friends who have left academia and those who have stayed. I hope that it was useful and inspiring for those who are currently doing a PhD. You may have noticed that people left/stayed in academia for many different reasons. There isn’t a formula for what you should or shouldn’t do but I have noticed some trends which I want to summarise.
Douglas Dyer, Postdoc at the University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
Doug did his PhD in Immunology at the University of Manchester, based at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research in Tony Day’s lab. He focussed his PhD on the interactions between the anti-inflammatory regulator TSG-6 and chemokines during immune cell recruitment. As he was interested in the field of chemokine biology and the immune system he decided to continue working in this field and started a postdoc in Tracy Handel’s lab at UCSD. Doug worked there for two and a half years and enjoyed living right on the San Diego beach.
Elaine Emmerson, Postdoc at the University of California, San Francisco, USA
Elaine started her academic career as a research technician at the University of Manchester. Six months into a project investigating impaired wound healing, she realised that academic research was her true calling and started a PhD a year later. After her PhD she was awarded a prestigious fellowship from The Healing Foundation, naming her the David Hammond Charitable Foundation Postdoctoral Research Associate. After her PhD, she made the transatlantic journey to UCSF as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Program in Craniofacial Biology.
Rowann Bowcutt, Senior Research Fellow at King’s College London, London, UK
Rowann did her PhD in Immunology at the University of Manchester. After she finished, she moved to New York University School of Medicine to do a postdoc which involved working in a clinical trial. She also thought it had the potential to create opportunities for her in the future. [It has already, recently her work on parasitic worms from her postdoc was published in Science!]
Luke Bonser, Postdoc at the University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, USA
Luke did his PhD on mucus at the University of Manchester. After his PhD, he moved to the US to join a lab at the University of California San Francisco for a postdoc. He says he stayed in academia because:
- I love science. My postdoc has provides me with freedom to explore interesting questions as well as learn new ways to attack these questions.
- I want to be a professor/PI (principal investigator; lab supervisor). To give me the best chance of becoming a PI I needed to build on my skills from my PhD, develop my own research goals and publish good science. My postdoc has provided me with this opportunity.
- I wasn’t good enough to play professional football.
Néstor Sáiz, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, New York , USA
Néstor did his PhD in Developmental Biology at the University of Manchester. His PhD focussed on how cells in the early mammalian embryo coordinate their fate decision-making and their spatial arrangement. After his PhD, he moved across the Atlantic to pursue his academic career in New York. “I continue to work in academia because I enjoy having the chance to think about the general principles that underlie biological processes and to dictate the focus of my own research.”
Emma Lawrence, Project Manager at Imperial College London, London, UK
Emma did her PhD in Immunology on helminth (parasitic worm) infection at the University of Manchester. Directly after her PhD she remained as a postdoc in the lab for 3 months to finish off papers and then went travelling in South America. She knew that a postdoc was not for her and categorically listed 3 things she was sure that a postdoc would not fulfil:
- I wanted a career with more short-term goals; I am more motivated and enjoy achievements that can be done in a shorter space of time than a publication.
- I did not want the responsibility of self-funding, at least at some point this is important, and eventually you are responsible for funding others.
- I didn’t believe accomplishments in science are fairly rewarded; i.e. it is papers not hard work that counts.