Is there a doctor in the house?

Distinguished colleagues, it is truly a delight to (digitally) spend time with you today and discuss the diverse consequences of head-on replication-transcription conflicts in Bacillus subtilis. Hopefully you will find my seminar to be intellectually stimulating, and scientifically scintillating. Now let’s begin with a brief overview of the bacterial replication machinery.

Wait! I'm only joking! Come back!

Wait! Come back, gentle readers! I am, as always, full of it being facetious. This post will not be a didactic diatribe about DNA dynamics. My blog is a space for selfies, rants about GMOs, and madcap misadventures.

Sometimes selfies during adventures while eating GMOs
Sometimes selfies during adventures while eating GMOs

I promise that this post won’t contain any more scary pictures of replication proteins. However, I couldn’t resist kicking things off with a bit of Bacillus because, as I mentioned Monday, I recently reached the culmination of a HUGELY significant chapter in my academic career.IMG_7200Thursday I successfully defended my life Ph.D. thesis. The forms are signed, the document is printed, and I am officially allowed to call myself a Doctor of Philosophy in microbiology.

157 pages of steamy scientific action
157 pages of steamy scientific action

I’ve spent the past 48 hours rip-roaring drunk reflecting on my graduate experience. My family has asked me multiple times “How does it feel to have a Ph.D.?” At the present moment, the honest answer to that question is: pretty much the same as how it feels not to have a Ph.D., only with fewer deadlines. After all, although I technically “earned” the degree on the day I defended my dissertation, the work that went into producing the document spanned four years of research, thought, and training. I’m incredibly proud of the work I put into my program, and the education I received. I also realize that I never could have arrived where I am today without a tremendous amount of personal and scientific support from my colleagues, friends, family, and advisor.

They got me the BEST cake, too!
They got me the BEST cake, too!

Even though my dissertation has my name on the cover, all of the published manuscripts that make up the individual chapters have multiple authors. The image of a solitary scientist slaving away in the lab in isolation is a total myth: no human being is fast enough, nor possessed of a sufficiently diverse skillset to actually get anything useful done on their own (although the totally bad-ass ladies Sarah French and Bonita Brewer outlined some of the seminal findings in my field in single-author manuscripts based on innovative observations). For a lunatic loner oddball independent individual like myself, the collaborative nature of science is the most exciting aspect of research…and also an area where I struggled.

I, like many academics, derive immense personal satisfaction from problem solving. I, like many academics, can be awkward and sometimes struggle with small talk. I, like many academics, would rather walk on my lips through a sewage treatment facility than admit I don’t know how to do something. The combination of these attributes oftentimes led me to waste hours epically failing trying to figure out an experiment by myself instead of simply walking down the hall and asking an expert how to properly perform an assay.

Yeah...I can totally figure out sequencing gels on my own!
Yeah…I can totally figure out sequencing gels on my own!

The second most common question I’ve been asked since I got credentialed is: “So what are you going to do now?” Followed closely by: “When you’re making six figures, can I ride in your boat?” Externally I smile and laugh, internally…The_ScreamPeople outside academia assume that a Ph.D. is a golden ticket to prodigious paychecks.

Unfortunately, I spent the last four years at the University of Washington, not Hogwarts.

If only...
If only…

Academia teaches you how to think critically, communicate clearly, work ceaselessly, and attack a problem from multiple angles in order to answer a question. Academia makes you an expert in a particular topic related to your research; at any given moment during the past four years 50-95% of my mental capacity was constitutively devoted to thinking about Bacillus subtilis replication forks.

I lied about there being no more pictures of replication forks...
I lied about there being no more pictures of replication forks…

However, wandering the wide halls of a high-powered research institution does NOT turn you into a wizard. Highly educated academics can be just as neurotic, insecure, or closed-minded as “civilians.” James Watson, who won a nobel prize for helping elucidate the double-helical structure of DNA, is an EPIC racist. Linus Pauling, the brilliant biochemist, amazing X-ray crystallographer and peace activist, famously developed some truly ass-backwards beliefs that massive doses of vitamin-C could help people live forever.

Even though a Ph.D. represents (to some people) the pinnacle of educational achievement, newly minted doctors typically pursue additional training in the form of a post-doctoral fellowship. The scientific job market is almost as anemic right now (if not more so) than the availability of non-academic careers. Nature devoted an excellent series of articles to this very topic titled: The Plight of the Post-doc.

I’m personally NOT pursuing an academic post-doc. In fact, I’m taking a step sideways from research to chase a career in scientific communication. In case it’s not obvious from this little blog of mine, my two favorite things (besides running, oatmeal, and the music of Rosanne Cash) are reading about cool results, advocating for science, and writing. In order to position myself for a job as a science writer, I also need additional training, which is why I’m starting a Master’s Degree program in Science Communication this upcoming fall. In other words, after spending the majority of my life in school, reaching one of the highest levels of academic achievement, this plucky little Ph.D. is going…back to school.

Oh god...I am going to be the most over-educated millennial on the face of the planet
Oh god…I am going to be the most over-educated millennial on the face of the planet

I’m happy with this choice. Even though I know I don’t want to live the typical academic life, I cannot envision an existence where I’m entirely cut off from research. However, I’m more excited to write about science and hang out with scientists than about the prospect of spending the rest of my life running around doing experiments.

I'll save my running for the track, thank you very much.
I’ll save my running for the track, thank you very much.

However, my Master’s program doesn’t start until autumn, which means that Dr. Sam has some excess time on his hands before I pack up my Subaru and move again. How will I occupy myself for the next month?


On Tuesday I plan to mount up my bicycle, start heading south, and eventually pedal my Ph.D.-posterior all the way to Colorado! Watch this space for photos and updates along the way!

Have a WONDERFUL weekend, friends. Until we meet again, keep the rubber side down and the sunny side up!

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