Going into industry

Spoiler alert: I didn’t.

But I thought about it long and hard.

My reasons include a mix of the usual and unusual. I struggled to stay afloat moving from country to country and from job to job during some exceptionally difficult childbearing years. The stress took so much out of me that I no longer want a job that involves managing people and securing their salaries. I don’t want the enterpreneurial challenges of being a PI – so what am I working towards?

I also want to stay where I am. Not only because it doesn’t make sense to take my family across the world when my partner has a permanent position in Oxford… but also because my daughter’s ashes are scattered here and I can no longer contemplate living far from this place.

And what I would give to no longer have to have to apply for jobs every 2 years. New beginnings were great when I was single and young and unburdened. They definitely weren’t the right thing for the version of me that was managing childcare, loss, genetic testing, and high risk pregnancies. In the end I dropped out of the workforce completely. Self-care or bust.

Going into industry would solve many of these problems. Oxford is full of job opportunities for fallen scientists. Work can be challenging, and fun, and it can draw on scientific skills. And it can be part-time, and long-term, and in small teams that share common goals, and with rapid career progression and decent salaries and all that jazz.

I had only two problems with this. One is that my skills and interests are rather diverse, compared to what industry looks for in people. Case in point, I was applying to data science and writing jobs in parallel, and also had my eye on companies that do psychometric assessments. This tension got resolved when I realised that on an industry salary I could afford to work 3 days a week, and spend the other two days doing the other stuff I love.

The other problem is that… well… it’s not science. And I do love science, even if the working conditions are incompatible with the rest of my life.

On a whim, I decided to also apply to a local postdoc that had nothing to do with my research trajectory so far: mental health research on adolescents. I would never have thought I stand a chance, and would never have applied if I wasn’t in the middle of these attempts to broadly sell my skills to industry at large, all in the spirit of new beginnings. And then I got invited to the interview.

As I started (frantically) reading about what the lab does, I started warming to it more than I would have expected. And from initially approaching it feeling jaded, I found myself preparing very carefully. Luck was on my side, because they needed someone with EEG skills to add neural data to an already fantastic database with sequenced genomes and a large battery of longitudinal paper-and-pencil tests. I was a good fit.

At the interview, someone asked me where I see myself in five years. I nearly choked. To put things in perspective, my toddler came down with a gastric bug and couldn’t go to nursery in the two days prior to my interview. I prepared while she slept, changed many nappies when she was awake, and hoped that I won’t get sick for the interview. I did get sick, but a few hours after I met the lab. Victory!! Let’s be honest here. These days I have a three-day plan at best. It involves strategies to guard my sanity with sleep and kindness.

I don’t have a five-year plan, I said. I don’t know where I’m going. I do know that I like science here and now, and that this contract would allow me to do some more of that. And if I never reach some coherent future goal? If my journey takes me down many small paths and not one big path? Well. Then at least I’ll be able to say I was happy in the heres and the nows along the way. And really, that seems like a much better plan than any I’ve had in a long time.


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