What your PI forgot to tell you: why you actually might want a job running a research lab
A PhD in biomedical science and the critical thinking skills that it provides can open the door to many different careers. The current popular scientific press and blogosphere too often portray the job of a research-intensive faculty member and principal investigator (PI) as both unattainable and undesirable. We want to make sure our trainees include our own career path among their options, as for each of us it has been a fantastic, family-friendly, and highly impactful career.
It is worrisome, we may be disproportionately discouraging women and those from underrepresented groups at a time when our nation needs all of its talent to meet global challenges. While our job, like all jobs, has plusses and minuses, I feel so glad to be in this flexible, creative, and impactful profession.
Each day presents itself with a mixture of totally different challenges that continue to stretch me as a scientist and a person. On any given day, I may first see my kids off to school, then Skype with someone across the planet about a collaboration, look at microscopy data with a grad student, meet colleagues for a departmental strategic planning meeting, coach an undergrad on study habits, and then give a postdoc feedback on their grant proposal. I’m sure your days look like this, too.
There are vanishingly few careers that give you the creative space to run a small business based on your own ideas, the independence to manage a team of bright people on your own, the ability to contribute to future generations of your intellectual family, and the flexibility to show up for your actual family when they need it. Like any entrepreneurial effort, choosing our career meant we face significant challenges of finding funds to keep the lab open and identifying and training the right team. However, having friends in other high-skill jobs, from medicine, to law, to running a small business, to working in industry, I know that none of these careers is without its stressors, and most don’t come close to matching the flexibility and independence we have.