The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

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Warning: this post contains angst.

The third year of my PhD work is quickly coming to a close (Omg. Aak. Eeek.) I’ve been thinking a lot about post-docs. About the type of research I want to do and the type of researcher I want to become in the long run. About fellowships and funding applications. About finding a great lab and a great mentor.

There’s one other unknown that seems to consistently overshadow all these other considerations, no matter how much I try to convince myself that it shouldn’t be super-important:

where am I going to work?

That one word – “where” – stirs up a flurry of other stressful, intrusive thoughts: where will my wife and I live? Will we stay in Canada, or will we have to move to the US or even overseas? Will we be able to find a nice place that lets us maintain the quiet country existence we’ve both come to love? Will we have to sell our beloved old schoolhouse – or maybe we could just rent it out for a while? Will we be ABLE to sell our beloved old schoolhouse if we need to (the real estate market isn’t exactly on fire right now)? And then there’s our pets – if we move overseas we’ll almost certainly have to put them in quarantine – would we be able to manage that? What about our families? What about my partner’s career (she also returned to school last year to pursue a new path as a social worker)? Will we be able to live someplace that recognizes our marriage – will we both be able to get health care and feel safe in a new community?

This issue of “where” is awfully big. I feel like everything else is manageable, but this one…I don’t know. There are a lot of long-term implications and emotional investments wrapped up in “where”, and frankly it scares the poop out of me if I allow myself to think about it too much

I’m not sure what will ultimately settle the “where” question. We might have to simply follow the available funding. Maybe funding won’t be an issue and I’ll be able to carve out a nice niche for myself in a lab more of my choosing, and someplace where my wife can equally pursue her own dreams. (And maybe pigs will fly?)

Half of me wants to ask you other grad students and post-doc-ey and early-career-ey people to share your own journeys and concerns about this process, but the other half of me is terrified of what you’ll tell me (aak!) What were your primary considerations when looking for post-docs/jobs/higher degrees, in terms of the “where” question?


Does teaching matter?

Some of you may recall that I have been the teaching assistant for an introductory zoology lab for the past few years. When the powers that be restructured the lab in a major way last year (cut the number of lab sessions in half), I took the initiative to make some pretty significant changes in terms of the material being taught and how it was presented. I am tweaking things even more this term, based on feedback from last year’s students and on some new pedagogical approaches I’ve learned.

Since the current labs are definitely better but not best, and would really benefit from a thoughtful and thorough revision and updating, I got this idea that I would approach the chair of our department and offer my (paid) services to do the work, perhaps over the summer since my field component won’t be so heavy this year. Not knowing whether this would be red-tape-or-pecking-order-ly acceptable, I went and spoke to my advisor and told him my idea.

I mostly expected him to say: “It’s not really appropriate for a student to take on that kind of role,” and I would have accepted that. If that didn’t happen, the alternative I’d imagined was something like, “Cool. This would be a great course development/teaching experience. Approach the chair and check it out, but make sure you’re still getting your research/publications done in a timely way,” which I would have perceived as both awesome and perfectly reasonable.

But what I heard, and what surprised me, was this: “No one reading your CV is going to care about something like that. It’s not a good use of your time. Write and publish papers. That’s really all that matters.***”

I’m well aware of the importance of publications as the “currency” of academia, and their role as indicators of one’s research activities. I get it. I have a half-dozen manuscripts lined up (in my head, anyways), and want to get them all at least in press/under review before I have to start worrying about securing post-doc funding.


I also thought that being an academic had something to do with teaching. Like, that maybe 1/3 of your time would be devoted to preparing, delivering, and developing instructive materials for students (the other 2/3 to research and administrative duties). And, in my happy little bubble of wonderfulness that is the way I imagine academia to be, I thought that GOOD teaching would be valued by the university that hired me.  My line of reasoning therefore was this: demonstrate solid teaching experience on your CV and this would be considered an important and good thing during the hiring process – all other things being equal (publications, awards, etc.), a strong teaching portfolio could move your CV to the top of the pile.

Apparently I was wrong: it doesn’t matter.

Am I THAT off base? Is it only in my dreams and imagination that there are universities/colleges that place equal (or at least close to equal) emphasis on strong research abilities AND strong teaching abilities? Surely such places exist?

Teaching is important to me; it is something I enjoy and take pride in being good at. I take seminars or workshops when they’re available; I read things; I observe good instructors/lecturers when I can find them and do my best to pick up some of their good habits; I ask questions of those I respect; I ask my students what they want and what works for them.  I honestly believed that these efforts would not just be personally rewarding (which they are), but that there would also be a professional payoff.

Someone, please tell me it matters.


***This same person happens to be someone who is on my list of “really good teachers”


Edited to add:

Relevant blog posts from elsewhere, just to add to the discussion:

Female Science Professor

Crooked Timber

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