It was summer of 2005, the beginning of a PhD program at the University of IL-Chicago.
I was grateful for my Student Mentor, Aaron Place, as he taught me the ropes. I was comfortable. Then classes started and I couldn’t stay awake. A dark auditorium and 8am classes?! Doubts began. Will I survive a PhD?
As I rotated through labs, my minor in psychology would kick-in. When speaking with P.I.s, I was constantly wondering, “What is your life like? Are you happy?” I picked up subtle (and obvious) cues that suggested there was unhappiness all around. I learned about the stress involved with funding, submitting papers and grants, and always the elephant in the room….false data.
Frequently, I found myself roaming the halls and visiting other scientists and the administrators. Of course I’d rather hang out with Laura, Aileen, and Cynthia. Socializing was more fun than reading a scientific paper.
Life with a pipettor was….OK. I settled on a project focused on angiogenesis in tumors. The cell culture hood was my lab home. A sterile, solitude environment with electronic dance music was an ideal location for my brain.
The dark room was my least favorite place to be. It’s also known as, “The place where you learn that your experiment failed.” (Ugh. Will someone invent a technology to replace the western blot, please!)
Somewhere in year two, I began speaking to sales representatives. They were always around. “We have the best pipette tips.” “Our antibodies are high quality.”
I’d persuade some of them to buy me lunch. As we ate Thai food on Taylor Street in Chicago, I investigated their jobs. Higher salaries, travel, and socializing. Sounds great. Where do I sign up?
The preliminary exam for grad students was approaching. I had to make a choice: commit to four more years or leave now?
My strategy was:
1. Quit the PhD
2. Get a job as a sales representative
3. Figure out my career two years later
Each of these steps will become its own story in future blog posts, but to be brief…I walked into my PI’s office, trembling with fear, and gave him a two month notice. The last day was August 17. With student loans and credit card debt piled high, and the low income of a grad student, I didn’t have much in my savings to lean on—about 3 months of runway to get a job.
Interview after interview, I was rejected. Sigma. Fisher. Affymetrix. Without a PhD and no sales experience, the big dogs wouldn’t accept me. My bank account landed at $128.62 after paying rent on December 1. Luck landed on Dec 17. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! MIDSCI offered me a job as a sales rep. They are a small, regional lab supplies distributor out of St. Louis, and probably one of the lowest paying companies out there, but I had to get my foot in the door somewhere.
With hard work, patience, and confidence (and some luck), the next stage began.
Stay tuned for more stories about my life from PhD student to entrepreneur.