Trials and tribulations of a postdoc! (
Trials and tribulations of a postdoc!   (


Traditional careers in academic science increasingly are recognized by many grad students and postdocs as being restrictive and problematic.  Rather than drop out of science, many individuals escape the negative features of the traditional faculty job in academia by finding more satisfying positions permitting research and teaching of science to be continued long-term.  Since this escape requires thinking new thoughts and a willingness to be unconventional, it is never easy.

Today’s dispatch covers an explicit and inspiring story of how one postdoc overcame these difficulties.  A heartfelt biographical note by Dr. Matthew Tuthill [1] describes how he found satisfaction and fun with both research and teaching at a somewhat unusual job position, after being progressively disheartened when pursuing the usual path to get a Ph.D. and advance up the academic ladder.  His story emphasizes that hunting for a new science job in science is never hopeless!

A postdoc becomes dissatisfied! 

Matthew Tuthill was following the traditional route for young researchers to obtain a job as a university scientist, but after several years researching as a postdoc he began to have serious doubts about his possibilities for landing long-term employment as a faculty scientist and getting research grant awards  It was disheartening that the research grind was diminishing his interest for continuing to work at science.  Many other postdocs today have exactly the same difficult feelings.

What to do? 

He then made the difficult decision to abandon the stock academic path and try to find a new career that would better satisfy his ongoing enthusiasm for being a professional researcher.  His choices widened when he looked at the work of his graduate school mentor, who had made important contributions to society by founding a Cord Blood Bank, and of a professor at a local 2-year college, who advanced student training in scientific research by involving them in the lab production of monoclonal antibodies.

He met with that professor, who worked at a 2-year community college, and came to see that the standard view about the limitations of working at such institutions is very wrong.  Those realizations opened his mind to recognizing that there are some good science careers with research and teaching outside of big universities and medical schools.  These opportunities had not been apparent earlier because they are wrongly considered unworthy for serious researchers; that realization emphasizes that job seekers must consider all possibilities for their job hunt (see:  “Other  Jobs for Scientists, Part I” , “Part II” , and “Part III” )!

A new job with both research and teaching opens up! 

Dr. Tuthill then was appointed to a faculty position at the same “quiet junior college in the middle of the Pacific” (i.e., in Honolulu) [1].  His employment involves both teaching science and scientific research, and provides the opportunity to help the young science students to develop personally and learn to conduct research.  He states that “many of my research mentors and peers considered it career suicide” to work at a community college [1]; however, for certain individuals this unconventional choice really is a dream come true.

After 10 years of working in this small academic institution, Dr. Tuthill concludes that his job there has helped him grow as a dedicated academic and as a science mentor.  His earlier dissatisfaction has been replaced by renewed enthusiasm for science and growing self-satisfaction for being an unconventional academic.  Thus, there is a very happy ending to this story!

Lessons to be learned from Dr.Tuthill! 

This true story nicely illustrates several directives that young scientists often overlook!  (1) There are many jobs outside universities and medical schools that are open to Ph.D.s in science; some involve research and/or teaching, while others do not involve direct research  (e.g., in advertising, finances, industries, law, media, sales, software, etc.).  (2) The more you talk with other working scientists, the more you will learn about which unconventional job possibilities are available.  (3)  Always be open minded and think creatively when seeking a new job; sometimes you even can create your own new position.  (4)  Never give up your hunt, and, be open to unexpected and unconventional options.  (5) Your final goal is to find a position that suits your abilities, your ambitions, your interests, and your skills; all individuals are different, so concentrate on finding a position that .will be good just for you!

Concluding remarks!  

I enthusiastically encourage all graduate students and postdocs to read Matthew Tuthill’s fascinating biographical story for themselves.  “Making a difference, differently” is in a recent issue of Science (December 2, 2016, volume 354, page 1194), and is available on the internet at: .  Good luck!

[1]  Tuthill, M., 2016.  “Making a difference, differently”Science 354:page 1194.