Thoughts on leaving the bench

There is a career out there that exactly suits you. But which one? Image by flickr user Timothy K. Hamilton.

I think, when trying to decide what you want to do when you grow up (aka finish your PhD), the most important choice to make is whether or not you want to stay in the lab. It’s something that I think about a lot. Do I want to say adieu to the bench just because my project is really hard/I’m tired of it/I need a change of scenery? Or is it something beyond that? Do I really want to leave because I just don’t enjoy doing research? For me, I’m fairly certain it’s the latter. But I have this little twinge as I get ready to graduate and get the heck outta here. Will I rue the day I walked out of the lab?

This is enough on my mind that I always ask my profile subjects if they miss lab work. Of the people I’ve talked to so far, Ben Owens said he doesn’t, because he’s still sort of in the lab. And staying in a lab environment is one of the reasons he went with EH&S, because “there are opportunities to conduct original research and work on applied projects in the area of environmental health and safety, and I have done some of this.”

Raven Hanna said she does miss it a bit, especially growing bacteria, and is contemplating setting up some Petri dishes in her fridge.

I think part of it is the fear of the big dark open pit of uncertainty. We know what lab work is like. But we don’t know what life sans glassware is. Is it a screaming pile of awesome? Or is it a walk through Satan’s armpit? Couldn’t tell you.

But I did find some people that can, or at least give their own takes on it. Hopefully, it may help you at least narrow down the types of career options you want to look at.

Image by flickr user law_keven.

Nature Networks blogger Craig Rowell fesses up that he left the bench four months ago, and why.

The Bean Chronicles writer Bean-Mom talks about how she doesn’t miss the lab, and how that kind of surprised her.

Another Nature Networks blogger, Noah Gray this time, discusses the stigma (or lack-thereof) of taking an alternative career, and how it’s not considered ‘leaving science’ anymore.

And two articles, one from Nature Jobs, one from The Chronicle of Higher Education, that talk to a bunch of different people about their decisions to leave bench science.

Contemplate away.

Author: Leigh Krietsch Boerner

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1 Comment

  1. I remember very clearly the day I realized I didn’t want to be at the bench. And I wasn’t even at the bench. I was in Philly for the day with a good friend, and we ordered the s’mores at a Cosi. He wanted his chocolate to be as melty as the marshmallow. So he asked the waitress for tinfoil and toothpicks. She looked at him funny, but brought them. He promptly devised a rotisserie-type system for the s’mores. He got such a kick out of building that thing. And I realized I don’t take pleasure in that sort of thing at all- I’m a big picture person. So there you have it.