The Stick, The Carrot and The PhD

I had a tough day. Last night I got a notice from the Financial Aid Office of the University I attend. I had been on probation for three semesters because I failed an organic chemistry class - the University requires a 2.0 GPA for financle aid. This spring, I had a lot of things happen at once, and I just stopped going to class. (“Things happening” was a potent combination of depression, getting married and my adopted mother being hospitalized. Yes, I know this is a lousy excuse.) Since I didn’t finish the classes, the Financial Aid office is denying me aid for the coming fall semester.

For the past five years, I have been an employee of the same University. My first two years, I was an animal care technician, maintaining the transgenic mice the researchers use. Actually doing research and making more money motivated me to go to school. Now I am a professional research assistant (PRA) for the organ transplant biology department. The PRA position typically requires a BS, but I was able to get the job because I had animal breeding and manipulation experience.

Walking down the hall today, a young woman approached me, “Hi, do you remember me?”

“Sorry, I don’t.”

“I’m S__; you taught me how to hold mice when I was a student worker. It was a few years ago, I was a junior in college.”

“Oh. How are you doing?”

“Good. I’m here to get signatures from my committee.”

“You’re a PhD?”

“Yep. I’m a doctor. You were taking classes, how did that go for you?”

“Uh. . . I’m still going to school. Going part time takes a long time. So, Dr. S, got any plans for your future?”

After some small talk about S___’s plans, I excused myself. Walked down the hall, went in to the bathroom, and cried my eyes out.

Even with a degree, the position I have now is as far as my career can go. A bachelor’s of science degree is just a small, shriveled carrot on the end on a very long stick.

:smack: :smack: :smack:

Fuck! I didn’t mean to post.

Don’t drink and drive.

Don’t swill and surf.

I apologize for being so whiny this week. :o

Hell, Mouse…I just learned that my baby brother landed his first job. He’ll be starting at a higher salary than I have ever earned, with nearly 11 years experience and a decent professional reputation. Wanna help stomp out sobriety this evening?

I feel your pain. Hopefully, the two of you have a good relationship. :slight_smile:

Another bottle of hard cider and I’m off to bed. Maybe the world will look better on Saturday. . .

I read a letter in a Hustler magazine once entitled “Carrot and Stick.”

This thread doesn’t resemble it in any way, so my post probably doesn’t help any.

Sorry you’re feeling bad about things. Life can throw you some curveballs, that’s for sure. Don’t let it get you too down. Things will get better, and things will get worse. That’s how life is. Roll with the punches, and you’ll be all right.

(If you want, I can transcribe as much of the letter as fair use laws and the board will allow. I remember that it made ME feel better.)

Mouse Maven, it does less than no good to beat yourself up for things that have happened in the past. Did you learn from your mistakes? Good. Now, stop kicking yourself over them. Pick yourself up and say, with my situation as it is, what are my options? Don’t be thinkin’ about no carrots and no sticks. Forget about what any other person or institution wants or expects you to do. Just accept that there are certain rules and structures in place. That’s the hard landscape. You can’t change that, but it’s up to you how you navigate it. Look inside yourself, and ask, of the paths I have available to me now, what end result do I want the most?

I’m trying to pick up the pieces after a period of very poor performace in graduate school, and for me, it basically boils down to working my little white ass off all summer long and getting my damn thesis done in a lot less time than I would ideally want to have had to work on it. Whenever I start beating myself up over the fact that I had the time to do it, and I wasted so much of it, I spin rapidly into a tight spiral of misery and end up paralyzed and unable to work. That’s not the way forward. If I start doing that, I have to make myself stop, and say, “What are my options now?”

Well, I could take the escape hatch, bail on schoool, and lose my job in the fall. Not good, but it would mean I could stop working so damned hard! Or I could keep up the previous status quo just work at a sane pace, and risk not finishing my degree, and at best drag everything out into the fall when I will be trying to get started in my new job. Also not very good, but it would mean less misery now. Oooooorrrrr . . . I can work my little white ass off and get my thesis done as soon as humanly possible and get my advisor to let me move my defense date up and get done before I have to start teaching. None of these options is very good. But this is the situation I find myself in right now. In the short term, the last option is making me utterly miserable, but in the long term it’s what’s going to make me happiest. So . . . uh . . . I guess I better get my ass into the shower so I can catch the bus and go into work.

I got a worthless BA in Biology, and my first job out of college with that was making Whoppers at Burger King. I graduated (heh) to retail management in a mall for a few more years. I went back to school part-time, and eventually got a BS in Medical Technology. With that, I finally had some decent skills to do what I wanted. I worked in hospital labs for seven years before getting hired into a research lab, and I’ve been in that research lab for five years now. This summer I’m going to the AACC meeting in Chicago, where I will present a poster. I’m waiting to hear back from TDM about the paper I submitted to them as first author. I still have my BS MT. I’m also about a third of the way through an MS in Biochemistry, which I’m doing for free through the university I work for.

You have to be patient, you need an attainable goal to work toward, and you have to rearrange your priorities on a temporary basis (temporary meaning less than three years or so) if you want to get ahead. For two and a half years, I juggled part time classes with a part-time job and a newborn daughter 13 years ago. For my MS, I have made significant changes in my own activities to make time for class and study so that my work and home life are minimally impacted. It isn’t easy, but it can be done.

Finish your BS, look at your experience so far, and then look for new jobs that you can do but will expand your knowledge and abilities.


I have also found that the bench techs with just a BS often have more practical knowledge about the procedures and protocols they do than some of the PhDs they work with. I have personally explained and trained post-docs on HPLC and immunochemistry (esp. ELISA), two things I do well and do often. It’s often a matter of taking opportunities as they come to learn more and do more. I rarely say no to learning something new. If a researcher has a choice between a BS tech with five years experience and a 2 year post doc to run western blots, he/she may choose the BS tech because they will have the same experience as the post-doc but take less of his/her grant money.

If it makes you feel any better, I was on the dean’s list for three years in college and then got depressed, stopped going to class, didn’t tell anybody or do anything about it, and ended up with a 0.5 average for my senior year. I still don’t know what my advisor had to do to convince them to let me graduate. Now I’ve got a masters’ degree and am very happy in my chosen career field. It’s not the end of the world, but it definately seems like it is at the time.

Congrats on the poster and first authorship! Have fun in Chicago. :slight_smile:
One of my many frustrations is that the university could cover my tuition, but the rules for a tuition waiver are prohibitive. (Can only sign up of courses on the first day of classes, courses can only be related to your work, etc.)

Bench tech is basically what I am. I also have the training for ordering supplies, balancing grant budgets, and other supportive tasks. Last year, I was working for a Dr. that did not list me as an author on papers or posters because I didn’t have a degree. I got a job with another Dr. who said he would list me on projects I worked on.

If you want to see some of my work check out my website:

You Dopers are great! Thanks for offering support to a drunk, whiny rodent. :smiley: