March 15, 2013

Personal Post – Decision Time

Posted in life tagged , , , at 3:14 pm by riulyn

It’s nearing that time of year for me. I’m a Ph.D candidate and in this particular program, January-March is the season of having an annual review. For us it requires sending our committee members a progress report and also give a 30′ presentation that goes over what I have done the past year and what I plan to do to graduate. I’m going to have 3 straight reviews where I go over data that initially looked promising but follow-ups suggested the initial result was a fluke, and so I moved on to doing something else and hopefully that gets me out of here. Well this year is supposed to be my last ideally, no matter what my career plans are. I’m going to be telling them how the past 4 years has just been frustration but I will tidy up 2 small projects and get out. Whether they are okay with that will be something I will find out in less than a week.

I’m actually more nervous about their reaction to my lack of concrete future plans than their reaction to my presentation. I know they will ask me if I’ve started looking for a job yet. As for my lack of exciting research results, things go badly all the time in research so it’s no surprise, though it’s not something that makes me or them happy since less publications means I’m less marketable. An ability to write or present awesomely could overcome that, but those are not skills I possess either.

The thing is, I was pretty set on just doing a research career when I first entered grad school, and it seemed fine until about 6 months ago. During last summer I was a little slow with the work because of the Olympics and other distractions, but I have just not been able to pick up the motivation since. It was a huge bummer when my results didn’t pull through, but even before that I was dragging on doing the analysis. It was repetitive, boring, and I guess I already knew it was going to contradict my hypothesis before I finished analyzing it. But even so, was it just me being jaded? The stuff I’m doing right now looks good so far and I will get something published sooner or later, so I should be getting down to business and doing the analysis, not spending every other minute reading random articles about video game controversies, right?

I’ve been going to bioscience career seminars. People talk about how they didn’t want to work in a lab anymore, which is what I’m feeling right now, but they were all in love with science. Talking about science, writing about science, promoting it, etc. I find that the more talks I go to, the more I don’t even really like talking science. I like informally discussing it better than every other part of it, though. Reading is probably second, then writing, then actually doing it.

Knowing that I was nearing the end of my days in grad school, I decided to take a computer programming class this quarter. Suddenly bells were going off in my mind. I enjoyed going to lecture! I didn’t mind reading the textbook. The homework was actually pretty fun! The more the class went on, the more I was like “why the heck did I never, ever think about this as a possible career choice in undergrad? I love solving small problems. Why didn’t I connect the two?”

Why did I never consider that I love playing video games and that I could possibly work in that industry?

Of course, the gaming industry has its share of issues. Getting into the industry can be super easy (you can be a 1-man team!) but getting stability is pretty tough. Game design schools…are they worth it? Do I even need a CS degree? If I decide to switch into it, am I going to be too old? Do I even finish this Ph.D?

That last question…I am wary of burning bridges too early. Yet when I told my mom that I thought about trying to do a CS degree on the side of part-time working in a lab, she scoffed. Part-time? Who the heck would want anyone part-time? Get a “real” job!

Or in other words, I need to man-up and decide. If I decide to do the post-doc researcher route, I need to devote myself to it. If I want to switch into computer science I should start planning now. If I want to straddle the fence, I need to be firm in that decision as well.

I took a personality test this morning since those things are usually part of general career advice, and it declared me a ISFJ. A few years ago I swear I took the test and turned out to be a INTJ. No wonder I went into grad school thinking I’d do research for the rest of my life. I wonder what changed…I grew up a lot in grad school so there’s that, or I just didn’t know anything for sure when I first took the test. Funnily enough, academic research is not recommended for ISFJs… Of course there are a few things about ISFJs in general that don’t apply to me, like the ability to remember everything anyone said…nope, that’s not me. Or being able to tell what people are feeling and be sympathetic… I am sympathetic if I can actually tell what others are thinking.

Anyway, this is one long post that I wanted to get off my chest. Any advice is greatly appreciated.



  1. Lua said,

    Hi hello,

    Hope you don’t mind the random comment from a stranger!

    I’m actually in my last year of a computer science degree and will be joining a startup next fall. Last summer I tech-interned at a major company in the video game industry (not actually making games themselves, but doing something close to them). Obviously I’m terribly fond of programming and computer science, and I think it’s an awesome place to be if you like solving small problems, debugging, thinking about things abstractly, getting your hands dirty and *making* things, etc… So obviously I’m biased toward the field 🙂 That being said, it’s a surprisingly diverse field—while having a compsci degree helps a lot in getting a job, it certainly isn’t necessarily the case all the time, and the industry’s *really* hot as a whole right now—high starting salaries and tons of job ops all over.

    I’m anxious about saying any more potentially-personally-identifying information on a public forum, but if you’d like to chat privately, feel free to send me an email. I can’t pretend I have years of industry experience or anything, but I did the tech-job-hunt thing fairly recently so I can give you some idea of what that’s like, I can talk a bit about companies I’ve interned at before, and the like.

    Good luck in your decision!

    • Lua said,

      ha, and my email:

    • riulyn said,

      Thanks for the comment! I’ll probably email you soon. Having more information can’t hurt. Do you want me to keep your email address public or do you want me to delete it after I email you?

  2. Robert said,

    Well, you should do whatever it is that you enjoy doing and can see yourself enjoying for years to come rather than just continuing with something you can barely stand. Now, with that said, you need to be sure that you don’t enjoy it. If the feeling of discovery from research disappears as it disproves or something, is it really the whole thing that you don’t enjoy or do you just dislike having spent the time on something ultimately useless? You do say you’re just generally enjoying science less and less, so I would imagine it’s more than that, but you should be as sure as you can be before jumping out of it.

    But if you really found something that you enjoy more and expect it to be a lasting/persisting feeling then you should probably focus your energy there instead, right? Just remember that computer science degrees don’t necessarily mean working in video games. There will be a lot of jobs you could find and it will only be easier as computers get more and more prominent in our culture.

    In the end the smart decision is the sustainable one. You want to walk away with something you can throw your life behind.

    • riulyn said,

      Of course it gets me down when something I spent years on ends up being useless, but I also have 2 projects that look good and I am still fighting for motivation.

      I also know that computer science degrees doesn’t mean working on video games. I guess it comes off that way in my post, since this post is missing some context, but basically I have always had this sharp divide between my hobbies and my career and never realized until recently that this didn’t have to be the case. With a comp. sci degree I could work on video games. Of course there’s a good chance I wouldn’t.

      I could try looking for jobs that combine programming and life sciences, but at the moment I don’t have enough programming knowledge, and I’ll probably end up graduating before I can really take enough classes (and lose out on my stipend paying for my tuition). So I have some financial stuff to think about.

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