Why I Left Science: Project goals

Here’s the deal guys. I want to collect stories about people who have either left research careers behind, for whatever reason, after starting down that path by entering a graduate program in the sciences.

I personally left my science career behind for a lot of reasons, including:

  • mental and physical health issues
  • a terrible relationship with my advisor
  • my advisor telling me I sucked at doing bench research
  • despair about the state of science funding
  • despair about the job market for science PhDs
  • feeling drawn to make writing and teaching part of my career goals

I know lots of people left for similar reasons to me, and others left for completely unrelated reasons. I know some people dropped out of grad school, others quit right after receiving their PhD, and still others quit after years as post-docs, techs, or adjuncts. Some people feel that the conditions in the field forced them out (be that poor mentoring in grad school, funding issues, a lack of jobs, sexism…), others feel they left due to personal failings, and still others left simply because they found something else to be a better fit.

Point being, there is a diversity of experiences here. I’m interested in hearing about all of them, because I’m still a scientist at heart and I want to be working from a complete data set. I suspect that collecting these stories will reveal common reasons for leaving science that say something important about how science works in this country and how graduate programs are marketed and run, and that is ultimately the goal of the project, but I’m not excluding anyone because they don’t fit into my narrative.

Here are my only requirements for participation in the project:

  1. You were admitted to and at least begun a research-focused science graduate program.
  2. You have left, are in the process of leaving, or are actively planning to quit a position in science research after spending the majority of your science career directly involved with research.

I am not excluding people who will still be involved with science in some capacity, but not directly involved with research. This means science journalists, journal editors, policy makers, technical writers, etc. Basically, this projects includes people in “alternative careers”.

So what form will participation in the project take? Well, I’m still hammering out the details, and I expect this to continue to evolve as I get more feedback. But my next step is to put together a survey collecting information about people who fall in this group and who are interested in sharing their experiences. I’ll be asking questions about people’s backgrounds, about why they chose to leave, and about what they are doing/planning to do now. If anyone has any ideas about what I should ask on that survey, or how to write the questions, please share in the comments! Everyone who participates in the survey will be put on a mailing list if they are interested in following the project as it goes forward.

Ultimately, I hope to publish (either as a series on this blog, or as an independent blog… input also invited on this point) either personal narratives or interviews with a broad swath of people willing to share their complete stories. But if you aren’t willing to open up that much, I’m still interested.

So for now? I’ll take input on how to put together the survey and how to proceed with the project as a whole. If you’re interested in sharing your story OR in helping out, EMAIL ME. If you don’t have anything to add at this point, but want to participate in the survey, just stay tuned!

Finally, I know a lot of people find their way here because they are struggling PhD students, and not all of you are quitting! At least not yet, anyhow. So, if you are a PhD student who is currently struggling with being a grad student with a mental illness, go here to contribute to a project on that subject! Also, if you are a PhD student struggling with any kind of chronic illness or disability, check out this blog! Both links were sent to me by someone who contacted me about this project, so thanks for the help! Also, I welcome links to resources/blogs on alternative science careers and struggling with grad school, if you have any that you’ve found particularly interesting/useful.

4 thoughts on “Why I Left Science: Project goals

  1. Hi Keely,
    This project doesn’t apply directly to me (although I will be interested to see the results!) but I wanted to say that you might also consider, as a final product, a book. I know there are books out there on topics like “What to do now that you have a PhD” and this isn’t too different, and does seem like an unfilled niche. I could see a science- or academia-focused press, like a university press, potentially being interested if you got a wide diversity of well-written personal essays on this topic. You could either spin it as Life After Research Is Still Good! or as The Problem With Research Programs And Why They’re Losing Good People; both of those seem marketable to me. (Publishing is not my area of expertise, but I am close with someone who works at a press, so I’m not COMPLETELY talking out of my butt.)
    Just thought I’d put that out there.

    1. I appreciate the advice. I think a book would be fantastic, but I’m not sure I could convince anyone to let me head up such a project. Maybe after I get this rolling though, it will build to something worthy of a book.

      1. There’s always kickstarter. If you do the numbers, 1/3 to 1/2 of grad students quit for one or more of the above reasons (myself for bullet-ed reasons 1 2 4 and 5 above). I bet they’d be happy to put some change in the bucket so to speak. I know I would. I’ll have to tell you my story after it plays out a bit more. I’m still technically enrolled but am setting the necessary meetings in motion/getting paperwork together. To be on my merry way ^_^.

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