Micro Jobs/Student

John Cherwonogrodzky jcherwon at dres.dnd.ca
Mon Jan 16 17:04:05 EST 1995


Dear Gabriel Ting:
     I greatly enjoyed your email letter as it reminded me a lot of myself. 
When I left highschool (has it really been 1/4 of a century), I was determined 
to have a career in microbiology, determined to go as far as I could (B.Sc., 
M.Sc., Ph.D.) and wanted a research rather than a medical degree. For other 
students beginning their careers, I don't mind giving a little biography and 
pointers, but I would like to add that every career and opinion will probably 
vary as greatly as each individual responding.
     First, let me say that I did get my degrees (I put myself through), I did 
get a job in vaccine development, novel drug delivery systems and have patents 
on detection systems (the latest, ELVirA, is like an ELISA but replaces 
antibodies with bacteriophages). I'm 43, have a family with 3 wonderful young 
children, live in what I consider an "optimal" sized town of Medicine Hat, 
Alberta, and work at DRES (Defence Research Establishment Suffield, Box 4000, 
Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, T1A 8K6). 
     The second summary is that I'm no Nobel Laureat or an academic 
"fire-cracker" and that getting here (and perhaps my future career) has 
been rocky with a lot stumbling and luck (both good and bad), resembling some 
Greek player fumbling through a labyrinth. It took 3 years for my M.Sc. and 
another 6 years for a Ph.D. (instead of 9 years, one of my summer students has 
done a combination PhD/MD in 6 years) but I had a lot of friends that were far 
more talented and energetic that never made it. Below are a few pointers:

- finances: I lived like a church mouse and needed summer employment to put me 
through a B.Sc. I was very lucky, the luck was assisted by a little hard work. 
Every October-November, I wrote up the best resume I could, had about 100 
copies made, then sent it out to everyone I could think of (hospitals, public 
health, food industries, etc.). Out of 100, I usually got about 10 replies, 3 
nibbles, and 1 job offer.
     For my M.Sc., the University of Alberta gave a graduate stipend. For my 
PhD at the University of Toronto, I did a donship in residence and did a lot 
of T.A.ing (in my first 3 months, one academic told me his mission was to 
"destroy" me as he felt I would do better in industry than in the 
university, for 3 of the 5  years I didn't have any other funding). Your 
career can greatly be assisted if you get your own funding through MRC or 
NSERC.

- graduate degrees: Whether it is funding, demands or the politics, contact 
the Graduate President (every department has one to be on committees, arrange 
baseball, or get beer money from student councils). They'll give you a quick 
up-date and others to  contact.
     It took me a long while to figure that I had to manage my own career (the 
science, departmental politics, publishing papers, getting a job). You might 
lose 2-3 years by switching universities due to re-starting a research 
project, taking courses (regardless if you've done these), and learning the 
politics. You have to get your own leverage (get a successful research project 
so that enough data is generated so that the thesis will weigh about right, 
get papers published so that a failure will be embarrassing for the 
department, get a job or post-doc position so that you have a deadline for 
getting out [one M.Sc. colleague spent 7 years getting out]).

- career: After the years of living like a Shaolin monk, I was fed up with 
academia. I was lucky to get a job with Agriculture Canada (Animal Diseases 
Research Institute - Nepean which is really Ottawa) and even luckier to do an 
easy switch to DRES. With National Defence's cut-backs about to happen in 
February, a lot of researchers here are stressed out that they may not have a 
job - I'm not, though. I don't think it will happen, and if it does so what? 
Career changes are not only a way of life now, but for me these were a way of 
improving my station.

     There's far more to discuss, but I've rambled on enough. Again, you will 
get as many differences in opinion as there are differences in experience and 
genetic make-up of the responders. Good luck and if you have any questions, 
let me know...John cherwonogrodzky      



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