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
- 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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