On skills you never use anymore

Sep 24 2017 Published by under Academia, Decisions, moving, new job, postdoc

For a while one of the hardest things about leaving academia to me was the fact that I spent years getting really good at things that I never get to do anymore. I was good at patching cells in slices from adult rats. I was rather proficient at inserting jugular vein catheters, even in small rodents. I enjoyed doing those things, but in my current job I never get to do them, or even teach other people how to do these things. Every now and then, this makes me wonder whether doing a post-doc was worth it, had I known where I would have ended up. But that is the opposite of my more prevailing thought: that actually learning these skills has given me insight into what kind of work I enjoy doing (and which parts I don't like) in order to get a better picture of where I want to go next in my career. What I loved about doing surgery on small rodents was the flow that it brought me in having to pay attention to every little detail in order to make sure the procedure went well. And I enjoyed looking at a well-sutured animal while they were recovering, knowing I had done it well. It may sound crazy, but working on slides for a presentation that turn out looking really nice in the end gives me a bit of the same feeling.

For a while, I thought this big difference in the skills you acquire versus those you use in a new job was unique to recovering academics, but listening to a recent episode of the Women Killing It podcast, IĀ realized this is not the case. In this episode the guest, Gretchen Rubin talks about leaving law to become a writer at a point when she was very successful in that area and had invested years in getting there. They talk about how many people who are successful in their career have perhaps not taken a linear path but were successful in a different area first before transitioning into something else. And how you will learn many things on the way to another destination, mostly about yourself and about what you enjoy doing.

What skills (academic or otherwise) do you have that you never get to use anymore and how do you feel about that?

One response so far

  • Will says:

    Skills I will never use again:

    * Plumbing a vacuum system
    * Modeling and measuring the behavior of a torsion pendulum
    * Too many other things to count...

    How do I feel about those skills I picked up while getting a Ph.D. in physics? Honestly, I'm bitter. Not at my advisor, but more at the system we have put together for graduate schools. They pay graduate students at well below market wages, call it education, and justify it by getting you, the student, to say that you want to do it. Which is true... but only because all of those students think they'll be one of the successful ones on the academic track. I was trained on the tools used in the lab, but the payoff was the degree, which was contingent on my being able to write a dissertation. I've had too many friends who spent years working at below-market wages in pursuit of a degree that they would never get. That's not right.

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