Earlier this week, I was rejected from a fellowship program that I was really looking forward to participating in. I thought I had a decent chance of making the cut (and according to the rejection letter, my proposal and credentials were excellent), but I just wasn’t at the right place at the right time. The program co-director also stated that geographic diversity was a consideration, and as a white woman from the U.S., I can see that I lack the lived experience of someone from the Global South, for example.
The experience of rejection from this particular program opened my eyes to how tightly I had been clinging to the possibility of being accepted. Now that I don’t have to worry about the outcome, I am free to explore other opportunities! While I am still waiting to hear about one post-doc in particular, there are many other paths I could take — so many that I started to map them all out.
Figure 1. Selected post-doctorate trajectories. (Click to enlarge.)
The traditional academic routes for someone with a Ph.D. include: 1) a two-year post-doc to gain experience with a new lab group and especially to publish papers and 2) applying directly for faculty positions (among others). Even though I’ve been told otherwise, I think I lack the expertise to go directly into a faculty position, so I am more interested in applying to post-docs for now. I have some interest in working for a national lab, but it depends on which lab and what the focus is. The last thing I want to do is work in a lab that makes weapons for the military, but on the other hand, some of our national labs are doing excellent work in the renewable energy sector, for example. It would be wonderful to be a part of that! In the realm of “office jobs”, there is always environmental consulting and sustainability research for NGOs. The NGO route is more to my liking than a for-profit consulting firm, but not by much, because in the end I really don’t want to get stuck in an office-only setting. I’d rather be out in the field. Finally, there’s my love for humanitarian engineering, especially in the Global South. These are the organizations like Engineers Without Borders and Water for People, organizations with deep understanding of what works in developing communities, what doesn’t, and how to connect communities in need with people who have skills to help meet those needs. If I knew I’d have secure funding, I’d hop from project to project for the rest of my life. There is nothing more fulfilling than working together with a community to address some portion of their fundamental needs (and rights!): clean water, sanitation, sustainable agriculture, these are a few of the Great Challenges in which I find inspiration.
Of course, there’s also the possibility of a short-term adventure once I graduate. I’ve been tossing around ideas, such as biking across the country with Global Exchange, volunteering on organic farms around the world with WWOOF, learning about permaculture and getting my certification, or even volunteering at a meditation retreat center like Karmê Chöling in Vermont. There are so many possibilities!
Even amid the endless revisions of dissertation chapters and a rather open-ended question of “What the heck am I doing post-graduation?”, I am still grateful to be where I am right now. Life is good. It is throwing me all of these questions to think about, and to even have the opportunity to consider them all, is quite a privilege in and of itself. Who knows? I may end up doing something so far off this list that the possibility never even occurred to me. Stay tuned!