Mama M: Living a Lie


Dear Mama M,

There's all this talk about how the biomedical workforce is shifting, and there are not enough academic jobs to accommodate all the Ph.D. students currently being trained. PIs, however, are not traditionally supportive of students who want "alternative careers," partly because they don't know how  to support our career development in these directions, and they don't want  these pursuits to take time away from lab. I don't even want to do research  after I graduate, but I'm afraid to tell my thesis committee. On the one  hand, I want to tell them because I don't want to waste my time in pursuit  of high-profile publications that I don't need. But what if this changes how they view me, and they don't want to waste their time guiding a student who doesn't want to do research?

Living a Lie

Dear Living Liar,

I am not sure where to begin sweetie. My head is a bit tangled up with your inquiry. I tend to see in images, and the image I have is a very big ball of dirty yarn. I see you trying to pull out the knots in that ball of yarn when, perhaps, you need to throw it out altogether. You don’t need no dirty yarn darlin’! Even if you do get it untangled, it seems to have been left in the yard too long … it is muddy and wet, and I don’t think it would make a very good sweater. So put that down for a minute.

Your question states much of what you don’t want, but little of what you do want. I think starting with what you want is fresher and cleaner. That is your first task. What do I want? (Note: ignore the voices that try to argue with you about what you can have. Here, you are just stating what you want.)

Next, ask yourself: Am I truly “living a lie”? It will be important down the road when you get closer to your true path to be mindful of the words you use. Per Merriam Webster, a lie is “a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood.” Thus, “Living a Lie” would mean that your existence, your life force, is organized around an intent to deceive, which does not feel true in the reading of your question.

What I hear is confusion and a desire to tell the truth. If the world worked on total honesty you could simply say to your PI, “You know, I am pretty sure I do not want to do research when I graduate. I am fearful that there may not be jobs where I can be creative and engaged. Can you mentor or help me find a way to focus on a direction that is interesting to me?”

You might think that you cannot be this honest with your adviser, for fear of repercussions. But, do you dare be honest with yourself about what you want? What alternative careers are you interested in? Start there! Tell yourself all the truths you can about what you want to do with your education.

Do you need a Ph.D.? Have you networked with people who are engaged in the career you seek? Can you find a like-minded mentor in your department who is creative and trustworthy and to whom you can confide your dreams and aspirations?

This life is yours.  Let your own optimism guide you—there is a place for you to live, work, breathe, be happy and creative. Find your people, sugar!!!

With deep compassion for your struggle for truth,

Mama M