Thursday, March 31, 2011

in the throes of pre-graduate school anxiety

There are some types of uncertainty with which I do well (lab project outcomes).  Other types of uncertainty (did I choose the right graduate program) highlight the fomentation of anxiety at which I excel.

I have read that this is a common after-effect of deciding on a program, or a post doctoral or even faculty position.  The additional consideration that I am entering this with a much more specialized background than most students (read: 4 years in a lab where I introduced, managed and wrote manuscripts for my own projects) puts the anxiety into perspective.

I have chosen an excellent program, with a handful of outstanding mentors and a supportive student populous; and in it, I will thrive.

My particular mental block comes from peering (possibly, too) far into my future.  Research, for me, will always be most exciting in the world of repairing neurodegenerative pathologies that lead to motor dysfunction.  Ideally, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases.  But there are also technical skills hovering in my dreams that I can only learn (in my chosen program) in spinal cord injury research.

This is perfectly adequate in terms of developing interventions for motor impairments.  However, it presents a confound to the seamless progression of my academic career.  Namely, if I transition from the basal ganglia (PD and HD, where I have spent the last four years) to the spinal cord, I risk limiting my future post doc positions to spinal cord labs.

Had I the resources, I would present the stats on graduate students who obtained post doc/ faculty positions in a different sub-field of neuroscience than their graduate studies...  For the time being, I will attempt to resolve my inner conflict with the hope that it will all settle itself when I get there.


  1. I wouldn't worry too much. I've been told many times that between PhD and postdoc, you should change your question, your system, and your location. And if you can't change them all, try to change 2 out of 3. Moreover, when people go off and become PIs, they usually bring some of their postdoc work with them -- not their PhD work. So I guess what I'm saying is, it's totally fine to study spinal cord in grad school when your life goal is to work on basal ganglia, and it may even be preferable than doing all basal ganglia, all the time. The skills you pick up in grad school will expose you to something different, and that's where new ideas come from.

    Some recent grads I know have made big changes (from studying mammalian developmental signaling pathways to studying turtle genitalia, for example), others have stayed very much the same (going to work for one of their PhD adviser's collaborators). It's up to the individual.

  2. Thanks Laura! It's really nice to have a perspective outside my mentor's. I've always been told that it is important -- especially for in vivo systems, and especially for faculty positions -- for all your work to be complementary, and to have your PhD focus be in as similar a place as possible to the post doc or job position you're applying for.