Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Third year - lessons from the BES Annual Meeting

My poster for the British Ecological Society Annual Meeting turned out pretty good in the end (pic finally here). I got lots of compliments, which was nice, but obviously mainly from people I know. What wasn't nice was my experience of the conference.

Don't get me wrong, it was fantastic to be there, and there were some very good talks that I enjoyed, and it was an amazing opportunity to catch up with old friends, including my old supervisor from my BSc, and my friend Mark, who is doing some pretty awesome stuff! I also got to meet and have some brief chats with GrrlScientist and Bob O'Hara, two people I had only ever heard of in the online worlds of scientific blogging and twitter. I don't actively participate in the online science blogging community, although I regularly read lots of blog posts and am frequently quite inspired by them (here is a little introduction by the Guardian Science Blogs, with links to some of the best blogs out there), but of course I don't act through that inspiration - lazy.

The whole thing started going wrong when I tried to do this thing called "networking". It didn't go well. At all. I can confidently say that I made no actual connections with people. At the same time, I began to have serious issues with academia and research as a future career. The more I listened to people talk about their work, the more I realised I did not want to carry on in academic research. There were not many people talking about non-academic ecology, and the ones that did (mainly policy-relevant ecology... you know, climate change, land-use change, that kind of stuff) gave, on the whole, pretty poor talks. I just felt I didn't belong.

To make matters worse, there was a workshop for PhD students about career development - the perfect setting to learn about the possibilities after the PhD. Or so you'd think. It was basically a workshop on tips and strategies towards geetting a Post Doc contract. Not only did I feel that I didn't belong, I also now felt convinced that there would be nowhere for me to go after the PhD.

Overqualified for anything less than research (for which opportunities are so limited anyway!), and underexperienced for anything else (because I've spent my entire academic career working towards a research goal, which has just blown up in my face). Pretty bad start to my third year. And the cycle of ups and downs - mostly downs - continues...