I was pretty young when I was inspired to want to do science, but don’t worry I’m not going to tell that story again!
I took a very conventional route through my science education doing A-levels in biology and chemistry which is usually a requirement if you want to do a degree in biology. I did an AS-level in Environmental science and for a break from science I did my third A-level in English Literature, I found this a good balance and enjoyed having one non-science subject.
After that I joined the University of East Anglia who do a general biology program you can start and then choose later what to specialize in. Quite a lot of universities do this and it gives you quite a lot of freedom. As an A-level student you don’t often know much about the different specialities within biology let alone which of them you’d like to focus on. One of the big attractions of going to UEA was being able to spend a year of my degree abroad and I certainly didn’t regret choosing California!
I knew I wanted to do research so that means doing a PhD which I did at UCL on Neuroprotection and ageing in sensory neurons (I might blog about that one day!). The advantage of science PhDs is that they are funded so not only do your university fees get paid for you but you also get a grant to live on.
Once you defend your thesis a post-doctoral position (Usually two) is the next obvious step and a requirement if you want to pursue an academic research career in this country. Up to this point the route is well lit, you know more or less where you’re going and how to get there.
“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin! Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?”
I’ve come to the cross-roads that all but a tiny minority of people on this path face. What to do next? Even if you want to stay in academic research and have discovered something interesting enough for this to be a possibility, you still have to figure out a route from where you are to where you want to be. Only 1 in 20, or 5%, of post-docs will become lecturers and only in a few cases will the transition be easy and straight forward.
The problem is that during your many years in academia it’s easy to get indoctrinated into the view that academic research is the best or the only worthwhile thing to do which makes a lot of people feel miserable unnecessarily. Almost all of the other 95% go on to successful and fulfilling careers and make a positive contribution to society.
There’s a whole world out there and whatever path I find myself on next I’m sure it’ll be an adventure!