Abandoning my PhD and getting a job

It’s been a while (understatement!) since I updated this. The reason being that it’s been an eventful few months. That, and the fact that I keep starting blog posts and then either not finishing them or realising that they say the same thing as another post I’ve done before (I think the latter is impressively absent minded – if I’m being kind to myself – considering that I’ve only ever written a handful of posts).

So what’s been going on? Well, you know, this and that, with a couple of major life decisions thrown in for good measure. I made the decision to quit my PhD. It was in the pipeline for a while really, but it was a bit of a leap from thinking about it to doing it. Especially since no one really takes you seriously when you say you’re going to quit. There’s a lot of, “Oh, don’t worry, I went through that phase in my PhD too. You’ll get past it.” And I kept thinking, I’m not sure i want to get past it. I think I want to get out! So I did!

Looking for a career

I applied for a good few (about 15) jobs over the course of about two months, during which time I was completely out of the lab and un-registered with my Uni. Rejection on some level was always going to be inevitable in this process. One recruiter, after informing me that I hadn’t gotten the job, was kind enough to provide me with some additional information about the person they had chosen, “The candidate who eventually got the position had experience and a PhD.” Oof. Hit me where it hurts why don’t you! (X Factor auditions anyone?! Maybe I just need a sad back-story…).

I have to say, that was a shaky point in my previously-held resolve that I’d made the right decision to quit. The voice of academia was ringing in my ears, “you’ll never have that career you want without a PhD”. I’d been told that outright before and (as with any one ever telling me I can’t do something) it made me absolutely determined to prove otherwise.

Things looking up

Then I came across an ad for a trainee medical writer. Actually it was advertised as: Junior copywriter position with a med comms agency. I’m convinced this was a ploy aimed at Mad Men fans to bring about visuals of spending their days drinking bourbon and driving lawn mowers through the office (if you haven’t seen Mad Men you obviously won’t get this reference, but I think it’s suffice to say that life in a twenty first century english med comms agency isn’t likely to reflect that in a 1950’s Manhattan big time advertising agency). The job description was looking for someone who loves science (*shoots hand up* oh, oh, pick me, pick me!), can write (I think so) and is a good communicator (I do an excellent impression of a myelinating oligodendrocyte, does that count?). Medical writing was something I’d given some thought to, but I’d never really had that clear of an idea of what the job actually entails. As it turns out, this is probably because it’s a hugely varied job, with no day or task likely to be the same as the next.

The interview process

Fast forward through my application and a phone interview; I was sent a writing test to do – producing a summary of various press releases regarding West Nile Virus for pharma reps – and they asked me to come in for an interview. The company is based in Reading (near London, for anyone whose English geography is as limited as mine), so I had to jump on a plane, and if I got the job I’d have to relocate – fine with me, I could live anywhere! I donned my newly purchased interview outfit – my mum insisted that my PhD student wardrobe of jeans and Converse was less than appropriate – and headed off to Reading.

The interview was great. It had the feel of an informal chat, as well as doing another, different, writing test (I suppose anyone could have done the first one for me) and the whole thing lasted about 2 hrs. Thank goodness even my impromptu sarcasm went down reasonably well:

Interviewer: How would you deal with client criticism of your writing?
Me: *Throws hands in air* How dare you insult my work, I am an artist!
Interviewer: *Laughs*
Me (mentally, to myself): Thank god!

One great thing was that I got the impression that the people working in the company were all pretty happy to be there. They were having a really busy, stressful day but everyone was working together and helping each other which made for a nice atmosphere, even under pressure. I think that’s one of the things I found hardest about the PhD – there are other people around and they can help sometimes, but ultimately it’s down to you and you’re really on your own.


The turnaround after that was pretty quick; I heard back from them the next day. I was pretty anxious for that 24 hrs. You know when you say to people, “I’m not getting my hopes up”, but in actual fact your hopes are sky-rocketing and you’re unsuccessfully trying to keep them under control. When they called me the next day to tell me I’d got the position and they wanted me to start ASAP. I was absolutely over the moon – I never expected that I’d get the first job I interviewed for, never mind one I really wanted!

Two weeks later I’d moved to England and started the job. Sometimes something just feels like a good fit and I have to say this has been one of those cases. I’ll report back soon with how the job is going. For now, I’m just happy to have it! I’m going to be writing up my PhD work as an MPhil so it’ll be a busy few months. I’ll update here with the ups and downs of thesis and job juggling!


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