I wasnít sure about going to school again directly after graduating from Wesleyan. I was definitely starting to feel burnt out, but I knew that I wanted to go on to graduate school eventually to continue on with my career goals. There is a bit of fear in taking a break. Whoís to know that it wonít be permanent? However, in the sciences there are options that allow you to take a break, but remain in your field of study.
I chose to take a few years off and work as a research technician, which is something that, if you talk to Jim Donady, he advocates. I know that, personally, I focused a great deal of my time on my schoolwork, research, and actual work to support myself. There were no holiday breaks or vacations. Working isnít a vacation, but it does allow for further discovery of what you want to do by either immersing yourself in your intended field of study or by being so outside of it that you long to be back in it. As a research technician, Iíve been able to determine that graduate school is for me and that research is my area of interest.
Once I knew that I wanted to spend at least two years as a technician I started immediately looking for job openings at the beginning of my second semester senior year. One of your best sources of information in terms of research are your own professors within the sciences. They know other research scientists at institutions all over the country, and depending on what you are interested in, can provide valuable contacts that you can email or call about openings within their departments or in their particular laboratories. Wesleyan is a small school, but many know that the students that graduate are highly competent and it is a definite plus. Other resources include the websites of schools and institutions that you find of interest as well as the organized job fairs Wesleyan offers in January and March. Prior research experience is a major bonus, but not necessary.
I knew that I wanted to be in New York so I concentrated my job search there. I was offered a position quite early in the process and took it right away. It was a position in the laboratory of a Wesleyan alum. I had contacted him in early January inquiring about possible laboratory positions within the medical school, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and he suggested I send him my resume. All of this was via email. A month later he said that he had two positions in his laboratory and suggested that I come down to New York for a visit. He suggested I have 3 recommendations sent to him and once I showed up I didnít even have to say anything. He said there was a general research position making media and buffers and that there was a position running an analytical ultra centrifugation facility. He wanted me to run the facility and Iíve been doing that for almost the past two years.
My responsibilities are split between my the laboratory of Dr. Michael Brenowitz in the biochemistry department and a core laboratory facility, the Laboratory of Macromolecular Analysis and Proteomics, that serves the entire Einstein community. My first six months consisted of training and my own projects within the Brenowitz laboratory. I graduated primarily as a neuroscience major, but I also majored in biology. All of my previous research experience had been in neuroscience laboratories. This was a big switch for me, but prior experience made the transition easier. My first project led to a publication that has just recently been submitted. Besides having a supervisor that gives me a great deal of autonomy as well as support this position was an opportunity to have some of my work published and to be involved in that process. Also, I have the opportunity to work on experiments for other laboratories. The analytical ultracentrifuge is used to determine the hydrodynamic and thermodynamic properties of different macromolecules. It is useful for the analysis of all different kinds of macromolecules such as proteins and nucleic acids. Itís a technique that started to fade out in the 60ís and 70ís, but is making a comeback now with improvements in the machine and technique. I run experiments and I hold group/individual training sessions.There is a lot more I can say about my particular job, but the important things Iíve learned are the workings of science research. It is about patience and perseverance. There definitely is a difference being on the technician side as oppose to being a student. You are being paid for a job and to work a set number of hours. I often work overtime to get my work done, but if someone is demanding you come in every weekend and work late into the night often that is usually beyond your job requirements. Being a competent worker is one thing, but as a technician you are not a graduate student. I attend lectures and Iím constantly reading articles, but if Iíve put my hours in and Iíve done my work I go home. There can be many opportunities for publications and if you are interested in graduate school it provides great experience and insight. In fact, graduate schools like previous research experience and a lot of applicants (not all) have worked for a few years before applying.