Taking 3 months to a year off to travel after science PhD - bad idea?

posted
19-Feb-14, 13:43
edited about 17 minutes later
by elflick
Avatar for elflick
posted about 5 years ago
I will be finishing my PhD in October and think it would be the perfect time to take some extended time off to travel - specifically a bicycle tour. I have absolutely loved my PhD and really want to get a good postdoc after in research. But as well as science - I love travelling! It has been my dream for most of my life (I'm 33 now) to cycle around the world.
I've been thinking to take 3 months off to do a tour, while searching for jobs. But then I'd be thinking about time off after a post-doc, then another, then another - as my dream of cycling the world wouldn't be complete. So then I thought - why not take a whole year, or 18 months off to do it in one go?

My supervisor (as well as lots of others) think its a bad idea, as I will find it harder to get a job (although they make it sound like I would never get a job...). But surely pursuing a dream is more important? Get it out of the way before a career (after all, most women take time out to have kids - and I won't be doing that).

I could take a technicians job after if I had to - to get back into the swing of lab work and research. (although I'd eventually need a decent job to pay off the debts!) I know someone who used to work my lab who worked in insurance admin for 2 years before getting a technicians post (he had a PhD) - then went on to get an amazing post-doc.

Or... would it be better to take a year out after the first post-doc, than after a PhD? I want to do it at some point (I will regret it if not).

Surely there's more to life than work?

I'd just like peoples thoughts. Have you taken a year out? Know of anyone?

Thanks
posted
19-Feb-14, 14:16
edited about 20 seconds later
Avatar for DrJeckyll
posted about 5 years ago
Hi elflick,

If you can financially afford taking time off, then why not? Everyone makes their priorities.

As for the:

(after all, most women take time out to have kids - and I won't be doing that)


It seems like you automatically assume that childcare and career sacrifice is something that automatically falls on women! In some countries (and hopefully soon in the UK too) maternity and paternity leave can be equally divided between the partners. * Sigh*
posted
19-Feb-14, 15:09
edited about 19 seconds later
Avatar for Mackem_Beefy
posted about 5 years ago
If you were going to have a year out, then taking it BEFORE your PhD would have been wiser. I like the travel game too, however, if for whatever reason you find yourself out of the loop it can extremely difficult to find your way back into a research-based or academic career.

My circumstances were different to yours. I firstly did my PhD followed by a good post-doc at my PhD University. I then did a second post-doc at another University that went very, very badly. Although I finished this second post-doc, problems due to me not having a reference from the second post-doc Prof meant moving into another research-based or academic position was nigh on impossible, despite a good working record up to the beginning of this second post-doc (I'd worked for a reasonable period in R&D before my PhD). In fact finding any new job was hard enough and I only found my current industry-based job after a year of looking. I had found myself out of the loop and the time lost also counted against me.

One added problem to be aware of is the oversupply of PhDs compared to say post-doc positions. If you took even three months out, newer PhD graduates looking to move straight into a post-doc would have a slight advantage. Additionally, many post-docs are taken by people writing up. If you leave it anymore than a year, those newer graduates may well be perceived as fresher and slightly more up-to-date with their skills.

If your next move were to be back into the real world and industry, a gap year is certainly less of an issue. There, your ability to sell yourself may be sufficient to overcome the one year gap in your CV.

Take a few weeks off, but any longer and newer graduates will be fresher in the minds and memories of of the academics advertising post-doc positions.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)
posted
19-Feb-14, 15:12
edited about 38 seconds later
Avatar for Mackem_Beefy
posted about 5 years ago
Quote From DrJeckyll:
Hi elflick,

If you can financially afford taking time off, then why not? Everyone makes their priorities.

As for the:

(after all, most women take time out to have kids - and I won't be doing that)


It seems like you automatically assume that childcare and career sacrifice is something that automatically falls on women! In some countries (and hopefully soon in the UK too) maternity and paternity leave can be equally divided between the partners. * Sigh*


Point taken Dr. Jeckyll, however, I think he meant he wasn't going to be doing the actual child-bearing.

It would be interesting to see what would happen if the roles could be reversed. :-)

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)
posted
19-Feb-14, 18:16
edited about 23 seconds later
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 5 years ago
Take the time off and use it to write papers and apply for jobs, that way it won't look like you have been doing nothing. Don't mention the gap if you don't have to.

I think whether this affects your career prospects depends on the person interviewing you. Convince them you needed a break and it was a dream opportunity, and now you are ready to throw yourself into a postdoc and work hard. I don't think many supervisors would have a problem with that and I don't see what advantage a newer graduate would have over one that graduated just a year before.
posted
20-Feb-14, 10:27
Avatar for Mackem_Beefy
posted about 5 years ago
TreeofLife,

I understand what you're saying and if you have the right interviewer and right sales pitch, I'd be more inclined agree. However, I'm keeping in mind that things are a lot tougher jobwise out there than they were. When going for interviews for various jobs I was sometimes queried about even a couple of months out of employment and told bluntly that my employment hunt would be more straightforward if I was in work or at least economically active.

I also remember a conversation with an institute director at my PhD University, who's view was a technical degree had a half life of say two years after which it didn't have much value compared to a fresh graduate. He was only really interested in taking on fresh or 'active' people for his research posts and PhDs.

My perception is gap years are great when the economy in general is in good health. However, the current situation is such that you have to give yourself every chance in the job market or possibly find yourself either unemployed or in a position not meeting your required skills for quite some time. The overqualified label doesn't help.

If someone wants to have a gap year, I'd suggest between school and Uni. is the best time, with between undergrad and postgrad being a less favourable option (ref my above conversation with the institute director). I genuinely believe taking a gap year before entering employment proper when you have little previous proper works experience may be perceived as an error in the current climate. From an employer perspective, I'd take the one who was wanting to make an immediate start and not the post-gap year person who may not be so able to hit the ground running.

Someone taking a midlife gap year will probably have a good few years previous experience to sell themselves on when they come back, but if someone with little experience decided to do a gap year before employment then they may find themselves at a disadvantage.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)
posted
20-Feb-14, 11:29
edited about 28 seconds later
Avatar for chickpea
posted about 5 years ago
I think it's important to be realistic about the current jobs market. You'll probably find other PhDs competing for the lab technician posts, never mind the decent postdocs. Nothing is guaranteed, but there are things you can do that will significantly lower or improve your chances of getting a good job, and I personally wouldn't risk the year out at your stage, which would mean your references and contacts would be a year less fresh than other applicants', as well as your skills.
posted
20-Feb-14, 12:43
Avatar for HazyJane
posted about 5 years ago
Quote From elflick:
I know someone who used to work my lab who worked in insurance admin for 2 years before getting a technicians post (he had a PhD) - then went on to get an amazing post-doc.

Probably the exception rather than the rule.

Some things to consider:
1. What was your motivation for putting yourself through a PhD? If it was because your heart was set on an academic career, perhaps you should aim to optimise the already slim chance of success.
2. If in 5-10 years time, you have failed to get back on the career path you originally wanted, how disappointed/regretful would you be?
3. If academia doesn't work out, do you have a realistic plan B/plan C that you could be happy with.
4. Could you in some way couple your cycle tour with career-enhancing experiences? For example, if you have contacts at an overseas university, how about doing some cycling in that country, being a visiting academic at that university for a few weeks/months, and then setting off again? Chuck in a couple of conferences and publications and at least your CV would be growing.

I reckon you could swing 3 months off, as some people's notice periods mean they wouldn't be able to take up a job before that length of time has passed. But longer than that without having a job in the pipeline may well cause you trouble.
posted
20-Feb-14, 13:02
edited about 7 minutes later
Avatar for HazyJane
posted about 5 years ago
Quote From elflick:

(after all, most women take time out to have kids - and I won't be doing that).


In addition to the points made about this by others above, it's worth noting that there's quite a lot of evidence suggesting that many women struggle to get back into academia after time out to have kids. It's perhaps not as bad today as in the past, in part because there are now some formal ways of supporting them (and indeed people who've taken time off to care for relatives). But it does add to the challenges, so don't glibly think that interruptions don't matter, as they do.

If you were in another career, where there were steady and plentiful jobs going, this would all be less of an issue, but you're on a career path where there's not enough jobs to go around anyway.
posted
20-Feb-14, 18:37
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 5 years ago
Mackem_Beefy I know what you are saying but I just think this is one of those things that really does depend on the people you ask. I personally don't think 1 year out after a viva makes any difference, since you are likely to get papers published during this time and therefore you look active even if you are not, and I know my supervisors and other academics I know agree with me, but I am fully aware other academics may not have these same opinions.

For example, a postdoc in my lab worked in a shop for a year because he couldn't find another job. Still got his postdoc in the end though. Another post doc worked as a science tech in a school for a year. Still got a postdoc in the end. There's lots of stories like these. I guess we don't hear about the ones that don't manage to get a postdoc after taking time out from academia though.

Hazy Jane makes some good points.
posted
20-Feb-14, 21:44
edited about 8 minutes later
Avatar for metabanalysis
posted about 5 years ago
elflick: "Get it out of the way before a career (after all, most women take time out to have kids - and I won't be doing that)."

Are you seriously comparing taking time off for a bicyle tour to a woman starting the journey of motherhood? The human race can survive without the bike race, but not visa versa.

There is a good reason why HR departments have a charter to make sure that women are not discriminated against for taking time out to raise children. There is no equivalent equality charter for bicycle sabbaticals.
posted
21-Feb-14, 12:56
edited a moment later
by elflick
Avatar for elflick
posted about 5 years ago
Hi everyone, thank you for all your replies - it's much appreciated.
Dr Jeckyll (and Hazey Jane, metabanalysis) the comment about women taking time off for child birth was just chucked in and phrased quite badly... Really what it is is that I'm 33 (and a woman) and have decided not to have children. Its a big thing for me and has made me realise that if I don't want kids then I should really use my life and do something with it that I wouldn't be able to do if I did have them - which has pressed me to want to do this tour.

Maken-Beefy - I did take 4 months off after my degree to travel but couldn't do more as I had no money and I also had a dog at home. I've had responsibility for my dog up until 2 years ago. Although I loved her to bits I always thought that as soon as she passed away and I'd finished my studies I'd have no responsibilities (and I've been saving) and I'd do the tour I'd always wanted to do. Can't go back in time, unfortunately.

HazeyJane - really what I want out of my work life is a job I really like doing everyday - which is working in a lab. I'm not so bothered about a career as such - as long as I get paid a fairly decent wage (post-doc wages seem amazing to me) I'll be happy.

You have given some really good ideas though - visiting an overseas lab and attending a conference sound like a fantastic idea! I already have 2 papers published and will have 2 more published (hopefully!) for after my Viva (hopefully this'll make me look more active...).

Treeoflife - you are saying what I want to hear! Thank you. Although I know in my gut it's a bad idea and very risky, I know its not impossible.
posted
21-Feb-14, 14:18
edited about 4 seconds later
Avatar for HazyJane
posted about 5 years ago
Quote From elflick:

HazeyJane - really what I want out of my work life is a job I really like doing everyday - which is working in a lab. I'm not so bothered about a career as such - as long as I get paid a fairly decent wage (post-doc wages seem amazing to me) I'll be happy.

You have given some really good ideas though - visiting an overseas lab and attending a conference sound like a fantastic idea! I already have 2 papers published and will have 2 more published (hopefully!) for after my Viva (hopefully this'll make me look more active...).


Have you considered industry at all? If so, make some contacts and try to figure out where things are moving to, skills/assay wise. It's all very well being an expert in a technique but if it becomes obsolete through automation then you're stuck. You could maybe weave in a course on the latest state of the art technology, or something like statistics/bioinformatics into your itinerary.
posted
22-Feb-14, 00:13
Avatar for Mackem_Beefy
posted about 5 years ago
Quote From TreeofLife:
Mackem_Beefy I know what you are saying but I just think this is one of those things that really does depend on the people you ask. I personally don't think 1 year out after a viva makes any difference, since you are likely to get papers published during this time and therefore you look active even if you are not, and I know my supervisors and other academics I know agree with me, but I am fully aware other academics may not have these same opinions.

For example, a postdoc in my lab worked in a shop for a year because he couldn't find another job. Still got his postdoc in the end though. Another post doc worked as a science tech in a school for a year. Still got a postdoc in the end. There's lots of stories like these. I guess we don't hear about the ones that don't manage to get a postdoc after taking time out from academia though.

Hazy Jane makes some good points.


Tree of Life,

The first sentence of you response sums things up exactly - the view you receive is very much dependent on the person. I'd love to a mid-life gap year, but personal circumstances will not allow. I guess my views are fashioned by the hard time I had returning to work after my bad second post-doc.

Elflick,

I understand clearly travel is your dream. My own intermittent travels have taken me to Tibet (China out!!!), Uzbekistan, India (Ladakh was good), Peru, Myanmar and many other places I will always remember. I will say beware Russia!!! Grand Canyon stands out big time.

Hazyjane has indeed made some good points and if you can fit in a few papers and a couple of conferences, you will still be fresh in the academic memory so to speak.

Oh and never say never as regards kids as in a flash, you could meet the right man and suddenly have a cherished little baby one on the way.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)
posted
22-Feb-14, 11:03
edited about 23 seconds later
Avatar for chickpea
posted about 5 years ago
Ian, I enjoy your posts and from my brief time on here so far I consider you something of a 'voice of reason'. But (you knew that was coming!) Elflick has told us she's decided not to have kids, she doesn't want them and it's been a big thing for her. It's dangerous ground to say the 'right man' can fix this - let's just trust her on this one :)

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