“Things are not progressing as they should. You’re having a hard time focusing on the research, and we know that you don’t want to be in academia anyway. Do you want to quit?”
The question landed like a punch, and Mónica’s committee meeting took a turn she hadn’t expected. She was in the fourth year of her PhD training at Harvard, and her committee had just asked her if she wanted to leave the program.
“That was incredibly devastating to have these four people that you respect, and that their main role is supposed to be supporting you and helping you, and to have them ask you, “Do you want to leave?” It was devastating. But I somehow found the strength to say, ‘I don’t want to quit!'”
Mónica Feliú-Mójer finished her PhD and went on to a dream job doing science outreach and communication, but that committee meeting was a turning point.
Her story holds a valuable lesson for any graduate student considering a career outside of the academic tenure track.
Many students begin graduate school expecting to land in a tenure-track faculty position. But often, they see their own advisor slaving over grant applications and departmental politics, and decide that an ‘alternative career’ is a better option.
Dr. Feliú-Mójer realized a passion for science communication BEFORE she even applied to graduate school, and once enrolled, she poured herself into the extra-curricular experiences that fed that passion. She worked with organizations like Ciencia Puerto Rico, and worked long into the night honing her writing skills.
“While I was enjoying that experimental part, what really brought me immense joy was all of this communication and outreach that I was doing,” she remembers. But graduation requires a dissertation, and she realized her research was taking second place.
“There was a point in graduate school where things were not looking great. I wasn’t happy, I didn’t feel like I was making progress, I didn’t feel like I had the support I needed to succeed in the lab. And so, I wasn’t motivated, and I decided to pour all of my energy into my outreach and my science communication. And that really affected my productivity, to the level that I was a fourth-year grad student and my dissertation advisory committee asked me if I wanted to quit the PhD program.”
Feliú-Mójer examined her motivations and had tough conversations with her mentors. She went back to her committee with the confidence to finish what she started.
“I knew that I needed to make an adjustment and that I needed to focus, so I said ‘No, I’m not quitting. And yes, I do need a PhD to do what I want to do. So I am committing right here and now to finish, and I hope you will work with me to accomplish that.'”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Dr. Feliú-Mójer spends her time mentoring students and sharing science with a wide audience through her work with Ciencia Puerto Rico and iBiology. This week on the show, she shares her inspiring story about following your passion, pushing through the trials of graduate school, and leveraging your network to land your dream job.
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