succumbing to peer pressure

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Life Choices (subtitled: EIS back on the table?)

It finally sank in sometime today that there's no way I'm graduating in May. I've been sort of plunking along, freaking out slightly about trying to get a proposal out before Christmas, but thinking that if I can make that I can keep to my perpetually vague answer of, I should be done in about a year. Which may still be a true statement, since I'm now saying it in September (I started saying it in the spring). If I were shooting for a May graduation date (something I sort of let go of a while ago) I would need to get my dissertation to the graduate school by March. Just thinking about that makes my chest hurt. So now the earliest possible graduation date is August, with December also on the table. All of these are fine. They are. Seriously. Damnit Megan, start believing they're fine! Anyway. I still don't have enough data to start freaking out about next summer, though the possibility of it becoming increasingly complicated is...increasing. My lease is up in July, and the idea of apartment hunting and job hunting and dissertation defending all during the same few months makes my chest hurt even more than that March idea.

Now, in a somewhat perfect world, I would just slide naturally from graduate student to employee in some local job, thus reducing the number of simultaneous life-altering events to two, maybe even one. But what if the best job isn't here?

Ah, but what if it is? Years ago, when I first started thinking about public health school as my next step, I set my sights on becoming a member of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS). They get billed as the coolest, most exciting scientists who drop into hot zones to investigate the latest ebola outbreak. Although that does happen, it's much more frequent that EIS officers spend their days looking in to things contaminated with poo (spinach. swimming pools.) and doing disease surveillance. Important stuff, certainly, but somewhat less blockbuster-movie-worthy. Anyway, upon joining the public health world I learned how incredibly hard it is for PhDs to get admitted to the EIS, since the vast majority of EIS positions call for MDs (preferably with an MPH). So I let my goals shift, and semester by semester thought up other dream jobs. Then last weekend at a party I ran in to a former student who just joined EIS, doing AIDS surveillance in NYC. We chatted a bit, I reminisced about my dream of being an EIS officer, and he jumped in with just how much they currently wanted/needed PhDs to do research.

I have no idea if his impression is accurate, but it planted the bug back in my brain. On the pro side - 1) really cool and exciting work (even when it might not sound that way to the general public) 2) entry into an incredibly useful and well-connected group of people 3) fits a romantic notion of fulfilling one's civic duty 4) convenient in a post-doc/transition between grad school and real world sort of way 5) even if I got assigned somewhere else, my (limited) understanding is that at least initial training would start here, so I could postpone some of that scary moving-while-defending business. Cons - 1) relatively low pay 2) essentially postponing my career, but hopefully in a way that helps it further down the road 3) not much control over where I'm sent 4) joining the civil service under a...well, somewhat less than ideal political climate.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I TOTALLY understand how you feel. My chest hurts now also, as I ponder graduation date and lining up jobs/postdocs. I much preferred the Spring, when the "I'll graduate in a year" statement seemed happy and vague. Unless you're worried about funding, there's no reason to feel bad about an Aug/Dec grad date, esp if that helps you figure out your next step. I've been telling myself the same thing, and just trying to work consistently towards a May grad so as not to over-procrastinate/over-contemplate my choices. I wish I knew a way to work harder while remaining calm. For now, I'll just send you a nice, long hug.

9:15 PM  

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