Im-perfect timelines to becoming a scientist!


Who came up with (this version) of the “Perfect Timeline”?

Amelia Munson, Behavioral Ecologist, is a graduate student at the University of California in Davis, and she studies fish! One of her favorites are Stickleback fish, which she describes as some of the coolest little armored tanks of the fish world. When it comes to fish, she could talk about them forever!

Check out a view of her fish about 10 seconds into the video

As a graduate student, she works with a lot of undergrads. Many times, she’s asked the same questions:

  • What is a graduate student?
  • What are you doing?

One day she was thinking about these common questions about being a graduate student in a science field, and came up with the idea for a “Perfect Timeline”.

So, what is the perfect timeline for becoming a professional scientist?

While considering this, Amelia started at the beginning. When considering the perfect plan for a scientist (or at least, Ecologist), she put together these steps:

Step 1: You’re born a kid who loves animals

At the start, you’re born and are a kid who loves animals and being outside all the time. Playing with frogs, the whole nine.

Step 2: College

How or where isn’t specific, but you get through and are headed to college. In college you get a degree in biology, ecology, or zoology… At the end you know exactly what you want to do so you go to…

Step 3: Graduate School

It may have “school” in the title, but being in graduate school is very different from being a student in the typical sense. Amelia, for example, took some classes her first year but most of her time is spent doing research and other things, like teaching.

Step 4: Post Doc

Getting a post doc can range in time from 1-3, maybe even 4 years. During this time it’s similar to grad school where you’re doing a lot of research and really honing in on topics. But, you’re spending a lot less time teaching and more time publishing papers and getting some of the science done.

Step 5: “PI” Professor

If everything goes well with your post doc you become the “PI”. You become the scientist. You are your own professor, and you manage a lab that has undergraduate, grad students, and post docs in it. At this point, you spend a little less time doing the research and more time doing some of the bureaucratic stuff – getting the science to be capable of something your graduate and post doc students can do for you.

So, what does Amelia’s real timeline look like?

Even as Amelia was creating her perfect timeline, she realized it wasn’t what her actual path looked like. So, what does her scientific career look like?

Step 1: You’re born a kid who loves animals

Ok, this one didn’t change. When she was a kid, she really did love animals and being outside. She’s a big fan of cows and otters. But, she also loved dolls and stuffed animals. Her mom taught her how to make doll houses out of oatmeal boxes and cardboard! The skills her mother taught her building things have probably been at least as helpful, if not more helpful in grad school as her love of animals.

Step 2: College

She did go to college right after high school, and majored in Biology. However, she came in interested in History. So, while she was playing with fish she was also thinking about Henry the 8th and all sorts of historical things because she was interested in that also.

Step 3: Community College

When she graduated with her undergrad, she didn’t know if she wanted to go to grad school. She didn’t know what she wanted to do. She knew she loved animals. So, she went to community college and did a degree in zookeeping! She worked at zoos for a little while where she got to play with penguins, feed pudding to black bears, and learned how incredibly smart orangutan’s are.

However, she was not on a path where those skills necessarily translated to her. She was also spending a lot of time picking up poop. Which, is also an apt metaphor for what grad school has been like when she thinks about it…

Step 4: Graduate School

When she was done with her zookeeping program at community college, that’s when she decided she wanted to go to graduate school. She applied to Davis, and ended up attending there. Her current work is doing the research and teaching, but she also gets to spend a ton of time playing with her fish (which she absolutely loves).

She also does things outside of graduate school. Art, drawing, being outside thinking about things other than her research…

So, how do her perfect and real scientific career timelines compare?

As Amelia considered her timeline, and how her actual timeline followed generally what it’s supposed to be… but also has not followed it at all… She realizes she’s not totally sure what her future will hold.

Will she follow the post doc to PI path? She’s not sure. There’s other paths you can take to do science… and that’s one of the things that excites her about her scientific career!

Her future is sort of a mystery right now…

And that’s one of the things she’s excited about as she contributes to SciAll.Org! There are different scientists in SciAll that are all at different stages who are sharing their science. But, they also get to share their journey, where their interests take them, and what path they follow.

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