The Princess and the PhD: Post-doctoral Depression


The Scientist shows me an ad he has found in Science. It reads:

The Basic Sciences Program at the University of Sint Eustatius School of Medicine is seeking a Ph.D. graduate interested in earning an M.D. degree. The applicant is required to teach one of the following courses: Histology/Cell Biology, Psychology & Ethics, Neurosciences, Physiology, Biochemistry & Genetics, Microbiology & Immunology, Pathology, or Pharmacology. The candidate is expected to teach at our campus located on the Dutch Caribbean Island of Sint Eustatius.

I say: “DO IT.”

Here is what I envision:


And for later, after the degree:

I know I lack subtlety here. Usually I am way smoother. Like when commercial after commercial comes on TV for Cialis, Flovent, Abilify, Nexium, Celebrex, DitropanXL, half of them obscure (“There are some things you don’t have to accept!” “For the road ahead!” “the purple pill”) and he complains that this country only advertises for drugs, and I say, “Hmmm . . . maybe there’s a reason that’s all you’re seeing!” In my slick, suave way, I am suggesting that perhaps there’s a Higher Being directing him to nearby Big Pharma. The Scientist, however, ponders my statement in his typically scientific way—is it possible that Fios is streaming particular commercials based on the shows we are watching, just as Facebook puts ads on the sidebar based on the content of our profiles and comments?

I’m clearly too subtle.

Sticking with the drug dream, I also like to pull out articles such as one about GlaxoSmithKline wiping out malaria and declare, as though it has spontaneously occurred to me, “Wow. Did you see this humanitarian work GSK is doing in Africa? Some people think working for a drug company is like selling your soul to the devil, but CLEARLY it’s more like saving the world!”

OK, maybe not that smooth. . .

In 1992, the Canadian polymath Douglas Coupland was becoming a well-known name, having just published his irreverent, precocious postmodern post-novel, Generation X, chronicling the lives of Canadian, Canadian-American, and American overeducated, oversmart, underemployed and underpaid college graduates.

That same year, The Scientist and I, still unknown to each other, were graduating from high school—very similar Jewish day schools, some 300 miles apart, that would turn out professionals of several (but not too many) flavors, young men and women who would seek higher, and in some cases higher, and higher, education in the years to come. We didn’t really fit Coupland’s idea of itinerant, rootless grads. Or did we?

About a decade after graduating, The Scientist and I were planning our wedding, and we invited 15 friends to be our bridesmaids and groomsmen, all former attendees of our Jewish day schools. Among them we could count 5 doctors (or doctors-to-be), 3 almost-lawyers, 4 MBAs, 1 dentist, and 2 PhD candidates (our siblings added 2 more dentists and a PhD-to-be, and then there was us—the bride and groom—another 2 future PhDs).

The Princess and the Sociology Socialite,
a bridesmaid who was also a PhD candidate;
We danced the night away thinking we had all the options
our friends surrounding us had . . .
Now, after a couple of teaching positions in a couple of
countries, I'm unemployed with a post-post-doc husband, and she is
finishing up a fellowship and may be decamping to Central America
to join her academic husband.

There were and are very real expectations for Jewish dayschool kids, and though many of us were the children of far-less educated parents—welders, plumbers, contractors, homemakers—we had grown up with a sense of self-entitlement that meant we demanded big diamonds for our engagement rings, intellectually-rigorous jobs that paid us well but didn’t expect us to come in on a daily basis, and holidays that alternately had us wandering through Rodin gardens or Freud’s fossilized house and on beach boardwalks topped with eruvs.

Did we think we were making similar choices, those doctors, those MBAs, and us? There was no question that we could and would all put in the sleepless nights of studying, all ace the tests, all successfully graduate from our programs in our chosen fields. We were pursuing loves or passions or lives with meaning. We thought we were choosing equally: yes, the doctors, you know, save lives, but we would be solving the mysteries of the universe, and molding the lives of the next generation while doing so. We weren’t trying to become Coupland’s Gen-Xers with their McJobs (low pay, low prestige, low benefits, low future), although it was fine when we, like they, were 25 and single, with nary a responsibility in the world.

But now we’re grown up, with kids (and a minivan!), and all these choices, all hallmarks or hard work and long hours, did not, in the end, make us equal. We’re still transient, still penniless, still unstable.

In the end, some of us got the Rodin gardens. And some of us got royally screwed.

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10 responses »

  1. WHY I THINK YOU SHOULD PAY ME TO PLAY POKER FOR YOU… It sounds so simple, and so practical! Everything we talked about is true – the psychological, cultural, social, and quasi-ethical components that you can actually study and quantify. I could be your next award-winning paper and bring you to glory amongst your peers. You can study me as I school my opponents; you can reap the financial rewards as I take money from the unsuspecting; you can ponder the philosophical needs to gamble while I prove to you that I play poker as an existentialistic examination of my own life.

    On another note, great blog miss thang! What what, woot woot, wheeeee!

  2. The whole academic thing creates a weird infantile system, in which we are “junior” until we’re well into our 30s and then, if we’re academics in the humanities, just as we’re hitting tenure, most of our non-academic friends are buying their second house, or maybe the weekend house, or maybe selling the first house and buying the second (bigger fancier) house. I comfort myself with the fact that my dual academic marriage has managed to create the illusion of one full-time parent for our kids (teaching alternate days, massive amounts of juggling). Plus, you know, there’s that whole summers off thing that sort of rocks. Of course, we humanities academics, we’re the ones with lots of time but no money to go anywhere. But–upside!–friends with country houses!

  3. Pingback: friday five | not that kind of doctor

  4. Pingback: Magic Money Part III: Conclusion « The Poor Princess Diaries

  5. I’ll do it… but first have to convince my wife that it’s a reasonable idea 😉 … will try my skills of persuasion… if anything one learns to b.s. well in grad scool :-)…

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