What I do for work

busy cell culture days

It has been quiet here again. I guess that means that 30 days is indeed not enough to form a new habit (at least not for me). Did you know that supposedly it takes 66 days on average? This information originates in a scientific publication by Phillippa Lally from 2009 in the European Journal of Social Psychology. She published quite a few more research articles about the topic of habit forming so I trust that is about right. See, this is also the reason why sometimes writing something takes me forever. I start with something look it up and then that takes me down the rabbit hole (is that the right expression?) because I don’t find a good time to stop. It’s a little but occupational hazard since I always worked in research. Whenever we start a new project that usually means reading up on it what was already published and see how we can improve it. Sometimes it also leads to new ideas.

After high school I went to a 3 year school to become a medical technical laboratory assistant. A lot of my class mates worked in hospital labs after finishing but the first job I landed was in a research lab in the Anatmoy department at the medical school in Hannover. The next one was in a lab that was associated with the Nephrology department and after that I helped my PI then start his company. When we moved to the US I was glad I found a job again in a research lab at UC Berkeley in the Neuroscience department. I was not set on a specific research topic or a specific techniques and I think that somewhat helped in my case.

I love how exciting research can be when you discover something new or when you find a way that will ultimately help patients. I like to work with my hands, I like to do good work, I don’t like to be in the spot light or teach in front of a class. I like to keep everything running smoothly behind the scene. I think all in all my job is pretty perfect for me – at least for now. The lab works on gene therapy for eye diseases in the broader sense. For us that means pre-clinical studies in cells and mice to test if the ideas work in general but it is very exciting to see that these ideas can rlead to actual treatments that will be used in the clinic down the road and help patients. Right now I am mostly responsible for making the vectors which are used in our research. We use a non pathogenic virus called adeno-associated virus (AAV) and exchange its genetic information with the information that hopefully will repair genetic defects in the diseased retina. I am no specialist for retinal disease but if you have questions about that you should check out the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

One downside of my position is that my salary comes out of research grants which usually run anywhere from 1-5 years. For the last 25 years it always worked out and there was always follow up funding available. I could also look for a position in industry since I am a US citizen now and don’t have to worry about my visa status anymore but for now I am happy where I am. I get along with my PI, my work schedule is flexible enough so that I can fit in doctors appointments, school trips, sick kids, etc. I was able to reduce time after the kids started school. I am now at 80% and that works great for me.

I sometimes wonder if I should have done things differently. When I finished school, I first wanted to study chemistry but only knew chemists who were unemployed after they finished. I almost studied philosophy and history but changed my mind at the last minute and kept working. I did some courses in book keeping when I worked for the start up company. I liked that, too but I think I would have found it to boring overtime. I also liked the six weeks I had to intern at the hospital during my education and was thinking about medicine for a little while but decided that it was to emotionally challenging for me. I probably could have gotten my PhD as my PI suggested in the past but honestly I am perfectly happy where I am right now.

What about you? Do you sometimes think about the other options that passed you by or would you pick the same profession over again?


14 thoughts on “What I do for work”

  1. This is so interesting!

    My career trajectory is…odd. My background is in Biology (Honours + Master’s degrees), but I don’t really use much of that knowledge. I knew when I finished my Master’s I didn’t want to do a PhD (I was also 7 months pregnant at the time) and I didn’t want to keep doing research.

    I worked for an environmental consulting company. I co-founded two small businesses. All along I worked at a local university as well (running a student support department and now also as project manager for the final years of a 14-year project; my boss is the PI on this project).

    There are lots of times I wish I had selected something with a very specific job at the end; say, pharmacology or even medicine. I don’t regret where I’m at, but piecing together an odd mish-mash of jobs that aren’t my “passion” does sometimes give me a twinge of regret.
    That said, it has been an incredible opportunity for being a flexible parent. Though owning a small business is a lot of work and pressure…it allowed me to be home a lot in those little years and not have to scramble for childcare.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly, part of the reason why I am doing what I am doing is the possibility to be a flexible parent. When my PI suggested the PhD, I was pregnant and I just could not imagine how to juggle it all and be a parent and grad student in a way that would have made me happy. Some days I envy people who found their one passion but who knows if that is not still in the cards for either of us. I love what I do but if I look at my husband I see every day that passion about work is something else (he is a PI).
      Being able to have this mix of jobs has it’s advantages, too. Maybe there was change in the last 17 years but in Germany I always ahad the feeling you learn one thing and you do that for the rest of your life. I bet the amount of experience you have from starting a business, the student support and now the project management is invaluable. Who knows what we are going to do when the kids are out of the house 😉


  2. I think your job sounds interesting, and it seems perfect for you. I can tell you’re excited about the current research you’re doing. I think if I had another life to do a completely different career, I would want to do some kind of research like you’re doing, or maybe the field of epigenetics. But we only have one life and have to make a choice.
    You mentioned you’re looking for vegan cookie recipes- check out Nora Cooks. She has a lot of great recipes and several recent Christmas cookie recipes. Her recipes are very reliable and delicious!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Epigenetics sounds super interesting. Isn’t it exciting that there are still so many things to discover (and hopefully to use them for good)? We have to leave some things for our kids to figure out after all 😉
      Thanks for the recommendation. I will check out her recipes.


  3. This is so interesting! It is so different from my career (marketing + content writing). Math/science were my two worst subjects in school/college so I knew a career in the sciences was not in the cards for me, ha. The work you’re doing sounds really amazing and interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That is so interesting. I had an idea that you worked in a lab but it’s interesting to hear about your career trajectory.
    I don’t think I know: did you come to the US with a green card or because of your husband or your job? And would it be easy for you get into a PhD program, when you don’t have a MA (from what I understand)?

    I have a Lehramt degree and got that translated as a MA in Education (which makes no sense because my focus was Geography and NOT education). I’ve had trouble in the past getting my transcripts (or lack thereof) accepted for my position and I have thought about a PhD but think it would be almost impossible to meet the requirements with the transcripts that I have.
    Would love to know about your experience.


    1. We came to the US because me husband wanted to do his postdoc here. I got lucky and found a position that sponsored my own J1. When the time was up we had to switch to an H1B and I had to get my education evaluated for that. Even though it’s a three year school education with the 1 extra year of school and the courses during the three years it turned out to be a bachelor equivalent what should be enough at least for some schools. I think for a PhD it depends where you apply. One of our former grad student came from Germany and said some schools would not have taken him but Berkeley did. I think it would not be easy but possible. If you want to chat more let me know. My husband always says the big decisions first and then we figure out the rest 😉


  5. So interesting to read. I knew a bit since I asked in a comment. I find this very interesting. I am not sure if it would work for me even though I am interested in medicine and laboratory work.

    Back in the day I wanted to become an archeologist but people told me you need to have a back for languages (which I apparently don’t have…) and then photography was a passion I wanted to do but people told me it isn’t paid well. Then I was set on doing American Studies and History but wasn’t excepted.

    So I ended up in marketing by chance to fill the years of wanting until I was accepted to university. I never changed. I am good at what I am doing. I do find it interesting. But not sure if I would do it again. Luckily the photography part is now part of my job. And my curiosity is met by the different projects I can pick as a freelancer. So overall I am happy where I am. If I manage to add a bit more art and jewelry making into the mix I think I am happiest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would not mind doing something a little more creative some days. Your work sounds very interesting, too. Isn’t it weird the things we don’t end up doing because others told us, that it is not a good idea for one reason or another? Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I would have chosen differently – don’t get me wrong, I am happy now, but the possibilities still have me curious…


  6. Oh, I loved reading this. And I wish I could be in on your conversation with San! I do have a PhD but not in a “hard science” (although I’ll discuss that characterization vigorously with anyone who implies my PhD is less than because of that… not meaning you of course, just that it’s happened…). And higher ed is soooo different in Europe vs. the US. So different. I find it fascinating how your degree was translated vs. San’s. You already know I find your research topic fascinating – I have loved keeping up with the LHON therapies and seeing the outcomes over time. What amazing things we can do with science. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think no degree should be considered “less than”. There are so many different professions and they are all different and meaningful in different ways. Yes, there is definitely a difference between European and US in higher education but one thing I found especially interesting is the difference in attitude how problems are approached. I heard someone say Americans have a ‘can do attitude’.


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