Green With Envy: When Your Friends All Have Jobs & You’re Still in Grad School

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! This is a guest post by Adam Ruben, PhD—molecular biologist, television host on the Discovery Channel’s “Outrageous Acts of Science,” and author of the book “Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School.”

You thought you were so smart. You picked the lab with the brilliant, dynamic PI who’s always jetting off to conferences in faraway lands. Now, eight years later, you’re e-mailing the twelfth draft of your dissertation to an adviser you haven’t seen since last summer, hoping to receive more than an automated out-of-office message in response. Cobwebs surround your desk, your thesis committee has forgotten your name, and undergrads have begun to mistake you for a Professor Emeritus.

Expression of GFP in syringe agroinfiltrated leaves, from the video article "Efficient Agroinfiltration of Plants for High-level Transient Expression of Recombinant Proteins"

In spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, an image showing the expression of green fluorescence protein in leaves (unfortunately they aren’t shamrocks)!

Even worse, all of your friends seem to have jobs. Here are six things you can do when they’ve all moved on, and you’re stuck in the same place:

  1. Do nothing. After all, it’s likely “doing nothing” that has kept you in grad school.
  2. Use your friends for networking. “Networking” means “assuming people will give you a job just because you used to drink beer together.”
  3. Be genuinely happy for your friends. The glow from that will last all of fifteen seconds, which is just long enough to briefly forget that you’re still analyzing data from 2005.
  4. Work on some really good excuses for your lack of progress. It’s not your fault you haven’t moved on, it’s the job market! It’s the economy! It’s definitely not online Scrabble!
  5. Cast doubt on your friends’ successes. This won’t help you get a job, but it will calm the rabid interrogations of your significant other.
  6. Tell your adviser that he or she already approved your dissertation and doesn’t remember. (If this works, I’ll buy you a beer. We’ll call it networking.)

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