I am a 35 year old woman with a Ph.D. in molecular, cellular, developmental and biochemical biology. I have been working constantly with occasional, short 1-2 week vacations doing science research for the past 12 years. Every couple of years I go through a type of career crisis in that I fear that I've made a huge mistake! Because everyone I speak to in science instills the fear of God in me when I consider doing something else - they say, once you leave you cannot go back - I really need to take a break and think hard about my options. I also need to make a solid plan no matter what I intend to do, because the direction I'm heading in right now (staying in industry) is killing my soul. I have come to the conclusion that I need to take a 1-2 month sabbatical - obviously, two months being preferable, but also more costly. Let me explain my history so that you may understand the true nature of my inner struggle.
I was always a very creative person. As a child, I loved to draw, make things and play the piano. As I grew older, I also enjoyed writing fictional stories. By high school, I had a pretty strong belief that I would become some sort of writer, artist, musician or teacher. Everyone that knew me at that time also believed I would do one of those things. I primarily wanted to be able to express myself in the most creative ways imaginable. However, towards the end of high school I figured out that I am a lesbian. This realization was a hard pill to swallow for many reasons, one of which was because I had always dreamed of having a family with the person with whom I was in love - as in, having a biological child that would be the combination of me and my loving partner. Being a bright person, I knew that the egg and the sperm (which combine to make a baby) each have 1/2 the DNA/genome and that modern medicine and biotechnology was advancing in leaps and bounds to allow for all sorts of ways to help couples reproduce. Therefore, I wondered if there was a way that the DNA from two eggs could be combined to form a viable embryo/fetus and subsequent baby, thus allowing two women who love each other (like me and my future partner) to have babies together. I began to ask teachers and other professionals at the time and nobody I asked had an answer - some answers, in fact, were downright rude. This search became somewhat of a stubborn obsession of mine and led me to essentially teach myself molecular biology (I never took Biology in high school). When I went to college, I majored in biology. It wasn't until my sophomore year in college that I found the answer - the DNA from two eggs or two sperm cannot be combined to form a viable embryo because of a phenomenon called "parental imprinting", which is a very specific form of epigenetic regulation of gene expression. In any case, by that time I had discovered other reasons that held my interest in biology and research - several people that I loved had died from cancer and complications from cancer-treatment. At that point, my interest in biology and bio-medical research became one of a greater purpose - almost duty, in fact.
At the same time that I was studying biology in college, I was still trying to keep my creative side well-nourished. I minored in music composition, in fact. In my junior year I took an electronic music class and got to learn how to record myself, manipulate sound and use computer sequencers, mixers, etc. I fell in love - I could make music all by myself - and I did! By my senior year, I began to feel that the science thing was too boring, too rote, and that I decided that I wanted to pursue music further and scratch the science career. So I applied to graduate programs in electronic music composition, music technology and similar programs. I was accepted to most of them, but the ones that fit the best were in England and I didn't know how I could afford to go to school in England. Plus, I was in a relationship with a girl who couldn't leave the states so I decided to try the Music Technology program at New York University. Then, of course, in my last semester of college, I took an upper-level biology course that taught us to design and implement our own original research projects. I found creativity in designing and implementing my own original research which I hadn't experienced in science prior to that class. I thoroughly enjoyed it - the positive experience stayed with me as I moved to New York City and started my program in Music Technology at NYU.
Hindsight being 20-20, I now see my biggest mistake at that time - it was my choice in a partner/girlfriend. I have recently come to understand that I suffer from a disease that most people do not understand, if they even know what it is at all, called "love addiction." Similar to any addiction, a "love" addict becomes addicted to the target of their addiction (in this case, it's a person/relationship) - so much so that they become obsessed with it and eventually, after feeling the negative effects of it and maybe wishing to get away from it, cannot seem to quit it due to a compulsion to reach that "high" that they initially received from said target. Thus, I allowed my addiction to my girlfriend keep me from even trying to go to England to study electronic music composition and, instead, headed to NYU, to study in a program that really was not the right fit at all. In addition, this girlfriend and I also got involved in drugs, lived in the ghetto of Staten Island, while I tried to financially care for both of us on a student loan. We quickly ran out of money, and I quickly ran up a large sum of money in credit card debt to continue to support us. Luckily, I had the wherewithall to decide that we needed to get out of NYC. In the back of my mind, I remembered that last biology class in college that was so much fun because I got to do my own original research. I also remember feeling that I still wanted to do something important to help as many people as possible, something I thought bio-medical research could do. Thus, I applied and was accepted into a doctoral program at the University of Pittsburgh. We left NYC and moved to Pittsburgh.
In Pittsburgh, I eventually managed to break-up that horrible, unhealthy, and, eventually, abusive relationship. I worked hard in graduate school and earned my doctorate. Afterwards, I decided to move to San Francisco (the only place in the U.S. where I've ever really wanted to live), so I applied for and was offered a postdoc position in a prestigious lab at the University of California at San Francisco. I was so excited, at first, to be in San Francisco that it took me a few months to notice how negative the environment was at that lab - all derived from the P.I. (Principal Investigator). I have come to call her "the Devil". I suppose it's probably more accurate to just call her a mean bitch - which is exactly what she was. Everyone in science knows what I'm talking about - there are certain individuals - primarily in highly prestigious, academic research institutions - that are viscious, mean, rude and altogether just horrible mentors/bosses because they insult you and put you down, tear you apart - your work and your intellect. They tend to be tenured professors, so they act with impuny, but also have the power to destroy young careers. I quickly realized that I needed to leave that lab as soon as possible. Again, I began to doubt my abilities and, most importantly, my interest in science.
Eventually I decided that I should try a different environment before quitting science altogether. The hypothesis, of course, was that it wasn't me or a lack of interest in science that was making me feel like science might not be for me, but that it was that negative environment - (the Devil) - that was causing this feeling. So I got another postdoc position at UCSF in a different lab. It was in the same department, actually - and yes, the Devil told my new P.I. not to hire me - but he ignored her since he had a similar opinion of her as I did/do. I was in that lab for another three and a half years, eventually getting two first-authorships out of it (a "first-authorship" is the first name on a primary research article in a journal - both papers were published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry or JBC for short).
To conclude, I am now on my third postdoc position - this time in the bio-pharma industry. My contract is ending by the end of the year and I am, yet again, feeling like I may have made a huge mistake in my choice of a career. This time, howeverly, I have the history of repitition of the problem and it tells me that it's not going away - I need to do something about it. At the very least, I need to do some hard thinking and exploration of my options. Then, I need to make a plan and implement that plan. I want this to be the last time I feel like I made a huge mistake in my career choice! I want to be happy. In order to do this in the best, most thorough manner, I need to devote 100% of my time to it for some period of time - longer than a two week vacation, yet short enough so as not to appear like I just blew-off life to future emloyers. Thus, I have conclued that I need at least one month of a break to, at most, around 2 or 3 months. However, since I've been in financial crisis since that horrible relationship I had after college, I'm filing for bankruptcy later this year in an attempt to turn over a new leaf and have a second change at financial freedom. Therefore, you can see that I am not in a position to fund myself to take a 1-2 month "sabbatical". Thus, I am asking for your help in the form of any donation to hel me achieve this goal. My appreciation cannot be expressed in words - but I can begin with a very heart-felt THANK YOU!!