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Planning a career around cancer

PostPosted: Sun Dec 13, 2015 9:42 pm
by David Bruce
Hello everyone,

I've had a turn of bad luck and I'm hoping that people might have some suggestions to help me navigate the next stage of my life. There is a lot of background so I apologize in advance.

Early this year I was diagnosed with lymphoma after the CT results of an ER visit for pneumonia showed an enlarged mediastinal lymph node. My postdoc mentor is an amazing human being, who was concerned for my health, so he didn't want me to work with viruses while immunosuppressed due to chemo. I've been on leave of absence during treatment.

Because I am single, I had no one to look after me if the chemo got rough, so I had to let my apartment go and have come to stay with one of my siblings during treatment. It's been the better part of the year that I've been on LOA and there are only a few months left on my boss' grant to fund my postdoc when I return - which I fully intend to do. Not only do I need to find a new job, but I also have to factor relapse of my cancer into my career decisions for the next few years.

My frontline chemo seems to have worked, and wasn't too harsh, but my white blood cells certainly did tank after each treatment. I was below the recommended WBC before almost every treatment session so the concerns about immunosuppression were well founded in my case - thankfully my oncologist had me treated anyway. There is a high cure rate for my subtype of Hodgkin's but still there is a 30% relapse for someone with the advanced stage that I had. In the event of a relapse, a harsher chemo protocol is used for salvage and I might not weather it as well. Most importantly, I don't ever want to have another long absence from work like the one that I've had this year.

I guess I would like to hear people's experiences with knowing people in similar situations who would have had the same concerns as me. I am not looking for a faculty track position and I had pretty much decided on a life outside academia anyway. I would still like to do interesting work but I would take stability over stimulation at this point. I know that QA/QC is often recommended as an overlooked job type, but I really am fuzzy on how to position myself to go from research to QA/QC and be considered a viable candidate.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Re: Planning a career around cancer

PostPosted: Tue Dec 15, 2015 3:13 pm
by PG
I have been lucky enough not to be in your situation but will try to provide some advice anyway. You seem to be having a supportive PI and that can go a long way if your postdoc doesnt work as intended regardless of the reason.
Did you have the possibility to perform enough work during your postdoc so that it is realistic to have at least one publication at the time when you finish your postdoc?
Regardless if you do get a publication or not finding any type of entry level position is more often than not achieved by networking ie making contact with people who work in the field and type of work that you are interested in. Start by focusing on finding out if QA/QC really is what you want to be doing. These areas do offer good career paths that are sometimes overlooked meaning that competition may be less fierce but they require a different mindset from for example discovery research and QA/QC isnt the thing for everyone.
The bonus with networking to find out if this is a career that you would actually be interested in this will also give you a good start to a relevant network.
If your PI is supportive also regarding a career outside academia he/she might be your first networking step. Ask your PI for any relevant contacts in industry to which you can get a referral. Importantly focus on getting information and dont ask for a job. The goal is to have someone actually offering you to interview for a position without you asking for it. Once you are comfortable with that you do want to pursue a career in QC or QA and know more about what this means then you can potentially bring up the question for a job but only if the sitution is suitable. Asking for a job is often a good way of ending a networking discussion in a way that may not lead forward.

Re: Planning a career around cancer

PostPosted: Fri Dec 18, 2015 2:54 pm
by Chris
It's completely understandable that you feel like the cancer is running your life right now. But I would caution you not to let it define you for the rest of your career. Perhaps you could think of your career in a couple of stages - the first stage, for the next 5 years or so, you can focus on finding something stable, perhaps near family in case you need the support, etc. But once your situation stabilizes, you may decide to move on to something else in your career. The decisions you make right now don't have to be your "final decision". Hopefully that will take some pressure off you - your goal should be to find something that will work for you now, with the idea that you can move on later if you want to.