I knew before I graduated with my Ph.D. that I would not be pursuing a career in academia.
When I received an AAAS fellowship and was placed in the Science & Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), I was thrilled…mainly because I got the AAAS fellowship, but I certainly was looking forward to the opportunity to work in the federal government (where I ended up staying for 7-1/2 years, by the way).
Unfortunately, I had to deal with a couple of annoying, obnoxious comments from some of my academic colleagues or advisors. So, if you end up taking a job in the federal government this is a head’s up because you may hear these things, too.
Granted, the AAAS fellowship provides “opportunities for scientists and engineers to learn first-hand about policy-making while contributing their knowledge and analytical skills in the federal policy realm.” So I didn’t really do any research, in the traditional sense.
Regardless, you’re bound to hear someone say something like, “scientists in the federal government do inferior research” or “researchers in the federal government are there because they couldn’t get an academic position.” There are a lot of really smart researchers and scientists who work in the national and military labs. Enough said.
You’re also likely to hear people say something like, “The federal government is a waste of taxpayer dollars. People get paid to sit around doing nothing.” It’s true, there are people in the federal government who seem to show up to work and do pretty much nothing. But let’s be honest, there are people like this everywhere – in academia, the private sector, nonprofits, etc. I knew a lot of people in the federal government who were hardworking but overworked, understaffed, dedicated, and believed in their agency’s mission.
Finally, my personal favorite. Not long after I started my AAAS fellowship at DHS, I was talking on the phone to one of my academic advisors. It had been several months since I graduated. I hadn’t really told anyone where I was working because people in my discipline (anthropology) who went to work for DHS or the Department of Defense were not only frowned upon but even thought of as morally reprehensible (unfortunately, this is still the case). While we were talking, my advisor asked what I was doing and I told him I was working at DHS. And he said, I kid you not, “Oh. I hope you’re not doing anything illegal.” Great.
There you have it. Let me know if you have any other annoying, obnoxious comments to add to the list!