Aida Baida Gil has a bachelor's degree in biology, a PhD in molecular genetics, and two years of postdoctoral experience investigating Fragile X syndrome in Christopher Pearson's lab at the University of Toronto. Near the end of her postdoc, and during her one-year maternity leave, she enrolled in a life coach training course. "I got so involved that, in the end, what initially started as a hobby turned into a whole new career," she says. "I had a very hard time accepting that I was not going back to the lab — I had to grieve my loss." Now a certified life coach, the geneticist is using her training — and personal experiences balancing the life in and outside of the lab — to "help scientists who are overwhelmed, stuck, or struggling to decide the next step in their careers, to achieve clarity, and to create action plans," she says. You can follow Baida Gil on Twitter or contact her at her Web site.
GenomeWeb Careers: What's it like advising other scientists about their careers and achieving work-life balance, having shared experiences similar to theirs as a geneticist?
Aida Baida Gil: As I coach I don't give advice, I help people find their own solutions. As I always say, no one will know what works best for you better than you. However, I do share what I have learned from my own experience because most of my clients find it helpful. And I love to be able to apply my training and firsthand experience to help them clearly decipher the direction they want to go, to help them open their eyes to new perspectives and possibilities, and to create an action plan that's conscious of their values and lifestyle. And, of course, to support them in every step.
GWC: What do you think is the most common issue that scientists face in their careers today?
ABG: I recently [did] a survey and the number one problem in most cases was the uncertainty about their future, the lack of stability. There were different answers but the most common was not knowing what to do next [in their careers]. They didn't elaborate much more in most cases. But the problem seems to be that they don't know what they want to do after their PhD or postdoc and that they don't see chances to be financed continuously, to have a secure job. That causes anxiety and stress because you keep thinking about what to do next, where to find funding, and you can't see the end of that situation. The truth is you might not be able to change how things are, but you can definitely change how you feel about it.
GWC: What would you say to someone who recently received their bachelor's degree in the life sciences, but isn't sure what to do next, or if graduate school is right for them?
ABG: This is a great moment to take some time and really think about what you want to do. You probably have some general ideas of what your interests are. And if you don't, I suggest that you find help. Go to a career advising center, ask people who are doing what you would like to do, hire a coach. Really clarify what your skills, strengths, and passions are. And the two most important things I have to say are: first, do what you want to do, don't let other people's expectations get in the way — it's your life. And second, always remember that it's OK if you make a mistake; you can change your mind.
GWC: What about a graduate degree?
ABG: There is no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on what you want to achieve, what type of career you want to pursue. What do you want to get from it? My personal opinion is that a graduate degree would be beneficial even if you decide later that you don't want to work in academia anymore. During those years you will learn and develop a great number of skills that will help you later on in any other career. However, it's a very personal decision, don't do it just because everyone else does, or because it seems like the only possible or logical next step. Do it if that's what you want, if you know it's your passion, if you can't wait to start...
GWC: How can researchers broaden their post-PhD career horizons? How can scientists get a better feel for which career is their best "fit" between academia and industry?
ABG: Postdocs have broad career horizons, they just aren't aware of them because academia is like a bubble. You don't know what's outside (which is scary), you think you would be a failure if you leave the bubble, and — be honest — you think you are not going to find the same mental stimulation or great conversations (which is false, by the way). So you are terrified, but the truth is, there are different options and possibilities waiting for you — do not let fear get in the way! This is not an easy thing to do, I know, here is when you could possibly use a coach. And you don't have to make a big leap either — that would be intimidating and scary — you can taste things first. Have informational interviews; talk with people who are doing what you would like to do; volunteer your time. Find ways to try or know more about the thing you would like to do, that way it will become less frightening and you will know better if it would be a good fit for you.
GWC: What's your best advice for a scientist stuck in a career conundrum?
ABG: Take some time to think on what you really want — don't rush the situation, you need some introspection time. Decide what your priorities in life are and what success means for you. Stop thinking about what other people want you to do. What do you want? Here are a couple of exercises that might help you: make a list with the "must," "would be nice," and "no way" characteristics of your ideal job — that will help you make a more informed decision. Also, for every option, visualize where you would be one and five years from now; always consider what makes you grow. Sometimes it's hard to do that on your own, because you are overwhelmed and stuck and can't see clearly anymore, so yes, here is where a coach can be helpful.
GWC: And for a scientist struggling to achieve a harmonious work-life balance?
ABG: My best piece of advice here would be to get help. You don't have to be a superwoman/man, you don't have to do everything on your own. You can have it all, just not all at the same time. What are your priorities? What needs to be done by you? What can be postponed or delegated? One of the things that makes a huge difference is hiring someone to do the cleaning; it not only frees your time, but also your mind. And please find time for yourself, even if it's just ten minutes a day.