Are you still a scientist if you’ve left the lab bench?

Malgosia Pakulska (@SCBakes) is the Communications and Development Officer at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences. She is also a science writer for Research2Reality, a blog designed to engage the public in Canadian research. Malgosia completed her PhD in Professor Molly Shoichet’s lab at the University of Toronto studying drug delivery systems for spinal cord regeneration after injury.

Though she has left the bench, she is still passionate about research and wants to share that excitement with the public.  In her spare time, she experiments in the kitchen and blogs about it at Smart Cookie Bakes


I always assumed I would become a Professor. When I start something I always want to get to the highest level possible and, after starting University education, becoming a Professor was it. That and winning the Nobel Prize.

But three years into my PhD I was struggling to find the motivation for this career path. I went from “I’ll do a post-doc if I find something super interesting” to “I’ll only become a Professor if I can somehow get a position straight out of my PhD” to “I can’t imagine studying the same topic all my life”.

It was hard to get myself to admit this without thinking of it as failure. After all, what’s the point of a PhD if you’re not going to devote your life to research?

The point is that being a scientist is a mindset as much as it is a profession and the things that you learn during your PhD can be applied to many different careers.

As a science writer for Research2Reality, a blog about Canadian research geared towards non-scientists, I have to think critically about the things I read all the time. I have to evaluate articles and pick out the most important information to relay to our readers. I have to make sure readers don’t jump to conclusions based on misrepresented data. All these things I did on a daily basis as a PhD student.

My PhD taught me not to be afraid of complicated names or things I didn’t understand – something that comes in very handy in my current job as a Communications Officer at the Fields Institute where our current focus is “Unlikely Intersections, Heights, and Efficient Congruencing”.

It taught me creativity, perseverance, the importance of asking questions, and how to rack pipette tips really quickly.

These are all skills that I used when I was a scientist at the bench and they are skills I still use today (ok, maybe not that last one).

That’s probably why I was so surprised to see this question on someone’s Twitter feed one day: “Do you still consider yourself a scientist if you’ve left the lab bench?”

Yes, definitely.


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