David Taylor explains how he ended up in a career in research administration at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute and why he finds his "strange new world" so appealing. (Titled "Going Full Circle: Taking a Leap from the Bench to a Career in Research Administration" in print version.)
|David Taylor currently serves as the academic programs officer of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute. He also serves on the National Postdoctoral Association Board of Directors and functions as a career advisor on the Science Careers Forum. Taylor earned his doctorate from the University of Virginia, graduating in 2006 and did a postdoctoral fellowship at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He then transitioned into a research administration fellowship at Children’s Hospital, which led his current position with Children’s Hospital.
I was about three years into graduate school when a persistent nagging feeling took up residence in my head. For a while, I just ignored it. I was, after all, neck-deep in gel shifts and Western blots, trying my hardest to eke out that last bit of data I needed for a first author publication. But without fail, whenever I had a bit of downtime or was drifting off to sleep, the panicked sensation would return.
It wasn’t until about a year later, when I was home for Christmas on a well deserved break from the lab, that a simple question from my father led me to vocalize what I had been thinking for quite some time.
“So, what are you doing when you graduate?” he asked over dinner. It was nothing I hadn’t heard before— from my mentor, my classmates, my friends— but something about that moment broke open the floodgates.
“I have no idea,” I responded, a sinking feeling of shame and embarrassment settling into my stomach. Hearing those words come out of my mouth suddenly made it real, and I was frightened. All those years priming myself for a career in research and I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living. How could that be?
“Well, I wouldn’t worry about it,” my father said between bites of his meal. “You’re only 26. Most people don’t even know what they want to do when they’re 50.”
The History of a Love Affair
I first fell in love with the idea of research during my undergraduate days. As soon as I stepped on to my college campus during orientation, I pushed my way into a lab as the most basic of technicians. When space freed up, I started up my own project. In the backdrop of my college education, research stimulated an analytical part of my brain that had long been yearning for satisfaction. A travel award and a few recognitions later, I suddenly found myself in a graduate program at the University of Virginia.
Graduate school was even more my speed, albeit much more stressful. I loved my classes and learning across a wide number of scientific disciplines. Soon I found myself obsessing over pharmacologic pathways and G-protein coupled receptors. I was fortunate enough to find my way into a wonderful thesis lab, with a great mentor and a solid project. Nothing could have been better…or so I thought.
When classes ended and I joined the lab full time, something suddenly felt like it was missing. Was it the solitary atmosphere of the lab setting, somehow bereft of the camaraderie inherent among struggling classmates? Or, was it the feeling that I was leaving behind the global view of science afforded by my classes, forced to focus on one tiny little iota of the big picture? Either way, I began to feel trapped. This growing discontent loomed in my head for a few years, continuing through my thesis defense and a postdoctoral fellowship. As those thoughts took shape and form through a variety of experiences, I finally decided that it was time to make a move.