A Day in the Life: So when do I start feeling like a grown up?

I finished my undergrad degrees in chemistry and physics in 2014. I took a year to work as a full time employee at a national lab doing systems engineering. I’ve now been in grad school for almost a semester. Can someone tell me when I’ll start feeling like a grown up?

It’s weird. I walk around downtown and see the undergrads and think “wow, I’m so glad I’m not that young and immature anymore.” Then I see a couple guys in their late 20’s or early 30’s strolling down the street talking about the work their tech start up company is doing and I’m like, “dang, those guys are already well into their careers! I’m so not there yet…” And of course I don’t relate to the middle aged or elderly people either.

So where are the people like me? Where are all the people who are in their early 20’s, still in school, getting tiny little salaries to do really challenging work? Where are the people tackling the workload of a full time job, but still enjoying the flexibility of a student’s schedule? Obviously I see a lot of grad students when I’m at school and I relate to them, but when I’m out and about in town it often feels like I’m trapped in a quasi-adult state. I’m neither an undergrad student still figuring out what I want to do with my life nor am I a real adult with a stable career. I am a student, but my school work is really more like job work. What the heck am I?

You'd think highly educated scientists would make a little more money than we do as grad students...but you'd be wrong.
You’d think highly educated scientists would make a little more money than we do as grad students…but you’d be wrong.

Sometimes I think about the timeline of the career path in academia I will likely be taking. Let’s say I finish my PhD in the typical 5 years. That means I’ll be done with it at the age of 27. Then I’ll probably need to do a post-doc that is 1-2 years. Let’s say I’m done with that at 29. Then even if I land a tenure-track job at a school I want to be at right after the post-doc, it’s another 6 years until tenure. So I won’t have a stable, legit career until I’m 35.

That feels so far away! 12 more years of being a quasi-adult is still ahead of me. It’s definitely the career path I want and I’m happy to be on it – but dang. There is a whole lot of uncertainty in there, and as a person with a planning personality that’s a little scary. I’m sure at some point I’ll start feeling like a real grown up regardless of my progress in my career path. Maybe it will be before 35…maybe it will be after! Maybe I’ll never feel like a grown up. Maybe being a grown up actually sucks and I should be happy that I don’t feel like one yet. Who knows.

One thought on “A Day in the Life: So when do I start feeling like a grown up?

  1. This is everything I’m feeling right now. Maybe we’re scientists because we don’t really ever want to grow up.


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