Dana Murchison – Checkpoints in Your Graduate Education

In a space mission, there is one countdown, one launch, one destination, and no place for error or doubt. Grad studies are less like a rocket launch, and more like an expedition into uncharted territory. As such, they are a forgiving endeavour, where you have ample opportunity to reassess and reorient along the way. This week, we will be hearing from Dana Murchison, whose passion for writing and teaching has brought her from experimental science to a vibrant career in science outreach, and who is going to share with us how she steered her way from science at the bench to her current career.

After studies that brought her from creative writing to neuroscience, seasoned with a healthy dose of science outreach, she chose to write up her grad school work as a master’s thesis and relocated to Northern Ontario to join the team at Science North, Canada’s second-largest science centre. There, she developed hands-on exhibits and interactive science programming about the human body and initiated and led Science North’s series of Science Cafe events, bringing experts and the public together for engaging discussion on a range of current science issues. In 2014-15, she was selected to participate in the Northern Leadership Program, a yearlong intensive leadership development course that accelerated her interest in leading people and developing vision and strategy for science communication. Since 2017, she has worked as Head of Programs at the Canadian Museum of Nature, where she is responsible for the strategy, vision and implementation of live interactive natural history programming designed to educate and inspire the museum’s school, public and adult audiences. Dana lives in Ottawa with her husband, a fellow science museum geek; anticipating their first child’s arrival any day, they’ve built up a serious collection of science-y board books.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • The end of the master’s degree as a reassessment checkpoint
  • The importance of taking a step back and ask yourself whether the PhD/postdoc route is a good fit for you
  • Dealing with self-doubt and feelings of failure when you decide to write up your master’s thesis
  • The academic research lifestyle
  • Volunteering as a way to cultivate your extracurricular interests
  • How to approach potential mentors and the impact they can have at different steps of your journey
  • How your degree can open doors in the job market
  • Transferable soft skills you can leverage coming out of grad school
  • The importance of work/life balance

This episode’s pearls of wisdom:

“There were a couple of things like that, that were really surprising to me – like, literally, nobody has ever asked me one time about my publication record since I finished my degree.”

“Don’t be scared to be a little bit audacious about what kind of direction you might be able to go into and to think about what is going to work for you, what is going to resonate for you.”

Dana’s links: www.nature.ca; @MuseumofNature; facebook.com/CanadianMuseumofNature

You might also like the following episodes:

Clarissa Wright – Publishing: PapaPhD.com/34

Fiona Robinson – Patient education: PapaPhD.com/6

James Bowers – Communication consulting: PapaPhD.com/39

Kirsten Sanford – Science communication: PapaPhD.com/13

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