By Carlos Ramírez Jiménez, PhD*
April 2007, sitting in a plane to Mexico, just a few days after defending my dissertation and without the certainty of being a doctor at all.
I spent 6 years in the UK, one year of masters and five for the Ph.D., CONACyT was kind enough to pay for five of those years, the last one was on me. I managed to secure a part-time job in a bar and got a research engineer position through the university, which helped steering through the last years. I was also a resident tutor at the house I lived in and shared with 24 other students, this wasn´t too much work but it required me to engage with the landlord and all my fellow mates in all sort of issues. Talking about developing negotiation skills…
Anyhow, I wasn´t sure I was a doctor while going back home since I presented my dissertation six months earlier and I failed to get the degree on that first attempt. It was a slaughter, one of the synodals plainly said to me halfway through my presentation: “Sr. Ramírez, you will not become a doctor today”. My dissertation supervisor was to me the most brilliant scientist I´ve ever known. He gave me green light for getting into that room and talk about my research. Unfortunately, the two professors reviewing my dissertation disagreed with several premises of my research and few formatting and conceptual arrangements of the thesis itself. That night I had to host a doctoral degree party with all my friends at the bar I used to work, you can imagine my face every time I had my friends popping through the door, shouting “Doctor Ramírez!! Congratulations!!” and I had to say… “hum… nope, I am not a doctor yet, I was asked to resubmit in six months…”.
Long story short, I had more than enough data from all those years in the lab, recording sound, breaking composites, characterizing components, and pushing the boundaries of science. I had to subtract several gigabytes of data points and look at them from a different perspective. I teamed up with a very clever Chinese lad doing a PhD in computational science, he had algorithms for sorting data, and I had loads of data points that needed to be sorted. Eventually, I could make sense of all that information, turned out that neural networking as means of sorting large multidimensional points was the answer to all my troubles. I rewrote the dissertation in six months, as agreed with the synodals, rearranged all the contents, provided new conclusions, and overall created a completely new research report. I posted it to the appropriate departments and with a broken heart, I left the UK.
I landed in Mexico City, was welcomed by my family, and felt like shit. I was a 30-year-old, unemployed, non-graduated individual with nothing to show for all those years abroad other than a job offer to be a barman. Appealing as it was for me to stay in the UK and become a professional barman I couldn’t accept the offer since the only purpose of me going to the UK was to acquire a Ph.D.… Settling for anything less would have felt like betrayal, to me, to my country, to my parents…
So, I landed safely and depressed. I started looking for a job, but for the time being, I couldn´t apply to those positions requiring a Ph.D. since I didn´t know if I had gotten the degree yet. So, I applied only to positions requiring a bachelor’s degree since there were very few that required a master’s. Also, I only had two years working experience! Even thought I was 30, I could only account for those two years I worked making office furniture right after graduation. So, I was competing with lads younger than me and with more years of working experience. I do not remember how many applications I sent during that time, but they must have been dozens.
Nobody prepared me for the challenge of getting a job, for me it was very simple, you go to university, try to get the best grades possible and the highest degree you can and then, somehow magically, you´ll get a job. I didn´t even know about companies, industries, businesses, or anything practical and relevant. I learned the hard way, that for renewable energy there was not a single plant in Mexico at that time which fabricated composite components. These days there is one company up in Matamoros that makes wind turbine blades for Vestas, at one point I even applied for a job there but I was unsuccessful, I will tell you more on that topic in coming chapters.
Anyhow, it would have been beneficial if I had made some research on companies and industries in Mexico, again, it never crossed my mind. Now that I look back, I am surprised about how badly prepared I was for facing a working life. And, the problem with this lack of preparation is that I did not have a plan, a life plan which forcefully needed to include a work plan. Of course, if you are an heir of a wealthy family and you do not need to work to survive then, no plan needed! For everybody else, it is better to have a life plan which considers working as main activity to provide with funds for living.
Eventually, I got an email which plainly said: “Your dissertation has been approved and the Ph.D. degree has been granted”. I was ecstatic! Well, it was a bittersweet feeling since I didn´t have all my friends to celebrate with, I didn´t have an actual graduation nor any formal event where I was given a diploma and took the picture and all those things grandmothers enjoy. The good thing was that once I got that email, I was entitled to say I was a doctor in my CV. And all the sudden I could apply for jobs which required the candidates to have a Ph.D.
I found the ratio between positions for engineers over those requesting a doctorate being huge. My estimate now is that for every 800 jobs for engineers there was one for PhD. Further, all those jobs for doctorates were very specific, so your research skills, publications, and dissertation needed to be closely related to what was required. Most of those positions were found in academia and research centers, the vast majority were in the public sector since in this country there is very little research done through private institutions.
I was very lucky, I landed a job in UAM-I, which was very close to my parent’s house. In the following chapter, I´ll tell you how it was for me to work there, at the Biotechnology lab.
*Dr Ramírez is a professor at ASUCQ. Learn more about our Faculty here.