Monica Granados graduated with a PhD in Biology in 2016. She is now a policy analyst for the Government of Canada working on open science. Monica also is on the leadership team of PREreview — an organization working to bring more diversity to scholarly peer review.
Q: What made you interested in doing a PhD?
I loved the scientific method, the idea that you could go out with a question, collect data and learn more about how the world works. This interest took me to forests, lakes and the ocean where I got interested in food webs. I wanted to do a PhD to have the opportunity to continue to ask questions about the natural world but also to challenge myself to complete the monumental task of a PhD.
Q: What was your career goal when you entered the PhD program? At the very beginning.
It fluctuated between going into academia or working as a research scientist for the government.
Q: And what do you do now?
I’m a policy analyst for the government, so I work on providing expertise and advice on open science for the government of Canada.
Q: Does that align with your initial career goals when you entered the program?
No, I would actually say it doesn’t. I’m not a scientist; I am a policy analyst. I don’t perform experiments. I don’t do science. Instead, I use my scientific background to provide policy advice to the government.
Q: How did you end up in your current position?
I came through the Mitacs Canadian Science Policy Fellowship, which requires that you come in with a science PhD. The idea is to take science PhDs and put them in policy roles so that scientific expertise goes into government.
Q: Are there any similarities between what you did in your PhD and your work now?
They are actually pretty different. I was a practicing scientist in my PhD and now what I do is I take scientific information, and my ability to read scientific literature, and translate that to provide recommendations. The carryover from my PhD is the ability to understand science, have a strong scientific background, and translate that information. More importantly, my PhD gave me the opportunity to work on open science, which is what my area of expertise is now. This wasn’t directly related to my PhD, it was something that I pursued on the side. It’s what really forms the basis of my career path now.
Q: What kind of career advising did you receive during your PhD?
I don’t think I received any. That’s a deficiency of this university and other universities. You’re surrounded by other academics and the only model that you see is to become an academic even when that’s absolutely not realistic given the number of PhDs that the university produces. You’re surrounded by people who became professors and enjoy what they do. They know nothing other than that. Somehow you start to believe that that’s the only way forward.
Q: What were the biggest challenges for you during your PhD?
Probably a lack of resources. I think that McGill was underfunded when it came to having adequate research resources to perform the highest level of experiments and field work.
Q: What kind of financial support did you receive during your PhD?
The minimum stipend at the time was ludicrously small. And I think it hasn’t changed much since I left. I was supported by an NSERC grant that was through my supervisor and I was a TA, but that also meant that I didn’t receive funding during the summer.
Q: Who do you think were your most important mentors during your PhD?
My graduate community. I had really great mentorship from my fellow graduate students, and I think that was the best part of the program at McGill. I was around really smart people who are very motivated and interested in their subject matter. They were also willing to teach others. So, even in the process of pursuing their own degree, they were also very willing to teach fellow graduate students.
Q: Is there something you wish you knew before starting the PhD?
When you’re surrounded by other academics—when you’re a graduate student—you see that the only measure of success is whether or not you become an academic. And so it was really hard not to focus on putting all of my efforts into becoming an academic, and I wish I knew that I could take the pressure off that. I wish I had known there were more opportunities in other career paths and to not frame them as failures. I wish I knew then how happy I could be not being an academic.
Q: What advice would you give to someone still working on their PhD?
It’s important to highlight that your PhD is just one facet of who you are. Your thesis is just one facet of what you do when you become a PhD. Having the opportunity to pursue other projects for your skill sets are incredibly important because that’s often what makes you hirable. Concentrate on your thesis, because the longer you take the more expensive it becomes, but give yourself the latitude to pursue other side projects and gain other skills that you can use in a career that’s not being a professor.
I don’t regret my time at all at McGill. I’m glad who I became because of it. But I would love to encourage other students to find their path outside academia.
This interview took place in March 2020. Interviews are edited by the TRaCE McGill Editorial team for length and clarity before publication.