Dr. J. Matthew Watson received his PhD in 2007 from the lab of Dr. Dorothy Shippen. His work focused on studying how the conserved DNA repair protein Ku70 protected telomeres and how elongated telomeres in ku70 mutants were affected by recombination. He initially started in the lab as a technician, working with Dr. Karel Riha, who was a postdoc at the time. In 2004, Dr. Riha started his own group at the Gregor Mendel Institute (GMI) in Vienna, Austria. After graduating in 2007, Matt received an NSF International Research Fellowship for work in Karel’s lab aimed at determing whether telomeres responded to biotic and abiotic stress. Matt worked on several topics, including telomere epigenetics and a hypomorphic allele of telomerase that revealed the miminal size of telomeres. Most importantly, his follow-up research to an observation made in Dorothy’s lab in 2000 led to a PNAS paper postulating the existence of a plant germline. After working as a postdoc for 7 years, he transitioned to a scientific service facility. His position was crowdfunded from an consortium of Austrian labs to develop CRISPR/Cas9 transgenesis in plants. Shortly after generating the first mutants, he switched to a position in science communication. Now back at the GMI, he works as a jack-of-all-trades responsible for editing, grant management, science communication, and technology transfer.
Matt’s advice to current grad students:
“The progression of scientific careers has changed fairly dramatically since I first started my PhD in 2002. People who have the ability to be geographically mobile have a large advantage in staying in academia. Vienna has consistently been ranked the best city in the world to live in, and I’ve seen many people choose to stay here rather than pursue an academic career. Having a PhD has been an asset for my friends and colleagues, even in jobs that don’t necessarily require one. In almost all cases though, these people have ended up in careers that they never would have dreamed of when they started their PhD. If you want to stay in academia – stay mobile. If you don’t or are unsure, networking is far and away the most important aspect of finding a new job outside academia.”