Contemplating careers: stepping stones
December 9, 2008 9 Comments
Now that I’ve passed the final test of my Ph.D., the question I keep hearing is “what’s next?” Half of these come from friends and colleagues, but the other half comes from the persistent echoes of the question reverberating in my head, which after my defense seemed to empty itself of all substance. It’s a good question. An exciting question. Also a scary question. The wide open future alternately exhilarates and paralyzes me.
There are a couple of big decisions. Academia vs. Industry is the traditional one, but there is also Research vs. Not-research (e.g. education, policy, management), and perhaps Science vs. Not-science. I’ve thought about whether I want to to pursue something outside of science – graphic design, baking, educational games, organic farming – but I’ve since realized that science is definitely one thing that would motivate me in a full-time job. The big picture fascinates me, the intricate details amaze me, and the fact that we can gather and analyze data to make discoveries tickles me.
But I also know that science by itself will not do the trick. This rules out the typical academic and industry jobs. Straight research also doesn’t appeal to me. Ideally, I’d like to find something that combines aspects of science communication, outreach/education, art/design, discovery/analysis, and open science principles, despite my having very little formal experience in most of these things. But I also know that I have a long career ahead of me, and I can shape it as I go. I don’t need to arrive just yet.
So this is my plan to avoid getting overwhelmed. Focus on finishing the Ph.D., most of the time. Work on concrete career-oriented tasks (more on this later), some of the time. Relax, the rest of the time. All of the time, think about everything as a possible stepping stone – useful for getting somewhere, but on no predetermined path.
Obviously I don’t have everything figured out, so please chime in with advice or comments!