On my first blog for Bio Careers®, I would like to tell you a little bit about myself, my career path up to this point, and what I would like to share with you in future posts. My career path has been anything but straight, with frequent detours to both learn about and experience new roles, fields, and career options.
I began my trek into academia with a single path in mind – attend an amazing graduate program, graduate with my PhD in record time, be awarded a top-notch postdoc, and then progress to a tenure track professorship, all the while publishing a plethora of highly influential and important papers. Similar to many young researchers, this not only seemed like a possible trajectory to me, it was the only trajectory I was prepared to deal with. I was young and idealistic and didn’t realize that the trials and delays of graduate school are a gift to your development, that working hard and being smart doesn’t always equate to papers, and most importantly, that I even had career options outside the ‘traditional’ Ivory Tower.
However, as time passed, I began to realize that the activities I enjoyed most during my time in graduate school frequently didn’t occur at the bench. TAing provided me the opportunity to interact with undergrads on an instructional level for the first time, and I fell in love with watching them wrestle with an idea and helping them integrate it. Writing grants allowed me to read about and compile knowledge into a comprehensible format, an act that appealed to both my love of learning and desire to communicate science. I slowly became aware that these activities fulfilled me in a way that bench research didn’t, but the idea of leaving the ‘traditional’ academic path terrified me. After all, I reasoned, if I left the ‘traditional’ path, wouldn’t that represent a failure of the system? Why are science PhDs trained if not to feed back into the research path?
Time passed and I graduated. I began a postdoc and threw myself into my new research. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. I sought out opportunities to work with undergrads and was asked to facilitate a problem-based learning course. I sought out medical communications opportunities. I then applied and was accepted to a science policy internship. More time passed while I simultaneously juggled undergrads, writing, and a postdoc position. I began analyzing when I was the happiest and felt the most fulfilled in my work and came to the conclusion that it was not while at the bench. It was at this point that I made one of the most difficult professional decisions of my life – I left my postdoc in order to write and work with undergraduates full-time.
There are a myriad of career options available to individuals in the biological sciences. As outlined above, I have experienced a few of these roles and am familiar with the excitement of pursuing a new path as well as reticence with leaving an old one. My future blog posts will focus on learning about and pursuing career options, as well as the challenges associated with integrating into a new role. I look forward to sharing these thoughts and ideas with you and invite you to join me on this new journey.