You want to do what? Explaining your nontraditional career to the world
Aug11

You want to do what? Explaining your nontraditional career to the world

Several conversations with people I just met have gone something like this: So, what did you study in college? Chemistry. Wow. I hated chemistry! You're in grad school now, that’s cool… What are you studying? Chemistry. Huh. So... what are you gonna do after you get your Ph.D.? Become a writer. (Blank stare).  Hmm... how does that work? At this point, I go on to explain how I’m super-psyched to use my background in chemistry to communicate science in fun and down-to-earth ways so that anyone can understand. I'm sure other non-traditional careers folks out there have had conversations like this. I suppose blank stares are to be expected, since we’re going after careers that are not typical for people with our background. Before I stumbled into the world of non-traditional science careers, I certainly didn't have the framework to grasp that you could take your science degree and waltz into a seemingly unrelated career path. I’m happy to be pursuing something that I love, even if it's atypical. Grad school equips you with a bunch of transferable skills that you can take with you wherever your heart (and job opportunities) lead. So you should never feel boxed in. Like so many of the people I’ve written profiles about for this blog, I love pursuing my passion! I have never been as excited about a future career prospect as I have been since discovering science writing. Most people find my non-traditional career goals interesting. Some wonder if I feel I'm wasting my time getting a Ph.D. in chemistry. I tell them I don't feel grad school was a waste at all. I've learned a ton, both about science and about myself. I've grown and matured and am better prepared to confront the challenges of my future career than I would've been straight out of college. That's not to say grad school is for everyone, or that if I'd do it all again if I could go back knowing I wanted to be a science writer from the start... I'd like to think I've left an impression on some people I've talked to (or perhaps other students out there who read this blog), and that some have walked away encouraged to think outside of the box and let themselves dream a little,...

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Jump in and discover what you love
Jul20

Jump in and discover what you love

A few close friends expressed their concerns to me after reading my post about finding your dream job. They said it’s easy to figure out what you want to do when you know who you are. But many people feel stuck trying to figure out who they are. I totally agree. Choosing a career has many parallels to romantic relationship-- it helps to know who you are and what you're looking for in a partner. It's okay to not know yet. It takes time and life experience to discover what you love. But there are practical steps to take to help you along on the road to discovering what you were made for. Mostly, you've got to just jump in and start trying different things. I love how Stephanie Chasteen, also known as sciencegeekgirl on her blog, describes how she “felt” her way into her alternative science career: I tell this to all people who ask me about my career, which defines the word “alternative.” “I’m like bacteria,” I tell them. Bacteria… do not “know” that the hot spot or acidic island is “over there.” They have no overall map of their surroundings to direct their movement in a straight line towards what they seek. What they sense instead is a local gradient — a small change, right next to them. It’s a little warmer that way. They move slightly. They feel it out again. Move. Feel. Move. And feel. The resulting path is a somewhat jagged, but non-random, path toward the thing that they love. And so is mine. Here are the practical steps I took that led me to discover my passion. Until about a year ago, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career. Research was okay, but I wasn't convinced it was my passion. Then I stumbled across science writing and my ears perked up. After a bit of googling, I found a ton of information and realized there were many possible paths. To narrow down the options, I started testing the waters. I had some experience writing research proposals, so I thought maybe I could become a grant writer. I bought a book that offered tips for writing grants and attended seminars on the topic. I volunteered to help my PI write a grant proposal for my project. All along, I made mental notes to myself about what I liked and didn’t like. I also thought about journal editing. I found an opportunity to be an English editor for an international chemistry journal. It was free labor, but a good experience, nonetheless. I was most intrigued at the thought of doing science journalism, since...

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Do what you are: A recipe for your dream job
Jun28

Do what you are: A recipe for your dream job

My mind went daydreaming today and I got this crazy idea I want to share.  I want everyone reading this blog post, particularly those trying to figure out what to do with their lives, to just take ten minutes to forget about the failing economy, the saturation of the chemistry job market, and all the worries that arise when you wonder how you will support yourself and pay off your loans after you graduate.  Take the next ten minutes to dream— I’m going to guide you through it.  Before you navigate away from this page thinking I’m some kind of nut, please let me explain. I’m going to give you the recipe for figuring out what job you were made for.  In other words, I’m going to help you figure out what kind of job will let you do what you are.  Take a piece of paper and draw lines to create four sections. Or type it out, whatever works.  Causes I am passionate about Activities that get me excited Work environments I thrive in My dream job(s) For sections a through c, write out anything that comes to mind. Be honest and just let it flow.  Now, here is the recipe for your dream job: Think of ways you can work for the causes you're passionate about by doing the activities you love in a work environment you thrive in.  What’s the idea behind all of this? As you learn more about who you are, you can start figuring out what you were made to do.  Here’s the awesome part: You are free to add and remove items from your list as you go through life and learn new things about yourself. Your dream job may change many times as you yourself change and grow. That’s okay, that’s all part of it.  Now, what does this all have to do with alternative careers in science?  A lot, in fact. For example, you might think you’re passion is research because you’re in grad school and that’s what you do and, for the most part, you enjoy it. But as you dig deeper to figure out what drives you, you may find that your root passion is problem solving, or perhaps project management, mentoring, or on a broader scale, working for a noble cause. While you once thought you were limited to a research career, you might find that you could be happy doing anything that allows you to fulfill that inner longing.  So be creative and don’t be afraid to think outside the box. As you open yourself up to careers off the beaten path, you might find that you have...

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