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. 

Take a few minutes to dream-- What are you passionate about? Could you find a way to get paid to do that? Photo credit: Flickr user Alaska Young

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. 
  1. Causes I am passionate about
  2. Activities that get me excited
  3. Work environments I thrive in
  4. 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 more options than you ever knew. Peruse previous blog posts for ideas. This is all, of course, contingent on finding a job that allows you to do what you want and get paid for it, preferably well. Here’s the thing: People tend to work hard at things they care deeply about. If you have a passion and you work to develop the skill set you need to do it well, there’s almost certainly a market out there for it. Your job is to find out where and how.  Easier said than done, for certain. And in today’s economy, not everyone has the luxury of finding a job that let’s them do what they love. There are bills to pay and mouths to feed. But I feel that people should never let the reality of a non-ideal situation squelch their passions and dreams for what they want to get out of life and what they want to give back to the world.  I had so much fun with this one, so I want to share my answers: 
  1. I love learning new things about science and beyond. I can sit and read science features in magazines all day long. I love explaining the neat things I’m learning in simple language to people young and old. I like chatting with brilliant scientists, soaking in their knowledge and learning about their passions. I love kids, dancing, artsy stuff, socializing and being active. I love pouring all my creativity into something and enjoying the final product, be it a news story, a piece of art, a dance, or a decorated cake.
  2. I am passionate about making “tough” science ideas understandable to people through writing and other media, mediating between scientists and society, building relationships, and helping people figure out what they’re passionate about!
  3. I thrive in an environment where I'm always learning. I need a diversity of activities both throughout the day and day-to-day. I need to pour my heart into my creative activities. I make to-do lists and I need structure, although too much structure feels restricting. I love being around people, but I also need my alone time. I get drained by repetition, boring meetings, and sitting at a desk all day.
  4. I will be happy with a job that lets me communicate science through writing and other forms of media. I’d love to be a science writer for adult audiences, but maybe I could also explore writing children’s books about science. I had a blast creating my 2010 Dance your Ph.D. entry— could I make dances about science for instructional purposes? (I could pursue the fanciful job ideas on the side as I go after something that will actually bring in an income. But who knows? Maybe they'll take off.)


Here’s some shameless self-promotion: my entry for the 2010 Dance Your Ph.D. contest. I didn’t win, but I had a blast making this video!  

  It sure felt great to me to go through this exercise, and I plan on revisiting the activity as I pursue various paths, seeking opportunities and seeing what doors open up for me.  Will I be able to pull it off and successfully live out what I feel like I was made for? I sure hope so. I’ll have to write a follow-up post in 20 years and let you know how it all worked out.  Are there any other dreamers out there? Skeptics? Share your comments below! 🙂

Author: Christine Herman

Share This Post On


  1. What an absolutely fantastic post, Christine! I say these kinds of things to my students (and even on blog comments). My role as a prof is not to make more people like me. Instead, my role is to help students achieve their dreams AND modify them as they go. What I wanted when 25 and single was quite different from what I want today. At 47, I still dream and am still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up.

    And, remember: “alternative” is the majority career choice. The number of PhDs who go on to tenure-track faculty positions or investigator positions in industry are less than 20%.

    P.S. You’re a phenomenal dancer. I could definitely see you doing things in the community to encourage understanding of science through the arts or just being a terrific ambassador for chemistry. I’d love for my eight-year-old girl to meet you to see that you can do ballet AND be a kickass scientist (and not just girls, mind you – HHMI prof here at Duke, Erich Jarvis, grew up as an amazing dancer in New York City before getting into biology)

  2. This is a post I wish I had seen three years ago when I was a freshman in college. It’s something I would like to show all my friends, and it’s encouraging to know that other people still believe, realistically, in having a dream job. I’m sure I’ll keep going back to this post and its ideas, thinking about what I’ve learned and how I’ve changed. Maybe I’m still too idealistic, but I don’t think your post sounded crazy at all, but practical, in a sense.

    However, I feel that far too many young adults are too scared and discouraged from seriously trying out and being committed to new things, especially once they’ve gotten through just a few months of their undergraduate careers. So many young people give into working hard in a field of study their parents found practical and viable. Even when they do try out something new, I think, sometimes, their attitudes are been so focused and closed-off that they don’t go much farther.

    In short, I wish more people, like you, knew it was okay and actually in their best interest to take the time and energy to find something they *truly* care about.

    Thanks for writing!

    P.S. Awesome video!! Not only was it fun, but I think it was better at explaining the metaphors than the other videos I watched… heheh.

  3. Nice post, Christine. Finding your way to a career can be stressful, so it’s great to provide the reminder to think about what you love. And I think it’s also good that you temper that reminder with the acknowledgement that it is not always (or even often?) easy to find your way to a meaningful job.

    And I really like your video, and its music. I didn’t know you were a dancer. In retrospect, your excellent posture should have given you away!

  4. @David: I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I agree– kids should be encouraged to pursue a diversity of things. I mean, there’s something to be said about narrowing your focus as you get older, but you shouldn’t have to feel, for example, that since you are becoming a scientist, you have to put dance (or whatever other hobby/passion you have) behind you.

    I just looked up Erich Jarvis and I found this video clip on NOVA:
    How neat! He explains how lessons he learned as a dancer have helped him in his science career. It just goes to show that even if you change careers, you bring your past experiences with you and your time wasn’t wasted (i.e. transferable skills).
    Also, Erich does partner dancing with his wife, which my husband and I are into as well, so that was cool to see.

    @Diana and Lila: Thanks for sharing your thoughts– I’m glad you enjoyed reading/watching!