One year ago today, I submitted my first job application. I remember the anniversary with mixed feelings; I've come a long way, but I am still job hunting. The job I applied for was to be a Hellman Fellow at the National Academy of Arts and Sciences. This was to be the culmination of my years of quietly hoping to break into science policy, and I wrote a passionate letter about my belief that science can and should influence ordinary citizens everyday, and that to maximize this, trained scientists should rise to the occasion to influence policy. I talked about my efforts to show leadership in graduate school, and to develop my communication skills while balancing a productive science career.
In the six months that I waited to hear back about that fellowship, I wrote my dissertation, I came to realize that I was going to need a MUCH more pragmatic solution to the jobless-ness problem as my funding was up, and I began to question, once again, whether I really knew where I wanted to take my career. I love science, LOVE it, but I realized as a graduate student I love learning science more than doing science, and if we want to be perfectly honest, I'm not always that successful. As Mark Roth once told me, "someone else can do this science. I knew I could do something different that others couldn't." That's what fueled my interest in policy, that and the realization that I spent hours watching the last presidential race when I should have been writing my comprehensive exams. But,... maybe that's not all. I did interviews with scientists working in policy who loved thier jobs too, but they loved them in DC. Isn't there some way I can have a job in the same timezone as some of my family? I am willing to bargain with my overall career happiness for the chance at personal happiness- and that was a revelation to my mega-career focused mentality. When the call finally came that there might be money, and then again, that there was not money for my Hellman fellowship, it felt like that ship had sailed without me.
Admitting to myself I would never win a Nobel Prize was an important first step, but I still can't get myself into a job I know I won't like. Or, when I consider taking jobs I'm not a good fit for, such as post-doc or tutor, I don't imagine giving up my job search. At the moment, that is my litmus test- if I take this job, would I stop looking for a better one full time? And while on the one hand, I feel like I might be totally adrift- reconsidering all of those "non-traditional" career paths that are so common for PhDs these days like MSL and Grant Writing, I actually feel much better about my situation. Although I have been doing this for a tediously long time, I've learned a lot about approaching people for help, making and maintaining good contacts, exploring my options and finding ways to keep myself buoyant in the meantime. Volunteering has been huge in helping my reshape my priorities and earn new opportunities. I know a lot more about what I am looking for in a job, and I have also had a chance to develop some value in my personal life that doesn't depend on success at the bench. And I don't let the job hunt get to me in the same way. After 6 months, when I almost had and then was rejected for what I thought was my dream job, I started applying to jobs I was a terrible fit for, which launched a strong of rejections. Not surprising, but terrible on the fragile job hunters ego. Now I try to apply for jobs in pairs so I don't get too hung up on "the one job." I try to make contacts with the people responsible for hiring before I start, so I can be sure I am a good fit, and possibly get some recognition in the process. And I spend infinitely less time on job boards. Now that I am working on a local search, I can literally apply for every job I qualify for within 50 miles, then get back to networking.
While I can't say it feels good to have an anniversary in a job hunt, I am celebrating this one in style. The Science Center flew me out to NYC to help them give a workshop at the New York Hall of Science about novel and dynamic ways to engage young girls in STEM through thier very cool spy camp, Click! I'll be spending all day rubbing elbows with science museum types and thinking about what makes science fun. Really, if I had a job today, I might not be able to participate in this exciting conference. It's not so bad. But if my "Last Day of Working" Anniversary (Aug 31) rolls around with no forward movement, expect a different toned blog post.