Monday, June 25, 2012

Transition story

I have been thinking quite a bit about my transition story, especially in the context of story telling.  As a blogger, I can tell stories as long and convoluted as I like, but as a job hunter I need to get this baby tamed into one tweet.  So I got to thinking about stories and how they are told.  Following a comment from the previous transition post,  I did a little research on the basic elements of a story.  A story has a character- usually a protagonist, and a challenge.  A good story has a beginning a middle and an end.  And for a short story, that is probably all I can get in there. 

At the start of my story was me, before I started graduate school.  I can go back and read my admission essay (gawdawful) and senior seminar writing assignments to remember what I was thinking about then.  What I wanted then was rather vaguely to "help people" and "change the world."  I went to graduate school because I knew that science provides the tools to that, and because I thought that I could explore what I meant by "change the world."  I never really WANTED to be a professor, but at the time, the idea of getting dragged into academia seemed inevitable and not that bad. Unlike 4 years at a liberal arts college, graduate school is not meant to be a journey of self discovery, so I never really got to the bottom of that question. 

But, I did learn several things about myself that lead me to believe I am not well suited for academia or a bench position.  I'm very much a big picture person. I need to finish things, by which I mean I like short time frames and dynamic content.  I like working with a team.  I enjoy writing.  I'm not ready for the responsibility of being in charge of other people.  Grant funding scares me.  I am happiest when I am working on several different things- like assays for two different stories, running a journal club and creating career workshops for grad students.  I get bored easily. When my experiments don't work, I feel like a terrible human being. In the context of my story, all this needs to get distilled down into something more pointed that leads me in a new direction.

And this is the part of the story I am struggling with.  In my perfect transition story, I would know where the story ends.  You know, "I went to graduate school because I thought that was the best way to cure cancer, but I have a bigger impact on how people with cancer are treated as an FDA regulator."  Or "Graduate school appealed to me because I thought I could have an impact on people's lives, but I found that teaching had a more direct and fulfilling impact."  The story I was using for a while was "I wanted to go to graduate school because science solves complex problems.  Some of the most complex problems we have right now are in policy, and I think I can bring science to bear on those problems."  This story oversimplified my interest in living in the same time zone as my family, and the challenge of a two-body problem.  While most of the story has slipped away, I now tell people that "I moved to Seattle over the winter, and I am committed to finding a way to make my career here."  That's not where my story ends, but it is where I got stuck telling it.

My view of my own career has taken a lot of collateral damage over the last year- I just don't believe that I am going to find a track to jump on and find smooth sailing until retirement.  I also don't believe that what I do next is going to be tied to what I was doing before.  For better or worse, this means I expect to pick a story, see where it gets me, and maybe write a new one in a couple more years.  I'm not quite ready to decide where my story is today, but I am closing in on a version that might look something like this.
I went to graduate school because I have always thought deeply about my own education. Rather than teaching in just one classroom, I want to bring the same kind of passion that propelled me to be a successful student of science to a wide range of students, which I why I am an instructional designer.

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