Monday, July 9, 2012

Looking for a payoff

When I finished grad school, I quickly understood that my life would be strangely unstructured for a while.  I wanted the chance to try out some different things, such as volunteering and writing more, and I wanted the flexibility to drop things that weren't working for me.  As a result, I have been able to do lots of different things, but I haven't been paid much.  It's fantastically easy to get experience in things if you are willing to go without pay, but now I need to figure out how to transition those opportunities into a steady paycheck.

Of course I would just love to get hired to a solid job and collect one paycheck, but I am not convinced that this unstructured time in my life is over yet.  Instead, I am trying to find ways to get paid for some of the things I am doing, and only take on opportunities with a clear pay-off.  For example, I am volunteering at the Life Science Innovation NW Meeting, because that will allow me to go to this expensive, but important biotech event. I'm considering an internship with a biotech start-up in business development, because it is paid.

Now that I've tried a few different types of things, I have a better sense of what might count as a payoff.  I realized that there are things that I have done that I have a hard time weaving into my transition story (case in point, working at the bank). For some things, it took me a while to figure out how my participation made sense in the context of my interests and other experiences.  For example, I found myself participating in a lot of informal STEM education events.  Other things just weren't related- remember when I was going to learn Python?  For me, a payoff would be more experience in a field I am interested in (medical writing, editing or curriculum development), making better connections in those fields, or actually getting paid.  I don't feel very focused yet, but I can see that this is progress from where I was last year.

This is also a major cultural shift.  I think I internalized an idea that in science, you can't be selfish.  I worked hard for abstract reasons that weren't good money and a lifestyle of my own choosing.  A manuscript might open doors, and basic science might help us better understand disease.  In science, hard work is no guarantee of success and that's hard to take.  I'm trying to find ways to make my hard work turn into success, and to make "success" something of my own definition.

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