Sunday, October 21, 2012

On feeling good about the job

As excited as I am to start my new job, I've had some mixed feelings about pursuing this route.  Working as a curriculum writer in career education doesn't require the exacting touch of a molecular biologist, or a PhD.  Like many people, I struggled with the idea that I might be "wasting" my education.  For a long time I was looking for jobs in industry because I wanted to believe all those years of hard work would pay off in form that I could predict.  But, the longer I looked, the more hurdles I put in my own way- I don't wanna be at the bench, I can't do sales or marketing, I'm over academia, I don't want to travel 50%... Whether or not I was aware of it, I was backing out of science.  There is something like a mourning process when you give up on your dreams- and eventhough I can't say it was My Dream to become some big deal scientist, it was certainly the path that I'd been fixated on for so long.

This transition might have felt easier if I had any certainty about where I'd go instead.  There were lots of options, but I was resistant to admit I was backing away from science, and equally unwilling to back away from science completely.  Maybe I could find work at the science center?  Or as a medical writer? Or something that would use my science in a way that I felt more comfortable with?  Does such a job exist?  And even though I had tons of misgivings about traditional careers in science, it was easy to be nitpicky about other careers as well.  Work at a non-profit?  The pay is terrible.  However, I felt like I was living with the pressure of using this PhD, and I tried to let that go. 

Over the spring, I recognized that I didn't have a hard time convincing people I should be able to write well.  This was part of my internship, part of my dissertation, part of my contract work, and something I was enjoying.  Fortunately or not, just being able to write doesn't paint a clear career path. Meanwhile I seemed to have a really hard time convincing anyone I would be a good scientist- there was always some technique or experience that I didn't have yet, like ADME or animals or even clinical trials. By this point, I felt desperate to work and figured I should reconcile myself to working outside of science. And contracting with this new client was going well.  I like the work- thinking about teaching- an awful lot more than teaching itself.  When I thought only about the job, I loved it, it felt like a great fit, but when I would think about keeping it for any period of time I felt guilty that I wasn't doing something in my field (whatever I believed that to be anymore).  Eventually I decided I'd rather be someone who "failed to be a scientist" than someone who "failed to get a job, ever."  I expect these feelings of guilt to pass.  I'm good at my job, and not everyone can do this type of work, which does make me feel like I am using my education and experience.

Even as I felt better about this transition stick, I started to have more criticisms of any potential employer.  Specifically, we create educational models for schools and teachers who can afford to buy them. Does this undermine the public school system?  Does it really help teachers and students?  Although I actually think we do more good than not, my client's work was in a flattering piece by Fox News, which certainly gave me pause. Is this work that I should do? This feeling surprised me a lot.  Finding a career that I felt comfortable with was one thing, now I was feeling skittish about actually taking a job?  After talking with some friends, I realized that there is usually some component of the work that seems.... not quite right.  I know someone who selflessly works at a food bank that buys their supplies from Walmart since they have the cheapest prices. A physician charges people for medical care, just because they lost the health lottery. I rationalized that even if I were working to cure cancer, I'd eventually wonder about the ethical sourcing of my suppliers (all those plastics come from China), the footprint of my lab, or whether my work was taking money from other more promising projects.  It's just the reality of the working world.  Like I said, I really do think that this type of work provides support for rather than undermining public schools.  Working with start-ups, I realized I preferred the honesty of admitting that "we have to make money to stay afloat" compared to the nebulous assessments that result in success for grant funded operations.

Really, for me the emotional journey had three major hurdles: the idea that I needed an Important Job because of the PhD, the idea that the PhD was a waste if I wasn't in science, and the idea that I needed to work (as a saint) for saints.  Getting over that has helped me find a job a like in a field that interests me.  I'm not using my "science" persay, but I got the job in part because I can learn and write very quickly.  The PhD wasn't a waste, and I expect in the long-run may allow me more upward mobility.

1 comment:

  1. Google up the Steve Jobs Stanford commencement speech . . you can't always connect the dots ahead of time . . . time will tell re "wasting" Phd or "giving up" science etc. etc.

    Good job working thru the three hurdles!!