It is really quite amazing how people end up where they do over the course of their careers. Over the last few days, I have had the opportunity to hear about how some of the higher-ups in ACS came to be in their current positions. It has made me realize a few things that, as a graduate student nearing the end of her thesis project, have both reassured and inspired me.
I have learned that while you might have your career path planned out, you may have a few detours along the way doing jobs you had never considered while you were a graduate student. You can’t follow a route chosen for you by Google Maps to get from point A (graduate school) to point B (your ideal job). But that’s okay. Predictability can be boring; so having a few surprises along the way keeps life interesting, just don’t limit yourself. While knowing what type of career you would like to pursue is great, if the opportunity to do something different comes up, don’t immediately dismiss it, even if it is outside your comfort zone or isn’t what you thought you wanted.
I met a research scientist at one of the career seminars back home who told me that when he and his wife were in graduate school, he planned to teach and his wife planned to go into industry. Neither of them had any interest in pursuing other types of careers. However, now, about fifteen years later, they each have the career the other had planned: He is working in industry, she is a professor, and they are both exactly where they want to be. Although, that is not to say that their careers might not change again.
When people with careers in the sciences describe their lives since undergraduate or graduate school, I always get the impression that a career is a constantly evolving thing. Each job helps you build your skill set and connections until you move on to the next. Someone once told me not to worry too much about the job I get after graduate school, because it will only be the first of many. If I can have the type of successful career that I have heard about over the past few days, then having some variety in my career will be fine with me. I can’t wait to see where life takes me.