Changing course, Part 1: Permission to consider

When we’ve been pursuing a path for a while, considering a change of course might not come easily. I think we often expect to realize a need or desire for change to come in a flash of clarity and certainty.

Perhaps that’s how it works for some. Not for me.

When I decided to go grad school, I had no concept of the career options available for Ph.D. scientists. I knew there were industry jobs, and I knew there were professorships. I had little idea what either entailed. But I knew that I’d discovered a love for science, and I had some feeling that I personally could maybe accomplish something meaningful if I followed it.

As I finished grad school, I had a better idea of the variety of academic environments and what people did in those positions, though I still really didn’t know much about what was possible outside the world of academia. It simply hadn’t occurred to me, and the few around me looking beyond careers at a university were heading to bench work in industry. Personally I’d adopted the vision that the research-intensive faculty track was where I could have the impact I was looking for.

My first postdoc experience shook my confidence in that vision. But during that time, I’d also discovered this virtual science community, and I began discovering that there was more out there than just bench work and running labs. So as I prepared to exit my postdoc, I found myself considering whether a broader change of course might be in order.

At the time, I took another postdoc. I kept working toward the faculty track. Or at least that’s what I told myself and those who asked.

Yet there were things that I was supposed to be doing to get there that I kept pushing back. There were reasons – reasonable reasons, even.

Like the disintegration of my decade long marriage, for instance.

As I emerged from the “survival mode”, though, I found myself wondering: Am I just overwhelmed by other parts of my life right now? Am I waiting to get other things in order so I’m striking at the right time? Or am I holding back because I’m not sure I want this anymore?

I’d been working towards that endgame for years. Considering the possibility that I might want something else wasn’t easy. I stressed over whether it represented a personal flaw, a lack of drive or commitment. Initially it almost felt like a bit of a betrayal – to myself, to those who had trained me, to those who had supported me.

Eventually I started coming to terms with the possibility of letting go. There was still plenty of trepidation. But I began to realize that it shouldn’t be about making others “happy” with my decisions. It should be about what I wanted.

I didn’t commit to change. I wasn’t “walking away” just yet. I was simply giving myself permission to entertain the possibility that I might want something else for my career and my life – or not.

If I was going to stay on the faculty track, I’d better make damn sure I was doing it for me, not some sense of responsibility to someone else. If I decided that wasn’t the path for me, then it was time to figure out where I wanted to go.

To be continued…

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6 Responses to Changing course, Part 1: Permission to consider

  1. Pingback: Changing course, Part 2: Preparing to consider possibilities | Ever on & on

  2. Pingback: Changing course, Part 3: Open exploration | Ever on & on

  3. Pingback: Just Tell Them You Can Do It. | Infactorium

  4. Pingback: Hey Science, what’s with the guilt? | Furby in the lab

  5. Pingback: Why am I running? | Ever on & on

  6. Pingback: What’s next and how to get there… or at least get started. | Diversity Journal Club

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