Worlds within worlds of careers

Over the last couple of years, I’ve chatted with grad students and postdocs one-on-one about careers beyond the bench. Often conversations start with something like, “I’m interested in science policy.” or “I think I might like to do science communication.” They always prompt an immediate question from me: “What do you mean by that?”

We naturally group things into categories. For science careers, they’re things like academic, industry, communication, policy… These can be good starting points for discussion and exploration, but they belie the complexity of the career landscape. Though people may be thinking of a research tenure-track position when they say “academic,” there’s far more to academia—research, teaching, administration; certificate programs to research-intensive institutions. Similarly, policy might mean advocating for research funding or changes in training structure to on person, but another thinks about synthesizing evidence to inform practice and regulation.

As you start thinking about careers, this complexity is obvious, but it’s worth acknowledging explicitly and diving deeper into what terms mean to you. There are many options within each category. Often real-world jobs bleed across categories. Contemplate what precisely it is that interests you, what’s drawing you to a particular category. Think about your mission. Articulating these things may open your eyes and enable others to imagine possibilities you hadn’t considered before.

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