Finding the ‘right’ career path

Reading over an interviewabout my career recently, which described the moment when I realised that the things I enjoyed about science were not the experiments themselves but rather all the other things I got to do as a scientist, it occurred to me, “If only I’d known then what I know now, how much easier my life would have been.” Specifically, if I’d known that I wasn’t a particularly technical person and that communication and helping people were where my strengths lay, I would have started my career off on the right footing. Instead, I careered around in the dark for quite a few years before finding my ‘calling’.

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing”, as the saying goes: it’s easy to review the past and make wise observations in the light of new information. My former self would probably jump at the chance of some insider information from my current self to help me on my way, but would this be a wise move? Would my life have been as rich and interesting if I had made no mistakes from which to learn? Mistakes can help us to increase our self-knowledge, build our capacity to deal with life’s difficulties and make us wiser about ourselves and the world around us.

So if you’re currently reflecting on your career and wondering whether some of your previous decisions were flawed, don’t be dismayed: You can’t do anything to change the past, but you can change your future. If you think you’ve taken your career down the wrong path ask yourself, where does it feel particularly comfortable or uncomfortable? PhD students and postdoctoral researchers may be unsure about their career prospects in academia, but there are many other options to consider. Those working in industry may be looking for a new challenge, perhaps a change of scenery, a different emphasis on their everyday work. Review what you do – your likes and dislikes – discover where your passions lie (including things you do outside of your research). Even if you feel that now is not the right time to be making a career transition, you can take action to enhance your talents and build on your strengths. It needn’t be something big and expensive, it could simply be to get a paper written, make contact with someone to help you with an alternative idea, investigate a course or conference. All the things you do, including the ‘mistakes’, will ultimately jigsaw together to form a pattern for your career; a career which is comfortable fitting and suits your abilities, interests and ambitions :). 

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