“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Ten words that perhaps make you shudder when you recall them from your childhood. Or, maybe you think about this question quite favourably as you remember your innocent younger self responding with answers such as, “an astronaut”, “a TV star”, “a princess”, “footballer”, etc.
In my day (1960/70s), our knowledge of the job market was more limited and conventional, so we were more likely to reply with jobs such as nurse, doctor, teacher or train driver. In fact, my brother’s friend did exactly that and realised his dream to become a train driver. And, of course, many kids grew up to become doctors, nurses, teachers and careers advisers …..
Ha ha, no, only kidding! I didn’t know anyone who aspired to be a careers adviser, and I still don’t! Did you reply to say you wanted to be a postdoctoral researcher? Not likely. But perhaps you replied with “I want to be a scientist”. Careers like careers adviser, science programme coordinator, bioinformatician, data analyst, academic, etc., are jobs that you hear about and grow into later in life, after you’ve tried other things.
And that brings me to my Career Wordle analogy for this month’s blog: If you’ve not played the rather addictive New York Times Wordle word game, I warn you, it may take over your life, as you strive to guess a 5-letter word in six guesses. Let me explain its relevance to careers:
The first guess in Wordle is just that – you have no information to go on, you just pick a 5-letter word and try it out to see how many of the letters are correct – some in the right place (green), some correct but in the wrong place (yellow) and the rest that are just wrong and don’t appear in the word at all (grey).
As depicted in the infographic above, the first Wordle result (on the left-hand side) means that I got it in one! My first attempt in something like over 300 tries [the word was ‘sound’ in case you’re interested]. I was so proud, even though it wasn’t a great achievement. It was just a great guess.
And perhaps that’s what your first guess at a career was too – just that, a sound guess, a shot in the dark. Perhaps you wanted to be a scientist and here you are now, a scientist…. Although many researchers label themselves on LinkedIn as a PhD student or postdoc (not a good idea).
Or maybe you started out aspiring to careers such as “astronomer”, “farmer”, “pop star” or “vet”? That last one was me – I wanted to be a vet, so that I could help animals to get better. However, as I grew up and had more information at my disposal, I realised that I wasn’t clever enough to get the grades to go to vet school and, in any case, I don’t think I had the stomach for surgery or euthanasia. So, instead, I got a pet, did Biology at university, after which I did research, then journal management, followed by education and public affairs, finally ending up where I am now – a careers adviser specialising in supporting academic researchers.
And this brings me to the middle Wordle infographic analogy – I tried out a few letters, saw what fitted, ignored the ones that didn’t and finally got to the ‘right answer’. This was not a guess anymore. Vet was my initial guess, but it didn’t fit with my own skills and values. It was ‘helping’ that I took with me, as well as realising my creativity and intuition along the way and placing myself in the world of science, but working with researchers, not in research.
So, what about you? Where are you now? How did you get here? And where are you headed?
Did you get your Career Wordle in one? Did you guess correctly and end up doing what you said you’d be doing when you replied to the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question. If so, are you where you want to be, or would you prefer to be doing something else? What new letters would you like to add to your career to make it ‘perfect’?
Or perhaps, you’re a ‘work in progress’? This is more likely, especially at your career stage. Perhaps, you’re refining your career right now, looking for the last letter to complete your career story? Conceivably, you’re still at Line 3 and working your way towards Line 6, as depicted in the final infographic on the right-hand side.
What information do you need to help you to complete your Career Wordle journey? Having tried things out during your career so far, you know what you don’t like doing, and what you don’t want to feature in your future jobs. So, what do you want to include – consider the skills, interests, values and other factors that are important to you, that you enjoy and are good at. Perhaps you are doing some of these things on a voluntary basis right now, like teaching or outreach and you want to incorporate them into the heart of your next job (and get paid for them too!). Maybe you are a technical expert, who wants to add more of this into the mix in the future. Or perhaps you’re more interested in your work:life balance and are looking at ways to stabilise your current career rollercoaster life style.
Whatever your ‘Career Wordle’ stage, my advice is to keep learning, keep researching and keep growing. Not your research (but that’s important). You. Focus on the researcher for a change and see how you can investigate, discover, develop and enhance yourself. What are your talents? What’s important to you? Where do you want to go in the future? Make use of information and advice and, on that note, hopefully this and some of my other Biosciencecareers blogs will help you to answer some of these questions.
Happy Career Wordling!