Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When I grow up...

It seems that I've been on a particular path for about 87.9% of my life (I actually did the math).  My mom will tell you that from an early age I wanted to be a scientist, wear a lab coat, figure out life, and save the world.  I was always organized (my dolls were arranged in order of size and then based on the color of their outfits, I know, ridiculous), curious, and wanting to know more.  Through high school, I elected to take as many biology classes as I could and went to college for a BS in Biotechnology.  I worked for 6 years as a Research Associate, doing the "research" that other people wanted, not really finding my purpose.  I was starting to get "itchy".  I wanted more than that.  So I went back to school to get my PhD.

Fast forward 5+ years, and here I am, approaching the end of my graduate school career, mere months away from defending my thesis research and earning the elusive title of "Doctor of Philosophy in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology".  I'm also finding that I have no idea what I want to do afterwards.


I've been working toward this goal my entire life: to be a scientist, figure out life, and save the world.  Now I'll have the credentials I need to do my own research, to go on and have the most productive research lab in the history of research and get that Nobel Prize by the ripe age of 40.  Right?

Except... now I have a family.

For someone who never even entertained the idea of kids, I love being a mom and its my biggest priority (right after being a good wife!).  My daughter is my world.  I fall asleep thinking of her and wake up thinking of her and every moment in between.  It's also been the most universally challenging and guilt-ridden job I've ever had.  Normally at work, I know immediately (or within a few days) if I've messed up.  I won't know until she's an adult if I've done irreparable damage!

So now, I find myself with completely different priorities than that 4 year old little girl who dreamed of saving the world through science.  I still love it and find it completely fulfilling, but it competes with the time I can spend with my family.  If I stay on the path  I've been on, my days and evenings (and yes, even weekends) will be filled with grant applications, traveling to speaking engagements and conferences on top of research and teaching.  Is there some sort of compromise?  I wish I had the answer.

As I approach the end of my endentured servanthood (i.e. grad student), I am weighing my options.  How important is it to me to do actual research?  Are there other ways I can contribute to society within my field?  What else can I do with my degree?  I've only done research, am I capable of something else?

I've learned a few things from countless seminars, job fairs, etc.  One is that a path one takes to their ultimate profession is never straight.  There are lots of bumps, wrong turns and detours along the way.  It's okay for me to try something else, even if it doesn't work out.  I've also learned that it's never too late to reinvent yourself.  In fact, in this workplace and economy, it's almost essential that you do so every 5-10 years.  Alright, so maybe my next move isn't the decisive factor in who I will be.  Maybe its just a stepping stone or specific experience that makes me stand out in a crowd.  Maybe I don't need to put so much pressure on my choices now.  Maybe I'm ready to try something new.  After all, I tried being a mom and look how much I love that!

Linking up at The Anderson Family Crew

No comments: