In my continual hunt for reasonable, grown-up employment, I find I continue to bump up against a ceiling which is probably the only step on the road to adulthood I was never warned about. Growing up, I was given to understand that in order to become a functioning adult, I should go through school, toeing the line and staying out of trouble. If I did that, and got good grades while doing so (which really isn’t that difficult if you stay out of trouble), it was said that I could go to university. The land of academia, especially of the post-secondary variety, was my biggest aspiration in my mid-teens. What I forgot to consider, though, is that there is life beyond academic endeavours.
Though while I was growing up I considered many professions, including but not limited to lawyer, doctor and astronaut. I wrote these off, as I had no interest in pursing a career whose status is such that a high degree of competition would mean that my enjoyment of the work would be lessened by having to spend perhaps years in a cut-throat environment where nice guys like me are sure to finish last, regardless of aptitude or intelligence. I decided that given my enjoyment of the sciences (chemistry in particular), doing research to further my understanding of the world around us would be an excellent intellectual pursuit. I attended university in those interests, satisfied my curiosity, and completed all the tasks set by my various professors. When it came time to finish my studies and leave university, all indications were that it would be reasonable to delay my exit from academia for a while, as the economy, and therefore the job market, were not conducive to finding relevant employment. Since I had forged a few connections with faculty on campus, I was able to arrange a master’s degree, even though from an academic standpoint I was a pretty big risk for professors using their funding.
Over the course of my master’s work, which was a follow-up to research I began during my undergraduate degree, I became disenfranchised with the focus of my studies, solid-state NMR. I maintained a scientific curiosity, but had very little interest in pursuing this kind of fundamental research as a career. I arranged to wrap up my research and complete the degree in a little over 12 months, it was not worth leaving at that point in the degree, given that I had already handed a few thousand dollars to the university. In the end, I was able to finish the degree in 13 months, and felt confident my background in research and evident love of science would qualify me for any number of jobs.
While I was working in the lab during my undergraduate and master’s research, I also developed a love for computers, computer science, and technology in general. This is a passion which sticks with me to this day, and in fact has only grown. The field of computer science, and the myriad opportunities it holds, are also of great interest to me in terms of careers.
What I have found, more than anything so far since I left home 6 years ago, is that given a small amount of necessary training, I can accomplish pretty much anything I set my mind to. However, you cannot get hired to do “anything”, and therefore I am having real trouble narrowing my career focus. The resulting uncertainty is extremely disconcerting to me, my family and my close friends, but the fact is I would prefer not to actively exclude any particular career, especially if I can work at an interesting company, where I can perform a variety of tasks and would be given some free rein to work on things which I consider interesting and productive. I am certain a career of this nature is out there somewhere, it’s just a matter of finding it.
Wish me luck!