Twenty years ago, I was asked how I imagined my life would be in 2017.
My answer was short and sweet, “My life
will be great!” However, if I had been
asked to share details, I would have
been completely off. I certainly would
not have predicted that I would live in
the United States, or that I would work
in a job that is not aligned with “
traditional” career trajectories for chemists.
In 2017, I am a science administrator
and I love it.
When I graduated from the University of Heidelberg (Germany), I knew
that a successful Ph.D. chemist would
have a brief postdoctoral experience
in an English-speaking country. My
expectation, like that of most of my fellow graduating chemists, was that after
this postdoctoral experience, I would
return to my home country to join the
academic or industrial workforce. How
could someone deviate from this well-defined path?
In the past, I questioned my
abilities to make sound career decisions
because they did not fit into anything
traditional and they seemed to be risky.
Today, I truly believe that my graduate
education and my passion for science
set me up for this. I love studying and
analyzing data, crafting hypotheses,
doing experiments, and learning from
results. Ultimately, as chemists or STEM
graduate students or postdocs, you become extremely proficient in data analysis, questioning traditional assumptions,
and pushing the envelope.
Why shouldn’t these skills be ap-
plied to life planning? I did exactly that
subconsciously. With a holistic ap-
proach, I dived into studying the “data,”
A couple of weeks ago, I was asked
to submit a title for a career seminar
for graduate students and postdocs at
the University of Louisville. I called the
seminar “The most important experi-
ment: Your career.” The audience appre-
ciated this analogy. Scientists are indeed
uniquely qualified to find satisfying and
rewarding careers because they em-
brace the concept of hypothesis-driven
research. Finding a satisfying career is
nothing more than a very well-defined
experiment. Your journey towards a sat-
Question: What Do Experiments and Career Planning Have in Common?
6. Report your results (Lab book, peers and advisor, Lab meetings)
have been “wrong”
THINK ABOU T IT!
have been “wrong”
Study a topic area and Identify
a scientific problem
for the experiment
Formulate a hypothesis
Experiment “worked”. You
have proof that your
hypothsis could be right
Experiment did not “work”.
CREDIT: Joerg C. Schlatterer
isfying career starts with a broad vision
for your life. This vision is something
very personal and feeds your overall
motivation. This also suggests that only
you are in charge of your career and life
journey. Nobody else is as invested in
this journey as you are. Feedback and
recommendations from informal and
formal mentors are essential, but ulti-
mately you are responsible for all deci-
sions you make.
Let me share with you my view of
how you can leverage your research
skills (please see figure) for planning
your career. The steps written below
correspond to the research steps shown
in the graph.
Step 1: Dive into career area research, conduct informational interviews, and talk to as many diverse
professionals as possible to get a good
idea where your career focus could be.
Consider your values. Does this career
area align with them?
Step 2: Come up with your personal career hypothesis.
Finding a satisfying
career is nothing
more than a