Sunday, October 4, 2009

October Scientiae: The Road Not Taken

Mad Chemist Chick is the host of October's Scientiae, where the theme is the road not taken:
Was there a point in your career or research where you were faced with two possible paths? Which one did you chose and why? Do you ever regret that decision? Or perhaps it was the best decision you ever made but you did not realized it until much later. Or have you ever taken a path only to discover it dead-ends or is circular? What did you do next? Have you, like the traveler in the poem, saved a path for another day, in regards to an alternative or second career maybe, and hope to get back to explore it someday?
Because of my wide range of interests, the road not taken could be the theme of my career-life. It seems at each major step along the way, I have had to choose which fork in the road to take.

When I was in high school, I was deciding between a major in music (I played the clarinet) and astrophysics. I auditioned for the music school, but before I received the response I decided to take the scientific route. At the time I had convinced myself it was because I would have more options for jobs if I did astrophysics - clearly that wasn't the real reason. Yes, I had an interest in it, but it was mostly because I felt it sounded more impressive (not the best reason to choose a major). I wanted to prove to people I was smart in different ways, and I remember saying things like, "No, I'm not going into music, I'm going into astrophysics instead", and loving the way it sounded.

During my first year in undergrad, I floundered a lot. I didn't do particularly well in my science classes, and even dropped my second semester chemistry course because I had convinced myself I was going to major in sociology instead. But, throughout undergrad, I kept coming back to astrophysics - mostly because I didn't want people to think I was a failure (again, not a good reason).

At the end of my degree (which ended up being in physics) I decided I was done with physics. I took the first job I could find, and ended up being an inside sales person at an electrical motor company (to be fair, they did ask for someone with an engineering or physics degree). Yup - I hated it. At that point, I was at another crossroads: did I want to pursue my love of interior design, go to grad school for a masters in astronomy, or go to business school? I applied to different universities for all three, and got in to all three programs. I had told myself from the beginning that, if I got into grad school, I'd go for it. So, that's what I did.

By the end of my masters, I wanted to stay in astronomy but wasn't sure if I wanted to stay in the same field. Again, I applied to work with a number of PhD supervisors, and I ended up switching from X-ray astronomy to Solar System astronomy.

Now, after another four years, I am at another crossroads. I know that I do not want to continue with research at this point, that I want to continue in teaching, outreach, and/or science education research. The question is, how do I find such jobs in this city and in these economic times?

When I look back on my decisions, I realize that they probably weren't the best for me. I should have pursued my loves (music, interior design, etc.) and not what sounded impressive. However, I don't regret my decisions, because they have all lead me to where I am and who I am. I believe I have learned from all of this, and will focus on finding a career path that is close to my heart. Who knows what is coming at the next fork in the road, but I plan on taking it in stride with no regrets.