Following a Crooked Career Path

And no, I’m not advocating anything illegal.

Benoit Mandelbrot, passed away last week at age 85, of pancreatic cancer.  If you’ve ever seen a fractal, or know what they are, thank him.  Both the New York Times and the Washington Post had stories on him, describing the chaos in both his personal and professional lives.  I particularly like this quote from the first article….

“When asked to look back on his career, Dr. Mandelbrot compared his own trajectory to the rough outlines of clouds and coastlines that drew him into the study of fractals in the 1950s.

‘If you take the beginning and the end, I have had a conventional career,’ he said, referring to his prestigious appointments in Paris and at Yale. ‘But it was not a straight line between the beginning and the end. It was a very crooked line.'”

Leaping To New Opportunities

A new article entitled Leaping To New Opportunities was just posted in Chemical and Engineering News.  (Note:  I am quoted in this article, and you may have to be an ACS member to get access.)  It talks about how the landscape of chemical employment is changing, and in order to find employment chemists are having to change as well.  Some go willingly, some are dragged into new fields.

In my personal experience, those who take the time to examine what really fulfills them at work, and find employment that speaks to that, end up finding positions that make them very happy.  Those who refuse to see themselves in any other light end up making themselves miserable.

We all change over time, and being willing to try new things and challenge yourself is a big part of life.  It not only keeps things interesting, but lets you learn more about yourself, and better understand others.  After all, if I can learn to like camping, anything is possible!

Surprising Career Paths

You may not believe this, but I have interests other than career development for scientists. One of them is needlework, and in particular quilting. In that vein, I read a blog called Going to Pieces, by a very talented quilter.

In a recent post, she talks about a trip she took, and a gentleman she encountered who had a very surprising career path. Check out Fun and Surprises in San Francisco. The piece I’m talking about starts about halfway down, after the second photo. I actually remember encountering this gentleman on a trip of my own several years ago, but the career path aspect didn’t occur to me until Diane pointed it out.

Looking Out For the Future

One of the mailing lists I’m on has had a discussion recently on how professionals in our field can adapt to changes in the world. The conversation started when someone asked what cities were doing significant hiring, so they could relocate there and find a job.

While this is certainly an option, it may not be the best one. Just because an area has low unemployment doesn’t mean you will find a job there, let alone a job you like. Furthermore, that area may not continue to grow, and you may find yourself having to move again in a few years.

A better strategy is to be flexible not in where you will live (though that can be important), but to be flexible in the type of work you will do, and the industries in which you will do it. By applying your skills to a new field or industry, you can continue to learn and grow professionally without having to relocate (unless you just like moving!).

If you keep up on trends in your industry, and in the world in general, you can see the early warning signs of companies and industries that are on the declines, and ones that are growing. If your area is on the way out, start learning the vocabulary and quirks of ones that are on the rise, so you will be positioned to transition when/if it becomes necessary.

To help you out, Fortune magazine has published a list of growing market segments. Many of these segments are science-related, or could benefit from scientific input. Which ones are of interest to you? Which ones will you keep an eye on, or learn a little more about?

Why do we go into science?

Why did you choose a career in science? (Or why did you not?) A brief article recently posted talks about Science and Career Uncertainty . While it’s all well and good to try to convince more people to go into the sciences, we want to make sure they know what they are getting into. Unrealistic promises and expectations do not do anyone any good.

The author makes the same point I have been making for years – there are a plethora of careers out there that let you be involve in science, without having to work at a lab bench. What we need to do is make students and young professionals aware of these options, so they can make more informed decisions about their professional futures.

Ideas on how to do this are more than welcome!

Is Your Career Family Friendly?

A recent article in the New York Times reported that Financial Careers Come at a Cost to Families. By studying Harvard graduates over 40 years, the researchers were able to calculate the financial cost of taking a year off for a number of different careers. The penalty ranged from 15% to as much as 41%, severely penalizing those who took a break, for whatever reason. Careers in finance, which have been increasingly sought in recent years, appear to be particularly bad at allowing people to balance work and family life. Interestingly, consulting also falls into that category, and medicine appears to be one of the most flexible and forgiving careers.

This seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, but comparison of the results with other studies showed similar results.

Is family-friendliness, or work-life balance, important to you? How important? And how well is your current career meeting those needs? If your needs and your career situation are not aligned, reading this article may give you some ideas for ways to tweak your own future and bring your life more into balance.