Career challenged? We have a lifeline

Published August 01 2017

My first career goal was to be the Virgin Mary. I draped a big blue scarf over my head and wandered around singing “Silent Night.” My mother was appalled; we weren’t even Catholic. But at the age of three, I had few female role models.

As my horizons broadened, those haloed dreams faded, replaced by aspirations to become a nurse (Cherry Ames), a ballerina (the Sugar Plum Fairy), a Pilgrim (don’t ask). These goals shared a common thread: Beyond the wardrobe, I had almost no idea what was involved in the job.

Even in high school and college, where career planning is ostensibly a focus, it was hard to get a handle on just what someone employed in the fields I briefly considered actually would do. Really, how does a trained anthropologist spend her days?

I share this foolishness as a prelude to the special careers section in this issue of ASBMB Today.

If you’re reading this magazine, you probably have — or aspire to have — a job in science. Maybe you put on a tiny lab coat or built exploding volcanoes as a kid, or maybe you got hooked by a great teacher. Either way, you followed a rigorous educational path to realize your dream. But what exactly is that dream? And how does it morph into a reality with a paycheck?

Some people may perambulate seamlessly from classroom to lab, where their fantasies of hard work, discipline and reward are realized. But there are fewer benches than trained researchers to fill them. And maybe academic research wasn’t such a great fit for you after all. Maybe your needs and abilities evolved. Maybe you got a great job and lost it, sending you back to square one.

Fifty years ago, you were expected to find a job right out of school and stay at one institution until you retired. If you’ve earned academic tenure, this might still be true (and you can skip right past the career advice to John Arnst’s article about radiotherapy), but for many of us, those days are gone. In just about every field, you need to be more of a shark now, constantly swimming toward the next professional target. And with all the other highly educated sharks out there, you need both navigational skills and a keen sense of smell.

But also like a shark (whose antisocial reputation is undeserved), as an American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology member, you needn’t go it alone. In this issue, you’ll find advice to help you succeed in a variety of work environments. Diedre Ribbens offers tips on productivity. A quartet of authors provides lessons on emotional resilience. Raphael Luna explains the value of mentoring. Kathy Goss outlines how to segue to a nonresearch position in academia.

And on the career development page at asbmb.org are resources for everything from exploring your career path to dressing for an interview.

Pro tip: Leave your blue Virgin Mary scarf at home.

Comfort Dorn Comfort Dorn is the managing editor of ASBMB Today.