Life can shape your career path
On a more personal note, my career path also has been molded by the fact that cancer has plagued my family, as it has a large number of families. Right after applying to Ph.D. programs, my brother was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma.
It was at that moment that I decided I wanted to invest my efforts in cancer research. I found a way to fit cancer research into my Ph.D. thesis by studying the p53 protein and mutations, which are very common in various cancer types. Since then, I have focused on finding diagnostic and prognostic markers in early stages of esophageal and lung cancers. This additional personal dimension to my research makes my work more personally valuable and drives me to do the best I can do.
Charting your path
As you are reading this, you may be asking yourself, “What is the best trajectory for a successful career?” My answer to this is none. I do not think there is a best trajectory. This last statement should be more reassuring than alarming.
Indeed, I believe that everyone has to carve his or her own trajectory, as there is most likely a variety of definitions of a successful career. Do you define success as having achieved independence? Or perhaps by how much recognition or awards you are getting? Or perhaps by salary? By having achieved a good balance between family and work? By doing “good science”?
I find it very important to do a bit of soul searching to determine what makes you happy and how you envision your success, with the understanding that another person’s idea of success may not necessarily fit yours. Furthermore, recognize that your vision of success is not static and that it will probably evolve with time.
In this sense, it is useful to self-evaluate regularly and make changes accordingly. After all, your happiness in your work is directly correlated with drive and desire to accomplish tasks well. In other words, ensuring satisfaction with your work makes you most productive.