Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What should I be when I grow up?

When I fall asleep at night, I like to fantasize about my future, usually at least 3 years down the road. It has to be multiple years into the future, or else I get stressed about something I should be doing right now to make that future happen. But I find 3 years is far enough to feel like lots can change, and I can feel free to get a good nights sleep.

In undergrad, I remember fantasizing about grad school. I fantasized about teaching a classroom full of cool students who all loved me (haha :) and I fantasized about brief periods of staying up all night to push through an important aspect of a project. The fantasy included the super-tired but accomplished feeling I would have afterwards as I finally got to fall into bed, exhausted. Turned out, I never taught in grad school, and I'm still waiting for that final accomplishment of a submitted 1st author paper.

As a young grad student, I fantasized about my talents finally being recognized and my hard work finally paying off. I fantasized about giving talks and publishing papers that wowed people, and finally made my advisor think I was smart and good.

As a slightly older grad student, I gave up that dream and fantasized about going to be a post doc somewhere, where my new advisor would appreciate me and my talents, and my hard work would pay off with fantastic papers and talks. And my new advisor would run into my old advisor at a conference, and talk about how amazing I was, and my old advisor wouldn't know what to say.

I also like to fantasize about further down the road, sometimes with more fantastical scenarios. The most common fantasy involves me being an award-winning, best-selling author. In this fantasy, I write amazing fiction novels as well as non-fiction pieces about science and education. I write in my home office with my 2 golden retrievers loyally at my side. And I make boatloads of money because I'm an award-winning and best-selling author, obviously. Ahhh....Lately I've been combining the author fantasy with a teaching fantasy where I also teach at a respected undergrad institution. Sometimes I can get excited about doing a little experimental research on the side in this fantasy, but sometimes I can't.

One of my more hilarious fantasies involved me being recruited as a spy after my Ph.D. graduation. In this fantasy, I'm whipped into shape by government gurus who recognize my potential and somehow my biophysicsy background is perfect for their spying needs. I also get paid boatloads of money, with tons of benefits such as excellent health-care, paid travel, a huge wardrobe budget, and amazing housing provided via the government. That was a very fun and hilarious fantasy.

But in seriousness, I'm trying to think about these fantasies and what they might mean in regards to what I should actually try to do after I graduate. I recognize the common thread of wanting boatloads of money, but I think that's more about security than anything else. So I really just need to make enough money to be relatively financially secure. I recognize a teaching thread, and I really think I should pursue that. Trouble is, teaching is one of the worst paid jobs out there. The writing fantasy is great, but unless it's combined with an actual paid job, it does not grant financial security. (The whole best-selling, award-winning thing is a little hard to guarantee.) And I wonder about the experimental research aversion. Is it just because it's been soooooo hard in grad school? I keep thinking maybe it will be better in a different lab with a different group and different project. I do like problem solving...But I worry any pull I feel toward experimental research is more because of expectations. I'm expected to go do experimental research because that's what I've been trained in for the last several years. I'm expected to do experimental research because that's much higher paid than teaching. I'm expected to do experimental research because that's what people do after a science Ph.D.

But what if I hate banging my head against a wall?

1 comment:

  1. I do and have done the same thing since as long as I can remember. When I was a kid though it was less about any future career. I think it's natural to dream about things we may really want to do but may never or may never make money off (writing, for instance). I do wonder if you can't somehow feed your urge to teach via other methods. Maybe it wouldn't be the same at a community college, but with a masters you might be able to get a part time teaching gig at one and it would at least let you know what you like or don't like. Or perhaps there's some local outreach program you could become a part of that might involve teaching high schoolers or middle schoolers once a week. But then again, I can definitely see how that's not the same as teaching a class, and personally the idea of going near a high school again terrifies me. Also it's so hard to know what we'll like and not like, and I think we dream about the more glamorous parts of future careers when sometimes they are not as satisfying as we'd hoped.