Something unexpected and amazing has happened, and I had to share it. I am currently working as a postdoctoral fellow, but my project is nearing a natural expansion point. So, the decision I was faced with was A) follow the project or B) pass the baton.

I have chosen to pass the baton.

Please do not misunderstand me, the passion and ownership I feel for this project has not waned, it is just time to face another challenge. My decision to move out of my research headspace and into a job hunting headspace, turns out, was actually a series of smaller decisions. These big little choices held a weight which I did not full comprehend at first.

My first big little decision…”I do not have to finish this project.”

As a scientist I know that there is no such thing as a “finished” project, there are always more questions, but I have never been very good at leaving a story half written. Projects I have worked on in the past all resulted in publications. Proof, in my mind, that at least my part of the story was complete. This time the attachment I felt toward the work was different. I no longer felt the need to have top billing when this manuscript goes to press. I just wanted the work to actually become translational, to continue, and grow.

My second big little decision…”I get to ascribe the success in my career.”

I am very much a people pleaser, and though I’m not proud to admit it… I like praise. This means that I often hang on others conception of my achievements, and am therefore held back by others belief that I am not worthy/capable. It was only by giving myself permission to be proud of my work and my progress without external reinforcement that I could start to see my worth. I’m sure this sounds a bit like ego mania, but that’s not my intent. I mean simply, that by finding myself worthy I could now justify looking at my next step. I no longer had to wait for permission to take the next step in my career.

My third big little decision… “I can choose what my focus is.”

I tend to be very goal driven, and in academics the goals are for the most part predetermined. For me this basically amounted to; take GRE, get accepted to PhD program, pass my qualification, write 3+ first author manuscripts, defend, obtain PostDoc, publish in top tier journal, obtain tenure track position. I was on a treadmill. No need to look around, or even up, because I was on “the path”. However, in the last year I started to look around. I started dabbling in science communication and outreach. I joined the committee of a nonProfit. I even started looking at jobs outside of academia. *gasp* This gave me the renewed perspective to ask myself what it was that I wanted most/least out of an academic career. My responses surprised me.

What I had not realized was that in slowly letting go of my academic dream I was becoming more honest with myself. I had finally allowed myself to admit that sidestepping the grant cycle and working without tenure were not failures, they were choices. That I could have all the positives of an academic career (mentoring opportunity, creative license, and a diverse list of collaborations) without the negatives (grant writing nonstop, ego politics, and the lack of appreciation). Could I love my mission statement and feel valued without an R01 at a top 10 university? I had to know the answer. So… I interviewed for a job that would have never been on my radar before. It’s too early to know if this will be my dream job, but by consciously pursuing these new opportunities I feel more certain that it’s within my reach.

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