During my recent travels, I had lunch with a friend from college. She is a very smart and interesting person, but hasn't always known that about herself. Nevertheless, although her science career has taken several detours and had some rough spots, she persevered.
I recall previous conversations with her over the years when she was so demoralized by grad school or other academic/work experiences that she thought of quitting. When she got a tenure-track job at a major research university, she wasn't sure whether she was up to the job.
But she was. She thrived in that job. She was an excellent teacher, and she successfully balanced research-teaching-service while setting up a lab and dealing with some insane colleagues. In this blog, I have previously discussed whether someone can recover from a confidence deficit and succeed, and here is an excellent example. Grad school was a setback for her, but being a professor gave her confidence.
Not long ago, she left her tenure-track position owing to the impossibility of keeping that job and a relationship in another city. It was immensely difficult for her to leave a job she loved, but leave she did. I was devastated when she quit her professor job. I felt that it was a huge loss for science and for women-in-science, and I worried about her as a friend. If she left a job that had given her such confidence in herself, what would happen after she left?
What happened was amazing. She has done impressive things in her new job involving science policy. She is having an impact. The rest of us are doing our obscure research in our labs, but she is out there, talking to people and legislators and government officials and the media, and she is traveling the world talking to government and education officials in other countries. And she has even more confidence, somehow finding in herself the ability to be an effective communicator on a huge scale. Perhaps she started on this path when she discovered that she had talents as a teacher and advisor, but now she has taken those skills to an entirely new level.
I think her experiences demonstrate several important things:
- Being stubborn will get you far. Stubbornness can see you through the bad times and out the other side to better things.
- Lack of confidence need not be a terminal condition. I think in many cases it is, so it is important to tell stories about cases in which it was not.
- There is life after being a professor. There are many times when I have thought that I could never do anything else, and I probably never will do anything else, but I think it is important for us happy professors to know that someone can have a happy life doing something else.
8 years ago