Not long ago I was "interviewed" by a first year student who was given the task of talking to a science professor about her job, career path, life, motivation etc. The student's assignment wasn't particularly well defined, or, at least, the student wasn't entirely clear on what to ask me, but we ended up having an excellent conversation anyway. We delved into the topic of How We Choose A Career, and other aspects of career path decisions.
I am always a little nervous about talking about this with students because, for me, the realization that I loved Science was rather dramatic (at least to me), and I don't want to give the impression that all you have to do is wait and you will be hit with a bolt of lightning and will then know what you career/calling is, and this will lead to a fulfilling career that is just right for you. So I make sure to emphasize ways in which you can think about what interests you and investigate the various ways for exploring or combining interests to find a good focus.
One of his questions for me was what part of my job I like "the best": teaching or research? I explained that one of the reasons I love my job as much as I do is that I don't have to choose. There are schools and positions where one can specialize in teaching or research, and that works well for some people, but I like having a good balance between the two. I told him of my Goldilocksian career path in which I tried teaching at a small liberal arts college (too much teaching/too little research), doing research and teaching at a university (a better fit, but still not quite right), and finally at a different university that was just right for me.
Then I made a similar point, but not about research vs. teaching, but about the different research methods I use and the different types of research environments in which I work (small, focused projects with a few people, giant projects with many people in different fields).
And then I told him about the freedom I have to choose my research directions, and how my research relates to my teaching.
He scribbled notes about all this, smiling the whole time. Eventually he said "Wow, you have the most awesome job in the world! That is like so totally cool!"
Yes, I do and it is, especially since this student has now decided to take a Science class.
13 years ago