Friday, October 29, 2010

Like So Totally Cool

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.


The History Enthusiast said...

That's really neat! Moments like those make my days on campus worthwhile.

Pharm Sci Grad said...

The best part of the job indeed... :)

Jhonny walker said...

Hello Professor :)
I have been following your blog for sometime now and I really like your posts. You know I once saw a documentary, 'photographers in national geographic'. And most of them said how they balance life and work etc etc etc. A couple of them teach workshops. And one of them had a student who told him the very same words.' You have the most awesome job in town'. Guess its the same way if you enjoy your work that much

good luk. It was pleasure reading this post

Anonymous said...

You are soo right. Even if we dedicate a lot of time to complain about all the miseries of constant grading, writing grants for which the success rate is about 10%, endless committee meetings and such, being able to combine teaching and research at a University is a really wonderful job. Sometimes it is just a bit hard to remember ;) .


Anonymous said...

Way to inspire FSP!

alh said...

thank you. I love my job too and part of the reason is because we get to inspire students. That video that is going around "So you want to get a PhD in English or something", while it has some funny lines makes me cringe and I'm afraid it is too much a an awful stereotype.

Female Postdoc said...

Wonderful! A one-on-one conversation with a scientist and suddenly the student doesn't think science sounds so boring!

Anonymous said...

I had to do the same thing with a freshman engineer exploring different departments for a project - he had great questions, and the best part was seeing his face light up as I described the various projects my colleagues work on. He seemed shocked to learn how varied our research was.. hopefully he keeps that in mind when stuck in a class he doesn't like - there are so many things one can do, STEM isn't one size fits all.

It's so nice when one of them reminds us why our jobs are cool - it's too easy to get dragged down by the others who complain about grades, etc.

Beach Scholar said...

It is true. We professors have the absolutely greatest job in the world. I want to applaud your statement that your job does not make you choose between teaching and research. I too enjoy the balance and feel privileged to teach at a place that encourages me to do both. Thank you for unmasking the false dichotomy. :-)

Anonymous said...

And now he'll choose to join the slave labor force that keeps the modern science apparatus running, under the delusion that he too will have a good chance to get a job like yours.

Betsy said...

I had a similar experience recently when our department's freshmen learning communities were assigned to interview faculty members. It was a "get to know you" project, but it amazed me how different the students were in their depth of questions. The first two or three were interested in the basic bio and not much else. The last student (when I had just about had it with the student queries) really got me thinking with his questions. In what was a hectic week of undergraduate advising that coincided with one of my few full weeks in the office that month, I realized I couldn't imagine myself anywhere else, although what I'm doing today looks nothing like what I envisioned when I started graduate school.