Learning to Choose Myself

In October I traveled to East Lansing, Michigan to give a talk on my career path for the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Graduate Program at Michigan State. I knew the students had asked me because of my honesty about my experiences – both the joy and the pain my path through academia brought me.

How honest is too honest?

Did they want to know that while I am so happy I left, I missed professing almost every day? That while I was grateful for my AAAS STP Fellowship and learning so much, I still had no idea what I wanted to do. Who am I, if I am not a professor?

This is what I focused on. The process of finding myself after devoting decades of my life to achieve my dream. A dream I achieved only to be living in a nightmare. I need to acknowledge that my process required a ton of privilege and access – including a year of partially paid medical leave and a personal career coach (paid for out of my start-up funds, which provided a certain level of satisfaction given the irony). So after years of trying to find a new academic home including 14 on-campus interviews that led to an extremely crushed ego I reached out to a career coach, Claire Horner-Devin, recommended to me by a mentor (thank you Emily) for help. Claire led me through different exercises designed to help me figure out my goals, the why behind my love of professing so I could look for the same things in my next steps.

There were a lot of tears. A LOT.

With Claire’s help I was able to focus in on three goals, three ways I wanted to live my life:

  1. To go to sleep proud of myself, with more to give
  2. To make a difference
  3. To be my authentic self

I filtered all job opportunities through these goals – it led me to apply to jobs I wouldn’t have the previous year and perhaps more importantly to not apply to all jobs that I was recruited for. I applied to more faculty positions, but also to rotator (IPA) positions within NSF and DOE, executive director and research director positions with non-profits, and the AAAS Science Technology & Policy Fellowship.

Over a year into my new role, as a member of the Belmont Forum Secretariat, I have learned so much about the facilitation of transdisciplinary multilateral research projects and about myself. While I love brainstorming and idea generation, connecting people to resources and to each other, gives me energy. I am most definitely an implementer and in my new role I get to do SO much of this! On a weekly basis I am doing all of the following:

Facilitate the creation & implementation of new funding opportunities.

Work towards a more equitable, welcoming, and just research space

Create and lead trainings and workshops

Global Diplomacy

The students asked me about my next step. I honestly don’t know. This fellowship has taught me a lot, exposed me to so many new things. It has taught me how the skills I gained as a professor are useful in many settings. Turns out that after teaching undergraduates for eight years I am capable of facilitating a meeting or presenting a project with little to no prep and an excellent editor. Running a research lab with mostly undergraduates means I am really good at managing long term projects with lots of moving pieces and helping others work through problems. Even more importantly, it has taught me that I am more than a professor, more than any job.

Check out my entire presentation here

No responses yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *