What I’m glad I didn’t know before…

originally posted on LabSpaces

We’re all writing about “What I wish I knew before…” today at LabSpaces, or at least some of us are. I, on the other hand, am celebrating the naive ignorance of my former self. Why? ‘Cuz sometimes in life, it’s worth jumping in blind and full of optimism.

For all of those that don’t know, I’m a bit of a planner…okay, so “controlling, Type A, organizing, OCD planner” might be a more apt description. I had my life planned out to a “T” in high school – go to college, get accepted into med school, become an amazing pediatric oncologist, achieve world domination, then, eventually, find a husband and have three kids.

After a couple of years in college and some clinical rotations at a local hospital, though, I realized I wasn’t really into the whole physician thing. I liked science, especially biomedical stuff, and I liked my lab courses. I also really liked kids (hence the pediatric angle). But an afternoon job at a nursery school taught me that I hated their parents…at least some of them. I also started wondering if I really wanted to spend my days around kids who were, or had a good chance of, dying from cancer, and it all sounded so very depressing to me.

So onto Plan B… …which was graduate school. As hard as I tried, there just wasn’t much planning after that. I had no research experience as an undergrad, I had no idea what I was getting into, and I’m glad. If I had known how hard it was going to be, I might not have done it. I jumped head-first into a very scary new world…and I loved almost all of it. A few years later, I started sending letters out to potential postdoc mentors, again having no idea what I was getting myself into. I found what ended up being a great postdoc lab, moved to a new state (never thought I could bear leaving the South or my family), and started working on the next phase of my academic career. As a new postdoc, I pushed full throttle on the pre-tenure-track peddle, hoping to one day hold the coveted position of “assistant professor”, no longer even thinking about the husband-and-three-kids thing.

But even the best laid plans sometimes go off track…with amazing results. One year after moving here I met my best friend and Hubby. Two years later we were married. A year and a half later, we found out we had our first little one – The Monkey – on the way. In the meantime, I’ve busied myself in the lab, establishing a nice little scientific niche with some strong publications, helpful collaborations, and sound advice from my mentors. I’ve also enjoyed the research at this phase of my training even more than I did as a grad student.

But the hunt for tenure-track jobs this past year has not been friendly, and the coming year’s job postings are even less promising. With a baby (and new-found monetary responsibility) on the way, Hubby and I have finally begun working on back-up plans (aka – Plan C). At this point, I have no idea what the next phase of my life holds for me. At most, I have the possibility of two years of tenure-track job searching ahead of me before my mentor retires. There’s always the possibility that K grant funding will come through next month, ideally boosting me to the top of search committee short lists. I might even be competitive without the funding, and maybe find a “real” job in the next two years. Or I could end up on the still-developing Plan C track when/if nothing comes through on the tenure-track job front.

There’s just no way in hell to know what the future holds. If there’s one thing I’m glad I didn’t know about this career, however, it’s how unpredictable it is. And while I may not grab onto the golden tenure-track ring, I’ve gained so much more in the past 10 years. On top of the thrilling experience of being a “Scientist”, I’ve gained a husband, family, confidence, and a new-found appreciation for the unknown. I never would have chosen this life for myself, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.


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