I recently participated in the commencement ceremony for my doctoral degree and was greeted with a statement I have heard all too often, “A PhD in ____ (name of science field), you have so many great opportunities open to you now!”
My reaction to this individual, which has been rather consistent since defending last year, was a nod of my head twice, simultaneously combining a nasally-based exhalation with some weird hybrid of a grimace-smile, followed by a humble, “yeah, I guess.” Thinking back on this statement and response, I came to a realization; having so many opportunities is part of the “problem.” I think what it boils down to, at least for me, is that I do not know exactly what it is that I want to do career-wise, because so much interests me. And, having “so many opportunities” complicates my inability to narrow down my choices.
Then, one goes through a typical series of responses: freaking out about career, calming down, listing of interests, listing of skills, matching those lists with positions available through websites like Bio Careers, and then sending out one’s cover letter, CV, and executive/professional summary. It’s a mental and emotional exercise that I engage on a monthly basis – insert appropriate emoticon here.
Returning to my conversation with person/friend X, there was another remark that was noteworthy, “Have you picked up a trade?” My initial, dryly-delivered response was, “Yes, I can think, now.” While I know that I can list the specifics of my experience with tangible attributes like “amazingly accurate pipetter” and “can tie knots on mouse vasculature,” essentially, I believe that “thinking” has been my training. Specifically, I have acquired skills that have helped me to ask “questions,” to design experiments to properly address those “questions,” to interpret results, and finally, to clearly communicate those results. That’s a pretty cool “trade.”