In the third and final interview for my current position, my soon-to-be-boss (who happens to be the CEO and President of the Institute) asked me what my aspirations were.
I told him that I didn’t have any. You read it right. I told my potential boss that I didn’t have professional aspirations… And he hired me.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Wow, were they desperate to hire someone? How did she get hired after a response like that?!”
I explained to him that for my entire professional career, I’ve looked for opportunities where I could contribute my skills, but also where I could learn new things. The job I was in was something I thought I could do in my sleep, and I wanted more. The title of the position is irrelevant. And I firmly believe that. He responded that his career has followed somewhat of a similar path. And in my short career, I’ve taken a few leaps, and each one has paid off.
After graduate school, I entered into a Science Policy Fellowship. Applying to the Fellowship was a last-minute decision, at the suggestion of a colleague who had been awarded the Fellowship that year. I didn’t know what that meant, or what the Fellowship would offer in any tangible sense. But I knew it wasn’t bench science, and that was good enough for me.
After 18 months of learning how to develop and manage extramural biomedical research programs both within my comfort zone and outside of my area of expertise, I was offered a job as a Division Director of a for-profit company. I had exactly 18 months of post-graduate professional experience before becoming a Director.
Scary? Uh, yeah.
Let’s add on top of that that it was for a small start-up company that had about 10 employees at the time of my hire. In retrospect, that was a heck of a leap of faith. But it was an opportunity to learn about business development, all while supporting a government client 40 hours a week. So I got to keep my hand in biomedical research, all while learning a new skill set.
After working with government clients for five years, I was ready for a change. So I started applying to jobs. I was offered three positions, including a management position with a scientific research foundation clear across the country. And I thought, why not take it?
My husband and I packed up our pets and all of our belongings, sold our home, and moved from Washington DC to Seattle. That’s a 3,000 mile leap! I realized shortly thereafter (a little over a year in) that it wasn’t a job that I wanted to stay in. And upon taking up a new job search, I also came to realize that there were many fewer prospects for my skill set in Seattle than there were in Washington DC. But that’s ok. I was super picky about the jobs I applied to, mostly within the Seattle metro area, and a few months later, I found a great fit. So the 3,000-mile move ended up putting me in a great place, professionally speaking.
I am now working in a business development capacity for a non-profit research organization. I’m applying the skills I already have, but I have opportunities to work with talented people to learn how to spin off small for-profit companies, commercialize scientific and biomedical products, and build strategic partnerships. The relaxed environment has also allowed me to go back to school to pursue a Master’s Degree in another (related) field. I expect to stick around for a few years, earn my Master’s, and then find my next adventure.
My point is, sometimes, your career just happens. You just have to realize it when a good opportunity is presented, and don’t be afraid to take it. Have I been lucky? Absolutely. Could things have turned out differently? Absolutely. But I think that if you keep improving your skills, new opportunities will present themselves. Then all you have to do is accept the challenge.
Thanks for reading!