I thought to title this article My Career Path, but that title implied I thoughtfully planned my entire career. Some parts were planned, and others just fell into place. I majored in cellular and molecular biology in college and enjoyed taking art history courses. I powered through chemistry and organic chemistry, which were major weed-out courses. I knew I wanted to study cell biology when I marveled at a colorful picture of a cell in my text book. I pondered the scientific discovery of cellular transport through the lipid bilayer. I wanted to know more. How did scientists know the structure and function of the intricate parts of the cell?
Through the work-study program at my university, I was able to perform basic research in a biochemistry lab at the medical school. I studied the genetic and biological mechanisms that regulate DNA replication machines of bacteriophage T4. I was able to work in the lab part-time during the school year and full-time for two summers. I applied to graduate school and entered a Ph.D. program out of college. This all seemed like a naturally planned progression for me. I studied molecular and cellular oncology in graduate school and learned how to purify proteins and how DNA is transcribed. My research focused on HIV transcription in human T cells. After graduation, I was a postdoctoral fellow for one year in a government lab. I studied signal transduction pathways and apoptosis.
At this point, I left my postdoctoral position to support my husband’s career overseas in Sweden. For nine years, I raised our son and daughter and kept abreast of research by joining a professional scientific association. I read the journal to keep up with science news and research articles of interest. When our children developed childhood health issues, I researched asthma and eczema in the efforts to find them the most effective treatments and prevention.
While overseas, I worked part-time when possible. Often, working overseas as a trailing spouse was a challenge with work-visa issues. I was a freelance scientist for an HIV vaccine trial in Kenya, and I worked as a high school substitute science teacher and report and program associate in China. I did this to keep in touch with science while raising my children abroad. All the while, I maintained yearly email contact with my lab directors as they would serve as my professional references.
After nine years overseas, my husband and I decided to settle in the United States so I could begin working full-time outside the home. This job search proved to be a challenge. To overcome this, I cast a wide net to look for academic as well as non-academic positions using an online job search engine. After being hired as a biomedical research analyst in a contract position for three months, I discovered I needed a permanent position in the future. Who knew a contract position could be as short as three months?
The biggest challenge in my online job search was coming up with job titles. I learned that the job title, technical writer, pulls jobs from the information technology industry, not scientific writing. I utilized a wide-variety of job titles in my second job search such as molecular biologist, writer, editor, bio-surveillance analyst, bio-security analyst, science diplomat, global health scientist, and senior research analyst. I also used a wide-variety of organizations such as universities, non-profits, private companies, and research institutes in my online job search alerts. I was determined to use my academic training and my international experience to find a new position in a new organization which I had not considered in the past. I was resolute in listing all of my academic credentials on my resume even when contacts suggested I remove my Ph.D. education. I would not misrepresent myself or my academic achievements.
The job title that landed me my current position was senior research analyst. While I no longer do basic research, I research higher education. And while I am no longer studying molecular biology, I study student success policies. I perform data analysis and write and edit reports, which were responsibilities I had in the lab. I no longer make cell cultures or run Western blots, but I run queries in the information system and I analyze college enrollment, retention, and graduation rates.
I became a member of two additional professional associations, which provided networking and professional development opportunities. I enjoyed meeting other scientists and learning about their career journey. In doing so, I discovered I am not alone in my unplanned career path. By joining an association in my new field of interest, I developed professionally. While I planned my academic career through my postdoctoral position, I had no plans for what happened after that. My children say their favorite subject is science. For now, one wants to study chemistry and the other wants to be a doctor. I will let them decide. A journey is a magical thing, taking us to places unimagined.