If Only Choosing a Career Path Was This Easy


If Only Choosing a Career Path Was This Easy

—from the PI's desk

Not knowing exactly what you want to do with your life doesn't mean that you're doomed to fail.

If you're struggling to answer questions such as, "Should I choose medical school? Graduate School? Pursue an MD-PhD?" and "What if I'm already set on a path is it too late to change my mind?" or "I'm not sure what I can use my degree to do," know that you're not the only one.

Rest assured that for many who are undecided, finding the right career path is a process that takes more effort and time than expected. Yes, some are lucky to find a guiding purpose early in life, but for most people figuring out what they most want to do will require a combination of effort and self-awareness. And it won't be a quick process. Add in the fact that there isn't a single strategy that will work for everyone and it's easy to see how frustration can make it difficult to move in any direction.

So, take control of what you can. Invest fully in your undergrad research experience and every volunteer activity you choose. Show up on time and ready to contribute. In the lab, learn all the technical skills you can, and when you volunteer elsewhere learn everything that anyone is willing to teach you.

Next, ask for opinions from your current college mentoring network. Start with those you interact with the most such as your research mentor, labmates, professors, and program directors from volunteer, shadowing, and internship experiences. Specifically ask, "Why did you choose to be a doctor, professor, research scientist, or choose another pursuit?" and "What did you do along the way that was crucial to your success?" and, most importantly, ask, "What do you wish you would have known before choosing that path?"

The purpose of asking these questions isn't to evaluate their choices--after all their life is not your life. It's also not to make an immediate decision on what career to rule out or pursue (although that could happen). Your goals with these conversations is simple: gather data from many people in various careers (even those different from what you're currently considering), and to learn about the personal and professional development opportunities they needed to get there. Their responses might be positive or negative, but they will be enlightening.

Remember, figuring out your career path is a process that requires you to participate--it's unlikely that the answer will simply come to you. Ask questions. Evaluate the answers based on your own goals, desires, and dreams. Then ask more questions.

And while you work to figure out the right choice for you, know that there probably won't be a single, correct path. Most likely, you'll uncover several possibilities that have a few things in common with each other. Pay attention to those commonalities--they will give you the direction you need.