Monday, June 04, 2018

Thoughts after a Peer Mentoring Meeting

I am member of a peer mentoring group that meets on the first Monday of every month. I highly recommend finding or building a peer mentoring group if you can - I get great ideas and support from my group. I came home today with several new ideas for where I might take my career and a lot more enthusiasm and optimism about said career than I had when I headed to the meeting.

It isn't that my career is going badly... it is more that I feel like I've lost the plot of my career. For years, the goals I was aiming for were obvious. But right now, they aren't. I am unsure what I really want to aim for. That's OK: I have a good job at a good company, working with people I like. I don't necessarily see much scope for advancement at this particular company, but that may not actually be a problem. As one of my peer mentors pointed out today, there are other things I could do to get growth.

The question I have to answer is: growth toward what? That is less obvious to me right now. Strangely, I think I am OK with that, too. I don't have an urgent need to change anything. I might take a little time to think about what my long term goals should be, pick some of the more low key growth ideas my peer group came up with, coast along for a bit without any urgency on them, and see which things sprout.

One option is to decide I don't need to grow further in my main career at all and focus more on growing my publishing business. I've been running it for four years. I said I'd evaluate at five years and see if it was a good investment of time and money. Right now it loses a little money each year but gives me a lot of enjoyment. Could I turn it into something self-sustaining? I am actually surprisingly close, although "self-sustaining" is a long, long way from "paying me enough to make it my main job."

Another option is to work to grow more of an online presence under my actual name, and maybe use that some time down the road to try out the independent path again. Maybe with some more time and thought, I can come up with a business that I would enjoy running and that would be financially sustainable.

Another option is to find a relevant association or society to get more active in, and use that to grow more skills and expand my network, which I could eventually translate into either my own business or a different sort of job in my main career.

And of course, maybe my current company will grow and there will be a growth opportunity there. I could try to think about what skills would set me up to take advantage of future growth at my company and work on those.

The peer group had some other ideas, too, so I have a lot to think about! It is strange to realize I'm maybe half-way through my working life (I think I have roughly 20 years to retirement, and I'm 19 years post-PhD) and still don't really know where I'm going. It is stranger still to be OK with that!


  1. Sorry to hear about that, but it isn't the end of the world for you.

    At the age of 40, my academic employer in the UK closed its chemistry degree program. So I came back to the US.

    After being s*****d on as a post-doc and adjunct, in 2011, I landed a new tenure track job. Unfortunately, in 2014, U Alaska Fairbanks banished organic chemistry from the entire state (there is one organic chemist left in all of the state). At the age of 51, that's when things started to get ugly. A short stint with a Menlo Park startup. Then, my offer of volunteering for an organic photovoltaic company in the same town was turned down explicitly for age discrimination "we don't feel comfortable working with someone with as much experience as you" . After a temporary faculty job in southern Texas (...) I'm now grounding a startup. The hypothesis is to be judged on results and not the Bay Watch Factor.

    So, you soldier on. And you have a family, which is good.

  2. Anonymous2:37 PM

    Your peer mentoring group sounds fantastic. I really appreciate all of your posts about your career, especially about your transition times. I'm a mid-career female scientist, and your writing has given me new ways to think about my own professional challenges and goals.

  3. Anonymous5:29 AM

    I'm in a somewhat similar situation. I have a job I enjoy in a large chemical company. There are opportunities for advancement, but if I follow either path in front of me, it is likely that I will have to give up a number of the things that I currently enjoy in order to focus on other things. These are things that I may also enjoy, or I may not. There's not really any way to go back once I have chosen a path, so just staying where I am is appealing for the moment at least. I'm probably 20 years from retirement, though, and it's tough to imagine doing this same job for that length of time. On the other hand, the research areas around me are constantly changing, so even though the job is the same, the problems are fresh. There are 4 levels of advancement above me still, though that 4th level is nearly unattainable for mere mortals. I never thought I'd be one to settle with less than the top position, but I have a family and a life outside work that are as/more important than what I do here now. It's an OK place to be.

  4. I joined the League of Women Voters. When I was a neophyte voter, I read their voter information guides about local issues. Now, I'm one of the old hands writing them.


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