From Postdoc to Now: Three Career Lessons I Would Share with My Younger Self

Two events this weekend connected me with my past, and each made me think about something I’ve learned in my career.

Have you ever wanted to go back and give advice to your younger self?

I thought about my younger self this weekend when my husband and I visited the San Francisco neighborhood where we lived when we were postdocs. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of new stores and restaurants. We stopped into one of them for lunch.

Sitting at the restaurant, I had a flashback – this was the same place, the same space, as the restaurant we used to go to with our postdoc friends all the time.

There we postdocs had sat and – there is no other way to put it! – agonized about our future. Where would we live? What would we do? Academic or industry? Could we get jobs in the same city as our partner?

I wanted to reach back in time and reassure the group. This is what I would say:

Uncertainty is normal and it doesn’t mean something is wrong

Part of the suffering when I couldn’t envision my future career wasn’t just the uncertainty itself, it was feeling that something was wrong with not knowing. Through time and experience, I’ve learned that sometimes you don’t know what’s coming next, and that’s OK.

–>Just look for one step or one action you can take now.

There are more options than you realize

Looking back at the postdocs who gathered in that restaurant, many of us ended up in jobs that we didn’t even know existed at the time. I do hear often from grad students and postdocs, “How do I even know what jobs are out there?” In addition to pointing them towards resources and the power of informational interviewing, I would answer that you won’t know all of them, but find one or two areas that seem interested and keep exploring.

–>Your first job – or even your first career – won’t be your last.

You will help each other succeed

In grad school or in my postdoc, I liked and respected my classmates and colleagues, but didn’t see them as the basis of my future network. We were all so “undifferentiated” in our experience, how could we help each other’s career? Fast forward to know where those talented groups has spread across the academic and private sector world and I enjoy great personal and professional relationships with many of them (including the one I married 🙂 .)

What advice would you give to your younger professional self?

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