Monday, December 12, 2011

The Ultimate Carreer Goal: Having fun

December's Scientiae  asks about ultimate career goals.
So, what is your ultimate career goal? Do you want to win the Nobel Prize? Cure cancer? Build a better mouse trap? What is it that you want to be remembered for career-wise?
I've been writing self aggrandizing bullshit about my research a lot recently for job applications and workshop proposals.

But when I walk away from that, I take my work with a large pinch of salt. I'm in this game to have fun. There are other jobs that I am qualified for that offer more stability and possibly better pay, but none of them are as fun as this one. I don't know many people in real, non-academic life who want to spend all their time thinking about work. Those that do are really lucky.

With all of the pressure that comes with the job, who needs the extra desire to cure cancer?

Ah, but once upon a time.....


I remember waiting my turn in my piano teacher's hall, eight or nine years old, talking to my mother about the solar system. It dawned on me that there was so much out there to understand about the world we live in.

"What should I study so that I can understand everything I want to know?"

My mother, who wanted to be a physicist, but was pressured into medicine, replied "Physics."

Thus began my struggle against becoming a medical doctor.


At 12, my class was given an assignment to create a newspaper job add for what we wanted to be when we grew up. At that point, I knew that physicist was not an accurate job description, but I didn't know what type of physicist I wanted to be. I mean, I wanted to study the stars. I wanted to understand how the universe evolved and came to be as it is. What specialty would take me in that direction? So I made up an add about being an astrophysicist, knowing it was a bs answer.


At 16, my mother finally relents on her pressure for me to be a medical doctor.

"If we can't have a medical doctor in the family, maybe we can have a Nobel Prize winning physicist."

Yeah. ... About that.


As a freshman, I remember talking to a sophomore about why he was a math major.

"I can get a degree by doing the things I did in high school for fun. How cool is that!?"

He's right. How cool is that?


I'm not going to propose a GUT, explain dark matter, or roll back the mysteries surrounding the earliest fractions of a second of the universe. Those sexy problems are for other people.

I have my own set of possibly irrelevant problems that I study, in my possibly irrelevant subfield. My work won't end world hunger. It won't fuel bombs either. But it is fun. And I'm good at it. It lets me be in relatively high profile schools, and teach female students who are thinking about entering research.

Research I love. Positive role modeling for students. What more could I want?


  1. Amen to that!!! (including the astronomy phase in the early teens...)

  2. The image of you talking to your mom about the solar system while waiting for your piano lesson is priceless. I wonder how many of us have a good sense of how we want to spend our life at such a young age. I think it is a lot but the trick is listening and persevering.