Divya Shiroor: Waiting for perfect…

The PhD/Postdoc blog series features scientists at different stages of career development as they explore and plan for their next steps. Here is the 6th and final post by Divya Shiroor. Next month we start our next installment with four new bloggers. 

Current position: Ph.D. student in Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Program start date: August 2015
Institution: Cornell University

I sat down to write my final blog this morning, literally the day that it is due, and wondered why I had procrastinated for so long. I realized it was because I wanted my last blog to be perfect. I was waiting for a lightning bolt of inspiration to hit, for the perfect moment and perfect topic. As I sit at my desk, perhaps perilously too late, I realize that there is no such thing as a perfect moment. There is only one moment, and it is now.

When I embarked on this journey six months ago, I made a similar mistake. I thought that at the end of this journey I would have my answer. I would find my perfect career, one that checks all the boxes in my rather extensive list of perfect career qualifications. I’m at the finish line of this series and there’s no flashing lights and blowing trumpets. Ladies and gentlemen, we do not, I repeat, we do not have a winner.

At the beginning of this endeavor, I imagined that my blogs would be narratives of the symposiums I attended or different careers I explored. While I have been attending symposiums and talks about exploring careers outside of academia, I have come to realize that graduate school is so much more than finding an ideal career.  Graduate school is about building life skills that will accompany you on any career you embark on. Don’t get me wrong. I still believe that it is very important to think about where you will end up. I envy those who know what they want and where they are going from the outset. One of my closest friends knows she wants to get into science policy and is extremely dedicated to it. She’s part of a science policy club and is building excellent experience in the field. I admire her drive and I wish that I knew what I wanted to pursue with as much conviction. But for those of us that don’t know a 100% as yet what profession we are going to pursue, there is so much that we can learn from the chase. Writing this blog for the past couple of months has lead to an introspection that might not have happened otherwise. If I had to give a summary of the 5 most valuable things that I have learned, they would be as follows:

  • Dealing with failure: Whatever career you choose to get into, the one certainty is that at some point you will encounter failure. You might see it coming, or it might blindside you. Irrespective of how it comes your way, you have to pick yourself up and move on. Never make failure greater than your ambition and never underestimate the power of persistence.
  • Embracing the unknown: Anyone who knows me recognizes that anything unknown makes me really uncomfortable. Not knowing exactly what I want to be in 5 years would ordinarily drive me crazy. Through this blog, however, I have come to appreciate that the process of finding out has an excitement of its own. I have learned about diverse careers, many of which fascinate me in one way or another.
  • Keeping an open mind: When I started out in research, I was fixated with an academic career. As a result of this fixation, I automatically closed out all other possibilities. Letting go of this has opened up a world of opportunities.
  • Succeeding at the balancing act: Life is a perpetual  walk on a tightrope, with your profession on one side and personal life on the other. It is extremely important to remember that tipping heavily on either side will lead to a fall. Nearly every career talk I have been to has touched upon the importance of having a strong, happy life outside of work.
  • Letting go of perfect: I have come to believe that the quest for perfect is an empty hunt. There is no such thing as a perfect career, a perfect time to do something or a perfect opportunity. Every career comes with its own dose of hardship, and every opportunity is what you make of it. As for the perfect moment, I think actor Hugh Laurie has said it best ” It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.” So carpe diem my friend!

I would like to end by saying that a blog is only as good as it’s readers make it. I thank you for taking this journey with me and I hope that my pursuits and realizations have resonated with you in some way. I began the series by asking myself if academia is my one true love. The answer is that I don’t know. My quest to find out is still on, and I have to say that I  am truly enjoying the ride.

 

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