With two simple words, my fears about making a career change in science have come to a reality. Last week, a well-respected senior scientist at work took a look around to make sure no one could hear him and then shouted, “You, non-scientist!” Of course I, being the non-BS person that I am, looked quickly around to make sure the coast was clear and rebutted with a non-verbal gesture that got my point across quickly. On the surface, I took the seemingly harmless joke and played it off without a care in the world, but deep inside, those two words reverberated throughout my entire core and continue to repeat like a broken record.
To put the comments into perspective, last week I transitioned away from the lab bench and extended my contract for two months to assist a research center with contract closeouts and annual review preparations. In line with my technical project management career goals, I decided that this move was best to gain more hands-on experience with project management tasks. As a master’s level-scientist, I have been seeking a career route that will allow me upward mobility, as I nearly have a panic attack thinking about being chained to the lab bench for the rest of my life. For over a year, I have been evaluating what career path will allow me to merge my technical background with an ability to push projects forward and support scientists in achieving their research objectives. To me, the answer is clear: technical project management. I have come to terms with the fact that I may need to leave science for a while to gain needed business and management skills to achieve these career objectives.
So as I hang up my lab coat for now, I have been worried about how others in science will perceive me, whether I will lose all credibility and end up barring myself from a transition back into science. Perhaps I worry too much or I am just a highly sensitive person (see Zinemin’s post on HSP), but does that really matter? If the words of one scientist have such a profound effect on another, are they worth saying? The egotistical side of science continues to perpetuate, and no wonder scientists (especially women) continue to leave this world behind them at disappointing rates.
LESSON LEARNED….the Hard Way: Mentors need to learn the value of supporting young science professionals in a wide range of science careers and to internalize their personal career biases. (Or, as in the words of the slogan made popular by the American Chemical Society in the 80s, research mentors need to recognize that “it takes alkynes of people to make a [science] world!”)