As a woman of color in science, I have had lots of people and programs help me along the way in my personal academic journey. Eventually, I found myself on a graduate school yellow brick road, with dreams of a job in academia as my destination. Then, I landed a dream job in industry. Ok, a bit different. At the time, I really didn’t think about how I would spend the next five years, much less the next 20 to 30 with a career in industry. While in graduate school, the simple equation looked a lot like PhD+Job = Retirement after 25yrs = Happiness.
I also had a very basic generic vision of “climbing the corporate ladder” and a naïve assumption that everyone wanted to get to the top. Turns out that ladder wasn’t a ladder at all and the “top” is a destination that is different for everyone. According to Sheryl Sandberg, it’s a jungle gym you’re climbing, and it’s constantly changing. Movement on ladders are only up, down, on, or off. Movements on jungle gyms include lateral moves, and complex paths based on many factors. And to top it off, the arrangement of the jungle gym can and does change - modifications are made, new pieces attached, older pieces removed.
I say this because after hearing stories of many industry people before me, they all state how the company changed during their careers, so at some point, the path they started down no longer existed. Some people want to be in upper management, some people want to stay close to the lab, some people decide to leave to spend more time with family, some people try out one jungle gym to find they want to climb a completely different one. These are all very personal choices one must make in their own journey.
Instead of looking at the final destination, I challenge you to segment your career goals in increments of five-year goals, 10-year goals, and so on. Segmenting helps you better define what success looks like along the way, and also allows you to be more flexible if your grand vision should change. Also, document your career journey. Keep track of work accomplishments, promotions, personal accomplishments, and family changes along the way. This approach can help you develop the next segments in your journey, and lead to even better future career discussions with managers and family members.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.