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This is a guest submission from CF at OutlierModel.com

The Good

If you had asked me two years ago what I would be doing in ten years, I would have been able to outline my career path in fairly good detail.  I was a few years out of school and worked in biomedical research as a highly specialized research assistant.

I had a safe job with regular raises, a pension (defined benefit!) and oodles of benefits.  At the time, I knew that I was qualified to switch to a different job at a higher technical level.  A few years after that, I could get a supervisory position.

And a few years after that, I could start managing my own team.  I could probably even stay with my same employer throughout my career!

I was very successful in the first few years of my work.

The Bad

But I felt locked in.  I was only 25, but it felt like my life path was already defined and that was scary!

I was also disappointed in myself.  When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer.  But I let myself be convinced that it wasn’t a viable career path.

At the time, I didn’t feel like it was such a sacrifice because I genuinely enjoyed science and I thought that it would be an equally creative, fulfilling career.

Instead, I spent my days repeating the same experiments over and over again until I got the result the Principal Investigator was looking for.  When I had ideas for new ways of doing things, they were dismissed as being unnecessary or irrelevant.

Everyone had told me that science was creative and innovative but this wasn’t the reality that I found.  But I had invested four years of school and over $35,000 of borrowed student loan money into this field.  I felt like I was stuck with my choice, poor though it was.

The Ugly

Worse, the more involved I became in my field, the more I realized I was against many aspects of it, morally and ethically.

I couldn’t see how my work was benefiting patients – I did not even work with patient samples! And yet, every grant I wrote and every paper that came out of the lab proclaimed how the work we did would help understand this disease or that disease.

Of course, no one ever mentions that understanding is not the same as “curing”.  But that’s what fundraisers insinuate when they ask you to donate money.  That’s what people assume when you tell them you work in cancer research.

Every time someone said, “Wow, so you’re working to cure cancer?”, I felt like a fraud.

Other times, entire experiments would be scraped because the results didn’t show what the investigator wanted to show.  This represented thousands of dollars of taxpayer money every week.  I was disgusted by the waste.

Taking The Plunge

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I wanted a creative career.  I wanted to solve problems.  I wanted to make a difference!

I started writing again.  I started a blog and wrote about the aspects of science that interested me and I told everyone about it.  This was scary too.  I’ve always been shy about my “artistic” side – when I played guitar, I made sure no one was around, for example.

It was kind of nerve wracking to suddenly be telling everyone to read my blog but satisfying as well.

One day, a colleague showed me a job posting.  A national science organization was looking for bloggers.  I applied and to my surprise, I was accepted.  I got my first paid writing gig simply by putting myself out there, doing what I loved, and telling people about it.

Then I started thinking about how else I could be creative in science.  And I realized that some of the most creative people in science were actually working with computers.

These were the people who created new data modeling techniques or new software packages for analyzing DNA.  Everyone else just used what these people made.  I wanted to be one of these people.

I decided to go back to school and do a second degree program in computer science.  It would take me only 2 years to get my Bachelor of Computer Science.

Luckily, I worked for a university and could take advantage of free tuition for the first year.  But for the second year, I would have to quit my job to fulfill a work term and dedicate more time to my advanced courses.

It was risky.  I would leave behind a secure pension plan, benefits, and my salary.  But I didn’t want security – if I did, I would be perfectly happy in my career.  Instead, I wanted to be dynamic.  That meant taking some risks.

I took the plunge and went back to school.  It was hard.  I hadn’t touched calculus in seven years!  But I kept at it and I’m now halfway through the program and only have one year of classes left.

It’s still scary – I haven’t been able to save as much as I would like, though I also haven’t had to take on any additional debt.  Sometimes I still wonder if I should have just gone the financially safe route and stuck with my budding career.

But then I write a well-received article for a website or I create a program that does something novel, and I know that I have made the right choice.

I look at the jobs that are available to me, and they span entire sectors of government, business and academia now instead of languishing in one small area of science.  I have options now – and that’s worth it.

CF is a renaissance girl who has worked in taxidermy, cancer research and the forex market. She now dabbles in real estate investment, freelance writing and computer programming, with a splash of oenophilia on the side.

Read about her and her partner’s attempts to live life differently at the OutlierModel or on Twitter.

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