How did you choose your career?

So, I’m a college student, and trying to pick a major/career. My whole problem is that just about EVERYTHING interests me. And I’m smart enough that I could do well in any of them. No single field interests me more than any other. I took a year off after two years of college to try and decide, and didn’t decide anything. I’ve never really been “into” anything, and advisors always just ask me “Well, what is your passion? what would you LOVE to do?” And I never know. Every job I’ve ever had, I usually have a good time at. Right now I work in fast food, and while I KNOW I DONT want to do that for the rest of my life, I have a blast working there. At the moment I’m resigned to just picking something that pays a lot of money and going for it.

So, how did all of you pick your carreer/vocation/ life path? Any helpful advice?

Well, I’m beginning my second career.

The first one, I just fell into - it was internal auditing, and at the first job I had I kept getting promoted until I ended up there. Then I kept doing it at my next job, until I was miserable.

Now I’m working on my Master’s in Library and Information Science - it’s what I wanted to do when I was a child, and it’s what I wanted to do when I finished my undergrad, but I felt like I should be out in the “real world” for a while. I still don’t know what aspect of librarianship I’m going to end up working in. Academic? Public? Corporate? Who knows - but I love what I’m learning.

Go with your passions as much as possible. The money is nice, but if you’re miserable, you won’t be happy and then you don’t enjoy the time away from the job. What classes have you liked the most? What can you see yourself doing for 5, 10, 15, 30 years? That’s the direction you should head, even if you end up elsewhere somewhere along the line.

I don’t know… I just woke up one day and said to myself “I want to be a veterinarian” (this happened at about the same time I realized what a vet was). I volunteered at a clinic during HS, and it just made me even more interested in veterinary medicine. Here I am, about to apply to vet schools, still interested.

My path has changed somewhat, though. I’m still interested in dog and cats, but I would like to learn aquatic/wildlife/exotic veterinary medicine, and perhaps do research in veterinary medicine. Still, working with animals is my main interest.

There’s a difference between being smart and doing something you truly like. I know I have the smarts to become an engineer or a mathematician. I know that I don’t like those careers, and that I will be terribly bored (and perhaps perform poorly) because those subjects are not my main interest.

I’m sorry I don’t have much to say to you, since you don’t have something that really interests you. Hey, perhaps you can do some research, see what different careers are more interesting, or at least, more interesting compared to working in the fast food place. :slight_smile:

Well, for what it’s worth, your major doesn’t have to be your career. For most people, it isn’t. And while the college may be requiring you to declare a major right now, it doesn’t mean that you have to choose the course of your entire life. (Or even the course of the next two years; you can always take classes in other departments, and it’s at least as likely that you’ll find a job after graduation through contacts from jobs you’ve held during school breaks, rather than through academic work.)

That said – I’m a grad student, so I suppose my college major did turn into my career, or at least it will if I can get an academic job after grad school. It’s definitely not a lucrative field, but I’ve managed to earn a living so far, and even if I don’t get a permanent job out of it, I doubt that I will regret the fact that I spent a few years studying a subject I love.

When I was in high school, I thought I wanted to go into animal behavior. I went the psych route as an undergraduate and picked up biology along the way. Somewhere toward the end of my undergraduate work, I decided that running rats wasn’t my cup of tea. I did some crow work, but didn’t really consider ornithology at all. I really didn’t know what else was available to me, jobwise, and I had set on looking at primate communication.

A bunch of monkeys and a masters later, and I decided that monkey talk wasn’t for me. Around that time I had read a book called Fever (about Lassa Fever). In this book was someone who had been looking for a source of another virus in hedgehogs. He had carefully trapped a number of them and was transporting them back to civilization when he got a call to drop everything and go investigate the Lassa outbreak. I thought this was simply a fascinating line of work, but again I did nothing about it. But I knew I didn’t want to work with more than the necessary number of monkeys, so I did my doctoral work with corvids (magpies).

I got a research technician line here at Rutgers studying crow movement in 1991. Luckily, a mosquito research unit is part of the entomology department here, and I started doing more work with birds and eastern equine encephalitis. Then West Nile came to the Western Hemisphere, and I was at the right place at the right time. I now chase after crows (my first love) and other birds to find an arbovirus (my second love).

The point of all this meandering is that I always did what I thought was what I wanted to do, even if it didn’t turn out that way. I did monkey work because at the time I wanted to do it. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been in Pennsylvania at that time, and in a bookstore to buy a book that would shape the possibilities 20 years later. I worked with magpies and that qualified me to come to Rutgers. Somewhere, a virus hopped onto a plane or a boat and we met in New Jersey. Some searching on my part and some synchronicity.

One thing I have learned is the value of picking up skills that others need. Computer and statistical skills have kept a roof over my head during the lean times. I also learned when to say no. Once I had a job interview for teaching a biology lab and running the stockroom. I was a shiny new Ph.D and scared about finding a job. The guy interviewing me asked if I really wanted to do this. I hemmed and hawed, and he said, “Look, I was a breeding bird biologist, and I took this job to teach microbiology because I thought I really needed this job. That was twenty years ago, and I’m still teaching micro…Do you really want this job?” I thanked him for being so honest and said no. Then I landed the Rutgers position.

(And right now, I am facing unemployment as Rutgers is going through some MAJOR budget cuts. Fortunately, I have done a lot of work for a lot of people throughout the state, and they are not happy at all with this possibility. There have been some reassuring moments, but until this gets resolved, my blood pressure will continue to reline. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up at the CDC. Sorry for the hijack, but I had to vent a bit. :frowning:

I was in high school, volunteering as a library aide. We had a small television studio where we did the school broadcast and where juniors and seniors could take classes in broadcasting.

One day, the librarian asked me to help out in the studio. I did, and it was like an epiphany.

I walked around the rest of the day in a daze, realizing I had found My Calling.

I took the broadcasting courses in high school, majored in radio/tv in college, worked in television wherever I lived after graduation (internship at a local NBC affiliate, job at the CBS affiliate, worked at an indie in New London, CT and the UPN affiliate in Charleston SC) and ended up in Orlando, still working in broadcasting.

I was always interested in Math and Science, Biology most of all. I wasn’t sure I could make a living at it though. Went I went to college in the early 80s there was very little biotech industry, and I was pretty sure I didn’t want a career in academia. So I originally was majoring in Engineering. After about 2 years I was miserable, not enjoying my courses, and my grades were actually getting worse. I decided to switch to what I liked most of all (Bio). I figured I could do well as long as I liked the subject, and I was right (my parents thought I was making the wrong decision at the time BTW, but they came around later).

I picked Molecular Biology/Genetics as a specific major when a professor told us about the then-emerging field of biotechnology. And I’ve never looked back.

Majoring in the one subject I liked above all others was probably the best decision I ever made. I would have been a miserable Engineer.

It (librarianship) chose me. I’m a hopeless generalist who never found one “whammy” of an interest that overwhelmed all others. The field is a paradise for discovering all sorts of things and giving me the tools to explore them as far as I wish. After years in this biz my mind resembles a cluttered attic but I enjoy it and make a living at it.
Basically it was a compromise with growing up.


About halfway through my undergraduate degree I decided that I liked college so much, I never wanted to leave. Shortly thereafter, I figured out that to reach my goal, the best path would not be to just delay graduation (as oh-so-many of my friends did and still do), but to at least finish and work on an M.S. so that I could get paid for being a student. When that degree was complete and I found myself needing to either find a job (then, most likely in industrial minerals geology–a very interesting field) OR continue avoiding real work, I chose the latter and entered a Ph.D. program. While still working on it, I was offered a sabbatical replacement job, then a part-time teaching job, (finished the Ph.D.) and eventually a full-time university faculty position.

In short, I kept stalling until I got lucky.

(If the question is “why geology?”, the answer is because while also an undergraduate I realized that geology would be the best field that would allow me to get paid for travelling, hiking, and camping–and I was right!)

I picked my career when I found out I was unexpectantly pregnant after 10 years of marriage. I knew from that moment that I would be a mom and nothing more (how could there be more?) because it is the most important job in the universe, IMHO

I majored in Film Studies in college. In high school I wanted to go into behavioral genetics, but discovered that I really didn’t want to spend my college years working that hard. I also had no gift for chemistry or math. (Remember that no gift for math stuff, it will come into play at the end). So I went the liberal arts route. Film Studies, minor in History. Had a great time studying thing that interested me, in which I couldn’t get a job in when I got out without relocating and/or taking small paychecks and working my butt off. (1988)

I ended up in advertsing, doing a grunt job, getting paid peanuts, but getting to work on TV commercials and industrial video. The other potion of my job was direct mail and direct mail involved databases, so I became a database admin.

When I left marketing (tired of peanuts), I ended up temping. Temping led to a job as a secretary in Finance Tax and Legal. (around 1991) Computers were becoming big, they discovered I had some skills from my (very light) DBA days with PCs and Networking, and I became a network administrator, PC Tech, computer jack of al trades for those three departments.

One sexual harrassment claim later, the company I worked for decided I’d be better off away from the skirt chasing boss and put me in IT. But my relationship with the company was never the same - they didn’t trust me, I didn’t trust them.

So eventually I left - into that fantastic job market of the mid-90s. Consulted and eventually wound up managing consultants. Part sales job, part manager job, and I still kept consulting. But the job market was beginning to tighten, so I jumped ship.

My current job is in IT. I started it to do server support - especially directory work (the databases from my original job coming back to haunt me). The company is heavy into Six Sigma, and after taking a required class, that interested me. Now statistical analysis is a huge part of my job (remember the not liking math part?).

I have no idea what I’ll be doing three years from now. Three years ago, I had no idea I’d be doing what I am now.

I’d recommend following your nose if not your heart. If you are content doing pretty much anything, start down a path and don’t close any doors. If the path isn’t a good one, start looking for the crossroads. Some people know they need to be something and they aren’t happy unless they are doing that. And there are jobs where that passion is part and parcel of the job. But there are a lot of jobs that high school and college age people don’t even know exists, that there aren’t really majors for - statistical analysis on IT processes, for instance. Or my husbands job of managing taxonomy and content for e-commerce sites.

Putting aside of those I wanna be a … when I grow up that occured before college; I remember one day walking across campus and a flash came to me: I want to do research in Tanzania!..??? My major was American Sociology and I had never even been to Africa much less Tanzania.

Time to really declare undergrad major: still in sociology, but I hated the family and social welfare shit. Another foot in poli sci where I hated “how bills are passed” type classes. So I decided to merge the aspects I liked and majored in political behavior [I’m an old fart and this was just before Nixon’s second term when such animals working on campaigns came from advertising]. So I graduate and have never been part of an election campaign ever.

Like everyone else I fell into what I do: I did go to Africa [still haven’t been even at the airport in Dar es Salaam] and worked in “development”. I decided to go back and get my Masters [gosh what will get me back to Africa = Masters in Public Administration, Health Planning and Finance in Developing countries - the last I never use].

There was a detour to WashDC, but now I work in public health in Francophone African countries. Translating those skills to someone in the US has always been a problem; I tell folks that I am a problem solver and a get things done sort.

It took me too many years to figure out I’m not my job. My mom always said I had to DECIDE, and then concentrate, focus and excel. Kaput, finis, course set. My dad said (and I quote), “You have to work for a living so might as well do something you like. Or find something to like about it. Learn what ya can and stay open to what’s out there.”

Dad was right. I forget where I read it, but the gist was that, on average, people re-career (blech, jargony non-verb) three times in their worklife. Sounds right. Flexibility rules. Follow you head and heart, work hard, have fun and the rest will sort itself out.


Behavioral genetics?

** engineer or a mathematician**

My goals were never so lofty.

I just wanted to get paid.

I love working with my hands and building things. I became a carpenter, I love the work and make a decent living.

Now, I’m on my way to becoming a welder also (My Sister makes $48hr welding, yes forty-eight an Hr)

Welding dove-tails nicely with my skills as a carpenter (measuring, math, etc) And my love of building. (and I’ll be making bank)

I went to college to become a physicist.

Then I ran out of money and dropped out and was working for the supermarket as a cashier/grovery clerk. Glamorous eh?

I got experimental and landed a full time cake decorating job that was such fun until I ended up with carpal tunnel :frowning:

So I went back to school and decided it had been 8 years since I’ve done more than rudimentary math so lets try English as a major. It was fun and I learned a lot but…

I got pregnant. So now I get to be a mommy!!! My second child is due in October. Funny I always wanted to be a mommy when I was a kid but I was told at age 16 that I’d never have kids so I never seriously considered it as a career choice until I saw the little blue lines on the pregnancy test!

The “career” I’m in now is just a personal interest that I get paid to do.

At 14, I dove head first into wanting to become the best chessplayer the world had ever seen. Though I achieved great success by the time I was 18, had travelled around both Canada and the US to compete in major tournaments and even had a win over the #5 ranked player in Canada at the time, I realized that I wanted to go no further in this pursuit.

I loved chess, but I hated the lifestyle and isolation that came with the hard work of trying to becoming a truly great player.

So after graduating high school at 17, I decided I was going to go into Computer Engineering, went back to high school for an extra year to get some of the courses required to enter (I didn’t have physics), and by the end of that year decided that maybe four to seven years of studying in university was not what I wanted at that point in time.

Instead I took the aptitude tests for a 2-year diploma course for Computer Programming (a highly respected course in the city I live in), ended up on a 1.5 year waiting list, and then devoted myself to it fully when the time came. Turned out I loved programming as much as I loved chess, except that programming paid a lot more. :slight_smile:

I worked for the Justice Department for a couple years – knowing that the specific work I was doing was not what I wanted to be doing – quit that job, travelled around Europe for 8 months, and then decided to come back to Canada to become an independent consultant knowing specifically what kind of work I wanted to get paid to do (open source, Linux, Python, yadda yadda).

So that’s what I do now. :slight_smile:

Like you though, I have other interests that are hard to balance with what I’m doing right now. There’s still a big part of me wanting to go back to Europe for a few more years (one more year in England on what’s left of my WH visa, then maybe one in France, and then maybe one in the Netherlands) and computer programming isn’t very compatible with wanting to have that kind of mobility (i.e. getting a programming job can take weeks or even months in this economy, and getting one in Europe battling through immigration is exceedingly difficult).

So I too am left to consider other options.

The common thread in everything I’ve done career-wise though (and non-career-wise, for that matter) is to follow my instincts. It’s cliche, to be sure, but it’s the best advice I can give.