Tell me your inspirational stories of switching careers

I’m a grad student going for a PhD in biomedical sciences and… It just isn’t working out. My heart’s just not in it, and my work has been pretty poor. I have the option of cutting things short and leaving with a Master’s degree, and I think I’ll take it.

The problem is that I wanted to be a research scientist since I was very young, and I’ve never seriously considered doing anything else. So this is a pretty big change in the way I see myself. Don’t get me wrong, I know a master’s is nothing to sneeze at, but this is the end of a childhood dream, and the first time ever I’ve been left without any real direction for my future since I was about ten. So, I’m bummed

What I need right now is some inspiring anecdotes and advice and the like. Funny, sexy, heartwarming, whatever you’ve got. You can leave out the ones where you spent five years living in a cardboard box. Those I don’t need to hear right now.

If you’ve lost enthusiasm for what you’re doing, you should definitely leave now – it’s only gonna get worse.

Me: I started out in academia (PhD, sociology of religion), left the biz almost 20 years ago, managed to get into magazine publishing, and am now editor in chief of a start-up gardening magazine, which is a total dream job for me. So, yeah, there is life outside the academy.

I graduated college with a degree in Broadcasting, where I learned two things:

*I had a great face for radio.
*My voice was perfect for print media.

I moved back in with my parents after college and got a soul-crushing office job. Like so many other 20-somethings, I love *The Office * and *Office Space * because I can relate so much. I saved every penny I made, and after about 9 months of that, I moved back to my college town…

And went to law school. Did I desperately want to be a lawyer? NO. In fact, I never really saw myself practicing law. But it seemed like a practical, pragmatic thing to do with one’s life, and it got me out of Miami (which I was hating) and out of my parents’ house.

I did not like law school. I didn’t fit in with most of the people. Sadly, most of the stereotypes proved themselves true early on – my classmates were spoiled, self-interested rich kids who would happily screw each other and anyone else over; young Republicans with no creativity, imagination, or social conscience; lots of hard partying, indiscriminate hooking up, HEAVY drug use (lots of coke), and brutal gossip. Plus I found the Socratic Method of teaching stressful and ultimately useless, the class material didn’t excite me, and the professors were going through the motions. All in all, it was the biggest mistake of my life, but I didn’t dare drop out because I didn’t know what else to do. I finished in a record 2 1/2 years with mediocre grades and no job to show for it. Moved back home. I don’t recommend this to anyone.

After temping for a while, I finally got an attorney job in another city, which I happily moved to. It was a good job, my boss was patient, and my co-workers were great. But after 11 months, I realized I wasn’t a good fit for it (or vice versa), and I knew I wouldn’t last any longer. So I resigned, much to the surprise of family, friends, co-workers, and especially the few classmates I had stayed in touch with. Luckily, I had lived simply and saved everything I could while I was making decent (though never GREAT) money.

Finally, I had a flash of inspiration. I love pointing people in the right direction, helping them find what they need and enabling them to learn. I like research, I like organization, I like quiet, and I like books and collections very much. After five miserable years of missteps and mistakes, I enrolled in the School of Library and Information Science at the University of South Florida, so I’m on my way to earning my Master of Arts degree in Library Science. I’m going to be a kickass librarian one day, and I think I’ve finally found the right path for myself. I’m currently working a part-time job AND a paid summer internship as I speed through this Masters program as quickly as possible – my goal is to finish the whole thing in two years, in December 2007. Then I’ll only need to choose between public or law libraries, but I think I’ll fit in and thrive in either environment. It took me long enough, but I’m actually almost content!

I hated my job, so I quit and joined the Peace Corps. So far, a big improvement over cubicle life.

I didn’t like teaching in the school system after my internship so I went and became a professional musician doing local gigs and teaching private music lessons.

And you know what, just taking a year to clear my head made me realize that I really enjoy teaching and want to excell there more than in music (at least right now) You never know what might happen if you take a year off and explore whats around you, you might get renewed appreciation for your career choice. I think taking a year off to decide about the direction your life is taking is a wise one for anyone.

Best of luck!

I spent almost seven years in the joyous and happy world of corporate internal audit. Some people love this work, they thrive in the environment. Me, I was miserable by the end. When I decided to make a change, I was at the point that I was literally throwing up every morning before going to the office. And when I realized that it really wasn’t good that I spent my weekends wishing for a car wreck - not to die, I didn’t want that - with some relatively minor but inconvenient injuries so I’d have to stay home for a while…well, that’s when I really knew.

So, like Big Bad Voodoo Lou, I made a decision. I went back to school (I went with the University of Tennessee School of Information Science) and got a master’s in information science. For me, this is what I wanted to do when I first got my undergraduate degree, but I got sidetracked. I finished in May 2004, got my first professional librarian job that summer and I’m happy. I look forward to going to work, I enjoy helping people and I even really enjoy the instruction classes I teach (surprisingly. I really didn’t expect to enjoy them the way I do).

Librarianship isn’t for everyone. If you looked into it and decided to do it, I’d tell you to take everything you read from ALA about “lots of jobs available” and “impending retirements” with a grain of salt. There are jobs, but there’s also a lot of competition for those jobs. At the same time, with a previous master’s in a hard science…well, those are sometimes the hardest jobs to fill in an academic library. But you have to like dealing with people. You have to be willing to stand up in front of a group of bored freshmen for the fourth time in a day and still have the energy to be excited about what you’re teaching them. But I draw a lot of energy from it. To go home and smile about the day. And to get up in the morning and still be glad to be going in (although, granted, I have my days. And I would like to win the lottery and be a lady of leisure. I could shop every day with no problem.)

But for you, right now, I’d say take a look at what you really enjoy. And figure out how you can make that work for you in developing a career. If you don’t like the path you’ve started on, you are at a point that you can change it - be glad you are figured this out now, rather than after spending the next several years working on the PhD, right?

You gave me a lot of advice last year when I was asking questions on the SDMB about librarianship, and I appreciated every bit of it. I was waking up in the morning as a lawyer and saying “I’ve made a huge mistake,” and I don’t do that anymore. I should have done this much sooner, but I also kept getting sidetracked.

I’d been a newspaper reporter and editor for nearly 25 years when I got fired because the newsroom I was managing was organizing with a union. A series of events in the immediate aftermath caused me to seriously examine whether I even belonged in that line of work, and that led me to the doorstep of my old mentor. After six hours of coffee, cigarettes and some hard questions, I realized that I’d picked the wrong career, and nobody had the backbone to tell me.

I spent the next seven years in a cubicle at a call center (because they’d hire anybody, not because I was particularly suited for the work) and learned a lot about people and myself.

Now I’m back in radio, where I started in high school, and having the time of my life. I’m also pursuing a graduate degree with the intention of teaching at the junior college level – something I should have done a long time ago.

Here’s the one thing I know about myself, and I’d be surprised if most people my age (55) didn’t come to the same conclusion: Even after the monumental failures of my life (I’ve had a couple!) I’m more content to be me than I was back when I hadn’t failed at anything yet. I don’t know if that makes sense, but there it is.

I was, like you, in a scientific graduate program. I had been there four years, and gotten my masters, when I realized that I found the subject matter fascinating, and I loved reading about this field, but I didn’t want to be a researcher.

I had a friend who was at that time in his third year at law school, and he encouraged me to think about it. I applied, got in, and then decided to defer admission for a year. I wanted to spend one more year in grad school to be sure whether it was right for me or not.

At the end of that fifth year, I decided that it was time to move on and I went to law school in the fall.

Law school was completely different from academic grad school, and overall was a very good choice for me. After I graduated, I practiced law for several years, and then realized that big firm life was not for me.

So, I did a LOT of informational interviewing, and found a small start up in the legal technology world. I have been here for several years. It allows me to combine my background from grad school with my legal training and experience, so it’s a perfect fit.

Things I’ve learned, for what they are worth:

  1. Do something that you think is cool, that you’re excited about, that you’re proud about. That doesn’t mean you have to love every second of what you do: every job has unpleasant aspects, but overall you should be really into it.
  2. Don’t worry about sunk costs: “but I’ve already spent X years at this” or “but if I make a change I’ll be Y years old by the time I’m successful/graduate etc.” Once you realize that the direction you are going is not for you, face up to it, and get to work making a new plan.
  3. Don’t think you need to plan everything out 10 years in advance: “In year 1 I’ll go to Med School, then in year 5 I’ll get a residency in Chicago, and then in year 10 I’ll buy a house in Napierville” A lot of success, I believe, comes from having a clear picture of what your dreams are, but flexibility in execution and keeping your eyes and ears open for opportunity.
  4. Talk to as many people as you can. When I was informational interviewing, I told EVERYBODY that I knew that I was looking to talk with ANYBODY that they knew, or anybody who knew anybody that they knew who had ANYTHING to do with legal technology. I wound up getting my current job through a close friend who knew a former co-worker who was married to someone who was an investor in my current company.

My career change came after careful decision and several major life changes. This was back in 1992 during the Bush recession. * (You know they each had one, a family thing) *
I was only 24 and working as an HVAC mechanic for a hospital after being a Navy electrician. I had been taking class at night towards an Electrical Engineering degree and I had at least 5 more years to go at the rate I was going. I was living at home and saving up a lot of money. I had no debt and small amount of educational money from the military VEEP program, which was unfortunately the worst education assistance program the military had since WWII. I just missed the old GI bill by about 1 year and the new GI bill by 18 months.

Then my fiancée and I had rented an apartment together and I came to several realizations. She had a bachelor degree in mechanical engineering and could never get a job in the field and went to the Chubb institute to get into Business Programming and did quite well with it. I had about a dozen high school friends that had not taken side trips into the military and had received their Bachelors in engineering and they were working in a variety of fields from Programming to Insurance Casualty evaluation.

I had recently had to go up on a cooling tower in high winds. It was six stories up and no guardrails and the top vent plates were in bad shape. I came to the realization; I really did not want to be an HVAC mechanic much longer.

I saw the writing on the wall, took a look at all the Jobs Ads for two weeks and realized that while companies wanted C and C++ programmers to have degrees and preferably experience, all they wanted for COBOL and RPG programmers were that they were breathing and certified. I found a school that specialized in both, The Cittone Institute in Edison, NJ and one month after getting married and during the mentioned recession, I quit my job and went to Cittone full time for seven months. I had a fully paid off less than one year old car and over 30K in the bank, but I was the only person in the class to have quit a good paying job during the recession. This meant I put a lot of pressure on my self and dedicated my self to the course like I never did in College or High School.

I managed to be the first student to ever ace the class and I had several interviews before I graduated. (Did I mention that for RPG & COBOL programmers they just wanted you to be breathing?)

There was a particularly good job opening where the interviewers came to the school to talk to the top 10 students between our class and the prior class. As people went into the interview they came out and said the Filipino programmer/analyst {Badji} seemed very nice but the Chinese programmer/analyst {Augie} seemed very cold. I was the 9th person in and a little nervous. They asked me several tech questions and I got them all, then they had some logic solving problems and I solved them. Finally as they asked about my family, and myself, I mention my wife was a COBOL programmer working for AT&T. It turned out that Augie’s wife also worked for AT&T and we ended up talking for quite a while. Additional in the navy I had served with many Filipinos and visited the Philippines. When I reported to the other interviewees how my interview went, several of them groaned and congratulated me on getting the job.

They were right, it also turned out serving in the Navy helped me in another way, I was used to many different accents and I was the only candidate that understood everything they said without asking them to repeat it.

So all said and done, I landed a job paying less than my HVAC job but my foot was in the door and within six months I was making as much as I did as an HVAC mechanic.


I loved teaching preschool but after the divorce I needed a better income. I applied for grants, loans, scholarships and worked 2 jobs, got accepted into RN school and fell in love. I always thought I’d do Pediatric nursing but Maternal/Child has it all. I make good money and work three 12 hour shifts a week. I was 39 when I got my first RN position.