Editors' Note: This month Next Wave introduces a new columnist, Kathie Sindt. You may have heard of her already; she's the Kathie from our "Ask Kathie" forum. Her new column, Career Choices, will appear the first week of each month.
As you walk into the room, your host introduces you to someone you have not met. After idle chatter about the weather, the question arises, "So, what do you do?" Quickly realizing that in this setting your interrogator does not need to hear about how you label test tubes, run gels, and pipette all day long, you slide into your standard answer describing your research to the nonscientist.
Whether it is at a graduate student party, a job interview, or a holiday event at your child?s day care, we often describe ourselves to others by the type of work we do. And we all give answers that vary based upon the setting. I have three answers: "an ex-scientist," "a career counselor," or "an academic adviser." As I write to introduce myself to you in my first column for Next Wave, I offer you all three of those hats, because each contributes to the worldview that this column will project.
I was one of those undergraduates who went directly from an undergraduate education into a graduate program in the biomedical sciences. By my fifth year of graduate school, it became clear to me that I had no desire to be a research scientist at a research university for the rest of my life. Nonetheless, after graduating from the University of Virginia with my Ph.D. in pharmacology, I took the safe route and accepted an academic postdoc position at a major research university.
After two postdocs--2.5 years working in the lab and with students--and a lot of self-assessment, informational interviewing, and occupational research, I found myself moving again. This time it was to start a master's program in counseling, with a focus in career counseling, and a graduate assistantship in an academic advising office. Since completing my master's degree at the University of Maryland and successfully fulfilling the requirements for National Certified Counselor certification, I have been working as an academic adviser for undergraduate students at Johns Hopkins University. While the advising job (which I love!) pays the bills, I also keep busy teaching the occasional class and--now--writing this column.
During my graduate program in career counseling, I was encouraged not to ignore my roots in research science, because few individuals with scientific backgrounds choose to retool in an occupation such as counseling. Consequently, I completed my master?s degree seminar paper on career development for graduate students and postdocs in the biomedical sciences. This research, my knowledge of and experience in career counseling, the questions from readers in the Next Wave forums  (especially the Ask Kathie forum that I moderated for a couple of years), my own personal history, and input and feedback from you will serve as my guide for the type of topics I will cover in this column.
When Next Wave approached me about writing a regular column, I thought it would be a great opportunity to add to the variety of resources Next Wave already presents by adding the perspective of a career counselor. I am not a job-market analyst, I am not a recruiter, I do not do job placement, and I do not know what hot new technique will increase your marketability. I will, however, offer guidance to those making career choices, whether they intend to pursue research careers or some other career path.
In general, career counselors keep themselves busy in a wide variety of ways. We help individuals learn about their personality and skills; we train people to research jobs and write résumés; and we help workers improve their communication skills within a particular job. In my next column, I will go into detail about what career counselors actually do and how you can find a counselor to assist you. Further in the future I will address topics such as how your values and dreams influence your career path and how what you want from your work environment can affect your happiness in your job. Of course, I will always welcome your questions and input for future column topics as well.
As I close, let me explain the title, "Career Choices." Trained to draw on several theoretical viewpoints, most counselors do not rely on just one approach for every individual. Rather, we tailor our counseling style to the needs of the client, often calling upon a variety of perspectives. You will find that the idea of "choice" is a major theme throughout my columns. If you are in graduate school or have already completed your graduate degree, you have proven that you are able to do a large number of things. You have a multitude of skills and the ability to learn almost anything that interests you. (OK--it might be a little late to start, from scratch, a career as a professional ballerina or baseball player, but you get my point.)
Each of us has the ability to make choices about how our career path unfolds. Occasionally we may not like our choices or may place limits on them, but we will still find ourselves regularly presented with opportunities to make choices about the direction of our career. Hopefully, this column will provide you with insight and optimism about how to make career choices that lead to your success and happiness!
You can send e-mail to Kathie at email@example.com .