Back to the Future

I’ve tentatively decided on my immediate post-Fulbright future, and I’m pretty darn excited about it! Here’s the deal: it’ll be impossible for me to enter chemistry grad school in fall 2006, since I have to take the chemistry GREs, and that can only be done in the states. Thus, whether or not I want to go to grad school (still deciding…) I’ll still have another free year.

This means I’m in no rush to return to the U.S., and after the ten months of my research are up (about mid-July), I’d like to stay out the rest of my visa (which lasts until mid-September) in Salvador – just training, writing, making contacts and gathering information. Based on my financial situation, the amount of money I’m saving every month, and my familiarity with/connections in Salvador, I’m pretty sure I can pull it off… the only thing I’d have to work out is extension of my health insurance.

And after my Bahia sojourn? Unless some unbelievably spectacular opportunity arises for me to continue living and working here, I’m going to return to the States.

In thinking about possible careers, I was trying to identify my strengths and passions, and this is what I came up with:

  • I love researching: collecting information from different sources, analyzing data, solving puzzles, drawing conclusions, creating hypotheses and testing them.
  • I love learning, and I’d need a career in which I was constantly learning, exploring, discovering, not one in which I’m doing the same dull repetitive thing over and over.
  • I really enjoy both writing and editing, and I know I’m quite good at both.
  • I like teaching people, but I prefer a one-on-one or small group setting to standing up and lecturing in front of a class. Things I could possibly teach or tutor include English, Portuguese, chemistry, math, basic physics, writing, piano, capoeira, and skating.
  • My favorite type of job is one in which I have interaction with other people (i.e. not cooped up alone in a lab/office/cubicle all day) but in which I am primarily responsible for my own work (i.e. not too much reliance on others).
  • I dislike having to manage other people.

Right now the two main potential careers on my mind are in vastly different areas:

  1. Marine natural products chemistry research.The things I like about it are the research element and the chance to contribute something to the body of scientific/medical knowledge, to discover a never-before-seen compound. Other selling points include the high pay and the relative security of finding a job – most likely in academia, since few pharmaceutical companies are interested in NP. Then, I’d have all the advantages of being in a college setting: doing my own research, teaching classes, participating in university events… I wonder if I wouldn’t be quite happy in a Kinnel-like position – a professor at a small liberal arts college teaching the chemists of tomorrow, pursuing my own research but not as super-intensely as if I was at a giant research university, getting paid well and good benefits and having the summers off and probably the money to travel to Brazil.Cons of MNP research include the high education level required (a Ph.D…. although that too is a 4-year paid position, it’s still going back to school, the stress of classes, research, deadlines…), the monotony of always working in a lab and the intense specialization (i.e. knowing only a very narrow area, but knowing it in-depth) – I feel like I need something more varied. However, if I was a professor as described above, my life would be more varied than just imprisonment in the lab, so that wouldn’t be so bad…
  2. Writing/editing/journalism. The things that really draw me to it are that it combines my love of research and learning with my passion for writing. It’s bound to be varied and extremely interesting; it’s “broader” than chemistry research in the sense that I’d learn a lot more about lots of different things. And I wouldn’t necessarily need an advanced degree.

    The cons are the difficulty of breaking into the field and making a living there.I have a chemistry degree, not an English or writing degree, and I wonder if this would make it more difficult for me to get hired. If I was self-employed/freelance, that’s much less stable and doesn’t come with benefits. Then again, I really don’t know much at all about entering this field.

One thing both these careers have in common is the work-independently-but-still-have-contact-with-others element, and also both have flexible schedules that would be conducive to marriage and family, as opposed to having to work 60 hours a week in order to get ahead in business or law or whatever.

You know what’s weird? That although I have absolutely no idea or definite plan about what I’ll be doing a year from now, I feel a complete peace about it. I can’t even “work up worry” about it if I try. The ambiguity is even exciting: the future seems to me to be bright and open and full of more possibilities and opportunities than fears and concerns – I’m an intelligent, hard-working, talented college graduate with 15K in the bank and no debt (besides my student loan), and I can do practically anything…!