At what stage did you stop doubting your academic/career choice?

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In summary: It's important to remember that your ultimate goal is not to achieve a specific level of optimization on any one dimension, but rather to achieve a balance across all of them. In other words, you're not trying to be the best at one thing by sacrificing everything else.It's also important to remember that the process of balancing these dimensions can change over time.In summary, you make a career change when you start to doubt your original decision. You are unsure if pursuing your original career is practical given the many people who are already qualified for it. You decide to pursue your new career based on a combination of factors, including the practicality of it and the advice of others. You are
  • #1

ProfuselyQuarky

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At this point I recognize that it’s very common to doubt initial decisions or even to change your mind entirely two, three, four times but when did that stop for you. Did you have a problem between balancing what you’re genuinely passionate about versus other criteria such as a desire to directly help people, the potential mental toll of a career/academic path, financial stability, time it takes to finish school, etc, etc? Or did one of those things entirely take priority?

What if you’ve spent years hyper focused on a set career and built a resume tailored specifically for that, but later in the game you feel like considering another option, regardless of the reason? How did you know that this thought wasn’t mere whimsy vs something to seriously consider? Assuming it’s not whimsy, would your desire to pursue that new path be stymied with the impracticality of it?

Who helped you decide this, if any? (A mentor is hard to find when it seems like no one has time for you or self proclaims to be of little value due to their lack of experience.)

What if you want to be successfully insane and have a meaningful presence in more than one thing?
 
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  • #2
ProfuselyQuarky said:
Assuming it’s not whimsy, would your desire to pursue that new path be stymied with the impracticality of it?
Yes. A career alternative which seemed to be possible, was not really very practical because too many people were already too easily qualified to do it, the opportunities to do it were fewer than I had imagined, and partly because most end-users preferred to not seek the service to the fullest extent possible instead trying to avoid the service.
 
  • #3
Thank you that is helpful and provides additional factors to consider. It sounds like you knew ahead of time that shifting your focus wouldn’t lead to success, however way you choose to define success. If you didn’t know that information do you think you’d regret not trying?
 
  • #4
ProfuselyQuarky said:
Thank you that is helpful and provides additional factors to consider. It sounds like you knew ahead of time that shifting your focus wouldn’t lead to success, however way you choose to define success. If you didn’t know that information do you think you’d regret not trying?
The general information was not clear enough for me, although wiser people would have been better at recognizing the problems to be expected if they listen to the descriptions of the possible job more carefully. I have been vague here on the forum about this. I also have possibly misunderstood your topic title. You asked when any of us stopped doubting our academic or career decision; I made a career change, and if I were wiser, I might have doubted and continue to doubt it and not made the career change decision. Looking into myself some, my aim was too narrow but at least I knew what work exactly I wanted to do.
 
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  • #5
symbolipoint said:
Looking into myself some, my aim was too narrow but at least I knew what work exactly I wanted to do.
I appreciate this. I think so many people scared me into the idea that I needed to figure exactly what I wanted to do and my goals have become way too narrow and rigid. Thank you symbolipoint :')
 
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  • #6
One of the great mythologies that we tend to collectively buy into, at least in North American popular culture, is that each of us is predestined for a single, great, successful career and that all we have to do is embrace our true passions, follow the 'right' path, work hard, and that career will be waiting for us at the end of some host of academic trials.

Another great myth is that if you're not immediately passionate about something the moment you're exposed to it, you won't ever be.

One way to look at a career choice is like a multi-objective optimization problem. In a scenario where you are unable to move backward from any decision, you're tasked with optimizing:
- your own time investment (a limited resource)
- your own financial investment (another limited resource)
- financial stability (an uncertain outcome variable that can change with time)
- fulfillment of your career/academic passions (another uncertain outcome variable that can change with time)
- social status (weighting on this one varies from person to person)
- fulfilling responsibilities to others close to you (also changes with time and can be highly unpredictable)
- balancing your other passions in life (you also like to travel? write novels? fly?)
- balancing other desires such as having a family, living in a certain location, etc.
- your personal physical, mental, and philosophical constraints
- you're also constrained by the opportunities and windows available at the time

Sure, you might be able to figure out a cost function that can incorporate a few of these dimensions, but they are largely independent of each other and extremely difficult to quantify. The best you can really hope for is landing on a Pareto front - a scenario where you only make gains in one dimension at the cost of others.

I once saw an interesting TED talk, can't find the link, but the speaker talked about the philosophy of choice. She said that sometimes we're faced with choices where the best we can determine is that the options are on par with each other at the time. One of her main points was that it's the act of making those choices that defines who we are as people.

You're not likely to ever feel 100% comfortable in the choices that you've made. You make them because time won't wait for you and even not making them is a choice itself. Then once you've made them, make them work the best you can.
 
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  • #7
Choppy, you used the word "passion", three times and one additional use of a form of "passion", in post #6. To rely on passion in making a career choice is one of the most risky ways to find a decision, and employment representatives (job interviewers) use "passion" as a mind trick.
 
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  • #8
Thanks Choppy, that's a pretty clinical way to look at it. I guess it's a matter of deciding which of those things do I care about the most within realistic parameters.

Also, I get why passion is a weak argument for something. Rather than passion, I think it's more important to just feel fulfilled in one's work.
 
  • #9
symbolipoint said:
Choppy, you used the word "passion", three times and one additional use of a form of "passion", in post #6. To rely on passion in making a career choice is one of the most risky ways to find a decision, and employment representatives (job interviewers) use "passion" as a mind trick.
How did you get that (to rely on your passion to determine a career choice) out of my post?

If it came across that way, that was not my intent.
 
  • #10
ProfuselyQuarky said:
Thanks Choppy, that's a pretty clinical way to look at it. I guess it's a matter of deciding which of those things do I care about the most within realistic parameters.

Also, I get why passion is a weak argument for something. Rather than passion, I think it's more important to just feel fulfilled in one's work.

I'm going to rephrase this. It's important to feel like your job is something you are ok doing for the next 40 years. Fulfillment is overrated in my opinion, and is a big reason why academia is stuffed to the gills with people trying to avoid a career as an office drone. Office dronery is highly underrated! It pays decently, comes with benefits, it's pretty stable employment, most of the people you work with will be decent human beings. It's not going to be the thing in your life that you love the most, but is that actually the goal of a career?
 
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  • #11
Choppy said:
How did you get that (to rely on your passion to determine a career choice) out of my post?

If it came across that way, that was not my intent.
Regardless exactly what you meant, posts #8 and #10 following seem to be intelligent responses from yours.

Now is time to reread your post #6 and try to find what meaning is and is not in there.
 
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  • #12
Choppy said:
One of the great mythologies that we tend to collectively buy into, at least in North American popular culture, is that each of us is predestined for a single, great, successful career and that all we have to do is embrace our true passions, follow the 'right' path, work hard, and that career will be waiting for us at the end of some host of academic trials.
Now I'm ready. A student can have passion for his academic work and may too have passion for the work he believes he can find as a job - UNTIL HE IS HIRED AND DOES THAT JOB.
 
  • #13
When I found out that my initial assumption was correct: I chose something that truly interested me and it was something that I could become good at.

Don't pursue your passion. Do what you can become good at, and that will become your passion.
 
  • #14
Mayhem said:
When I found out that my initial assumption was correct: I chose something that truly interested me and it was something that I could become good at.

Don't pursue your passion. Do what you can become good at, and that will become your passion.
This did not work for me. I got a degree in biology from a very prestigious school but (wisely) decided not to go to medical school so I had to do something else. I got an entry level job, was talented for what I did, worked conscientiously,, developed my skills, was appreciated by my peers, and hated it the whole time. I tried to get out, went to graduate school, started my own business, but these things didn't work out. I realized that my only option was to keep doing that stuff until I'd saved up enough money so that I could retire and life begin. I achieved that goal, so it was worth it. I'm glad I did it but even more glad it's over.

I was fortunate that in those days the "passion" concept hadn't arisen yet. It also was before massive student debt at usurious rates. I have no advice for the young.
 
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  • #15
Hornbein said:
This did not work for me. I got a degree in biology from a very prestigious school but (wisely) decided not to go to medical school so I had to do something else. I got an entry level job, was talented for what I did, worked conscientiously,, developed my skills, was appreciated by my peers, and hated it the whole time. I tried to get out, went to graduate school, started my own business, but these things didn't work out. I realized that my only option was to keep doing that stuff until I'd saved up enough money so that I could retire and life begin. I achieved that goal, so it was worth it. I'm glad I did it but even more glad it's over.

I was fortunate that in those days the "passion" concept hadn't arisen yet. It also was before massive student debt at usurious rates. I have no advice for the young.
I live in a place where all higher education is free so I hadn't really considered money at all.
 
  • #16
Mayhem said:
Don't pursue your passion. Do what you can become good at, and that will become your passion.
I don't agree with this, but it does certainly help to enjoy what you do—or at least not despise it—to make a career out of it.

Hornbein said:
It also was before massive student debt at usurious rates.
Usurious? The problem isn't the interest charged for student loans but the ridiculously high costs of higher education these days.
 
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  • #17
ProfuselyQuarky said:
At this point I recognize that it’s very common to doubt initial decisions or even to change your mind entirely two, three, four times but when did that stop for you. Did you have a problem between balancing what you’re genuinely passionate about versus other criteria such as a desire to directly help people, the potential mental toll of a career/academic path, financial stability, time it takes to finish school, etc, etc? Or did one of those things entirely take priority?
The answers to these questions depend a lot on the individual and his or her background. I think the important thing here is to know yourself. What is it that you value? Do you want to make a lot of money even if you have a career that you don't find interesting, or is intellectual stimulation worth earning significantly less to you? Do you need to graduate quickly so you can start earning money to support your family, or do you have some freedom to pursue your interests and perhaps take an extra year before graduating?

It's also important to recognize you often won't know the answer to some questions until you get some experience, and it's okay to admit you made a poor choice and to change course. I knew a significant number of people who initially thought they wanted to go into academia but, after a few years in grad school, realized it wasn't what they wanted to do and went on to pursue different careers.
 
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  • #18
I must be an outlier here. I had no real plan at anytime, in school or after. My grad school choice (nuclear engineering) happened only because I had a couple hours to kill and took a tour of the university reactor. Pretty blue light, I was hooked!

Planning vs. serendipity is a continuum, people find their own sweet spot.
 
  • #19
I still doubt it all the time (not that I've been in it horribly long with about 3 years after my bachelors and beginning my masters in EE)
 
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  • #20
when i retired?

as to the high cost of higher ed, note that it may depend on where you choose to go. In - state college tuition in washington state is about $10,000/year, and tuition for 2020/2021 at harvard evening classes/extension school, for three 4 credit courses is under $6,000. My point is it is cheaper to get an education, than to get a "prestigious" degree. At UGA in Athens, Georgia, there has long been free tuition available for (in state?) students with a B average or better. my wife did part of her pre - med prep at harvard extension school in the 1980's and liked it. It was of course even cheaper then, but we were so poor at the time I sold my car that year for food money ($300). The point is that money spent on education can be a good investment long term.
 
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  • #21
gmax137 said:
I must be an outlier here. I had no real plan at anytime, in school or after. My grad school choice (nuclear engineering) happened only because I had a couple hours to kill and took a tour of the university reactor. Pretty blue light, I was hooked!

Planning vs. serendipity is a continuum, people find their own sweet spot.
I mean for your ability to get into your graduate school program wasn't merely on a whim though. Even if you found your interest by accident, you somehow had an appropriately built resume? It's a bit different if someone wants to possibly change their path but none of their prior experience allows for them to even have a chance within a reasonable time frame
 
  • #22
vela said:
The answers to these questions depend a lot on the individual and his or her background. I think the important thing here is to know yourself. What is it that you value? Do you want to make a lot of money even if you have a career that you don't find interesting, or is intellectual stimulation worth earning significantly less to you? Do you need to graduate quickly so you can start earning money to support your family, or do you have some freedom to pursue your interests and perhaps take an extra year before graduating?

It's also important to recognize you often won't know the answer to some questions until you get some experience, and it's okay to admit you made a poor choice and to change course. I knew a significant number of people who initially thought they wanted to go into academia but, after a few years in grad school, realized it wasn't what they wanted to do and went on to pursue different careers.
These points are helpful.

I'm just increasingly hating the concept and motions of school and playing the system and the thought of being stuck in school until my late 20s/early 30s is physically painful at moments. My consistent end goals have never changed too much but the process needed to potentially achieve those goals are looking more and more insufferable (possibly to the point of changing them? I hope not, I think?).

Meanwhile, I literally spent one night this week freaking out whilst thinking, "oh no, what if I wanted to try for med school this whole time and now I can't". What the hell is that all about lol. And on that note, I wonder are my consistent end goals even what I actually want, or is it just what I've hyper-focused on this whole time so it's too late to go back now.

So it's like I'm not even sure I can trust my own answers to those questions right now, even though I'm at a pretty critical point, since my head is having an attitude that is so unlike how I usually am, or how I thought I was.

Anyhow, thanks for all the insight, all. I'll try to stop thinking too much and placing an importance on ideas that I guess aren't as important as I thought
 
  • #23
Trained as a math teacher, my wife decided she wanted to go to med school when we already had two children, aged 4 and 7. She began her pre-med via extension courses at night in Cambridge, Mass, during my postdoc, and completed it in Georgia, all while raising a family. When we moved closer to the nearest medical school, I commuted to work 130 miles round trip for years while she finished up. Her undergraduate degree was not from a fancy school, but her MCAT scores got her in easily. I don't recommend the commuting, but you can do a lot, at almost any stage, if you really want to.

I also had graduate students working on their PhD's in their 40's, long after some people say one is washed up mathematically. And others who drove to class from 50 miles away after working the night shift on their jobs, without time to sleep before class. And the instruction was for them in a second language. People will impress you with their dedication and drive. What others have done, you can do. Good luck.
 
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  • #24
mathwonk said:
I commuted to work 130 miles round trip for years while she finished up.

mathwonk said:
I don't recommend the commuting, but you can do a lot, at almost any stage, if you really want to.
Marvelous! Difficult, too. Might I add, impractical, too? No. Not for the marvelous.
 
  • #25
Who says I've stopped?

I'm happy with the big decisions 90+% of the time, but doubt creeps in once in a while. I think that's part of being human. There are two types of humans - those who occasionally doubt and those in denial.

Self-doubt about past choices is rarely useful unless it better informs our decision making for current and future choices.
 

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