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How did you decide on your career?

  1. Jul 18, 2011 #1
    What are you in now and how did you end up there?

    I really want to do a post-grad in quantum mechanics, and got a letter from my Uni this morning asking if I am doing a single honours degree in astrophysics or a double honours degree in physics and maths-physics.
    Ideally I would do astrophysics and maths-physics but this isn't an option. So I was wondering how everyone here got to where they are now?

    Was your undergraduate clearly relevant to your post-graduate?

    Or did you leave straight after your undergraduate into your chosen career?

    Or did you bounce around for a while first?

    How did you make these sort of decisions?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 18, 2011 #2
    I haven't graduated yet but I was advised not to specialize early on. I still don't know what I want to do, I am currently toying with the idea of doing a phd.
  4. Jul 18, 2011 #3
    I bounced around through a few engineering disciplines before finally deciding on Physics/Mathematics for my B.S.. I made that decision without giving a second thought to what I actually wanted to do for a living...I just knew I enjoyed physics and math and wanted to enjoy school and see where it took me.

    When I was a junior I randomly stumbled upon a medical physics webpage and even more randomly made a contact within my University that was associated with our own medical physics program and the rest is history. Never looked back.
  5. Jul 18, 2011 #4
  6. Jul 18, 2011 #5
    I bounced around among a few different things as an undergrad and eventually settled on physics. The I got a PhD in physics, and now I'm a postdoc. I hate it now, and I can't find another job. I never really considered trying engineering and now I feel that was a big mistake.
  7. Jul 20, 2011 #6
    There is a lot of randomness, and I didn't end up where I am as a result of some master plan. However, I did have general ideas about "what I want to do with my life" and I picked up a lot of general skills so that when I did see an opportunity I could take it.

    Honestly, I don't think it will matter much in the long run what you choose there. If it does matter it will be because of something totally random that you can't forsee (i.e. you take a class and meet your future spouse there).

    Yes, but (and this is a big caveat), most of my undergraduate education didn't take place in the classroom. People think of degrees as some sort of industrial process, and one thing that helped me a lot is that I had parents and teachers that taught me not to think of education in that way.

    I think I'm twice as old as you, and I still haven't figured out what my chosen career is.

    Actually, that's not quite true. The career I really want is to be a starship captain (like Kirk), but since I was born a few centuries too early, I have to think of something else.

    I bounced around, and I think I'm going to keep bouncing around until I die.

    A lot of times the decision is made for you. For example, in 2002, I was working for a major oil company, and I would have been happy to work there until I retired. However, at that point some one got the bright idea to close our office and move all our jobs overseas. I was offered a job at another office, but at that point I didn't trust the management so I jumped into something different.

    I wouldn't be too surprised if something like that happened with my current job. It's all about people, and one thing that's good and bad about business is that by changing people things can change very, very quickly, either for good or for bad.
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2011
  8. Jul 21, 2011 #7
    Remember those little robots from the 80's? The ones that would walk along in a straight line until they ran into something (wall, chair, tiny bump in the ground) and then turn and randomly walk somewhere else?

    Imagine that after years of doing this the robot gets tired of it and moves only in a straight line, grinding through everything in its path and leaving destruction and debris in its wake as it travels in a direction that seemingly has no rhyme or reason.

    That’s me.

    It’s worked out very well.
  9. Jul 21, 2011 #8


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    I started out in Engineering, then switched to pursue a double-major in English Lit and Philosophy. Quit school early to earn money, and ended up working as a soils scientist for a few years, then as a quality-control tech on a very large construction project, getting promoted up to asst superintendent and superintendent. I applied for a laborer's position at a pulp mill, and instead got hired as a process chemist, then went on to be the lead operator on the world's largest, fastest on-line coated fine-paper machine. I went on to pursue self-employment as a programmer, writing application software for small businesses, then got recruited to do training/engineering work for pulp and paper companies. Later went out on my own and spent several years doing the same kind of jobs (mostly involving boilers and T-G sets) until I found it medically debilitating to travel by plane (perfume chemicals cripple me). Then bounced around in a number of jobs including technical service/sales, IT, more sales, etc.

    There is absolutely no way that I could ever claim to have "decided" on a career. I simply jumped to whatever job/task that offered a good chance to earn a lot of money. Also, I always made friends with players in each industry and kept myself open to options should my current job become untenable or less-than-optimal.

    This kind of "strategy" is like cresting a drop onto a steep mogul-field. Maintain your poise and it's fun and exciting. If you freeze, you crash.
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