Yesterday I attended the Women in Science and Engineering networking event held at the School of Chemistry, here at the University of Edinburgh. The day was open to men and women working in academia and provided an opportunity to discuss various aspects relating to careers in Science and Engineering. The format included presentations from distinguished scientists, and was complemented by an excellent break-out session on key issues of academic careers, such as work-life balance, funding climate in the UK, barriers to career progression, academia vs industry, and maternity/paternity leave. I really enjoyed the event! The presentations were brilliant and inspirational, and the discussions at the break-out session were insightful and stimulating.
However, what I found most fascinating was to see the way in which people’s careers unfold. In fact, towards the end of the day, someone asked a very interesting question to all speakers: Looking back at the beginning of their careers and at their own aspirations then, do they think now that they have progressed through a planned path and that they have achieved what they had originally hoped for? And, if so, do they now feel happy because of this?
The speakers’ answers were revealing: mostly, they had not planned the turns and steps they took along the path; mostly, they did not even end up doing what they had originally set out for; and mostly, they had seen their aspirations and dreams change along the way. And yet, ultimately, they were all happy about the way things had turned out in their lives in the end.
This reminded me of a truly inspirational speech about “joining the dots”. It was the address given by Steve Jobs to the graduates of Stanford University in 2005. (If you have never seen it or heard it before, please take a look now by clicking here).
And so, at the end of the event, I found myself giving this piece of advice to an Italian girl approaching the end of her post-doctoral experience in Edinburgh and wondering about what to do next:
Remember that nothing is forever (good or bad).
Be patient: life is long.
I trust that in twenty or thirty-years’ time she too will look back at her own path and realise that each step along the way took her closer to where she wanted and needed to be.