Some Career Contradictions and a Brush with Danger

Dr. Joseph Barber

In the pouring rain of yesterday’s storm my house nearly caught on fire. Some of the metal roof flashing was blown loose by the wind, and was flapping against the power lines running outside the house along the block. There was an impressive period of hissing, popping, sparks flying, and lights dimming, before the piece of electrified metal actually severed the power line – cutting power to the rest of the block for a considerable period of time (thanks PECO for coming out at night during the tail-end of the storm to fix it!). Despite the heavy rain, someone sensibly called the fire department (not me…, I was running around wondering whether I should call a roofer or the power company). Electrical fires can easily cause full-on house fires even in the wettest of conditions. We were lucky this didn’t happen to us.

Given that fires can start in situations where you wouldn’t think they could – during a downpour, for example – I have been wondering whether there are any equivalent career contradictions I could highlight in this post. I came up with a couple that might seem obvious, but that are still worth a mention.

1) The highest paying job isn’t always the best one…, for you.

When looking for career opportunities, the amount you can get paid is important, but you might find that “fit” is a much better predictor of how much you will enjoy your future career. Your needs may be such that a lower salary position in a different field or organization actually gives you more of what you want, especially in terms of work-life balance. Now, you should certainly negotiate for the best deal whenever you get a job offer, because you deserve to get paid what your skills and experiences are worth However, make sure that you are not just thinking about the money when you make your decisions, and when you are thinking about what exactly you can negotiate. And remember, the “fit” between you and your future co-workers (people you will be spending a considerable amount of time with) might be the most valuable and important aspects of your career choice.

2) The specific subject you have studied may not end up being in any way relevant to the career path you eventually follow.

But…, the many skills you have gained along the way will always be incredibly valuable and applicable. You can be passionate about a topic, and some of you may have spent the last 5-10 years thinking very hard about it, but still apply your transferable skills practically and successfully in a completely different setting. The passion you have shown for your topic can even be one of your greatest selling points, because you can market some of your academic skills as an ability to learn subjects quickly, to do extensive background research, to make informed decisions when it comes to asking questions and solving problems, and to communicate outcomes to different audiences. No matter the job, these are always useful skills to be able to showcase in your application materials in during an interview. Career paths are rarely straight, and there will always be a few unexpected twists and turns along the way.

Being open to different career possibilities, taking every opportunity to speak with people in a wide diversity of careers and from wildly different organizations (yes, this is networking), and potentially getting some hands-on experiences through volunteer or intern experiences, will all help you to successfully navigate through the unknown, but exciting road ahead of you.

So there you have it. The job that you may think you want the most because it pays the most, may not be the best fit for you, and if you are open to new experiences and opportunities, you can always find new career paths that don’t have to be related to the topics that you have been studying. Taken together with the fact that your house can burn down during a torrential rainstorm, hopefully you are now more comfortable with the idea that these contradictions exist. Come and see a career advisor if you want to explore them further, and we will try to answer all of your non-roof related questions.

Author: Joseph

Joseph Barber is a Senior Associate Director at Career Services serving graduate students and postdocs. He has a PhD in animal behaviour and animal welfare, and continues to teach these subjects as an adjunct professor at Hunter College (CUNY).